Kaduna State is reputed as having the third oldest University in Nigeria and the only Aviation Technology Institute in West Africa. This is in addition to the fact that the state is home to at least 2 other Universities, 2 Polytechnics, 6 Colleges of Education and 4 Research Institutes that focus on diverse fields from water to leather and agriculture to health.
The presence of these institutions has helped the State build a reputation as being a melting pot for people from all over the country who come to study. It is in fact this reputation that informs its slogan as Nigeria’s Centre of Learning. Unfortunately, this reputation is fast becoming a thing of the past.
The Kaduna State Government in recognition of the dangerous decline of the state’s educational sector has decided to prioritize education. It has demonstrated this by the adoption of practical measures that include the provision of specialized scholarships, a large scale teacher recruitment exercise that provided for an additional thousand teachers in March this year, the procurement of teaching aids and a review of curricular with a view to bringing it more in line with current realities.
The Free Education Policy and the School Feeding Program were introduced in January 2016. Since then, enrollment rates have soared from about 1 million pupils prior to the commencement of the free feeding program, to about 1.5 million pupils presently.
Indeed, the cost of running a program with such a large number of beneficiaries costs the state government a lot of money. At the cost of N1.8billion monthly, the School Feeding Program provides one meal a day to every public school pupil. There has been criticism of the program and some have argued that such an expense may be misplaced.
However, Kaduna knows that for it to become truly great again, its citizenry must be educated to the extent that everyone can contribute in intellectual value and practical know-how to the state’s development. Besides this, the continued operation of the School Feeding Program underscores the very high priority accorded to education and nutrition. Statistically, the guarantee of a free meal has been shown to be an incentive for school attendance among impoverished children.
Unlike most free education policies where a levy is charged for school uniforms and study materials, the Kaduna Free Education Policy comes complete with appropriate uniforms, school furniture and study materials at no cost to either the pupils or their parents.
Even better, the State seeks to expand this policy as soon as revenues improve such that all levels of Primary and Secondary Education are absolutely free. When this is done, it will ensure that a lack of resources can no longer be excuse for non enrolment. Currently, most Local Government Areas in Kaduna State have about 57.3% non enrollment rates due to a variety of factors including associated costs. By eliminating these costs the Kaduna State Government aims to eradicate the barriers to formal education amongst its populace.
In addition to all of these, school renovations are currently ongoing to make them more habitable and conducive for learning. About 1080 schools are currently being upgraded with modern teaching facilities, boreholes for safe and steady water supply and modern toilets to improve sanitation.
To make room for the increased enrollment rate occasioned by these upgrades, Kaduna has identified 12 model schools for total upgrades that go beyond furniture supply, borehole and toilet construction.
The current structures of these 12 schools will be rebuilt to allow for multi-storey buildings and boarding facilities including hostels and better equipped libraries. It is perhaps most exciting that 6 of these 12 schools are all-girls schools. This is in keeping with the Government’s commitment to promote and encourage girl child education and equal opportunities for both sexes.
A second chance program that aims to reintegrate girl-child dropouts is also being implemented; the program begins with monitoring dropout rates, weighing the reasons, incentivizing the drop out girl child to return to schools with the provision of bursaries and other study materials.
In spite of these lofty ambitions and efforts, you will be forgiven if you are not completely sold on their long term prospects. As we have witnessed time and time again, the problem with Nigeria is not an inability to introduce ambitious measures, the issue really is one of sustainability or the inability to pursue them to some sort of completion. The Kaduna State Government has a plan to forestall this and ensure that its education advancements are permanent.
On the 11th August 2016, the State sent a version of the Child Rights Bill to the State House of Assembly for consideration before the Governor’s assent, among many other provisions, the bill will include punishments for parents and guardians who do not enroll their children in schools. The hope is that this would help deter parents from keeping their children at home or denying them an education.
The challenges to the education sector are numerous but the Kaduna State Government through the measures mentioned above is looking to improve them, curb the rapid rate of non enrolment among pupils and live up to its potential as the learning capital of Nigeria.
Bashir Sanusi wrote in from Zaria, Kaduna State