Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Ebonyi State and Closure of 337 Illegal, Substandard Schools

THE education sector in Ebonyi State has gone through different stages of advancement to ensure improved and affordable education for every child in the state, irrespective of indigenisation.

One of the measures taken to improve the participation of all in the sector, especially for students of both primary and secondary school age, was the declaration of free and compulsory education during the commencement of the first civil rule in the state in 1999 by Dr. Sam Egwu.

This singular initiative did not only open the vista of opportunities for all to go to school but also afforded some individuals who had no business in the sector the opportunity to establish substandard and illegal schools, hence undermining the objective behind the state government's proposition.

However, when the administration of Chief Martin Elechi took over in 2007, it made it clear that it would institutionalize educational standards rather than allow the prevalence of illegality and mediocrity to pervade the sector.

Having this in view, the state government through its Ministry of Education decided to first of all, embark on massive closure of illegal and substandard schools across the 13 Local Government Areas of the state as a panacea geared towards improving the standard and establishment of subsisting methodology in the acquisition of knowledge for the overall interest of the people.

After setting up various committees both at the state and LGA levels to check the menace, it had so far identified and closed 337 illegal and substandard schools across the state.

These schools were closed because they failed to meet the requirements put in place by the Ministry for the establishment of schools in the state.

As a matter of fact, schools in that category were banned from participating in government functions such as march past during Children's Day, Democracy Day, Anniversary Day, Debate and Quiz competitions among others as they have been declared 'none existent' under Ebonyi State Schools System.

The ministry without fear of contradiction closed down these schools and warned staff of the ministry to desist from collecting money from proprietors and proprietresses of the affected schools under the ploy of reopening their schools.

The commissioner threatened to deal decisively with any staff who engages in such venture.

The state Commissioner for Education, Mr. Ndubuisi Chibueze-Agbo, who pointed out that the initiative was not intended to witch-hunt anybody in the state added that the intention of government was to purge the education system of illegality and raise the standard of education in the state.

He said; "Our Governor believes in quality and giving our children the best and that was why during his swearing-in, he made it clear that he would not sacrifice quality on the altar of quantity.

"That is why you can see that there is embargo on the establishment of public schools; apart from the Girls Technical College, Agba, Ishielu LGA, this administration has not established any new school, rather, we are channelling all our resources to giving schools the desired quality.

"Before now, we had a seven-man committee at the state level but presently we have set up a 10-man committee in every LGA of the state to identify illegal and substandard schools, as well as make recommendations to the Ministry of Education.

It is expected that at the end of the month, not even a single illegal school will exist in the state and that is why we have taken it to the grassroots.

"I want to tell you that we are not doing that because we want to witch-hunt or victimize anybody; if we succeed in doing this, we would have reduced the level of examination malpractice by 50 per cent because once you give students what they ought to know before examination, they will not look elsewhere.

"And a situation where the sector will not be regulated or organised is unacceptable to this administration. The Ministry of Education has the mandate of establishing schools and that is why before this is done, prospective proprietors needed to follow due process.

"And before we give you approval, you must meet the requirements which are - a block of six classrooms, library, examination hall, laboratory, offices and provision of recreational facilities. So, all we are doing is to make sure that we bequeath a system that is very solid to generations yet unborn."

Notably, all cases of indiscipline have been most transparently and officially handled in order to sanitize the sector.

Sources from the ministry revealed that no fewer than 100 senior staff of the Secondary Education Board, SEB, in the state (principals, VPs, supervisors, invigilators, and deans of studies) are facing sanctions ranging from demotion, cut in salary for one year or ban from supervision of external examinations because of their involvement in aiding and abetting examination malpractice in 2011.

Also, the Ministry of Education introduced digitalized internet coded identification cards to curb urban-rural migration registration of students for WAEC and NECO May/June Senior School Certificate Examinations.

The objective of the initiative was to capture all public and private schools in the state and once the state's Ministry of Education is through with the exercise, a formidable system would have been in place to rid schools of 'fake students' under any guise in the state.

The state government as a way of instilling standards and quality within the sector reintroduced boarding system of education by reconstructing and establishing 27 pilot schools (at least two per LGA) across the state

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