Anambra: Despite the reported gloom in the Nigerian education sector in the last 10 years, a silent revolution has been going on in the country’s basic education east of the Niger.
Since 2015, secondary school students from Anambra State’s schools have made it a habit to beat their contemporaries in Nigeria and beyond. In 2015, the state’s debating team beat Katong Convent School, Singapore, in the first Nigeria-Singapore debate, and, at the World Debate Championship, it defeated Barbados at the preliminary stage.
In 2018, the Regina Pacis Girls, Onitsha, won the Technovation Teaching Challenge held in Silicon Valley, USA, while Saint John’s Technical College, Alor, went to Tunisia for the IFEC (International Festival of Engineering and Science) contest and came tops.
At the moment, Anambra State Government has the President School Debates Cup for keeps, having won it thrice. Clement Okodo and Sister Mariam Onwuadi have won the Best Teacher in Nigeria and Best School Administrator, while the state produced the current best student in the Common Entrance Exam.
Apart from having the highest cutoff mark for unity schools admission in Nigeria, secondary school students in Anambra have started producing goods for the market. What’s the secret?
Daily Sun journeyed to the Anambra State capital, Awka, to find out why. For eight years, Professor Kate Omenugha has overseen the Ministry of Education (during the first four years of Governor Willie Obiano’s administration) and the Ministry of Basic Education (in the last four years). Spotting her trademark low cut hairstyle, fashioned after her students, at the State Secretariat, Awka, she directed this reporter to do his investigation by visiting schools in the state to discover the ‘magic’.
At Community Secondary School, Umuokpu, Awka, Daily Sun met an ongoing Robotics and Artificial Intelligence class. It is one of the 69 schools in the state studying the subject. With the aid of modern gadgets and television, Mr. Onuoha Chiebuka teaches each class for an hour to curtail the number of students due to the coronavirus protocol.
“The focus of this class is to introduce the students to robotics and artificial intelligence. If they develop interest, they will use codes to create robots or software that can help to better human life,” he told Daily Sun, adding, “The students are very eager to learn more. As a teacher, ít makes you happy.”
The enthusiasm of the learners was echoed by Paulinus Somtochukwu, an SS1 student of the school, who said: “I find ít interesting. Through the demonstrations on the TV, we have learned a lot. I want to be a computer scientist; so this programme serves me well.”
His submission was in tandem with that of Eberechukwu Henrietta, an SS1 student, who said: “It’s the first time we are learning artificial intelligence and data processing in school. I have learnt new things about robotics, which is the study of robots; how ít is created and how it functions.”
Permanent secretary, Ministry of Basic Education, Barrister Nwando Obiano, PhD, enthused: “I can boast Anambra is the first state to start artificial intelligence in Nigeria. I am sure you have seen the students and their teachers and what they have been doing. We have always been the light of the nation.”
Instrumental to the string of laurels won by Anambra in debating competitions over the years is Mrs. Amaka Anekwe, the principal of Holy Cross High School, Umuawalu, Mbaukwu, who doubles as the debate coordinator for the state. She has been handling that role since 2015.
“The commissioner for basic education tried as much as she could to project it to the extent that the government sponsored these debaters selected from different schools to international outings,” she told Daily Sun.
In 2015, 14 states participated in the national debate competition in Abuja, and Anambra came tops. That spurred the decision by the state governor, Chief Obiano, to sponsor the team to Indonesia, Singapore and Ghana.
“Debating has really helped the students to know how to express themselves, because all the schools in Anambra participate in it weekly,” she added.
Nnewi is one of the three major cities in Anambra, regarded as the hub of indigenous manufacturing industries in Nigeria. It is home, too, to Maria Regina Model Comprehensive Secondary School, which has produced the Best School Administrator in Nigeria (2019), Reverend Sister Miriam Rona Onwuadi. She has been the school principal for nine years.
Her success story echoes that of a workaholic committed to excellence. She had never been a school principal before now, so it was a testing ground for her. Surprisingly, she became the best. At first, she focused on teachers’ discipline.
In 2015, a year after her arrival, her effort began to pay off, with outstanding results in WAEC exams.
“It was like a miracle,” she said. The parents were overjoyed. Everybody was happy, and that ended the mass exodus from the school.”
She also asserted her authority on students’ discipline, rehabilitated all hostels, and got multiple restrooms to improve hygiene. “It was only when the commissioner for basic education, Prof. Omenugha, visited the school and shouted in awe that I knew I was doing something remarkable. I was merely actualising my dreams,” she told Daily Sun.
Then came a string of awards. She won the Best School Administrator in Anambra continuously for five years, before winning the national version of it on her first try. “This and other awards won by our teachers at the national level is a reflection of the good work done by Prof. Omenugha, and Governor Willie Obiano, because they gave us everything we asked for. They also took us to Dubai in 2019 for a conference, which widened my horizon.
“For the first time in history, school principals are comfortable. Laboratories were equipped all over the state. Here, we got fully equipped labs, new computers and Internet facilities, plus a two-storey building. Today, students are no longer running away from public schools.”
Daily Sun caught up with five recipients of the state government’s special scholarships studying in her school: Chinwuba Somtochukwu, Anene Somtochukwu, Okonkwo Esther, Anumudu Lucy and Igwemma Chinasa.
Okonkwo Esther, an indigene of Nzam, in Anambra West, is a JS3 student. She told Daily Sun: “My parents are happy. I intend to study political science after my secondary education. I will encourage my peers to study hard so that they can get their own scholarships.”
Anumudu Lucy is in JS2, but, already, she has written two novels. In a crying voice, she said: “I was very happy when I got the scholarship, and my mother advised me to behave well when I get well and be the best of what I want to be. I have written two novels in this school.”
Human capacity development has been key to the Anambra success story in basic education, as Nwagwu Emmanuel Chukwuebuka, a technical staff at Nigerian Staff and Technical College, Nnewi, testified. On October 21, 2019, he was part of the Anambra State teaching delegation to Dubai.
He recalled: “It opened my eyes to various aspects of teaching in the way we organise our students and on a personal level.” He has been imparting technical skills to the students since he returned from Dubai. “I have organised a workshop. I am working on another one this year. In teaching students, sometimes I use the questioning method and make my teaching learner-centred. It’s like a one-on-one conversation with the students, and they are following.
“The majority of the students are happy, because some of them have acquired important skills. After finishing SS3, they will go to the world and start producing things for the masses, such as liquid soap, carwash, paint and other crafts.”
Before meeting him, he was busy with his students at Nnewi producing iron doors.
“The students now take part in iron door production. That’s the outcome of the emphasis on technical education by the state government. It’s not all about white-collar jobs. You need to have skills to produce things for the masses after your education,” he added.
Loretto Special Science School, Adazi Nnukwu, is located along Adazi-Agulu-Igbo Ukwu Road, a 50-minute drive from the state capital. Here, two recipients of the special scholarship, Nweke Gloria and Dieli Happiness, now in SS3, were found.
Originally from Community Secondary School, Ifite Ogwari, in Ayamelum, Anambra, Nweke’s merit-based scholarship started running from SS1 at Loretto: “By now, I know my parents might not have the money to train me and register for my WAEC. But, with this scholarship, I am sure I will write my WAEC and JAMB this year. It’s a great formation for me. My life has turned a new leaf,” she said.
Like Nweke Gloria, Dieli Happiness has been enjoying the special scholarship for three years, after her junior secondary education. She was originally from Justice Chinwuba Memorial Secondary School, Aguleri.
She said: “I never dreamed of attending a big school like this. Seeing myself in this school, it’s now that I believe that nobody is better than me. I am now among those students you hear their names, and I am grateful. I am the hostel captain here, an appointment that has taught me to handle two things at the same time.”
Mrs. Okafor Eugenia Ngozi, the principal of the school, one of the mission schools the state government has been partnering with, said the partnership had increased excellence in the school
The emphasis on technical education is driven home by the structural metamorphoses of the technical colleges in the state. Daily Sun went to Umuchu, a one-and-half-hours journey from the state capital, Awka, to see the 750-bedroom capacity hostel. There are about 12 of them built across the three senatorial zones in the state by the Obiano administration.
Mbakwe Chisom, an SS1 student of Government Technical College, Umuchu, told Daily Sun: “I am delighted by the new hostel, because the space we have in the old hostel is overstretched, and, because of this new hostel, the government has opened a new borehole for us. This, I believe, will solve the problem of water scarcity and accommodation here.”
The principal, Mr. Wilfred Chukwuemeka Nkworka, added: “This magnificent edifice will help solve the accommodation problem in the school. This hostel is more than what we expected. Even universities don’t have this kind of hostel. I am grateful to the state government for making ít possible.”
The excitement of people like Mr. Nkworka is understandable. Since the turn of the new millennium, public schools in Nigeria have become near relics, with students moving in droves to private schools.
Hon. Ify Okaro, chairman, Post-Primary School Commission, Awka, bragged: “This is a legacy that can’t be forgotten. I commend our education-friendly governor and the commissioner for basic education for making things move. Though it is a 750-bed capacity hostel, it can accommodate more than 1,000 students, and it has a space for a multipurpose hall.”
Lending her voice, Mrs. Stella Oranusi, secretary, Post-Primary School Commission, Awka, said: “The governor has emphasised education that will make you self-employed after leaving school. You will not only employ yourself but employ others. This is the in-thing now.”
At Community Secondary School, Nnobi, close to Nnewi, Mrs. Ernestina Ifeyinwa Nwagwu, the school principal, burst into a song of gratitude. By mere looking at the school compound, she said one could see the transformation there, “from staff quarters, borehole, new hostels, perimeter fencing and sports courts. The welfare has inspired us to do more for the students.”
Community High School, Akwaeze, in Anaocha Local Government Area, is one of the schools where government-individual partnership has become a reference point in Nigeria. Mrs. Ezeilo Uzoamaka, the principal, recounted that Chief Ikenna Okafor, the Ide Akwaeze, renovated the school’s laboratories—including physics, and chemistry—library, hall, ICT lab and administrative blocks.
The principal said the government-private partnership was one that would advance the cause of education in Nigeria: “The impact is showing in the performances of the students, too. My students are now computer-literate. We are also excelling in inter-school competitions.”
Back to Awka, Daily Sun encountered Patrick Okeke of the Post-Primary School Service Commission, an agency of the Ministry of Basic Education. He is the coordinator of Anambra Teaching on Air, an educational system triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
The programme kicked off on April 1, 2020, one week after schools were closed down nationwide. Okeke recalled: “We began teaching 75 per cent of the subjects in the school curriculum on air for primary and secondary schools. We exploited all the online media, from radio transmission to television, Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and even SMS—everything technology came up with.
“The feedback from the students, parents, teachers and general public was overwhelming. The Minister of State for Education, Prof. Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, was the first person at national level to commend Anambra. Prof. Kate Omenugha is one of a kind. Since the creation of Anambra State in 1991, some of us who have been in the system have testified she is the best. That’s why she has spent a full eight-year tenure. It has never happened before.”
Taking stock of achievements in basic education in the state, Barrister Nwando Obiano, PhD, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Basic Education, recounted: “When the governor came in, he started by providing science equipment. He went on to give pride of place to our government technical colleges. Apart from training the teachers and retaining those who we have retired and whom we would have lost their expertise, he retained and trained them overseas, including younger ones.
“He built gigantic hostels with the intention of making technical studies more productive, thus making prospective students more productive than always seeking white-collar jobs when they graduate. He has been given scholarships up to university level. There are some students that we gave from disadvantaged, riverine areas.
“He has been renovating schools, sponsoring debating, academic, sporting competitions and extracurricular activities. Teachers earn more now than those of us in civil service. Today, the teacher’s reward is no longer in heaven but here on earth. The good news is that all the money spent, we have always had quality value, for these students to go out and come out with laurels.”
As noted earlier, Prof. Omenugha has been the arrowhead driving the state government’s education agenda. Last week, at the brand new International Conference Centre, Awka, Governor Obiano awarded her the title of “Grand Commander,” a testament to being the best performing commissioner during his administration.
Reacting to the award, Prof Omenugha said, “I dedicate this award to my families — the Omenugha family and the education family. You are my pride, and I love you all.”
“I would like to be remembered as that scholar who brought herself down to the level of the children she was looking after; that woman who brought passion into education; that woman who developed the capacity of the teachers.”
SOURCE: SUN NEWS