Aniekan Akpan, Commissioner for Education, speaks on plans to develop the state’s human resource base
NewsAfrica-. Please tell us about the giant strides in education so far?
Akpan: Governor Udom Emmanuel, without mincing words, is passionate about education and he is committed to the free and compulsory education, which is one of the cardinal programmes of this administration. Right from inception, he has shown a lot of commitment. This is because the government knows that the drive towards industrialisation of the state is anchored on sound education. We can actually build the industries in partnership with foreign partners but His Excellency believes that Akwa Ibomites should be the main drivers whenever they take off.
To that extent, there must be solid foundation; that is why the Udom-led administration is providing the access through the free education campaign. This is why all the primary, secondary and technical schools are completely free. At inception, one of the things the government did was the release of N235m to the heads of state primary education and technical colleges to ensure that the basic materials needed for learning and training are purchased.
Arrangements were also made to ensure that statutory records are made available for the system. Since the introduction of free education, enrolment has greatly increased to far beyond what it used to be.
The previous administration introduced the free education system. In concrete term, what have you added since coming to power?
His Excellency is passionate about ICT and so he has directed that all schools be ICT compliant. In that direction, the state government signed a memorandum of understanding with an agency of the Nigeria Communication Commission. So far, 43 schools, both primary and secondary, have benefited. About 100 computers were also provided for these schools. That is the core new dimension that we are going.
The ICT world in Akwa Ibom cannot afford to be left behind. If you recall when the governor was launching Dakada spirit, he emphasised this seriously during his broadcast. This is also a testimony to his campaign promise of adding value to what he met on ground.
Let me also state that just recently, each of the schools indicated above were given Nlm in order to have internet access. This involves both public and private schools. The concept of the free education also involves children from other states but who are resident in Akwa Ibom. Honestly, it is a total package.
How much emphasis is the administration laying on vocational education in order to accommodate artisans and skilled workers?
Previously, we had six technical colleges in the state but recently the state government added another one because of the need for technical education. A lot of foreigners have so far indicated interest because apart from the teaching of the subjects, a number of innovations in the area of curriculum are being introduced so that those trained can be self-sufficient and even help to retrain others in the years ahead.
Like I said earlier, a number of groups are already indicating interest especially from Israel, Germany and India and they have visited the state. One innovation noticeable in all these technical colleges is that computers have been made available to them to enhance learning.
What is the administration doing to ensure that teachers take the vision to the next level?
The welfare of teachers in this dispensation is paramount. One thing that distinguishes teachers in this state from other states is that no one is being owed any salary. In the present dispensation in the country, that feat is a rarity. Teachers are no longer the wretched of the earth or as the saying goes - they will not only get their reward in heaven but here on earth. Honestly, under this administration, the dignity of teachers is being restored. Apart from direct training by the government, we are in partnership with other agencies like Mobil where 400 teachers in primary schools have been trained with another 400 in the secondary sector. The government has just approved the direct training of teachers through the Office of the Special Assistant to the Government on Vocational Training. We need quality teachers in the industry and so the government is really committed to that.
You have spoken glowingly about the intervention of the state government in primary, secondary and technical schools, what about the tertiary institutions?
We are also there as the state government manages four tertiary institutions. These are all stable. The state university, for instance, has had its first graduation ceremony and a team from the NUC will soon be there to put the finishing touches to courses in engineering, management sciences and others.
There were issues when we came on board but we have been able to stabilise them. The monthly grant of the state university, for instance, has been increased from N200m to N250m. The instability in the College of Education regarding the age of retirement has also been settled by the government. Now, the retirement age for them is 65 instead of what it was before.
After four years in saddle, how do you want to see education in Akwa Ibom?
Like I said earlier, we are laying the foundation. Gradually, we have introduced e- leaming. By the grace of God, we will in the next four years see primary, secondary and other levels of education taking a giant leap forward, taking advantage of the e- leaming system.
Not too long ago, I was in India to attend the graduation ceremony of 30 Akwa Ibomites trained by the state government in ICT. Many of them will be accommodated into the state workforce to boost ICT education. You can imagine what that means in the next four years.
In the next four years, we may not have any reason to complain about it being too far away thanks to our e-library, which has been reactivated. That is the Akwa Ibom of the future.