Like many, he was worried over the dwindling fortunes of the sector which has become an embarrassment to the country internationally, especially when her citizens were pouring into smaller neighbouring and other Western countries for greener pastures.
Reflecting over the fall in standard of education standards and why there must be a reform, he openly asked his fellow alumnus of University of Nsukka (UNN) recently, “How do you feel as alumni when you engage with or hear that a fellow alumnus has bagged a degree from your alma mater but cannot string together an articulate, coherent sentence? Those that graduate from universities today should be better equipped than what was obtainable yesterday. They should be more competitive and better prepared for active participation in the knowledge economy.”
Many products churned out these days have put question marks on our institutions of higher learning so that the quest by Governor Imoke to revolutionise it becomes impelling and calls for encouragement from all quarters.
The particular reform after this man’s heart is not all about rechristening institutions but that of quality where products can be able to give good accounts of themselves and also be at par with their counterparts anywhere in the world. To him internal and external inspectorate mechanisms which involve accreditation by the statutory regulatory agencies should be more strengthened. He says this is fundamental for setting of standards at all levels.
Since he barely spent five months at the federal ministry of education, he had only to hold on to his reform ideas until other platforms presented themselves.
It was not too long that he became the governor of Cross River State, a most auspicious platform to exhibit the ideas he had in mind, hoping that it could in some ways help to transform the sector even if in a smaller unit of the country.
Speaking about reforms in education and the roles of alumnus recently at an event in UNN, he lamented that the curriculums in most of the nation’s institutions are not robust and dynamic enough to meet the changing needs of the economy, stressing that “the institutions are grossly oversubscribed and the management and governance of a lot of these schools have a lot to be desired.”
He said the system needs root and branch reforms. “Education reforms are representative of a conscious evolution of policy regimes which are capable of bringing a significant revolutionary change in the sector.”
He is a die-hard apostle of keeping with the times and one that believes that modern societal conditions can reshape education, especially in this era of rapid technological development in the world.
His thinking is that modern technologies coupled with global economic forces are contributing to an intense and pervasive level of individual, organizational and international inter-dependence.
“These new societal dynamics are altering education just as they are equally challenging the home life, workplace, lifestyle and political economy of virtually every person in all nations.”, he said.
While commending President Goodluck Jonathan for commissioning a one year road map for the development of the sector, an effort which led to the inauguration of a Presidential Task force on education to make it more pragmatic and responsive to the nation’s need in the 21st century, he stressed that the need for this has become overwhelming and paramount.
Education policy all over the world, no matter how well-thought-out, is always subject to review and reforms.
In Nigeria, some of the issues that necessitate reforms have to do with access, infrastructure, human capital, equity, discipline and quality assurance.
He said: “The reasons for the failings of primary and secondary education in Nigeria will inevitably have a negative cumulative effect on the tertiary or higher institutions. Poor implementation of the 6-3-3-4 system at its inception particularly affected the primary and secondary schools with issues such as ill-equipped classrooms under-qualified and under-staffed teaching force.
“The absence of specific agenda for the Nigerian education manifested itself in the tertiary institutions. These institutions especially universities became disorganized with closure and badly managed labour relationships becoming the norm much more so under military rule. This created an in-conducive teaching and learning environment, coupled with poor motivation and threat of sanctions which de-motivate staff and students alike.
“All of which made that experience of attending university an elusive commodity. The process has been more of transactional rather than transformational. It became also more about certificate than about the knowledge.”
Looking at the challenge before him, he said when he assumed office in 2007, he met a school system bereft of any significant infrastructure and devoid of sufficiently qualified and motivated staff. “It was apparent that if we were to improve the socio-economic development of our state, we had to start with the education sector reforms,” he said.
Just as has become evident in Cross River State today with his application of certain reforms which are seeing the state emerge as a force to reckon with in the country in the area of education, Imoke is not despising small beginnings.
To him small improvements in education theoretically have large social returns, in health, wealth and well-being.
That is the reason the comprehensive renovation of schools across the state has impacted positively on the academic performance of students as well as school enrollment.
According to the state commissioner for education, Prof. Offiong E. Offiong while speaking at the Comprehensive Secondary School, Garkem in Yala Local Government Area of the state, during the visit of the Good Governance Tour team recently, schools are being renovated and equipped in all the local councils in phases. Sixty of these have been rehabilitated in the first phase with adequate class room accommodation for students’ enrollment, standard desks, laboratories for Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science as well as library and recreational facilities.
This is against what used to be the norm where students were left to study under trees, scorching sun and in other ramshackle structures in an age where daily competition has become the in-thing.
Prof Offiong had disclosed that as part of education reforms in the state embarked upon by the Imoke administration, the state will also enforce the learning of Chinese language at high schools to enable their children keep up with future global developments ahead of others. In his views, the Chinese are looking to becoming the future dominant world power.
President, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mallam Mohammed Garba when he visited the state alongside the Good Governance Team, lauded Senator Imoke for initiating transformations in the state education programmes.
Garba said that investments made in education to improve learning at all levels, is the best investment any good government can make for its citizenry.
He pointed out that with the 56 percent pass rate currently recorded by the state in the West African Examination Council (WAEC), the state will turn out well educated and well equipped citizens that will take over the leadership of the state and take it to its desired height.
Findings have shown that reforms in the state have come to the fore through the development guidelines for the establishment of schools, centralization of policy on continuous assessment, stringent quality assurance measures to ensure that the end-product of the system is better equipped to deal with challenges of a dynamic society.
According to Imoke’s postulation, annual training and retraining of teachers and increased funding of the sector will contribute to the greater reforms in the federal policy. He also wants a standardization in the appointment of Vice Chancellors, rectors and provosts in universities and colleges of education. This, he said, should be in addition to design of a framework for appointment of members of boards of parastatals in education and governing councils of federal tertiary institutions.