About seven years ago, Niger State government introduced what it calls second-chance-education programme. How can you assess the success or otherwise of the programme?
As a matter of fact, the introduction of second-chance-education programme for married women was a serious challenge to government. For government to ensure that second chance becomes a successful project, government was made to establish scores of nursery schools and nannies were employed to cater for the children of the second-chance-students (married women). And so far 20 out of the 25 local government councils in the state have got one second-chance-education centre each. Government has no intention to establish such centres in all the 25 local governments because the government was able to curtail the trend of withdrawing girls from school for marriage. The second-chance was originally introduced to cater for this category of girls that were withdrawn from school for marriage. At present, we have over 200,000 married women that are studying at various centres. We have taken them back to school so that they can complete their academic carrier. And for the girl-child education, our girls’ enrolment rate has increased. Presently we have over 700,000 girls in school as against 250,000 in 2007.
Mass failure in WAEC and NECO examinations has become a common phenomenon in the country. How can you assess the performance of final year secondary school students in your state?
Well, honestly speaking, going by our records at the ministry of education, Niger State is recording an improvement. It may interest you to know that because of the love we have for education, the state government has established a quality assurance agency to ensure the quality of learning materials, quality of teachers and quality of our building. In other words, officials of the agency are like policemen in our schools. Their main duty is to ensure that quality is protected and maintained in all ramifications. Since the introduction of free education in the state, the number of candidates writing for WAEC and NECO examinations has been tremendously increasing annually. There is also a tremendous improvement in the enrollment in the state at all levels of education. As at 2006, if you have looked at our results, you will discover that there has been about 300 percent increase in the performance of students. But in 20014 because we have blocked all openings for examination malpractices, the state government was awarded with a laurel for a state with the most incorruptible examination centres.
Government is planning to distribute free school uniforms to female students in secondary schools as a way of encouraging girl-child education. When will the programme start?
The distribution of the uniforms has started and the uniforms are only for JSS 1 female students. At present, there are 37,000 pieces of the uniforms on the ground for the incoming students and we intend to give two pairs of uniforms per student at resumption day. But we have to do it in sequence because of the financial implication. But for now, we have started with JSS 1 students and gradually we will incorporate all other categories of students. We are happy that it has started somewhere and I can assure you that this programme has come to stay in Niger State.
Some states are having problem in feeding boarding students. What is the situation in Niger State?
In Niger State feeding system has improved significantly, we have 56 boarding schools built across the three senatorial districts of the state. When it comes to the issue of quality of food, we have a standing committee in the ministry of education that is saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that only quality food is given to our students. We pay upfront to the contractors and supplied these schools in accordance with our conditions regarding the quantity of food that will be supplied to our schools. We also have our informants within the schools that are feeding us with information about the quality of food being supplied to our schools by the contractors. Whenever we discover low quality, we call the contractor and they always improve by going back to our specifications. So our feeding system is up to standard.
Has the state achieved its objectives of providing free education for all in the state?
The Niger State government sees education as a catalyst for realising its vision in all ramifications and, therefore, is giving serious attention to it at all levels. So, having realised that we cannot achieve our dreams without giving education the desired attention the state governor made a pronouncement that education is free and compulsory for all citizens in the state. In fact, according to the governor, it is free and compulsory to all people irrespective of their origin. In other words, whether they are from Niger State or not, they have equal opportunity of enjoying free education in the state. The essence of the programme is to provide equal opportunity to all school age children in the state by way of creating access, quality and equity among the citizenry. We also realised that the policy will also give opportunity to some school dropouts to complete their education as the free education programme will allow them to go back to schools. It is a second-chance opportunity, particularly for adult and married women. The programme has given a boost to school enrollment, continuity and completion of education. Also, the state government is shouldering all examinations’ charges in the state. No parent is expected to pay for his children any examination fee at the basic level. The result of free and compulsory education in Niger State has started paying as the population of students both in schools and on admission has tremendously increased. In 2007 the state had a population of only 600, 000 students in school but today there are over one million students in our schools.