Yes and no. It would affect the school calendar because we have to make some adjustments but that is how societies function. When there are developments, you adjust to adapt to fit those changes. So, we are making some changes to the calendar, we are going to add a week in the second term and another week in the third term because we are going to lose two weeks owing to the new development. And we are going to be extending the school period because lessons will be starting from 8am to 3:30pm. Schools used to actually spend only four hours on Fridays. Covid also taught us how to make adjustments, so this is just one of those developments.
If I understand you clearly, there would be an elongation of class hours during the four-day week, to compensate for the one day lost?
Yes. So, we will be adding 45 minutes to an hour over the four days that we are going to be working. On Fridays, we are encouraging group work, we are encouraging tutorials, we are encouraging students and pupils to do their home work.
Like what obtained during the Covid-19 lockdown, will students and pupils be taught via radio or some e-platforms?
Yes, it’s part of the plan. We are going to be engaging them in lessons over the radio, we want to encourage them to do what we called blended learning, involving both physical and virtual. We have e-books, we have sequence of supplies of e-books in our e-libraries in the state. Certainly, they are not sufficient, but you cannot provide everything before starting an initiative like this; you can always start and make adjustments. We hope to engage media houses, even our own state media corporation and other radio stations and even TV stations.
Your announcement of the four-day adjustment excluded private schools. Will this not place public schools at a disadvantage, given that the pupils and students of private schools will be learning while public schools remain shut on Fridays?
When the announcement was made on the 1st of December, teachers and health workers were among those that were classified as workers on essential service and were therefore not part of workers that will have a work-free Friday. Have teachers now been exempted from the exemption list?
I would have said that teachers have been included in the inclusion list (general laughter). You know health workers usually have off days even when they work on Saturdays and Sundays. It gives them chance to be with their families because some of them do night duties and some are on call, so they are peculiar. They usually work for four days. Yes, teaching staff were exempted previously but we also have non-teaching staff in the schools system. So, that is why we are transiting gradually. The whole essence is for workers in Kaduna state to have a life-work balance by working four days a week.
But is this directive limited to only pupils of primary schools and students of secondary schools? Does it also extend to students in state owned tertiary institutions?
Yes, they are included. We have been discussing with our MDAs and tertiary institutions were well represented. Students of tertiary institutions are so good in using e-platforms and social media generally for learning. So, the directive includes students in tertiary institutions.
Recently, you were redeployed from the Agriculture Ministry which is your natural turf, having studied Agronomy and Soil Science at the university. Now that you are in the Ministry of Education, do you feel like fish out of water?
I feel I’m always in the water (general laughter). At a certain level, passing through the university, and after working for over 30 years, one can readily adapt to any institution or ministry that one finds oneself. Yes, like I said previously, we need to adapt as human beings; there are challenges everywhere but as the person at the helm of affairs of any institution or organisation, you just have to tap from the best people around you, learn from your predecessors and give it your best. I’m optimistic that as a team, with staff beside me, we should be able to make some improvements, some changes as expected.
So far, what has been your challenge as you are settling down?
Well, the Ministry of Education is big, it’s bigger than the Ministry of Agric and of course I’m learning because learning is continuous. But I noticed that the general challenge is the same; sometimes the people you work with do not share your vision, but gradually we are bringing them around to be more result-oriented, to be more optimistic and to support government policies not the individuals in charge. We are making them to look at the institution as theirs, to take ownership. I think that is the greatest challenge but gradually, we are getting there.
What is your vision for this ministry? What difference would you want to make?
I would say I’m particularly interested in the early years, the foundation for example, that is what we call the basic education. When we were doing class seven, I did class seven, we were the last set to do it in primary school. So, I remember those who started work after class seven, they could do almost every basic thing. Those were the ones that came in to the civil service as maybe clerks after some trainings, they held very important positions. They could hold their grounds. We need to take advantage of all the federal government’s programmes that are ongoing; programmes like the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the adult education and the adolescent girls initiative. We have so many but we were not actually getting much traction, the programmes are so many. So, my vision is to get the early years right, put all our programmes right, to take advantage of very good partnerships that we have.
Are you thinking of programmes for those who dropped out of school?
We have a programme in partnership with Islamic Development Bank, called Reaching Out Of School Children, maybe I didn’t mention it. So, it’s also part of the programmes we have. All of the programmes are there but we need to tap into them and incidentally too, we need to reach out to special needs children, visually impaired students and hearing impaired students. That is a major concern for me too because they are very brilliant, they are very intelligent students but the facilities are not there for them. Certainly, the society as a whole needs to look inward and I would call on the parents of these special needs students to bring them to school to also on their own learn how to communicate. We will teach them how to write for those that are hard of hearing, and for the visually impaired, I know braille is expensive but you can always teach them because they have very good memories and their hearing is enhanced because their vision is impaired.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, January 12) you will be going out for school monitoring, what will you be looking at when you get to these schools?
We would be looking at the students’ conditions, as in how did they came back to school? How did they find the school? That’s for boarding schools. For day schools, we will look out for what the teachers-students relationship is? What are their concerns? I hope to be able to engage one or two of these students and speak to the school authorities. Of course, I want to hear what their vision is for this term and certainly their challenges. So, it depends on what we see on our inspection visits, but generally we would be looking at the welfare of our students. We would be looking at the teaching conditions, the classes, also engage with the teachers and look at the security arrangements that they have put in place. So, there is an array of activities that we will be looking at.
Are you not going to interface with members of the School Based Management Committees (SBMCs)?
We would be doing that too, we would be looking at all the committees, if there are Parents Teachers Associations (PTAs), we would meet them. You know, sometimes we don’t give notice; we just go unannounced.
1] Kaduna State Government has declared primary and secondary education free and compulsory in the state;
2] It has abolished all forms of levies and PTA charges in all public primary and secondary schools;
3] In 2019, the government set aside N2 billion as seed money for the revamped Kaduna State Scholarship and Loans Board for eligible citizens to access;
4] In 2020, N4.7 billion was made available for scholarships and loans;
5] Federal and state government employees, including workers in the organised private sector who wish to further their education, can access up to N5 million loan, payable over a period of five years at a single digit interest of 8%;
6] Government has completely overhauled 15 selected historic schools across Kaduna state;
7] It has constructed new storey buildings in 30 primary schools which have high population density across the state;
8] The government secured full accreditation of the National Universities Commission (NUC) for Twenty (20) Programmes at the Kaduna State University (KASU) in May 2018;
9] In February 2020, KASU secured final accreditation for its medical programme;
10] Six Science Secondary Schools are being constructed at Pambegua (Kubau LGA), Hunkuyi (Kudan LGA), Rigachikun (Igabi LGA), Buruku (Chikun LGA), Jere (Kagarko LGA) and Manchok (Kaura LGA).