Since it creation, Zamfara state has the record of sustained tempo and passion for improving educational standards as well empowerment of its people. This has consistently been piloted according to Hon. Murtala Adamu Jangebe, Executive Chairman, Zamfara State Universal Basic Education.
Sir, your Board has embarked on rapid renovation and reconstruction of primary schools across the state. Can you give further details on the project and the rationale behind it?
Yes, Zamfara State Government through the State Universal Education Board had accessed the 2014/2015 funds from the Universal Basic Education Commission in Abuja, last year. Therefore, we came up with a blue print based on plans for the contracts as an the intervention project for our primary and junior secondary schools. We accessed about N3.6 billion. Based on our projected preparations, a survey and assessment exercise were carried out to know the conditions of these primary and junior secondary schools that needed to be renovated or reconstructed across the state. The baseline intention was to expand the schools by building more classrooms with the primary intention of especially decongesting the schools that may be over-populated with pupils. All necessary steps to ensure its success are being followed to ensure the success of the the intervention project targeted at 114 schools across the state.
The projects will cover the provision of 11,887 pieces of chairs and desks for the pupils including 1,456 tables and chairs for the teachers’ to further improve conducive learning environment for them. However, to make the administrative environment of our Education Secretaries (ES) more conducive, we have earmaked at least ten befitting offices, one each to be built and equipped with ICT facilities across ten Local Government Councils. The offices will be fully connected to a 24-hours internet service for efficient and effective office activities.
We have engaged and awarded contracts for the projects to no fewer than 326 local contractors living within the localities of the schools to ease completion of the projects.
What motivated the State Government to engage local contractors for the huge project and what do you intend to achieve at the end?
The motivation base line is to ensure our people are carried along in the execution of infrastructural facilities as well strengthen the socio-economic vibrance and capacity of our people against poverty and at the end of this project, we intend to achieve three things; One, to provide conducive environment for teaching and learning in our schools through our collective participation drive. Secondly, to de-congest and increase the existing number of class rooms especially where you have 150 to 200 pupils in a classroom and to improve standards. So, this project will address issue of overpopulation of pupils in the classrooms.
Thirdly, the project will serve as a multiplier effects; by empowering our local contractors, hence reducing poverty within the state because we are giving these contracts to indigenous contractors across the state. When I said indigenous contractors, it means we selected people from the grassroots where the renovation projects will be carried out.
The overall objective is to empower these people. It will also improve their skills and make them have some money that could improve their livelihoods. You know what it means when these money is been injected into these communities. The project will engage a lot of professional artisans, like Furniture craftsmen, Welders, Carpenters and lots of them. That means we are expecting to generate back not less than N15 billion as a multiplier effects. Because the projects will attract artisans living within the localities. The contractors will also purchase cements, wooding materials, paints etc, from the locals. So, this project will definitely improve the state socio-economic status. That is our target.
Aside ensuring a conducive learning environment. What is the board doing to see that primary school teachers’ welfare is improved?
I want to tell you that Zamfara State Government places high priority to primary school teachers welfare. There is no doubt about that. We at the Board also look at their welfare in two perspectives: One, Zamfara is one of the states in the federation that never hold teachers salary even for one month. We have cases in other states where salaries are not paid for six months and above.
But Zamfara State, has kept faith with the prompt payment of our teachers’ salaries and other entitlements in addition to building their capacity. We realized that welfare goes beyond taking money home. Zamfara state is doing a lot in terms of building capacity of these teachers by exposing them to all kinds of trainings, workshops and seminars within and country. We make sure that they are also trained in reputable institutions. Presently, we are in collaboration with Child Development Project of Dfid. We are also in collaboration with UNICEF which is also supported by Dfid.
We are in partnership with Jolly Phoenix and other training institutions including JAKA, which is been funded by NTI in order to improve the quality of learning in our schools. Besides, Zamfara is the only known state that sponsors teachers on learning excursions. Recently, we sponsored ten of our classroom teachers to United Kingdom (UK) for a learning programme by Jolly Phoenix. The trained teachers are now training other teachers on the knowledge acquired from the UK. In fact, it is our teachers that are training other teachers in some states like; Kwara, Kaduna, Jigawa, Gombe, Taraba among others on Jolly Phoenix learning programme.
Apart from that, if you look at the state in particular, you will find out that it is only primary school teachers that get their leave grants. Since 2011, we have been paying their leave grants promptly. So, these are many ways we believe we are giving top priority to the welfare of our primary school teachers in the state. Although, we have not yet gotten what we wanted for them in terms of the minimum wage implementation. What happened was that, we did a calculation that if we will implement the minimum wage, then we will have accumulation of unpaid salaries.
So, it is a kind of a bargain. Do we implement minimum wage and at the end, we may not be able to pay salary or placing them on a moderate salary without owing them at the end of month. I believe we have chosen the best for them. Although, we are equally planning to implement the minimum wage as soon as the economic situation improves.
What is the government doing to create awareness on its drive to improve and encourage mass enrolment in schools across the state?
If you recall in 2011, when the government came on board, we did an assessment programme called Zamfara State Primary Education Assessment. In other words, we did an assessment on the general situation of primary schools in the state including teachers condition, classrooms, teaching and learning situation, available infrastructures, sanitation as well as water supply. We carried out this assessment to know what is the baseline in terms of Primary Education standard in the State.
We started in 2011 and completed it in 2012. After the exercise we realized that we only have 283, 000 pupils in primary school as against about 500, 000 or 600, 000 that are supposed to be enrolled in primary schools. That gave us an insight of enrollment statistics in our primary schools. As soon as that discovery was made, the state embarked on a massive enrollment drive in September 2012, where traditional leaders, top government officials and political party leaders were mandated to go back to their communities for advocacy and sensitisation on the need to enrol their children in school. They embarked on massive enrollment drive campaigns. We urged them to help bring back these street children to school and that resulted in the increase in the number of school pupils from 283, 000 to 447, 000 within the space of one month. Since then, it has been the basis upon which our data were raised and up till today, it has been increasing.
Also, every year we do what we call annual census in an effort to find out our enrollment level. Another strategy which is partnership was also done in the same year (2011). Then, we had no single development partner in the state. But due to our efforts, we are able to bring in UNICEF, Dfid, MC Arthur Foundation. We have a programme called RANA, it is towards improve literacy in Hausa language. Today, we have not less than five development partners already in the state. World Bank is also coming on board to map out the issue of out of school children in the state.
By September this year, we are also embarking on cash transfer programme designed for indigent parents. We call it ‘Cash Support Programme’. The money will be used by the beneficial parents to buy uniforms and learning materials for their children. This, we believe will further increase enrollment of our children into primary schools. About 200 million naira is going to be expended on this exercise in collaboration with UNICEF.
Let me take you back to the contract awarded to the local contractors. What are the mechanisms put in place on its quality assurance?
You see, anybody that is familiar with Zamfara State from 2012 to date will know that our schools speak for themselves in terms of both architecture and infrastructure. As soon as you drive into the State, you don’t need to be told that this is our public schools. The building is unique, the structure is strong, well painted with very beautiful roofing sheets setting. These, we achieved not just by chance but by planning and good supervision.
When we came in 2011, our schools looked like a state that just came out of a war situation. A number of them were so dilapidated and in state of ruins. So, we quickly embarked on massive reconstruction of the affected schools. To achieve this, we choose quality as our watchwords. For instance, if we assessed UBEC fund of N2bn. Two percent of the fund will be dedicated for supervisory and monitoring purposes. This was not obtainable during the previous administration where such money were wasted without achieving quality structures.
Out of the two percent, we invite private consultants to further supervise our jobs. Not only that, we are using our staff and artisans to be fully involved in the monitoring and supervision processes. We are not even paying the artisans but because their members are the one handling such works, they voluntarily participate in the supervision of their members who were given the jobs.
We have been collaborating with them to ensure quality in all our projects and this will not be an exception. If any one goes to assess our schools structure, he/she will discover that such structures can withstand the test of time up to 30 years. Apart from that, most of our contractors were subjected to a sworn affidavit that they are going to comply with the specification of the job given to them. This is aside of the normal contractual agreement signed by them at the initial stage. So these are some of the ways we are ensuring quality in our project executions.
Let’s talk about maintenance culture, how are you going to ensure that the structures and facilities provided are maintained diligently by the end ushers?
It is on record that we have worked on our Head Teachers over time to instill self discipline in them through training and retraining. Because leadership is very important. It is like, show me a good school and I will show you the Head Teacher. We will continue training and re-orienting them on maintenance culture in order to ensure that both structures and facilities within their domains are in the safe hands and being taken care of.
We will train them on maintenance tips and how best to safeguard these facilities, especially when schools are out of session. Still on quality assurance, our contractors will be using modern tools for these projects, especially in securing both the door and the windows. Those improved tools will be durable and secure in all sense.
As the Executive Chairman of SUBEB in the state. How do you want the narrative of primary education to be told when you leave the office?
You see, we have a vision and mission when we come on board and that has not changed. You see, 80% of our children are in public schools. So, unless we assure of quality in teaching and learning in these public schools then we are conscripting larger percentage of our children to semi – illiteracy and other educational hazards in the society. That is not our wish as a responsive government.