Retention of pupils and students in schools is a problem with a long history in Yobe. How is retention now in the various schools?
For long, some parents did not care what their children did after they left the house for school. Some of the children would leave the house to go to school but would go elsewhere and do what they pleased and then return home after school hours. Rather than check such practice, some parents, especially those in the rural areas, helped the practice by using their children to do farm work.
In urban centres, some children use school hours to beg on the streets. Some parents encourage or even send their children to hawk. Boko Haram worsened that attitude by preaching that Western education is a sin. Some of the parents bought into that ideology and stopped their children from going to school. So, although retention had been a problem, Boko Haram worsen it by their attacks and their preaching against Western education.
How would you describe the situation now?
We had to deal with the basic problem. Some parents were not sufficiently convinced on the need for their children to enrol in school and remain in school. We had to bear that in mind in dealing with the challenge. We had to device means of reaching out to the parents to persuade them on why they must not only put their children in school but see it to it that the children remain in school. We engaged the traditional rulers and community leaders as well as the parents themselves through the Parents Teachers Association (PTA).
The government of Ibrahim Gaidam makes education free at all levels and gives out scholarships to see that poverty does not become a reason why our citizens do not pursue education to the level that they desire. Free education and scholarships became cardinal pursuits of the government because whether you earnestly want to be in school or not, lack of money can be a formidable hindrance. That hindrance needed to be removed so that everyone can be in school.
A burden that education authorities face in most states is the complaint every year of insufficient spaces in higher institutions to take applicants from secondary school. As commissioner of education, what is your own experience regarding admission challenge?
We used to have fewer students qualifying for entry to tertiary institutions of learning, but since 2009 we’ve been having more candidates that could get admission because of improved performances of our students in WAEC and NECO examinations.
We achieved that significant record because we mobilised for change. At one time only 50 of our students who sat for WAEC, NECO examinations made enough grades to qualify for entry into higher institutions. We said to our principals and teachers that that was not satisfactory.
We intensified our surveillance on our teachers and even our students. Previously, some students would stay out of school as long as three weeks after resumption from holidays. We said how can you prepare well and pass your examination when you don’t give yourself enough time to prepare? We started doing close supervision, going to the schools to take attendance of both the students and the teachers. It was essentially about the totality of inculcating the right attitude in everyone. We would tell the teachers, ‘The students are your brothers and sisters. Avail them such learning as would help their future and our state.’