By Enideneze Etete
Opinions may differ that Bayelsa has achieved some feats in education, a sector very critical to the overall human and physical advancement of the state. Whereas, those who might take opposing stance could have their reasons, proponents also have some landmark progress to point at.
From a situation of nothing, in terms of existence of tertiary institutions and other public amenities, when the state was just created in 1996, an appreciable number of them now exist, courtesy of the past administrations. Primary and post-primary levels have also grown better than they were, before the state was created. And more efforts are being done to improve the sector, even now.
Yet, a lot still needs to be done in terms of making the existing institutions and new ones to have state-of-the-art facilities suitable for a post-Covid-19 era. Other aspects where improvements are expected include development of useful curricular suitable to the needs, environment and culture of the state; provision of qualified, up-to-date, adequate and well-motivated teachers/educational administrators.
Access and affordability of education in the state-owned institutions are other issues that are still of concern to the masses. These are irrespective of the Education Trust Fund; Student Loan Scheme and the current reduction of tertiary school fees by the Senator Douye Diri-led administration in the state.
Aware of these and other issues, Senator Diri, has set up his structures, with policy ideas and a retinue of appointees handling various portfolios in education, ranging from assistants, advisers, commissioner and committees. And, efforts are beginning to raise hope for a better educational sector.
On the saddle, steering policies and programmes and ensuring implementation, is the Commissioner for Education, Hon. (Deacon) Gentle Epilefa Emelah of Epie-Zarama in Yenagoa Local Government Area, born 55 years ago.
Emelah who possesses the credentials to reposition the education sector, has many times vowed to leave no stone unturned in working towards the targets set for him by the governor.
He is armed with the requisite academic backgrounds in teaching, education and human resources management from the then Rivers State College of Education (RSCOE), Port-Harcourt, Rivers State and Federal University of Technology (FUTO), Owerri, Imo State respectively. He is soon to bag a doctorate degree from the University of Port-Harcourt, Rivers State where more advanced knowledge and leadership skills have been inculcated in him.
These are in addition to chartered memberships and fellowships of reputable professional institutes which he belongs.
His work career in these areas and the experiences acquired while in the services of the Bayelsa State Post-Primary Schools Board, Bayelsa State Universal Basic Education Board, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); House of Assembly Service Commission, membership of the state legislature, chairmanship of the House Committee on Education and lots more, also put him on a good pedestal to walk the talk.
Already, he has since assumption of office, provided stunning leadership in managing the state’s education ministry by catalysing results. This, he is doing, through bottom-top communication and relationship management as well as a stakeholders-inclusive approach in handling the big sector.
As a former schools supervisor in the Post-Primary Schools Board, Emelah knows where the problems exist. Thus, he is reaching out to such places, including the grassroots, knowing that monitoring and control of institutions are key to effective implementation of programmes. Consequently, he embarks on formal and informal visits to schools, as a regular part of his work schedule.
He is also ensuring that the much-complained about attitude of teachers to duty, vis-à-vis inadequate motivation of workforce in the sector is given premium attention. This is with a view to dousing incessant government-labour skirmishes.
The issues of accreditation of programmes at Isaac Adaka Boro College of Education, College of Health Technology, Bayelsa Medical University and few programmes in others are being tackled head-on, under his watch.
Similarly, the ministry under his leadership is seeing to improvements in the provision of more teachers and facilities at the primary and post-primary levels, including boarding schools in the state.
Another area that the commissioner is poised to making marks is the Governor Diri’s passionate plan to establish technical colleges in the state, to produce skilled-manpower for self-reliance and paid-employment for the graduates, on leaving school.
While much is still expected of Emelah and the government, awards and recognitions are already pouring on the commissioner, reminiscent of his national service days when he won the Head of State’s Best Corp Member Award in the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) in 1997, among others.
Emelah’s appointment and the portfolio assigned to him, is not only as a result of his sterling paper and work career qualifications. No doubt, it is also the outcome of decorum, unquenchable thirst for public service and loyalty to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in which he held various campaign positions. He also successful wooed back defectors during and after the last legislative and gubernatorial elections, as chairman of the PDP’s reconciliatory committee in Bayelsa Central Senatorial District.
Whereas he is displaying his mettle in the state’s education sector, it is pertinent to reiterate, that Bayelsans, academic institutions, teachers, students and parents still expect so much from the government and the ministry.
Such expectations concern affordability of school fees; retirees’ and serving- teachers’ welfare, training and re-training; students’ welfare, especially payment of bursary and resuscitation of the State Scholarship Board to award scholarships in areas of need, locally and abroad; provision of shuttle buses for students; provision of adequate facilities in schools; full scale implementation of native languages subjects and lots more.
Education will indeed serve as the key to the development of the individual and the entire Bayelsa State, if it is accorded the real attention it deserves, and if schooling is made affordable and qualitative.
Therefore, all hands must be on deck to realise the policies and programmes of the government in this crucial sector, as Emelah is on the saddle giving the lead.
*Etete, journalist, public relations and advertising practitioner writes from Yenagoa