Reexamining Delta State’s teachers electronic attendance monitoring system
Teacher truancy is a major form of corruption that has festered across public schools in all the states in Nigeria.
The Delta State government under Governor Ifeanyi Okowa introduced an electronic attendance monitoring system for staff of Local Government Councils and Local Government Education Authorities in 2017. The employee clock-in clock-out system was part of the Staff Verification Exercise designed to promote efficiency and enhance effectiveness of government workers, while weeding out ghost workers.
This article aims to examine the effectiveness of that policy in curbing teacher truancy epidemic in Delta State and improving the education system in general. Since 2007, the Delta State government has been providing free and compulsory basic and secondary education in the state. This was in furtherance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' affirmation that education is a fundamental human right for everyone.
Delta State's stated mission on education includes the provision of "qualitative, functional free and compulsory education to all children of school age, irrespective of religion, sex, culture and disability." The government's mission also entails providing second chance learning opportunity for adults. This mission recognises the importance of education in helping people to get gainful employment and be able to achieve their economic well-being and contribute meaningfully to their communities.
But these laudable goals face the huge challenge of inadequate teachers in many public primary and secondary schools. To compound this challenge is rampant teacher absenteeism. Teacher truancy is a major form of corruption that has festered across public schools in all the states in Nigeria. It is unethical for people who are employed to teach to perpetually come to work late and skip classes without cogent reasons. Oftentimes, they indulge in such behavour on the pretext of unending illnesses, loss of a family member and various purported emergency situations. Apart from having poor work ethics, many of them only moonlight as teachers, while owning private businesses or working in other establishments.
Teacher truancy has more negative impact at the primary school level where a teacher is expected to teach between four to five subjects. It can severely hamper the moral, cognitive and emotional development of the young learners. A major impact of this epidemic at that level is low academic performance of pupils and weak human development.
Some teachers in Delta State had gamed the manual attendance system. They would have their colleagues provide cover for them in their absence or manipulate the attendance registers, especially where there were lax administrative controls. These challenges necessitated the government of the state to introduce the biometric electronic attendance system to tame the antics of truant teachers.
The staff verification exercise, called Biometric Identification Payroll Automation Time and Attendance System (BIPATAS), is managed by a Lagos-based private firm, Heckerbella Limited. The biometric system that records attendance of teachers using their fingerprints was rolled out in all the schools in the 25 Local Government Areas in the state. The system not only improved attendance of teachers; it also eliminated ghost workers.
Notwithstanding the advantages of the innovative reform, it still has some shortcomings and it also does not address some other gaps in the education system in Delta State. First, the electronic device is supposed to be functional from morning to when school closes in the afternoon. Teachers are required to use it before leaving the school premises on break and when they come back to resume classes. But some teachers are found to be in breach of the system by going out after the morning clock-in, then returning to clock-out at the close of work.
Second, most public schools and communities have no electricity supply. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the person in charge of the device to ensure it is charged and ready for another workday. Should there be no means of charging the device due to power failure, or if there is poor internet connectivity, it would not capture teachers’ attendance for that particular day. On such occasions when the device is unavailable, the school would make use of manual attendance.
A third challenge is the risk of theft of the device. Being a portable device, which is removed from the schools’ premises each day, there is a high risk of it going missing or the person in charge could be mugged and the device could be taken from them.
Finally, since the introduction of the reform, Delta State has not been ranked in the top five positions in terms of student performance as measured by results of West African Examinations Council (WAEC). For example, the percentage of candidates who obtained credits in at least five subjects, including English Language and Mathematics, declined from 64.86 per cent in 2017 to 51.83 per cent in 2018.
There are a number of reforms that need to be put in place to improve the performance of teachers, and consequently the elementary and secondary education in the state. For instance, the state government should boost education funding. Basic infrastructure, such as laboratories, functional libraries, classroom blocks, clean water, electricity, chairs, etc, should be prioritised to enhance learning. The free education programme in the state is not free in reality. The government stopped paying for National Common Entrance Examination fees and external exams like WAEC in 2016. Pupils and students are still required to pay some levies.
More teachers should be recruited. It took Delta State eleven years (2009-2019) in order to recruit just 1,000 teachers, mostly in the pure sciences to teach in public schools in rural communities. Subjects like government, civic education, computer science, home economics, music, visual and applied arts as well as history lack teachers.
The minimum wage introduced by the Okowa administration has not been fully implemented. Non-academic staff from level one to seven and secondary school teachers are being paid the minimum wage, while primary school teachers from salary grade level eight to 15 do not get the minimum wage. Student truancy, which has also been on the rise, is yet to be checked.
The government should also reintroduce the Education Marshals (Edu-Marshals) programme that was terminated in 2015. The programme was inaugurated in 2013 by the previous administration of Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan to address truancy and indiscipline in primary and secondary schools. The marshals were also mandated to enforce the compulsory education for all school-aged children in the state. The success of the Edu-Marshals programme persuaded states like Kaduna and Osun to adopt the programme, which was later jettisoned by the Okowa administration. The reintroduction of Edu-Marshals – with an expanded mandate to check teacher truancy – in Delta State would help in strengthening the performance of the electronic attendance monitoring system.
Promise Jude Emordi holds a master's degree in political science. His research interests include global political economy, development studies, policy analysis and historical studies.
N.B.: The author of this article received additional insights from his thesis supervisor, Dr. Onah V.C., Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
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