In 2011 Osun trudged behind other states of the federation with its 34th position in the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) conducted by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO). The result was just woeful and it goes without saying that education needed a surgical operation in the State of Osun to stem the slide into a coma. And within just a year of the diagnosis and operation, the state leapt to the 18th position and with recuperation it has inched up to the 8th position.
Special Adviser to the Governor of Osun on Lands, Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr Ayodele Owoade, in chat in Lagos, attributed the progressive performance to the innovative programmes and massive investment in the education sector by the Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola administration.
He said the quick turnaround in the sector was amazing, considering that Aregbesola inherited a defective education sector built on dilapidated school buildings and demoralized working staff when he assumed office on November 27, 2010. According to him, the quality of education in past years was so poor that less than three percent of Osun students that finished from public schools were able to secure admission into tertiary institutions in the country.
Owoade said truancy was so high in secondary schools that students roamed the streets and took to commercial motorcycle operations during school hours. Above all, learning facilities were in utter disrepair and teachers’ morale sunk like a deflated balloon. No doubt, students from the state always ended on the back seat in public examinations year after year, he added.
Moved by the passion to reverse the rot, Owoade said the governor convened an education summit within his first three months in office. The summit, held at the Osogbo campus of the Osun State University, had Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka as chairman, as well as other educationists from different parts of the country and African nations. Other members of the summit were Dr. Modupe Fagbulu, a renowned educationist and retired inspector of education; Professor Wale Omole, former vice chancellor, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife; and Professor Ibidapo Obe, former vice chancellor, University of Lagos, among other erudite scholars. Also, heads of all tertiary institutions and principal officers of the institutions owned by the Osun State government, members of the Nigeria Union of Teachers and selected students from both secondary and tertiary institutions in the state form the membership of the summit.
In line with the recommendation of the summit that identified conducive environment as a priority, Owoade said the government courageously took a dive in the troubled water and launched a programme called O’Schools, to address the infrastructural decay in schools. Under this programme, 170 state-of-the-art mega schools are being constructed across all the federal constituencies in the state, 100 of which are for elementary schools (Grade 1 to 4), which is 1,000-capacity; 50 middle schools (Grade 5 to 8) also of 1,000-capacity and 20 high schools (Grade 9 to 12) of 3,000-capacity each.
Besides these new schools, the state government has embarked on refurbishing of existing schools. The government also embarked on re-classification of schools, making all public schools co-educational. Such step, according to the state government, would weed out mushroom schools and help in achieving economies of scale. The initiative would also checkmate the rate of school dropout, because it allows automatic transfer from elementary to middle school.
Owoade said over 100,000 customised chairs and desks had been provided for students, noting that the government was also drilling water boreholes in schools, building new toilets, as well as refurbishing and repainting old classroom blocks.
Further investigation revealed that before the advent of the present administration, primary schools in the state were given N200 per school as running cost per term, a situation that overburdened parents with series of levies. To reduce the burden, the present administration directed that no teacher must collect a kobo from pupils for their education. Presently, the running cost per term has been placed at N400 per child, which translates to a minimum of N75,000 on the average for each school per term for primary schools. Also, secondary schools in the area were being given N150 per child, per term and it has now been increased to N550 per child every term.
Aside the relief on parents, this intervention also enhanced students’ overall performance in public examinations. For instance, in 2010, Out of 44, 388 students that sat for the 2010 May/ June WASSCE, only 6,773 of them had credit passes in five subjects including English and Mathematics. But in 2011 May /June WASSCE, a total of 54, 810 students sat for the examinations while 11, 949 students recorded credit level passes in five subjects, including English and Mathematics, which translated to an improvement of 76.4%.
The governor’s aide said the introduction of an electronic learning device, popularly called Opon Imo, transformed education into the digital age in the state. No fewer than 150,000 pupils were given free electronic tablets loaded with 63 relevant books, lesson notes, virtual classroom and other learning resources for secondary school pupils. It also contains a dictionary, the Bible, the Quran, books on the history of the Yoruba and Ifa. It also contains lesson notes for the 17 subjects taken in the WASSCE as well as JAMB exam questions for the past 10 years.
Sunday Sun gathered that the introduction of the device has saved the state government the whooping sum of N50.25billion it would have spent on procuring hard-copy versions of the resources embedded in the Opon Imo. Taking students to the fast lane of digital information has made learning a delightful experience for the young learners and as well eased the burden on their teachers.
Owoade said the Aregbesola administration also reviewed the School Feeding Programme for primary one to four pupils, known as O’Meal. An estimated N3.6 billion is being spent annually on this programme, which provides the pupils with highly nutritious food, rich in protein and vitamins. Every week, the pupils consume 300,000 eggs, 15,000 chickens, 400 tons of fish and daily fruits and vegetables, sourced from local farmers through the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O’YES). The belief is that if the children were well-fed at their formative stage, their mental capacity would be enhanced for better concentration and performance.
Owoade said the success of the programme had been overwhelming, judging by the high enrolment and attendance in schools in the area. Above all, the new face of education in the state has reassured public confidence that qualitative education can also be accessible in public schools.
Counting on the successes recorded from these programmes, Owoade said the state government took another giant step recently in line with the recommendation by the education summit that public primary and secondary schools in the state should be merged for effective teaching and learning.
Sunday Sun gathered that the implementation of the schools merger system raised dust in the state, with accusations that the Aregbesola administration was bent on Islamising schools in the state.
Government’s attempt to embark on the implementation of the policy, which it tagged “Schools Re-classification System” last year was dogged by protests, spearheaded by the opposition party.
Reacting to this development, Owoade dismissed such speculation, noting that those that spread such allegations were either uninformed or deliberately mischievous. According to him, Governor Aregbesola had met with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and emphasized that he had no intention of Islamising Osun State.
He explained that government had taken over all missionary schools 38 years ago. Since then, the state government had been funding the schools without any contribution from their former owners. Owoade said old names of the missionary schools were retained to preserve their legacies and traditions. According to him, with the positive transformation in Osun schools, it would be ridiculous for anyone to insinuate that the Aregbesola administration wanted to Islamise the schools.