THAT the education system in the country is in shambles in universally accepted by those familiar with the system. Globally, over 265 million children are currently out of school and 22 per cent of them are of primary school age. Additionally, according to the United Nations, even the children who are attending schools lack basic skills in reading and mathematics. Now, the finding by the United States Children Fund (UNICEF), namely that one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, should be sobering to every sane mind. About 10.5 million of the country’s children aged 5-14 years are not in school. This is no doubt saddening because as the United Nations recognises, obtaining a quality education is the foundation to creating sustainable development. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems. Admittedly, though, with the level of infrastructure decay that has bedeviled the educational sector across the country, even if a state governor devotes all the available resources by way of internally generated revenue and others to education, it will still amount to no more than a drop in the ocean considering the level of decay. This is, in large part, due to the military came interregnum which saw the government taking over schools that were previously run by missionaries, putting enormous burden on state resources.
Ogun State is not an exception and of course previous governments in the state introduced various measures to address the educational issue, particularly the pervasive decay in infrastructure. Before Governor Ibikunle Amosun left office, he had, in conjunction with the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), imposed a N3,700 education levy per pupil. This was, among others, to augment government spending in the state and upgrade infrastructure. Sadly, though, it in no small measure affected the economy of parents who were already burdened with the country’s multifarious economic challenges in the last couple of years. The point may be quite uncomfortable, but it is nevertheless a reality that in Ogun, as in many parts of the country, most families cannot afford two decent meals per day. The N3,700 levy had the negative of effect of causing many parents to take their children away from school. This, among others, informed Governor Dapo Abiodun’s decision to scrap the levy and facilitate the return of many of the children of the downtrodden and vastly impoverished masses to school. This would no doubt go a long way in alleviating the suffering of parents in the state.
It is universally accepted that education is society’s most potent tool for liberation. But it is also true that this objective cannot be realistically met where there is pervasive infrastructure decay. It is a fact that most of the primary schools in Ogun State are in a dilapidated condition, which is why, for a start, the government has selected one school per ward for total and comprehensive rehabilitation. Happily, this is not a one-off strategy: as soon as this stage is completed, the next level exercise incorporating a school per ward across the state will commence. No doubt, the refurbished and significantly recreated structures will create a conducive climate for learning. After all, education is easily facilitated when school is just home away from home, not a harrowing environment subjecting pupils to misery. Experts in the field of education cannot doubt the popular view that inadequate school infrastructure can be a direct barrier to attendance for some marginalised groups of children, including girls and children with disabilities. Thus, with significantly high level of investment in infrastructure, good quality buildings and provision of new facilities, schools in the state can now begin to deliver on their raison d’etre, particularly given the schemes for sustainable maintenance and resistance of vandalism incorporated into the new educational blueprint by the Abiodun administration.
In addition, the promotion of teachers, a core issue that will impact the vision so far outlined by the governor, is being done with dispatch. The state in fact also compiled a sum N32 billion as outstanding gratuities and death pensions between August 2011 to June, 2019 under its Transition Pension Scheme, with a view to offseting the indebtedness. Given the foregoing, it is no surprise that tertiary institutions in the state are receiving needed surgical attention. As soon as the objectives at the lower (that is primary and secondary school) levels have been achieved, these tertiary institutions are expected to provide the next bus stop for students intending to acquire degrees and compete favourably in our rapidly and increasingly globalizing world. First, issues at the Tai Solarin College of Education which had been having series of internal crisis, finding it difficult to perform the very basic functions of matriculating or graduating students, have been decisively addressed in the last three months. Previously, even for those who graduated, getting transcripts in the school was another battle of Maldon, apologies to the authors of that Anglo-Saxon epic. But all this has been addressed.
There is of course the case of the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, formerly Ogun State Polytechnic and one of the country’s very best renowned for turning out brilliant minds in various fields (architecture, engineering, mass communication, name it), which was relocated to another area of the state merely for political mischief. This fostered imbalances within the educational system and bad blood in political circles, but Abiodun has returned it back to Abeokuta with full accreditation. Students, their parents and members of the academic community can therefore not be pilloried for being in a jubilant mood. As a matter of fact, for the many the bright minds scattered across the Nigerian media and elsewhere who cut their teeth at the institution, it is a thing of joy that the pride and dignity of the school has been restored. That is not all: Olabisi Onabanjo Hospital, found in near total decay on May 29 this year, is already experiencing what it means to have men and women of vision in Government House: massive recruitment of specialists in various categories is ongoing as we speak. At the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, the recruitment process for all categories and cadres of healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, lab scientists, radiographers, etc) has already commenced, together with the rehabilitation of the State Hospital in Ilaro.
And the governor has even promised that other areas of the state desirous of universities will have them as soon as the state’s finances allow the objective.
The agitation of the people of Ogun Central and West Senatorial Districts is to have a state university in their respective and Governor Abiodun, speaking during a one-day stakeholders forum with the theme, “Repositioning Education for Outstanding Performance”, held in Abeokuta, the state capital, promised that this would be done gradually, taking the state’s financial position into consideration. As he noted, “We have been able to settle the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY) issue. It is a win – win for everybody. If the people of Ogun Central still want a university, they will have it and if the people of Ogun West say they want a university, university they will have, but we are going to take it one step at a time and also consider the financial position of the state. In the past, Ogun State position used to be in a digit, but now we are at the bottom five. This is unacceptable as the state is known to be first in every facets of our national life. We cannot continue and we are doing everything possible to reverse the trend. As you all know, during my inauguration on May 29, I declared an emergency in the education sector. We are following it up with the rehabilitation of 236 primary and secondary schools in each of our wards. We set up committees to resolve issues that affected smooth running of academic activities in some of our tertiary institutions. The committees have since submitted their reports and recommendations. I want to assure our good people that education which one of our pillars, will continue to receive due and prompt attention.”
The new Tech Hubs will promote digitization and make the state an investment destination. Investment in education is an investment in the future. It is an imperishable legacy. It can never be a waste. Just within three and half months, Abiodun has put in place things that will endure. If, as Malcolm X submits, education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today, one can only laud the Ogun governor for putting in place structures that will make education in Ogun both pleasurable and unbeatable.
- Branco contributes this piece from Kuto, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
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