The Special Adviser on Education to the Osun State Governor, Hon. Jamiu Babatunde Olawumi, recently, visited Ilorin, Kwara State capital for a dialogue on the state of education in Nigeria with other stakeholders. He explained to Hammed Shittu the efforts taken by the Oyetola administration to review the education policy in Osun State, saying that it has brought about a structured governance, among other issues. Excerpts
What have been the feedbacks in Osun state since the reversal of some policies in the education sector?
In 2020, Osun State government faired excellently well in the area of education, and by the way, one of the indices that qualified my governor to be nominated as Governor of the year by BusinessDay Newspaper, was because education was very prominent among the three issues they considered where he excelled among his peers to be the best governor in 2020. That award was very instructive because this was the same newspaper that earlier published that Osun spent over N90 out N100 million, to pay debt. If a state like that ,almost becoming insolvent and no longer sustainable as a state, now emerged the best governor of the year from the perspective of that newspaper, it is very good for us because it means the governor here, knows what he has set out to achieve and he is achieving that.
The newspaper itself is not a walk over,when it comes to Newspapers in Nigeria,so we want to thank every Nigerian that has supported us to achieve that feat. The education that was very pivotal in winning the award, is what we sit down here to manage on his behalf and I think we have faired very good and excellently well in the course of the year. If we look at the reviewed policy, the new uniform, name change, 6-3-3-4 marred issues, the pre school issue, the Early Childhood Education Development ,all these are the corner stones about what the education policy was all about. In terms of the school uniform, you cannot imagine the economic consequence of the uniform that every school got its own uniform restored. That has generated close to N3 billion business for both the tailors and cloth sellers.Those people at Idiseke in Osogbo, Odoogbe in Ife, in Atakumosa and Ilesa, that parents went to and bought those uniform from, have actually turned the economy of Osun around for better. That’s why when National Bureau Of Statistics (NBS) categorises states, we have a lot of wealth we generated to the economy of Osun state, we have a lot of wealth that is going round because of the dynamism introduced by Governor Gboyega Oyetola, so that fetched the state interms of injection into the economy, about N3 billion from one hand to another, buying clothes, sewing it from tailors and tailors also buying materials. So, that much we did and we are very happy with that. The tailors association and other stakeholders have been coming here to pay thank you visits and I know that very soon, they will hold the governor to a rally to display their support for him. Secondly, when you look at the names of the schools, let me give you an instance, Ilesa Grammar school was founded in 1934, if we now call Ilesa Government High school established in 1934, are they the same? No. That’s one of the reasons one of the old students associations went to court and the number of vice chancellors Ilesa Grammar School, has produced, is more than any other secondary school in Osun state. So, they went to court, but the names of all those schools have been reversed to their original names, Oduduwa Grammar school, is back, Ilesa Grammar school is also back. The importance of this and the mileage we have gotten from all of these is that we have a high net worth of people coming to endorse the performance of the governor. They owned their schools, now we have constituted Board of Governors of those schools, old students of those schools are chairmen of board of governor, they have been coming to pay courtesy calls on the governor and thank you visit. We have Board of Governors of schools in Osun who are professors, retired permanent secretary. There is a particular school retired permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Defence who is now the Chairman Board of Governor and what is the composition of the board? We have two alumni members, a former principal of that school and the current principal, two representatives of the parents, one from the two religions, Muslim and Christianity and a school teacher will be their secretary. So, where you have Board of Governors like that, those petty things that normally come to the government to take money off our pockets, are being taken over by the board. They now have influence to look at what the teacher teaches, and adjudge whether that teacher is fit or not. They also have influence to look into the school governance and also look at the competence of the school principal who manages the school. The era of having cluster of principals in school that will make school administration difficult is over. We only have one super principal in the school, whether the students or pupils of the school are more than 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000, he is the principal. You have a vice principal who assists in governance, but you cannot create principal school one, principal school two, how many schools? It makes discipline difficult. It makes governing confusing. If you challenge a student in a school uniform, he can say he doesn’t belong to your school that he is in school two. By the time you bring his case to principal of school two, you have spent the whole day. We decided to have a well structured governance and that is what we have achieved. If you look at it, by and large, the issue of cultism has gone down. When last did you find students throwing stones or carry out any violent act? So our review has brought a lot of dividends such that you only imagine that the taste of the pudding, is in its eating. For us running the schools, we know how relieved we have become as compared to when we got to this office.
What should be the expectations of the people of the state for the education sector in 2021 ?
Reviewing the policy is a very big achievement for Governor Gboyega Oyetola because something that cuts across every home is education whether you attend private or public school. The private schools are service providers, they are doing it under our supervision, they obtain license from us. They are also helping the government educate the people, that is why they are very critical stakeholders so education cuts across. If you are doing well in public school and you are not doing well in private school, you are not doing well. In terms of governance, supervision, cooperation with service providers, things are going on well and that is a very huge achievement for the Oyetola administration. Nonetheless, we are not resting, we want to actually leave a mark that will be peculiar to this government. Let me share this with you. There was a committee from the vice president office, just in December, they came to check critical areas of social service in the state. They looked at our education, agriculture, infrastructure and health. When they got to this place, I said we have something that other states in Nigeria do not have, they couldn’t believe it and I was just coming from the annual national education conference in Abuja where I also showed what we were doing in Osun State that stood us out there. I said they can get to my class now on their phones and watch Mathematics, English and agriculture class, they couldn’t believe it. The website there is www.osun.csm.ng. One of those who came from Abuja opened it and he got into Mathematics class. I told him to go to English class and it was audio visual and you can also do assessment and obtain mark, that’s what we have done in Osun. We are also going to face digital literacy squarely this year.
It is one of the new normal occasioned by Covid-19. If the global economy had envisaged that we would have coronavirus, everybody would have moved to the so called new normal. But as we speak today, anybody coming into the new normal now, will meet Osun at the forefront and that is what we are going to focus on. Osun education will become a tourist attraction this year and I know a lot of states will come here to learn what we have been able to do. It is based on cloud system and we are doing excellently well. Very soon, my governor will be inaugurating this aspect of education and what he will do is going to be legendary. I won’t let the cat out of the bag now, but I know that in no distant time when we launch it, everybody will want to come here to learn what we have been able to do.
What efforts does the government intend to make in the area of infrastructure this year so that your desire to improve the quality and standard of education in the state can be fully achieved?
This year, we are going to embark on renovation of schools. We have quite a number of schools that are begging for attention because of the state of disrepair they are. Despite those gigantic buildings we have around, we still have a lot of deficit . Even though no government can easily complete every school, we will put everything into a better shape. But we are going to start and we have close to 100 schools to renovate as there are some that are roofless. We will then move on to investing heavily in digital literacy which are the infrastructures. We are also going to invest in training which is human capacity development, we are going to train principals, teachers, and sponsors from Canada are also joining us for the training. Also this year, the governor is looking to remodel certain aspect, especially the pre school age. We want to make sure that we key into the UNICEF agenda which we had earlier jettisoned because of non implementation of the early childhood care education. Most of our schools that have facilities have started and we are going to be running them.
How have these developments impacted positively on the students?
The students are beneficiaries and they are happy. No longer will a boy attend Baptist Girls High School, which used to be the case. That has gone forever and we have restored normalcy. If it’s a Girls Grammer school, we only have girls there, like St.John Grammar School, Ife. It’s boys only , now you can no longer find girls there. Also, you can’t find boys at St. Margaret, Ilesha. St. Charles, Osogbo, is an all boys school, you can’t find girls there. The students are now seen in their uniform. It just like when you go out of Nigeria and you see your flag, meaning that the patriotism and heroism will be renewed and that is what we have among the schools. The areas where we are working harder, is to ensure that those schools progress. For instance, for schools that were running senior secondary schools alone before we reviewed the polices, we cannot just manufacture JSS one, two and three to join them. We have the senior secondary school classees and we now have students in junior secondary school one. We also promote during the session such that the school that was running junior secondary alone, has now admitted students into the senior secondary school one. So the restoration is going to be progressive and we are sincere about that.
Considering the second wave of Covid-19, how prepared is the government for school resumption?
The government is prepared, other than observing the Covid-19 protocols, there is nothing any other government can add to it, the benchmark has been set by NCDC. These are the use of nose mask, observing social distancing and washing of hands with soap and water, as well as using hand sanitizer. One thing that has worried every government, Osun state inclusive, is that people are not complying with the Covid-19 protocols. What the government is trying to do is to ensure compliance with the protocols in the four walls of our schools. We have made sure that no student comes to school without using a nose mask and we have also provided facilities for hand washing in the premises. However, we urge our parents to also cooperate with the government in ensuring that these protocols are complied with, even when the students are outside the school. With the upsurge in cases, Nigerians should observe the protocols. Resumption of schools in the state has commenced. An inter administerial committee was set up comprising the Ministry of Health and that of education. The committee looked at the daily profile of the NCDC since schools vacated. When we looked at the challenges confronting the state in terms of managing the virus, we advised the governor on what to do and when to open schools. So far so good, the state has done fairly well in combating the virus. We are not too exposed and the pandemic is not prevalent here.
How does your administration intend to improve tertiary education this year?
We plan to give tertiary education adequate attention and ensure industrial harmony among lecturers and other staff. We are currently looking at capacity building in the schools and very soon, new teachers will be recruited into our tertiary institutions. Osun State University is currently doing very well, we have adequate lecturers. We are looking at other institutions and auditing their figures to know when and how many people to employ there. The recruitment will be done in the first quarter of the year.
What major challenge did the Oyetola administration face in 2020?
The major challenge was funding. From the business point of view, we were spending over N90 million out of N100 million to service debts. However, the governor is a financial expert who knows that there is no point embarking on a project if there’s no money and as a result, he is not adding to what we are trying to refrain from. A number of holes have been blocked,so there are no leakages. Before funds are released, he makes sure that the money is actually needed. Salaries including the new minimum wage, have been paid. Also, the promotion list is currently being compiled.