In this interview, the Executive Chairman of the Ogun State Universal Basic Education Board, Dr Femi Majekodunmi, highlights how the agency is taking education in the state to an enviable height through prompt government interventions. Sunday Okobi presents the excerpts:
What is the state of schools’ infrastructure in Ogun?
In answering that question, we should look at it from what the situation was like before the advent of this administration. Before the coming of Governor Dapo Abiodun, the situation was terrible when you talk of infrastructural decay in all the schools – and it was not only schools; talk of hospitals, talk of roads and so on. Of course, many roads are under construction, but the schools were really hard hit. And one of the greatest things; one of the first things Abiodun did was not only to put education in the front burner of his administration; he went ahead even before the inauguration to plan and commence the education programme, exemplified by putting in the much-needed counterpart fund to take care of the infrastructural decay I’m talking about, to ensure that we are able to put in about N10 billion as counterpart fund plus the matching grant from UBEC to build new schools – what we call the Yellow Roof revolution all over; renovation of dilapidated structures, toilets, boreholes for the provision of drinkable water and so on. It was like a revolution; things started moving. And you can still see them all over the place.
Has school enrolment and learning outcomes improved in Ogun?
It has improved. I’m not conversant with the actual number, but I can give you an idea. I came in over a year after Governor Abiodun was inaugurated because the board was not constituted until about a year after, but I can still talk of the time he came in and now. When we talk of the enrolment of pupils (we call them learners), talk of pupils, teachers, and schools. Here we have about 13,000 teachers in various schools; we have about 1,500 primary schools. The population of teachers has increased remarkably, and new buildings have erupted, new teachers have been employed, the school environment has been made much better, and cleaner; teachers are now better trained. Gone were the days when teachers were employed without proper training, without the much-needed basic education. In all our schools now, you don’t see any teacher below the level of NCE, and they are well paid. Not only that, the salaries are paid promptly every month. In all these, the government has done a lot.
Are rural and urban schools in Ogun treated differently?
They are not really treated differently, but we are clamouring for a situation where they will be treated differently by way of getting something extra for those in the rural areas. Because when you consider many of the teachers in the rural areas, they have their base in the towns; many of them still live in towns, and they have to pay for transportation on a daily basis to come back. They need the incentive to make them stay. We are working on that. The shortage of teachers we’re having is in the rural areas. The basic things are okay. In fact, we’re struggling to maintain the maximum needed for the place. Pressure is so much on us to transfer those in the rural areas to the city that is already filled with teachers. The rural areas need teachers as much as the urban areas as well.
Laxity in the inspectorate system is considered a factor in the falling education standard. What measures are in place in Ogun to monitor teachers?
Here, that’s an area we really emphasise. We have an arrangement, a department: the Quality Assurance Department; they are saddled with the responsibility of going around regularly to make sure that many things are in place – teachers doing their work the way they should, pupils coming to school regularly, teachers being punctual in school. I, as the chairman, go around with my different teams. We have to go to the different senatorial districts to inspect what is going on; the same as when they are having examinations, we also go around as much as possible to be sure everything is in place.
There are monitoring officers on the ground. We have different government education area offices. They are there; they are like our appendages in the various local governments, and each department has a representative there. They are the quality assurance we are talking about, just as we have them in the headquarters. They are in every local government. They have the administrative section in all the 20 local governments; we have the quality assurance in the education area offices; you have the Academic School Services, just as you have the accountants in all. So we are established in all the local governments. And we have our block of offices separate from the political government. You have the Education Area Authorities. And we take care of security as much as possible too. Apart from the watchmen, we got even the police to monitor for us. I remember at the inception of my coming here, we went to the commissioner of police in Ogun State, and what he put down is still in existence. The DPOs in every local government police division are to monitor school activities, especially the security situation, because in many of the local government areas we have miscreants, people messing up the schools, some landlords, and moneybags encroaching on school lands.
Does the Ogun government involve the private sector in funding the education and academic infrastructure?
There are some we encourage ourselves; we have the parent-teacher association, and we have the School-Based Management Committees. These and many other groups depending on the community are in all the schools. They help when it comes to minor issues. The SBMC for example emphasise a situation where the leaders in the community are the ones who really constitute the membership. More often than not you have the Baale or even the Oba being the chairmen of the various school management committees because we do realise that government cannot do it all, and they are there to assist the government in many ways. That’s what we can say about the internal arrangements. We have some external ones; companies that help us in many ways; they are providing some of our needs, building classrooms, toilets, fences, provision of water, like boreholes. We have companies like Nestle; they have helped us over the years tremendously, even WAPCO (West African Portland Cement), Lafarge. In the teaching area, we have the TFN (Teaching For Nigeria); they have assisted us a lot by way of providing teachers. There are many other forms of assistance that come from philanthropists, businessmen, politicians; they also build schools for us, renovate schools, and supply books, and so on. I can’t forget the Federal Ministry of Education. They have different programmes whereby they help us with our needs. A new innovation has just come up: smart schools. Each state is going to have a smart school; each one consists of a complex structure, and then you have the primary, and secondary aspects of education and many other facilities, the type we’ve not had in many states, none in Ogun State. The Ogun State one is being built somewhere in Ikenne. When completed, it will be the number one primary and secondary school in Ogun.
How does the Ogun government intend to balance the lopsided teacher-student ratio to meet UNESCO standards?
Well, we look forward to the world standard as you mentioned, and our government is up to the task. Very soon, we’ll be launching the Education Endowment Fund because the government alone cannot take care of education funding; every government wants to retain the idea of free education, and it’s an extremely expensive exercise. And that’s why we are so grateful to the governor for all he has done; he has done a lot, but there is still more to be done to reach that level.
What measures are in place to ensure quality assurance control with the mushrooming of private schools?
Let’s take it from the notion; it’s not even a notion. It’s like a law. Basic education is compulsory for all. When you take it from there, the governor, with his enabling powers, is doing what he should by way of the provision of the necessary tools to make things work. We expect every child to be in school. Of course, we have cases of out-of-school children; those who should be in school that are not in school. That’s another area we are working on. There’s World Bank assistance for that-Better Education For All. With this, we make sure we put all in place, and that’s why I talked of the different departments: the administration, the school services and of course the quality assurance departments. With all these working together, we expect better education delivery in the state.
Can you give us an idea of the kind of capacity development programmes you have for teachers?
We have many. The principal one is the Teachers Development Programme. This is assisted by the government. There is a lot he does to maintain all we have- to train teachers and retrain them. You have from UBEC itself which puts a huge sum of money from time to time. The last one we had was for 2018/2019; we are expecting 2020/2021 very soon. We were able to train thousands of teachers in many aspects of teaching, and we’ve been able to not just train them on the spot, we have cluster training whereby teachers from different schools are brought together and we get professors from universities to give them further training. The last one we did was very successful. We were able to train thousands of teachers, and their welfare is also well taken care of. They are given running costs in their various areas – rural and urban areas. They need little cash to run the place for cleaning, washing, taking care of the children, and getting first aid boxes and so on. They are given money every month – a huge sum of money when you consider how much we spend. I can tell you that N64 million is spent every month for primary schools. It was N32 million, but recently, less than a year it was increased because of agitation to increase the money for their welfare. And this increment cuts across so many other areas too, not just running cost. As you know, things are very expensive. That’s why we keep saying free education is very expensive for any government to run, but our governor is doing fantastically well.
Despite what the government has done, are there no challenges facing the SUBEB?
Yes, I’ve even mentioned some. There are many. Despite all the teachers we are employing, we still need more. I told you that before his coming in, the situation was deplorable. However, a lot has been done to improve the situation when it comes to the employment of teachers. When it comes to their welfare, a lot has been done. I’m sure there’s still more to be done; nobody does it 100%. And when you talk of the pupils, we have a situation now…just go to any primary school, the environment is clean. The pupils (we call them ‘learners’) are well-dressed. There is a discipline in the schools. We don’t allow any teacher to mess up. We monitor from time to time. Teachers (are) well dressed; pupils are well dressed, the environment is clean, and their needs are given to them as often as is necessary. And I told you that the quality assurance department is a very well-staffed, well-equipped department, going around from time to time and bringing reports; and what is to be done is done in good time. That is what we have. But I agree, there is still more to be done.
The federal government has approved the use of the mother tongue for teaching in basic schools. What do you think?
We all realise the need to do this. All over the world, it has been found that using the native language as the official language or language to teach pupils is better. You have a better understanding of the language, better control of the language, and better usage of the language. And what expect if this is done is that our children will do better in any assessment and other examinations that are given to them. That’s the way I feel, but we all know that we still have to wait for the expected good results when we start any good thing.
What are the measures to tackle cultism and other anti-social behaviours in Ogun schools?
You’re correct; we have a bit of it in Ogun State, just like any other state. It’s even more in secondary school than in primary school; most of the cases we have in primary schools emanate from secondary schools because they are a bit older. We’ve experienced this, but we are equal to the task by monitoring them from time to time. Our quality assurance department does not joke with any information about any of these unfortunate incidents in our schools; they go straight to deal with the situation – be it drugs or immoral behaviour not only by the pupils but even the teachers themselves, and we get them to face the disciplinary committee. We’ve had to sack teachers for immoral behaviour. All these abound, just as it abounds in society at large.