Opon Imo: Inspirational Message From State Of Osun



By Salihu Lukman

Partly on account of the aspiration to shape and orient citizens to become more productive, a critical function of all modern states is educational delivery. Accordingly, governments associated with good records of human progress are also reputed with functional and efficient public educational services. In the case of most African countries, public education has been on the decline since the mid 1980s with the introduction of IMF/World Bank-promoted Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.

Systematic and continued decline over the years has left public education in African countries unable to meet the task of developing productive citizens. In some ways, this has undermined and constrained the capacity of African states to mobilise resources for development, thereby increasing the propensity to be poor and further pulling African people into poverty. This situation has produced an unfortunate symmetry between poor state of public education and levels of poverty. It has also produced a reality whereby public education is underfunded, unstable and unpredictable. Capital and recurrent funding to education in the last three decades is far below UNESCO recommended 26 per cent of national budget and total enrolment is scandalously low.

In the case of Nigeria, with geometric rise in government revenue, mainly from crude oil, the situation is the same – weak capacity to discharge responsibility toward developing the ability of government at all levels to meet the task of creating productive citizens. Going by the account of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Nigeria earned N8.875 trillion between 2002 and 2006. This shot to N8.878 trillion for 2011 alone and in 2012, N8.117 trillion. GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) almost trebled, from $170 billion in 2000 to $451 billion in 2012. Similarly, GDP per capita doubled from $1400 per person in 2000 to an estimated $2,800 per person in 2012.

Total expenditures on education by all Nigerian governments combined are estimated at about 3.5 per cent of GDP and 15.2 per cent of total government expenditure. The consequence is that the art of governance has become antithetical to knowledge. Citizens, even when trained and educated, remain ignorant or over time end up experiencing brain atrophy mainly as a result of inability to use or apply knowledge. With such unfortunate scenario, rather than direct society towards controlling the environment, the environment instead conquers citizens. Thus, it can be argued that in so many respects government has become partly the problem of our contemporary world, with rulers crazily accelerating modern societies to disasters of increasing magnitude.

This, unfortunately, is the story of Nigeria. With an estimated 170 million population, the combination of collapse of public education since the 1990s, poor funding, corruption and mismanagement is increasingly taking Nigeria away from civilisation. Current state of education in the country is, to say the least, appalling. The situation has brought about a sad reality whereby people with means end up sending their children to schools in other countries, including relatively poorer nations than Nigeria. People with means include public servants whose main source of income is public funds that should have ordinarily been used to develop the educational sector.

This is the sad Nigerian story today. It is a story that is dominant and has become cancerous, producing all manner of crises across the nation. No doubt, there are some state governments that are genuinely working hard to develop initiatives that would reverse this trend, re-connect governance with quest for knowledge aimed at solving problems faced by citizens. In some ways, it would appear that the State of Osun (as they prepare to be called) best represents the category of states that are genuinely interested in addressing this problem. Why Osun? What has the state done that is different? Are they not also implementing projects that may be prone to corrupt enrichment of public officials?

On Monday, 3 June 2013, the State of Osun launched Opon-Imo, which is an e-learning project for pupils in the secondary schools. It entails giving each student in senior secondary schools, Computer Tablet (otherwise known as Opon Imo) to aid teaching and learning in all secondary schools across the state. The Opon Imo is a self-study aid, a robust electronic device with uniform learning content for all secondary school students.

It is an indigenous Computer Programmed Instruction, CPI, with locally produced content, designed for the Nigerian secondary education system. Presently, the project targets 150,000 students in the SSS 1–3 category and their teachers. According to the state government, “The advantages of the Opon Imo are many. One is that it has an in-built feedback mechanism for monitoring students’ performance. Second, the tablet frees the student from the physical burden of backpack of books and the healthcare-costs of ‘bad-backs’. In addition, it makes learning less stressful because of its handiness. Students can take it anywhere with them and have instant knowledge and information about their schoolwork.

“The tablet is preloaded with 17 subjects offered by students in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination, WASSCE. The subjects have been designed in forms of lesson notes, textbooks, mostly provided by Publishers and Master Teachers Inputs. A content verifier has also verified lesson notes on each subject (Masters Teachers Works).

“Besides, seven extra-curricular subjects such as Sexuality Education, Civic Education, Yoruba History, Ifa Traditional Religion, Computer Education and Entrepreneurship Education, and Twelve Thousand Yoruba Proverbs are also included.

“Also included are ten years’ past questions and answers provided by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and the West African Examinations Council, WAEC. Consequently, questions and answers in 17 Ordinary Level subjects have been provided. They are English Language, Mathematics, Agricultural Science, Economics, Principles of Accounts, Literature in English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Yoruba, Commerce, Further Mathematics, History, Geography, Government, IRK and CRK.

“Presently, 56 e-textbooks, covering 17 subjects’ areas are preloaded in Opon-Imo. In addition, seven extra-curricular subjects with relevant books are preloaded, bringing the e-textbooks to 63. There are also, 51 audio tutorials embedded in the Opon-Imo to further aid students through virtual study plan.”

What make the story of Opon Imo very attractive and recommendable are not just the details of the content but the cost analysis, which was provided by the state government Apart from the fact that its contents can be customised to meet the needs of users, it is very affordable based on the following cost analysis:

1. JAMB & WASC past questions for all subjects for a period of ten years on 17 subjects at a conservative estimate of N1000 per subject will give a conservative figure of N2,550,000,000 (N2.55 billion).

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2. Virtual Classroom zone containing 51 audio tutorials estimated at about N5000 per session gives N38,250,000,000 (N38.25 billion) for 150,000 students.

3. 63 e-textbooks preloaded at a conservative estimate of N1000 each comes to N63,000 x 150,000 = N9,450,000,000 (N9.45 billion).

The state government sums it up with the explanation that, were they “to engage in the physical purchase of hard-copies of textbooks for the 17 subjects taught in our public schools, hard-copies of 51 audio tutorials, hard-copies of JAMB & WAEC past questions and answers for all subjects for a period of 10 years, it would (conservatively speaking) cost a whopping N50.25 billion.” The State of Osun is providing each students of SSS 1–3 Opon Imo free based on initial rollout of 150,000 to be distributed to students and teachers.

The question at this point is, What is the cost of the 150,000 Opon Imo being introduced in all public senior secondary schools in the State of Osun? Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of the state, who conceived the whole idea while window shopping in an electronic store, announced during the launching that the total cost of the project is slightly above N200 million. One of the things that the Opon Imo project necessitated is the installation of solar panels in schools to power the devices. It is not very clear whether the cost of installing the solar panels in schools is included in the slightly above N200 million expenditure.

At face value therefore, it could be argued that with public investment of slightly above N200 million, the government of State of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Aregbesola has saved the state N50.25 billion. This is an understatement. The current estimated budget for supplying text books to schools, according the state Ministry of Education, is N8.6 billion. The total number of textbooks may not be up to 63 covering the 17 subjects contained in Opon Imo and may not be up to 150,000. For the purpose of analysis, let us even take the estimate of N8.6 billion as sufficient. At the same time, let us also ignore the arithmetic multiplication of N63,000 x 150,000 = N9,450,000,000 (N9.45 billion) based on the average rate of N1,000 for each textbook and therefore adopt the value of N8.6 billion as the correct budgetary value required. This means that with Opon Imo, the State of Osun is saved N8.6 billion from its current budget.

Apart from the state government, parents are also saved the burden of buying JAMB & WASC past questions for all subjects and are supplied 17 subjects for ten years. At a conservative estimate of N1000 per subject, it means that, assuming an average of 9 subject per child, for WASC, on each child, parents are saved N180,000. In a similar way, but perhaps lower value, parents are assisted to make savings on each child sitting for JAMB. Based on the resources in Opon Imo therefore, the total savings parent are assisted to make is N2.55 billion.

By far, the most excellent innovation of Opon Imo could be argued to be the presence of Virtual Classroom zone containing 51 audio tutorials estimated at about N5,000 per session. This is a complete new creation. It means the creation of new resource. Therefore, with Opon Imo as presently designed, the State of Osun has succeeded in creating a resource that is valued at N38.25 billion. All with small public investment of slightly over N200 million.

To crown it all, during the launching of Opon Imo, Ogbeni Aregbesola announced that the state government has made arrangement with the makers of Opon Imo to set up Opon Imo production plant in the State of Osun so that they can also supply other needy students, schools and states. This means that once successful, the State of Osun will emerge as one of the major ICT hubs of the nation.

Opon Imo no doubt represents a huge leap in educational delivery. No doubt it will come with challenges, which the government must prepare to address. The challenges would include the fact of Opon Imo is coming with user-friendly features on account of which it can be expanded and amended to incorporate other contents beyond what is provided. Arising from this, there will be the problem of migrating our poorly trained teachers to this new digital environment. It may even result in some industrial disputes, especially with trade unions such as Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT.

To prepare for this, there is the need to learn from experiences of other similar initiatives. Luckily, neighbouring Ekiti State has been working on an e-school project based on a target of providing 100,000 customised laptops to students. Like Opon Imo, the Ekiti e-school project is also solar-powered and has been running since 2011. Although young, Ekiti State’s e-school project definitely has some experiences in terms of preparing teachers to migrate to e-learning digital environment as well as managing responses that may be conservative.

The second challenge is the issue of maintenance and possible loss through theft. In terms of maintenance, management staff of schools may require some training, which should be in-plant (within the schools) in order to guarantee constant functionality and prevent possible breakdown. Given the poor management culture in this country, there is the need not to take issues of management for granted. Related to management is the issue of how to secure the equipment. Hopefully, the devices come with tracking security features.

There are issues of sustainability. To what extent should we expect that another government after the current one will not abandon the project and return to the old mode that only ends up destroying our educational system? This is an area that may require both legislative action and citizens’ engagement. In terms of citizens’ engagement, it would appear that, more than any state, again the State of Osun is introducing some milestone initiatives. It is a common sight in all parts of the state to see young people dressed in brown khaki dress (similar to NYSC uniform) clearing roads and streets. These are mostly young graduate school leavers. Therefore, unlike what obtains in virtually all other states, the administration of Ogbeni Aregbesola has developed an effective programme of mass mobilisation. A critical challenge would be to systematically focus the programme toward  emerging as a mass employment programme creating value that should translate into income for all the young citizens.

In many ways, the State of Osun can be said to be succeeding in reviving the governance-knowledge nexus, which is the fundamental heritage of Ancient Egyptian civilisation and what should be the defining attribute of all governments.

Clearly, Governor Aregbesola demonstrates good understanding of governance-knowledge nexus. More than anything, knowledge is what distinguishes the human race from all other creation. Departure from knowledge has produced crisis for Nigeria as a nation. Interestingly, State of Osun is the third least earner from the Federation Account. While it is earning less, it has about the best comparative record of human development. Based on NBS surveys, the state is reported with 3.0 per cent unemployment rate and 47.5 per cent poverty incidence when the national average is respectively 23.9 per cent and 69 per cent.

With Opon Imo therefore, the inspiring message from the State of Osun is that our people are our most important resource, their knowledge, skills and talent will be developed to support them produce resources and wealth from our natural environment and the state government is ready and working to introduce innovative programmes to achieve result. The only demand Nigerians need to make on especially Governor Aregbesola is that, being a member and leader of ACN and member of the APC merger committee, we expect APC to truly and faithfully commit itself to this governance-knowledge nexus. With that, the Opon Imo innovation will be celebrated nationally and, for generations to come the new Nigerian knowledge society to be produced with the aid of Opon Imo will be recognised as one whose foundation was laid on 3 June 2013 in the State of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Aregbesola.

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