1st October, 2013
Deputy Governor and Commissioner for Education in the State of Osun, Chief Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, speaks with FUNSHO BALOGUN, GBENRO ADESINA and FOLA ADEMOSU on the new education policy in the state
What was the state of education in the state before you had the education summit?
When we came in, what we met on ground was beyond redemption. We knew the situation was very bad but we never dreamt that it was that bad. While we were campaigning, we made promises to our people; we have our manifesto which contains six-point action plans which we intended to use for the development of the state. We promised we would banish hunger, unemployment, poverty, provide functional education, provide for communal peace and restore healthy living.
To provide functional education, a few of us went round to assess the state of education in the state before we even promised them functional education. What we met on ground was a total decadence in terms of infrastructure, abysmal performance of students, unmotivated workforce. Students and teachers were always absent from the class because of poor motivation. Most of our students have stunted growth, especially in the elementary schools. Most of them came to school in tattered uniforms, especially in the rural areas. Some even didn’t bother to have uniforms and just put on their normal daily wears, buba and soro. At times, they absconded from the school.
Apart from dilapidated structures, there were no laboratories in place. So, the basic tools for education were lacking. If you recall, we didn’t appoint commissioners immediately we came on board. It took us over eight months. Few of us, including the Director-General of Bureau of Social Service, BOSS, Mr. Femi Ifaturoti and I were the team working actively with the governor. The governor had earlier hinted me that I would be in charge of education so I had to go out to see things for myself. It was then I found out that the grants being given to the schools were poor. There was virtually nothing they could do without proper funding. People wonder why the state of the schools was so bad. I reported to the governor my findings as a result of the personal tour to virtually all the schools in the state. We became highly worried. Poor funding was the major problem. Eventually, we took a decision that we would have an education summit. That would avail us the opportunity of gaining the experience of various people because it was a huge problem and we wanted an immediate solution.
We had the education summit from 5 to 7 February 2011with Professor Wole Soyinka as the chairman. We involved all stakeholders within and outside the state. We also involved the local people. We involved the Nigeria Inter-religious Council, NIREC; Parent Teacher Association, PTA; Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT; All Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools, ANCOPSS, and association of head teachers and head mistresses. We gave the opportunity to everybody to present papers on how to revamp the decadence in education. Wonderful suggestions were made and solutions were proffered. We came up with a robust and all-encompassing communiqué. After its review, we came up with our reform.
To tackle the infrastructural decay, we have the O’Schools. The O’Schools committee came up with the number of schools that would adequately take care of the decadence, lack of instructional materials, and all the educational facilities to reposition education in the state. We took a decision to provide state-of-the-art equipment, structures and buildings that are comparable to anyone in the world. We refuse to put up structures that will have problem in the next 10 years. They are structures to be there 40 years and beyond. If you recall, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo reformed education in Western Region. Some of the structures that Awolowo built are still there in Osun till today. We took a decision to build 20 state-of-the-art high schools, 50 middle schools, and 100 elementary schools. In providing the high schools, we planned that each of the high schools will have facility to accommodate effectively, and provide conducive atmosphere for learning and teaching for 3,000 students. However, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, and the policy on education don’t permit a secondary school up to have 3000 in one place. So, we decided to build three units of such schools in a location; each unit will accommodate 1,000. This will allow us to deploy the scarce resources effectively because we have provided standard laboratories that would put education forward. The three schools will then have access to such facilities. Before then, we had multiplicity of schools. There are some schools in some villages that have only 18 students with 24 teachers whereas there are some schools with about 1,000 students and six teachers. There is a particular school I know with 1,000 students with six teachers, one principal and one vice-principal. Effectively, the principal and the vice-principal take care of administrative functions but at times they have to teach because of low manpower.
What actually brought about merging of schools?
We didn’t merge schools, but we re-classified them into three basic structures which are: the elementary schools, otherwise known as Neigbourhood Schools; the middle schools, and the high schools in designated areas. The students will go into any of the schools they have been placed into. The on-going re-classification is just to consolidate the gains of our reforms. The O’Schools came up with a structure of the number of the schools to be built and we had to hit the ground running immediately. If you go round the state, you will observe that structures adorning several parts of the state. The high schools, some of them cost us N1.3b, some N780m, depending on the structures and the compensations we had to pay, because what we are doing is that we are building the high schools on areas that are about 10 hectares. If there is a structure that will not allow us to do that, we pay compensation to owners of such structures. A lot of constructions of high schools are on-going, in Ejigbo, Osogbo, Iwo and other places and will soon be completed. The contractors are working 24 hours with their generators because they know our needs.
Our high schools have ICT facilities and that is why we ensure that our students are computer literate. We have provided them with state-of-the-art recreational facilities. We are having standard football pitches for the high schools, we are providing them student hostels and staff quarters, water, then food court where students will have opportunity to buy whatever types of food they want at moderate charges. We have democratised learning. We want to give our students a level playing ground so that the children of the rich and poor will have equal opportunity. Education is the only legacy that we have and the hope of the poor man. Most of us now occupying various positions in government and the blue chip firms are not from silver-spoon backgrounds. Most of us excel because we have good education and this is what we want to do in the state. So, the question of students not coming to school because they don’t have opportunity or not doing well because of unavailability of facility will be a thing of the past.
For the high school students, having provided standard laboratories that are equivalent of those provided in the highly developed economies, we believe our students will give out their best and perform optimally in any internal or external examination.
Again, for high schools students, we give them Opon Imo. It has 54 books, 63 e-books. Out of these, 56 are federal government recommended textbooks. The extra ones are extracurricular textbooks that will take care of courses like computer education, history of the Yoruba, lesson notes for all the subjects. You know it is impossible for government to buy 63 books for each of the 138,700 student in Osun. Now there is no question of students lacking required textbooks or materials because they are all there in the tablet. We added other books, and tips on how to pass examination. For us, the Opon Imo is the powerful tool that will end the poor performance of our students. There is learning centre in the Opon Imo. There are three platforms on the tablet which include learning centre, and text zone. The latter has two segments: the mock exam, and the other one contains over 40,000 past questions and guided answers in West African Examinations Council, WAEC; University Matriculation Examination, UTME, and the NECO exam.
We have pulled out the internet from it so that it will not be abused. We also put educational games like chess and Sudoku. This will help their cognitive system. We train the teachers and students on the use of Opon Imo. The Opon Imo is not supposed to replace teachers; rather, it is supposed to help the students to revise after the school hours and prepare them for examination. That notwithstanding, the teachers would still teach. Opon Imo is part of our reform to reverse the abysmal performance of our students in schools in addition to the provision of state-of-the-art laboratories.
We have also reviewed the school grant. The running grant for the students in high schools and the middle schools is now N550 per student as against N150 that we met. And for the elementary schools, we have a revolutionary and unprecedented increase because each elementary school was given N200 to maintain and run the school. In our schools before we came in, no provision was made for examination grant. When the governor got to know about it, he was alarmed and asked why wouldn’t the system collapse? What will they do with N200? Some of the elementary schools have up to 500 students, some 100 and some of them 10. We reviewed it. Instead of just giving arbitrary N200 per school, the governor took a decision to give these schools, based on the number of students they have.
So we now give N400 per student. If you have 100 students, you will collect N40,000. With that they have been able to do major repairs before they draw the attention of government to it. Now they have examination grant, and running grant. Also, the governor has ordered furniture to be supplied to all schools. They now use the collapsible plastic chairs for high school students. We are providing 200,000 pieces of furniture for our students. We are also building solid wooden ones which will be done locally in the state in all the local government. We will form the youth into cooperatives to provide this furniture. We have advanced for fund. Fortunately for us, we have some furniture companies within the state. We have invited them for a meeting and also informed them that they will need to train our youths in furniture construction and we have devoted some amount of money and we are going to produce 200,000 furniture for these students, apart from the first 200,000. The wooden furniture is to cost us about N3.2b.
Why did you give the students uniforms, and why the inscription of Ela and Ejiogbe as people alleged?
There is nothing like that in the uniform. We decided to give them uniforms because first, we are trying to promote our culture in Osun. We are the core Yoruba in Nigeria. We want our students to be proud of our culture, heritage and their identity. We took a decision to give them uniforms that reflect the batik that the Yoruba are noted for. Again, most of the students in the rural areas were badly kitted for school. They didn’t have uniforms and those that had, the clothes were sewn badly. Their peers from comfortable homes were well kitted and exposed to the same culture and they will be competing in the same society. We took a decision to provide school uniforms for all the students. You see the students from private schools regarded as children of the rich are always well kitted and that of public schools badly kitted. This will bring complex problem and we don’t want our children to have inferiority complex. To pull that one out completely, we took a decision to give all of them the same type of uniforms. What differentiates your uniform is the class you are. So we provided three types of uniforms: one for elementary school, another for middle school and another for high school. They are distributed free of charge. It cost us about N990m.
But don’t you think that there is a need for uniforms that will really differentiate students of different schools for crime prevention and detection?
That is why we asked each school to provide their badges. Again, we empowered our youths. We have empowered over 10,000 local tailors from all the local governments and we are increasing the number progressively. They will be producing other uniforms apart from school uniforms. This also, we will extend to any part of Nigeria that if you want uniform, you can come to the State of Osun where we have a garment industry. Most of our programmes are interwoven. Through our reforms, we have been able to fulfil our promises. The students can buy the uniform in any local market in any part of the state. We have designated uniform sellers. We went through textile or cloth sellers. They form themselves into cooperatives. They have been able to access soft loans through which they establish uniform businesses. We even allow them to take away the uniforms on credit without paying and after sales, they return the money. This is to make it easy for them to access that quantum of uniforms. By doing this, we have gained a lot. We have experienced tremendous improvement in the performance of our children.
When we came in 27 November 2010, the School Certificate result for May/June had just been released. It was awful. Only three per cent of our students were matriculable by what we got. And nationally, they were on the 32nd position. But with the quick intervention of the education grant, we reviewed many things. A lot of the teachers had been stagnated on the same position close to seven or eight years. There was no incentive for them to work. We found out 12,800 teachers in the state were not effective because of low morale; they were not happy. Not that they were not educated or qualified, they were frustrated teachers. In the secondary schools, we have over 6,000 of them highly qualified with master’s degrees and good first degrees but they were not motivated. Will you believe that it was these same teachers we used in getting the lesson notes for the Opo Imo? When we motivated them, they were happy. We reviewed the car loan, housing loan, and promoted lots of them. In the elementary schools, we promoted 6,770; in the secondary schools, we promoted 3100. The May/June 2011 result was very impressive. They moved from 32nd position to 18th position. The governor was so happy that we were moving. We just needed to do more. These kids could really move to unit position and that was what we achieved in the May/June 2012 examination. They have moved to the unit position.
What exactly propelled you into having a feeding programme for the pupils?
Before the O-Meal, there were lots of absenteeism. The pupils came to school and ran away. Children couldn’t go to school on empty stomach and you expected them to stay! We invited consultants from Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU and UNIOSUN, to give us food formula that will develop them physically and mentally. They advised us to feed them with food rich in protein. We give them chicken twice a week.
In a week, we slaughter 15,000 birds for these kids, we give them 400 tonnes of fish, we slaughter 35 cattle and we feed them with 300,000 pieces of eggs. That is about 8,700 crates of eggs weekly. Again, we are happy because we get these within the economy. We produce the chicken, eggs and cows in the state. Due to our programmes, Federal Government rates Osun the fastest economic developing state and also, the state with the least unemployment. We also give them porridge made with cocoyam which they say is very good and have some nutrients. We have cocoyam farms where we source this cocoyam. We started the programme on 30 April 2012 with 155,318 pupils and by the middle of May, two weeks later, enrolment in schools had increased by about 38,000. Those that were not coming to school, when they learnt that there was very good free food, they started coming. So, enrolment went from 155, 318 to 194 254 within two weeks. What would have happened to those 38,000 children? At that time, the programme was for primary 1-3. We reviewed the feeding rate from N28 per pupil to N50. We ensure that they take fruit and vegetable every day. When we started the programme, we were spending N7.7m daily in feeding them; by the time the population increased, the feeding cost increased to N9.7m per day. It was a huge success. The pupils were paying rapt attention in class and absenteeism was virtually nil.
The governor was happy and in November 2012, we extended it to primary four and brought in over 252,000 under the scheme. As I am talking to you, we have over 300,000 of them within the scheme. Now the feeding costs us N14.8m. I am sure by now we would have reached about N17m per day for feeding those children. In total, it costs us N3.6b per annum to feed them. This is a sharp contrast to what was being expended before. What was being expended before per annum was barely N100m. But we don’t mind because we are getting results. Even during vacation, they want to come to school. They complain that vacation is too long. We are preparing them for the future. In competitions in Nigeria, Osun keeps coming tops. In chemistry recently, they came second in Nigeria; mathematics they came first, and they represented Nigeria in Italy, and Nigeria came 7th in the whole world.
Our fear now is the sustainability of this huge project, considering the financial implication?
It is sustainable with good governance. Because we have backed it up with necessary legislation, anybody that succeeds us will find it very difficult to stop the programme. Apart from legislating on all the reforms, the governor has also provided N5b as a sovereign trust fund which must not be touched for the next 10 years. I must say here that we advanced the O-Meal food vendors with N41,500 interest-free loans for the cooking utensils. We also empower them to cook at the weekends in the local community. If you have a wedding ceremony or funeral, you invite them because they are accredited and credible caterers. We also advanced them interest-free loan to rent shops where they can display their wares. We also provided them transport fare every week, N4,000 each, and they are very happy. A lot of them are graduates. We do periodic medical test for them to assess their health status because they cook for our children. Also capacity building for them is high. We organise training programmes for them at Osun State University.
What major results can you then point to with these reforms?
In Nigeria, Osun last year January was placed on the last but one position in the South-West for school enrolment. Ekiti led, followed by Ondo, Lagos, Ogun then Osun. Only Oyo was behind us but now in the whole country, Osun has the highest enrolment figure in the elementary schools. All these make us happy that all our reforms are working. We also have the highest female enrolment in elementary school in Nigeria. We are using the re-classification of school system to put an end to out-of-school-children syndrome in Osun.
For us, when our children get in at six years, they are in school till 15. Until they are in grade nine, they will not be allowed to exit the system. The new Federal Government policy on education has abolished the primary six examination since 2007. Now all our students in elementary schools will have the opportunity to gain entrance to secondary school automatically because by the time they are in grade five, they are in secondary school and we would have started a continuous assessment of these kids in grade four. If they want to exit the system to go and continue elsewhere for whatever reason, we give them appropriate certificates. All our children, once they enter our elementary school, they will not exit until they have spent the first nine years and by the time they are done with the nine years, we will be able to know those of them that will be fixed for vocational programmes, for sciences, for social sciences and those that will go for arts. For us, there is no stopping for our kids until they complete the high school or its equivalent.
For those that can’t proceed to high school, we will move them to the vocational programme because this is the only way we can curb vagabonds, area boys, and miscreants. Before we came in, our school boys were the okada riders in the city centres in Osogbo, Ife, Ilesa and the rest. By 1pm, they would have abandoned the schools unknown to their parents. They were all over riding okada but now, it is not happening.
Another thing they were doing: once they registered for school certificate examination in November/December, they never came back to school; hence, the performance was so bad but now, if you don’t have 90 per cent attendance, you can’t write School Cert in Osun. We don’t have discriminatory payment for WAEC, we pay for all our students.
Last year, we paid for 33,174. We expended N354,000,700 on WAEC fees last year and for the current session. The same thing in tertiary institutions, the fees were beyond the reach of the average man. When we came in, students at UNIOSUN, the state university, were paying as much as N195,000 for courses like medicine, engineering and the sciences; we crashed it. We crashed that of medicine to N100,000 and for the arts courses, we crashed the fee from N150,000 to N75,000. We also gave subvention for whatever we took off as reduction in school fees. The same for the polytechnic, we crashed down the school fee in polytechnic from N48,000 to N25,000, and for the colleges of education, from N28,000 to N20,000. Last year, for school grant, we expended about N846m for WAEC, we paid N324,000,700. We also reviewed the bursary. On bursary, last year, we expended N214m and for the current session, we have expended N250m. We are doing all these to ensure that our children excel and do well.
As lofty as all these seem, to what will you attribute the opposition from the Christian association?
Thank God, the opposition has really gone down. It is the typical attitude of an average man to a change. You are used to a particular system and you don’t want it to change. Initially, we had problem with the uniform. They didn’t want us to change the uniform. They said they were used to having different uniforms to identify the children. We had to explain and later, they agreed with us that we needed to change the uniform. Another major problem is misconception that the schools are owned by the missionaries. But for over 38 years, government has had the sole ownership of all public schools in this part of Nigeria and we have not given back the schools to the missionaries like they have done in Lagos State. For us, we are 100 per cent responsible for funding of the schools, 100 per cent responsible for the recruitment of the teachers, for payment of the teachers, for advancement of the teachers, for provision of infrastructural materials, for the school buildings. Education to us is paramount and that is why we have put it on the front burner of this administration’s development agenda. But we have explained to them. Some don’t want us to mix boys and girls together, some don’t want us to bring Christians and Muslims together, some say they don’t want kids to put on hijab, some say they don’t want Christians in their schools. These are challenges of change but we are a government.
We have responsibility to cater for everybody in the society irrespective of gender or religious affiliation. It is the duty of the government to ensure that every child born in Osun is educated. But thank God, my Christian brothers and sisters are showing understanding. For instance, there is a misconception that there is ‘Ifa’ in Opon Imo but they have opened the tablet themselves. Last week, government gave my Christian brothers and sisters the tablet to examine it to see if their misconception is right. We don’t teach Ifa in our schools. Ifa is not in the curriculum, they saw that. They have been able to click and open the tablet and they saw that it was just Yoruba literature, ethics and morals being taught by Ifa. There is no divination in it. On the same tablet, we put Bible, Quran to give everyone a level playing ground. This will enable all the religious sects to have access to their books; Bible and Quran. We have not provided Opele there but the literature. What you can learn from Ifa, the morals, the basic things, are there. And you know we are extremely particular about the Omoluabi ethos in this state; you must not steal, you must be highly responsible, you must be well-cultured, you must be diligent, you must stand out anywhere you are as long as you are from Osun.
We want to expose our students to the basic educational qualities and facilities obtainable in any school in any part of the world. It is not cheap.
The problem of hijab is still there…
Let me tell you what happened on the hijab. The hijab issue is related to the re-classification we are doing now. Before we came in, there had always been crisis on hijab. It got to a peak and the case is in court and once a case is in court, government will not comment. That is why we have not commented. The issue of asking us to retain single-sex schools, for us, with the type of schools we are building, is not practicable. We want to provide education that will prepare all-round education, students that will be able to co-habit and learn and work with their peers all over the world. If you have five children and three of them are boys and two of them are girls, are you going to send the girls to your parents?
You separate their bedroom and raise them together. We will not because of sex deprive our students of the quality education we are providing for them. We are still talking because we believe in conflict resolution.
Some of the grey areas include longer distance the students have to cover as a result of the re-classification or spending more money on transportation…
I will not make policy statement here especially on a matter the state executive council has not taken a decision on. What I can assure you is that we are watching and working on what we need to do to ensure that our kids are comfortable and I will not say more than that. We have not re-classified elementary schools to hurt our children. Most elementary schools we have retained their status except where they are so few. There are some schools with 16 or 20 pupils, Primary one to six. Even such schools in the villages, we left them and called them special middle schools even if the pupils there are just four because every village, every hamlet, every town must have access to basic education. With the re-classification, we have been able to put some of the teachers together, pool resources, and deploy the resources to the maximum advantage of the children. At the last executive meeting, we took a decision to provide scholar buses but I didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag until the buses arrive. National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, will be the one to drive the system that will be plying some routes.
With the classification policy, has the government not completely eroded those who have culture and tradition?
Very few schools have been re-classified out of the system. Schools still maintain their tradition. The schools still have the right to promote whatever ethics and culture they are used to.
The re-classification has led to moving the students elsewhere. As a result, some structures have been left vacant. Don’t you think they can be used for criminal hideouts?
That has been taken care of by the Ministry of Lands. Most of the schools didn’t have toilets. Students were easing themselves at the back of classrooms. We have stopped that. But now, we have started building toilets in all the schools. We are drilling boreholes. We are bringing the schools to appreciable standard.