by Rauf Aregbesola
Our education policy is tailored towards making the Osun public schools system produce the complete child, to become the complete youth and grow up to become the complete citizen, empowered in learning and in character, in the best tradition of the Yoruba Omoluabi.
Let me state from the outset that the Osun State Education Policy our administration is currently implementing is not a haphazard, impressionistic voyage. It is rather a comprehensive and holistic response to a scandalous educational rot, which we found, at the inception of our government, unbefitting of a state and people that were part of the first revolutionary educational policy in Nigeria; by which I mean Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Action Group (AG) party’s free primary education policy, which started in the old Western Region in 1955.
Our policy therefore seeks an integrative approach to the education of our children and youth. This spans:
- Education Infrastructure in O’Schools: massive building of new school structures to replace the present dilapidated ones, within the framework of our schools reclassification system.
- Standardised school uniforms in O’Uniform: to rebrand Osun public schools as well as create employment for designers, tailors and allied artisans, as employed by Omoluabi Garments Factory, the biggest of its type in the whole of West Africa.
- Innovative teaching materials and learning aids, which clear showpiece is the award-winning Opon Imo, the computer tablet that captures all the textbooks in the school curriculum for high schools.
- Good nutrition to fully develop the physical and mental readiness of our children for life-long learning: in O’Meals, the schools feeding system for the elementary cadre, in the first four years of school life, with a possible extension to the higher cadres of schooling when resources allow.
- Co-curricular activities as integral parts of the school curriculum: in O’Calisthenics, physical education drills, since a sound mind sits pretty well in a sound body; and educational competitions in quiz and debates; games and sports; and subject co-curricular societies like the Literary and Debating Societies, Science Clubs, Geography Societies, the Omoluabi Boys and Girls Clubs, etc
- Technical and Vocational Education: in the implementation of the Osun Life Academy Programme, which caters for training and retraining, particularly outside formal school walls, for Osun citizens not so academically gifted but that can acquire technical and vocational skills, with no age barriers, who can then set up their own micro-businesses to earn a living.
- Entrepreneurial education: in the curriculum implementation for functional and entrepreneurial education, a crucial missing link in the Nigerian educational system as presently designed.
The above are the major pillars of our education policy. But these cover the formal education school years from Age 6. The pre-school period, from birth to Age 6, comes with a strong stress on parent-government cooperation and collaboration. For starters, the policy does not invest in nursery and other pre-school activities because the government expects parents and guardians to contribute their own rich quotas to preparing their children for school readiness. We therefore expect parents to nurture their children in the pre-school years. The children and wards need the strong emotional platform that caring parents and guardians provide to be well and truly ready for school.
Therefore, our education policy is tailored towards making the Osun public schools system produce the complete child, to become the complete youth and grow up to become the complete citizen, empowered in learning and in character, in the best tradition of the Yoruba Omoluabi. That way, they would be equipped, culturally and academically, anywhere they find themselves in the world, aside from becoming patriots, to take care of their state and country that had earlier taken care of them.
It is surely apposite here, before I move into further details on the fundamentals of the policy, to go back to the genesis of it all.
The Osun Education Policy was brewed at the Osun Education Summit, which held February 7-8, 2011, at the University Auditorium, Osun State University, Osogbo. The summit, chaired by Prof. Wole Soyinka, had the theme: “Resolving the Education Crisis in Osun State: Bridging Analysis and Implementation Gaps”. It also had sub-themes, viz: “Resolving the Education Crisis in Osun State”, “Quality Assurance and Capacity Building”, “Role of Stakeholders”, “Early Childhood and Basic Education”, “Funding Approaches”, “Curriculum Implementation for Functional and Entrepreneurial Education” and “Special Education and Language in Education”. The policy was forged from the summit’s communiqué and observations.
The summit established the following challenges as fuelling the crisis in education that necessitated the present reforms: infrastructure neglect- basically in collapsed school structures; crowded classrooms; poor funding; teachers’ low morale; lack of instructional materials; high fees in tertiary institutions; low bursary rate and poor performances of Osun students in both internal and external examinations, among others. These serious challenges therefore inspired counter strategies, starting with a complete restructuring of educational administration, to turn around the rot.
Restructuring of Education Administration
Since the critical success factor for any reform is sound management and welfare, at the heart of the new education reforms is a restructured Education Administration Modality. This involves creating specialised agencies to address key components in public schools management. To this end, the old Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) has been decentralised into three Education Districts, with territorial jurisdictions covering the three senatorial districts in the State of Osun. These three Educational Districts are headed by a Tutor-General, an equivalent of a Permanent Secretary in the Osun Civil Service. These Districts are the primary drivers of the new policy, with TESCOM serving as a central clearing house, and TESCOM itself acting in concert with the Osun Ministry of Education.
The new reforms have also addressed teachers’ welfare and that of other non-teaching staff. To this end, the Teachers Establishment and Pension Office (TEPO) was set up. As the name clearly implies, aside from teacher recruitment, TEPO takes charge of human capacity development in Osun public schools: teachers’ career advancement, training and retraining, teaching incentives, promotion, prompt payment of salaries and allowances. TEPO not only tackles teachers’ welfare while they are in active service; it also looks after their pension after retirement.
The third leg of the Education management and welfare reforms is the strengthening of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). SUBEB is the agency that collaborates with the Federal Government on the national policy of free and compulsory education for every Nigerian child in the first nine years of formal education, now captured in the national scheme of Primary (six years) and Junior Secondary (three years). Although, the national scheme has been slightly adjusted under our own School Reclassification System, the adjustment, I must say, is just administrative regrouping which by no means contrasts with the national 6-3-3-4 system.
Needless to say, the reforms have led to a radical increase in grants and subventions for the administration of public primary and secondary schools. Indeed, total grant for the 1378 pubic primary schools in Osun jumped from N7.4 million a year to N424 million a year, a quantum leap by any account.
Osun School Reclassification
As stated earlier, our reforms make a slight reclassification in the national 6-3-3-4 system, with no fundamental alteration of the scheme. What we have done is tinker with the 6-3-3 grouping — the 12 years of primary and secondary education before the four years of tertiary education. In that regrouping, the last two years of the three years of junior secondary has been extracted to form a middle school cadre. We therefore came up with the following reclassification and their age brackets:
- Elementary School: Ages 6-9 (Grades 1-4)
- Middle School: Ages 10-14 (Grades 5-9)
- High School: Ages 15-17 (Grades 10-12)
These classifications are not arbitrary. They come with plausible and logical socio-cultural reasons. To start with, the Elementary School is conceived as a neighbourhood school, a walking distance from the pupils’ homes. Again, the Elementary School concept comes with high parental input, since the children, in their formative stages, are still under close watch by their parents and guardians. The Middle School, though meant for older children, would be cited no more than two to three kilometres from where the pupils live. The High School is sited further away, since the children, now in high school, have become young adults, able to cope with public transport from their homes to school and back. However, there are plans on the way to provide school buses, which fares would be discounted to make commuting to and from school even easier.
School Feeding Scheme
The school feeding scheme, branded O’Meal and currently being implemented in the Elementary School, with possible extension to higher cadres when resources allow, is founded on the principle of good nutrition as incentive for learning readiness. Right now, over 254, 000 school children enjoy highly nutritive daily lunch under a scheme that has been lauded home and abroad. This scheme has also greatly boosted enrolment in elementary schools by no less than 25 per cent. But an added economic advantage is the boon to farmers as the scheme greatly aids poultry, food crops and animal husbandry, by working with farmers who have served as vendors supplying the foods. O’Meal is conceived as backward integration for a renewed Osun agricultural programme, to partly serve as ready market for farmers’ produce and boost their income.
School Infrastructure Development Programme
Branded O’School, the Osun School Infrastructure Development Programme is a logical extension from the Osun Schools Reclassification Programme. Under O’School, there are ongoing plans to build 100 elementary school, 50 middle school and 26 high school models. But the building is not haphazard. Since many of the old schools are aged and dilapidated and the state does not have the funding to replace each and every of the run-down school buildings, the reclassification policy is structured on maximising resources. This means in the new school models, communities would have to share school facilities in consolidated schools, against the old practice of each community insisting on its own schools, even if the pupil population is sparse and there are hardly enough teachers to go round. This therefore explains the merger of schools which some critics may have clearly misunderstood. The motive is not to inconvenience communities or missions. It is rather to maximise Osun education resources, in such a way, as Jeremy Bentham said, to ensure the greatest happiness of the greatest number. That, I believe, our O’School reforms are achieving.
Standard uniforms for Osun Public Schools
The concept of standard uniforms for Osun public schools, branded O’Uniform, was conceived with an eye to rebrand public schools in the state as well as reflate the Osun economy to employ as many designers, tailors, local textile workers and allied artisans as possible, in the production of school uniforms. This culture-fired indigenous and standardised uniform for 750, 000 public school pupils, which the Omoluabi Garments Factory is currently implementing, has received international commendations from UNESCO. The first sets of the uniforms, I must also mention, were provided free to the pupils.
Clearly, the most revolutionary element of the education reforms is the Opon Imo, the customised computer tablet that contains 63 textbooks covering 16 subjects, 800 minutes of virtual class lessons, and 40, 000 past questions for WAEC and tertiary education matriculation examinations, conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board. These have been provided free for all the 150, 000 high school pupils in Osun. Aside from the curriculum textbooks, Opon Imo also contains copies of the Bible, the Quran and the Ifa Divinity, to underscore the place of Osun as epicentre of Yoruba culture, as well as the multi-religious reality of the state, in the best tradition of equal opportunities.
The Opon Imo initiative has proved a masterstroke, both to save costs and provide qualitative learning aids by the instrumentality of ICT. Though the Education Summit recommended approaching publishers for mass production of texts in the school curriculum to lower costs, the Opon Imo initiative has proved even better than the summit’s suggestion. It has rightly been hailed by the United Nations as a revolutionary learning innovation to help Africa and the rest of the Third World improve its educational capacity.
Co-curricular activities in schools are not new. They were an integral part of schools till the 1970s and 1980s when they somewhat declined. The reforms have therefore succeeded in bringing them back to the education front-burner: schools sports, literary and debating societies, as well as subject clubs and societies. But the clear star of the reforms, in this sector, is calisthenics, under the O’Calisthenics programme, that stresses physical fitness as a prelude to mental fitness.
Other aspects of the reforms
Other aspects of the Osun Education reforms include the downward review of school fees in all Osun tertiary institutions; non-discriminatory school fees regime – Osun indigenes and non-indigenes pay the same fees in Osun tertiary institutions; upward review of bursary and scholarships; promotion of technical and vocational education, through the implementation of the Osun Life Academy Programme; payment of external examination fees of final year students in public high schools and the sponsorship of 92 UNIOSUN medical students to complete their clinical studies in Ukraine.
The reforms have had tremendous impacts on the Osun educational competitiveness. To start with, Osun, from a 34th placing among Nigeria’s 36 states in 2010, moved to 18th position in 2011 and 8th position in 2012, in performance rankings in the West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE). Pupils from the state have also chalked up improved performances in national and international competitions, according to compilations by the Osun Ministry of Education. Also, the reforms have earned a partnership with UNESCO to build a regional teacher training institute in the state, and a fresh programme in the area of adult education.
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is the governor of the State of Osun, South west Nigeria.
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija