By Adetokunbo Abiola
Advanced countries have mastered everything about academic improvement, and one of the ways they achieve this is through renovation of schools, putting students into well-designed buildings stocked with computers and other appurtenances of technology.
The belief of their education planners is that renovated schools influence children’s perception about learning, giving them the inspiration to do better every time.
It is not surprising that Ondo State Government is following this trend, pumping billions upon billions of naira into renovation of schools, so pupils in the state primary and secondary schools can do better in their examinations.
The thinking is that schools in the state don’t have to be dilapidated, weather-beaten and wretched-looking, relics of the Mongo Park era, having jagged roof tops, broken walls, and a stuffy environment.
Past administrations have walked through the same path, but the Akeredolu-led government is taking new strides in the direction, re-writing the trajectory of public institutions once rejected by anxious parents whose confidence is about to be restored towards patronising public schools.
This had been in evidence since January last year, when Ondo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) announced plans to unveil successful contractors for upcoming construction projects, after contract bids for constructions and renovation projects were advertised.
The contractors were selected in line with due process, in fulfillment of Akeredolu administration’s plans to renovate and construct primary schools across the state. The idea behind primary school renovation, according to Princess Oladunni Odu, was to re-engineer them and make the facilities more conducive and good for learning.
But before renovation could start, there was the matter of the state’s unpaid counterpart fund for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC)/ State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) projects.
The Akeredolu administration settled the payments, paving way for the commencement of renovation works.
According to Odu, the payments would cover a cost of seven billion, eight hundred billion naira, the sum of the counterpart fund from UBEC and the one contributed by the state government.
By October, the administration had renovated over 300 schools under SUBEB, a fact revealed by the governor during a courtesy visit by the Ikota Progressive Union from Ifedore Local Government Area of the state.
During the occasion, the governor said he wasn’t establishing new schools but renovating the existing ones to a better standard.
He then revealed that SUBEB would soon commerce another round of interventions, adding that SUBEB had renovated about 30 secondary schools in Ifedore Local Government Area.
Essentially, the administration wanted to act differently from the previous one, which was said to have abandoned public schools for eight years, concentrating on the construction of Mega schools.
The general belief is that though the Mega schools initiative is a thoughtful one, the institutions were largely been underutilized, creating the need to put some focus on public schools once again.
Before starting schools’ renovation, the governor had taken a good look at the existing infrastructure of the sector and had not liked what he saw on the ground.
He had decried what he described as an embarrassing state of public schools and expressed his administration’s determination to develop the sector and make it an envy of other states in the country.
He believed that through such a development, the state stood a realistic chance of achieving its quest for technological development.
“Education defines the quality of human existence. The training of human being is for the benefit of the society.
“Our government, our party and our people look up to us for the development of our vast knowledge and wealth of experience to salvage the basic education sector from collapse,” the governor had said.
He said government on its part would continue to engage all sectors, insisting on the best practices in the discharge of its mandate to serve the people, vowing that his administration would not be distracted by issues extraneous to the well-being of the people.
“The welfare of the masses shall continue to be the guiding principle of our administration. In this regard, the government will not tolerate any frivolity,” he said.
“We expect renovation work on dilapidated structure, in our entire primary and secondary schools to commerce in earnest. We anticipate supervision of projects in this regard. No contractor should hope to receive a certificate of performance for any shoddy job. This administration will hold consultants and appointees vicariously liable for any bad job.
By this time, though, renovation work had already commenced in primary schools, with government officials confident it would be completed before students resumed for the 2018/2019 academic session.
Princess Oladunni Odu gave assurance about the completion of the projects before the start of the 2018/2019 session, while monitoring the level of work done by contractors handling the project.
The projects, then, included the construction of 76 containerised toilets and boreholes across the 18 council areas of the state.
“We will get them completed because we have been paying contractors as and when due. I am sure they are speeding up the work,” Odu had said.
She had stated then that the project was a total package in every local government, with at least 20 ongoing, adding that about 90% of it had been completed.
She stated that the cost implication was about N7.8billion inclusive of the counterpart fund and the one contributed by the state government.
“We have new constructions going on. Other things we are doing include the renovation, supply of computers, supply of play ground equipment to various schools and also supply of books,” Odu had said.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” she had said, adding that parents and pupils should keep the schools in good conditions, so that the buildings don’t get dilapidated.
She also had a word of advice to the authorities in the schools, calling on them not to give out the schools for other purposes.
The reason for Odu’s confidence then, was the readiness of Governor Akeredolu to release funds so that pupils in the state could study under a conducive environment.
Back then, Odu had been visiting schools such as St. James Primary School, Oda, L.A, LA. 2, Okebola, Akure, St. Stephen Pry School, Ijomu Junction, St. Peter Demonstration Pry School, Akure, SUBEB Model, Okuta-Elerinla, Akure, Army Comprehensive, Muslim Pry School, Akure, L.A. Pry School, Ilu-Abo and others.
To give credence to governments commitment to renovate primary schools, one of the contractors then, Jide Akintade, said the state government paid them upon writing their payment evaluation, and that this was why they were able to achieve so much within a short period of time.
But Governor Akeredolu was not done on the issue of renovating schools in the state, as secondary schools had problems with their infrastructure.
Not unlike those of primary schools, they were almost at the point of dilapidation and needed to renovated, so that students could be inspired to do well at their examinations.
Of course, by this time, sometimes in October, the administration had already renovated over 337 primary schools scattered across the three senatorial districts of the state, with over 500 projects awarded.
But the Akeredolu administration did not want to rest on its oars, so it decided to commence the renovation of secondary schools as well.
The problem with secondary schools then was that the state had not been able to access funds that would ensure renovation, but the governor surmounted the problem, as his administration approved access to the one billion naira budgetary provision dedicated to the project across the three senatorial districts of the state.
Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Mr. Femi Agagu, said the governor was able to achieve this feat because he was committed to the development of the education sector.
“Mr. Governor graciously granted us one billion naira budgetary provision for renovation of schools. We have not been able to access it but we have the assurance that we will access a substantial part of it before the year runs out and that will be dedicated to secondary schools only,” Agagu had said in November last year.
“Even if it is only our Unity Schools that we can make as models, so that people will know how we want all our schools to be. At the end of the day, we will be able to extend it to all our 304 secondary schools in the state.”
In any case, by January this year, the administration has injected the N7.8 billion to breathe a new life in public schools through award of contracts and provision of facilities.
Already, plans are ongoing to award more contracts, as advertisements have been placed in newspapers asking contractors to apply for them.
In other words, more schools are set to enjoy renovation of their premises, adding to the 523 already enjoying such an opportunity, which is about 51% of the total schools in the Sunshine state.
Speaking on the issue of renovation recently, Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget, Mr. Emmanuel Igbasan, said the huge money expended by this administration on the renovation was a vote of confidence on the Governor on public primary and secondary schools as centres of excellence in the state.
The success that the administration has achieved in the renovation of public primary schools can be addressed to three major reasons.
Before the emergence of the Akeredolu administration, the payment to the UBEC/SUBEB fund for primary schools’ development had been irregular for years.
Consequently, infrastructure in public primary schools was allowed to degenerate with instances abounding where some of the schools became abodes for doing peddlers, gamblers, and sundry criminals.
The Governor wrote off the outstanding payments to the UBEC/SUBEB fund, enabling the present uplift in public primary schools infrastructure.
Secondly, contractors for the projects were selected in line with due process, ensuring that the successful ones could carry out the plan.
In addition, however, they were regularly monitored in the discharge of their work, to ensure this was done according to specification.
It is only when the government was satisfied that the contractors were given certificates of completion.
Thirdly, there were declining standard in the sector of state in quest for technological development.
To reverse the trend, the administration had to show a commitment to quality education standards to give a realistic way through which it could achieve it ambitions.
The salvage mission has now addressed a problem which could prove fundamental in the near future.
Needless to say, renovation of public schools is a measure to ensure that the state retains the position as one of the foremost states as far as education is concerned, and history will judge this administration in a positive light for having the courage to tackle a crucial issue.