We’ve introduced sports, agric in our public primary schools
Princess Oladunni Odu is a known figure in the education sector of Ondo State. She was a former Commissioner of Education and twice chairman of Ondo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).
In this interview with The Hope Feature Editor, BISI OLOMINU and BUKOLA OLAMONA, she speaks on population explosion in primary schools, renovation and reconstruction of public primary schools, achievements of Ondo State government in revamping primary education, welfare of teachers and recruitment of new teachers, monitoring of teachers, why Mega schools are unnecessary and other sundry issues .
You were appointed Chairman of SUBEB some years ago, what was the state of SUBEB then and now?
Before this administration came on board, the basic education sector was not in good shape, Yes, I would admit we have the Mega Schools, but how many were functioning and what was the effect.
My take on the matter is that we do not need it for basic education; the school for basic education is a neighbourhood school where a child can walk in from his or her home into the school. We don’t need such big structures for basic education; those structures would well fit tertiary institutions. We had a few of them but there were not many functioning. Out of the 50 that were built at that time, not up to 20 were functioning all over the state and because I and the committee on education policy put in place by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, we did not think that Mega Schools were needed in the state, so the first thing was to see what to do with the schools. So, it was arrived at that some of the Mega schools should be given to tertiary institutions as annexes. In that light, the Mega School in Okitipupa, Ayeka was given to OSUSTECH, the one in Uso was given to Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo, the one in Ikare was given to AAUA, so some of these schools are now being used for positive things that will be more valuable to education.
For instance, the one in Akure, St. James, Iro, its capacity is 1,050 pupils and by the time we came we had only 250 pupils there. You can see they were under utilised, so there is no point in keeping what we cannot use. We cannot say all the mega schools should go but we have to use some of them for skill acquisition centers. The one in Ondo has been given to the Medical University. Be that as it may, there is this programme for basic education by the Federal government wherein the state pays N1 billion, the Federal government pays the marching grant of N1 billion, so, the state has N2 billion to work with, so before the governor came in February 21, 2017, for four years before then the state counterpart fund had not been paid, so the state did not access anything as marching grant from the federal.
The Governor took the bull by the horn, sourced for money and paid all the arrears of N 3.9 billion at a go that showed we really wanted basic education to be developed because basic education is the most important of all the tiers of education.
About one month after, I was able to access the marching grant of N3.9billion, exactly November 20, after the presentation of the action plan and approved by the Federal office, UBEC. With Ondo State N3.9 billion, we had a whooping N7.8billion to work with and with that we were able to do construction of classrooms and every local government benefitted from it. We constructed many classrooms and we renovated a lot of classrooms all over the state according to the number of schools in each local government.
For instance in Odigbo, we have 133 schools, Owo has 84, Akure has 91, Okitipupa has 89, Akoko North East has 24, Akoko Southwest 59, so, according to the number of schools you have, we were able to give out contracts for renovation of schools.
If you go round all the eighteen local governments in the state now. You will find out that our schools are wearing new looks and the governor is still determined to do more, he wants if possible to cover the 1,233 schools in the state for them to have new looks, to be able to attract more pupils to these schools and we want the teachers to be regular in schools.
When the environment is friendly, they would not want to sit back at home, they will have the motivation and it would be a conducive environment for teaching and thereby our children will be able to compete with children from other climes, so all we are saying, we must appreciate our Governor, for keeping to his words, it was not just a campaign gimmick.
There are over 1,000 primary schools in Ondo state, how many have been renovate and would you say this renovation has depopulated the private schools?
Yes, I would say education is capital intensive, we have 1,233 primary schools like I rightly said but no matter how well-meaning, the government cannot over everything at a go, it’s just like any good thing, you have to face your developmental project with money, we had only N7.8billion with all he mirad of problems, how would this solve these problems? We have to provide furniture for pupils, also for teachers, we are in technology age, so we must provide computers, we must catch them young because the way you are going to learn computer now, with your five- year- old ward, he or she will learn faster. We are going to provide for two-year ECCD class, we are going to provide water sanitation, so N7.8billon cannot provide everything, but it has gone a long way, though we have not covered all but I can tell you conveniently that about 500 schools have benefitted and we are giving letters of awards for more schools to be renovated, constructed, to provide furniture, computers, now which is different from the past is that basic education boreholes. What we are doing now is re-introducing sports and agriculture into our schools. Most of our schools are being used as pilot for agriculture. We are providing some schools with poultry, some with fishery and with animal husbandry. We believe sport plays a very vital role in the life of children. We are providing some schools with equipment of tennis, volleyball and football and because we need good health, water sanitation is very important. Also, because of insecurity we are erecting fences in our schools, so that, our children can be safe while they are in school, and remain safe throughout the period and when they are going home, their parents can pick them from schools.
Then, issue of depopulating the private schools, what those in private schools are enjoying are nice buildings and supervision because they don’t have the manpower we have in public schools. The minimum qualifications in public school is NCE but in the private school you can even see school certificate holders but because the owner of the school will be there by 7am to see that they make the teachers work, that is the difference. Now what they have in private schools we are also having in public schools like the sporting equipments. We have different types; the tube, the swing and everything. We already have them there in our schools and moreso, we have the homegrown free feeding, one meal a day for children from primary one to three, so it’s attracting them to school.
For sometimes now, the homegrown free feeding has stopped and when will it start again?
I wouldn’t ‘t be able to answer that question, we are not handling that aspect, Multilateral is in charge of that but I am sure there is something they have to tidy up somewhere.
Basic education is supposed to be free but it’s like the pupils are still paying, why?
It is free. We are providing them with books but if you catch the phrase I said, education is capital intensive. Yes, basic education is supposed to be free but because the challenges are numerous, all hands must be on deck, I keep encouraging people that government cannot do it alone.
Because it is free, some parents don’t even buy pencil for their children, why? If you bring somebody into the world, it is your duty or obligation to look after that child; you don’t leave everything to the government. Like I said, we have 1,233 schools and we have not been able to go round because we don’t have the funds.
What is your board doing to boost the morale of teachers in primary school s?
They are being paid as and when due. This government has not owed the teachers one kobo since it came on board. Again, we promote them regularly; we do trainings for them because the world is fast becoming a global village. So, somebody who has left school 15 or 20 years ago will not be the same unless they are trained and retrained. We do that all the time. Only last week, some teachers just finished one training in all the senatorial districts and this is a regular thing, so their welfare is well catered for.
One of the banes of primary schools in Nigeria is lack of commitment of teachers, what is the board doing to ensure that teachers are committed to their job?
Well, it’s a pity, we are still not doing enough in that regard because what they need is monitoring, supervision and we are thinking if we could hire neighborhood inspectors, people who have taught and are now retired and could go into the schools maybe they are living in that environment and government could pay stipends but with paucity of fund we cannot do that. So, we still have that challenge that we are not able to supervise them the way they do in the private schools. We keep hoping that when the funds improve, we will be able to employ neighborhood inspectors who will be going to the schools and are able to checkmate these teachers.
Last year when Nigeria Union of Teachers had their annual celebration, they did not do it elaborately, they said they were sending signal to the government to recruit more teacher?
You are very right, it’s one big challenge we have because the last recruitment of teachers in this state was in 2006 under late Dr Olusegun Agagu. Since then, for eight years of the last administration, not one single teacher was recruited and you know it’s a law of nature, many teachers have retired, some died, some changed positions to another place, so our teachers’ population have actually dwindled by half and since we came in, the governor has been willing to employ teachers but like the Yoruba says,” Owo ni keke ihinrere.” On May 1, if you listened to his speech, he did say they will start the recruitment of teachers but the Ministry in charge of their salaries is not too comfortable with any additional burden now, so we are still working on it whereby we will see those who have NCE or B. Education in the system whereby they can be deployed into primary school and later recruit.
We are at that point now and we have gotten some. The governor is well disposed to this and he has given the approval but after we have done that then the due process of recruiting teachers will commence. That will not be too long from now because we know we are in dire need of teachers.
Primary education is a panacea for some of the problems bedeviling Nigeria, like ignorance, illiteracy, violence, insecurity thuggery. With your experience in the sector, why do you think government neglect this important sector ?
I won’ t agree with you that government has neglect it, government has been trying but like I said, education for all is a business by all, everybody, the community, religion body, churches, elders, old students, must take keen interest. In the Yoruba settings, they will say it is one person that gives birth but many people helps in the upbringing, so it’s the same to education, everybody should put in their little quota to see that things go on, we should not leave it for government a lone, it ‘s too weighty a thing for government to do, even you should not leave your old school alone, you should go back and give little.
In other climes, teachers’ welfare is more than just paying their salaries, they are compensated in other ways like giving them awards so that it can boost their morale, what is the state government doing in this aspect ?
You are still pushing the hands of the clock. We are still talking about money. Sometimes last year, I was in Finland for a training, you know in primary school there, the least qualification for a teaching job is Masters degree and teachers are well respected and well paid that they are so passionate about their jobs, it’s a high profile job, a teacher is looked up to as part of the high people, you know the way they look at senators, that is the way they rate teachers in Finland but we will get there.
There was an allegation that some pupils were asked to buy chalk, dusters and some other things?
I would not say you are lying because we have received pockets of report s of these kind of things but the PTAs are allowed to have some levies in the schools, they take approval from the Ministry of Education because they are responsible for policy level of SUBEB, but I would say this, government gives sixty naira grant per pupil per term in this modern day Nigeria, but with the rate of inflation in town and the sixty naira was approved when I was Commissioner for Education about twenty years ago, then it was something but now it cannot and you know government policy does not change on time, it takes some time. So, it still remains at that sixty naira which will not buy much.