The Executive Chairman, Ogun State Universal Basic Education Board , Dr Femi Majekodunmi recently interacted with Media Executives in his Office where he spoke on the exploits and achievements of the Board since the inception of the Governor Dapo Abiodun led administration in 2019. Excerpt:
Infrastructure is one of the main challenges in public schools today. What is the situation in Ogun State?
In answering that question, we should look at it from what the situation was before the advent of this administration. Before the coming of Prince Dapo Abiodun, the situation was terrible in all the schools. And it was not only schools; talk of hospitals, roads and so on, but the schools were worst hit. One of the first things Dapo Abiodun did was to put education in the front burner of his administration, by putting in the much-needed counterpart fund, about N10 billion, plus the matching grant from UBEC to build new schools – what we call the Yellow Roof revolution. Dilapidated structures were renovated, toilets were built, boreholes sunk for the provision of drinkable water. It was like a revolution. Not only that, employment of teachers is still ongoing. Imagine putting 5000 teachers into the system. Yet, we have not finished. There’s a lot to be said about what Governor Dapo Abiodun has done.
The standard of public primary education used to be very high, but over the years, enrolment particularly dropped drastically. What was the situation when you came in? And has the situation improved?
It has improved. I’m not conversant with the actual number, but I can give you an idea. I came in over a year after Governor Abiodun was inaugurated, because the board was not constituted until about a year after, but I can still talk of the time he came in and now. Here we have about 13,000 teachers in various schools; we have about 1,500 primary schools. The population of the teachers has increased remarkably, and new buildings have emerged. New teachers have been employed, school environment has been made much better, cleaner; teachers are now better trained. Gone were the days when teachers were employed without proper training, without the much-needed basic education. In all our schools now, you don’t see any teacher below the level of NCE, and they are well paid.
How would you address this assertion that rural schools and those in urban areas are treated differently?
They are not really treated differently, but we are clamouring for a situation where they will be treated differently, by way of getting something extra for those in the rural areas. When you consider many of the teachers in the rural areas, many of them still live in towns, and they have to pay for transportation on a daily basis. They need the incentive to make them stay. We are working on that. The shortage of teachers we’re having is in the rural areas. Pressure is so much on us to transfer those in the rural areas to the city that is already filled with teachers.
Those who talk about fall in standard of education are quick to trace it to the perceived laxity in the inspectorate system. What measures are in place in Ogun State to monitor teachers and ensure that they do what they ought to do?
We have an arrangement, a department: the Quality Assurance Department. They are saddled with the responsibility of going round regularly to make sure
that many things are in place – teachers doing their work the way they should, pupils coming to school regularly and teachers being punctual in school. I as the chairman go round with my different teams, to the different senatorial districts to inspect what is going on; ditto when they are having examinations, we also go round as much as possible to be sure everything is in place.
About 15, 16 years ago, there were monitoring officers that were in place; they were under the local government education authority. Are you looking at bringing back that policy?
It’s on the ground. We have the different government education area offices. They are there; they are like our appendages in the various local governments; and each department has a representative there. They are in every local government. They have the administrative section in all the 20 local governments; we have the quality assurance in the education area offices; you
have the Academic School Services. We have our block of offices in every local government separated from the political administration. You have the Local Education Authorities. And we take care of security as much as possible too. Apart from the watchmen, we got even the police to monitor for us. I remember at the inception of my term, we went to the Commissioner of Police in Ogun State, and what he put in place is still in existence. The DPO in every local government or city monitors school activities, because in many of the local governments we have miscreants, people messing up the schools; you have some landlords and moneybags encroaching on school lands. We do have problems, but these are well taken care of.
It’s often said that government alone cannot fund education. How much of private sector participation do you receive in terms of education development?
We have the parent-teacher association. We have the School-Based Management Committees (SBMCs). These and many other groups, depending on the community, are in all the schools. They help when it comes to minor issues. For the SBMC for example, we emphasise a situation where the leaders in the community are the ones who really constitute the membership. More often than not, you have the baales or even the obas being the chairmen of the various school management committees, and they are there to assist the government in many ways. We have some external ones too; companies that help us in many ways. They provide some of our needs such as, building classrooms, toilets, fences as well as water (like boreholes). We have companies too, like Nestle, WAPCO (West African Portland Cement), and Lafarge. They have helped us tremendously over the years. In the area of teaching, we have the TFN (Teaching for Nigeria); they have assisted us a lot by way of providing teachers. There are many other forms of assistance that come from philanthropists, businessmen and politicians. They also build or renovate schools, supply books and so on. I can’t forget the Federal Ministry of Education; they have different programmes whereby they help us with our needs. A new innovation has just come up: smart schools. Each state is going to have smart school; each one consists of a complex structure, the type we’ve not had in many states. Ogun State is building one somewhere in Ikenne.
In terms of anti-social behaviours in schools, like cultism, drug abuse, what measures have you put in place to curtail this menace?
We have a bit of it in Ogun State just like any other state. It’s even more in secondary schools. We’ve experienced this, but we are equal to the task; we monitor them from time to time. Our quality assurance department does not joke with any information about any of these unfortunate incidents in our schools; they go straight to deal with the situation – be it drugs, immoral behaviour not only by the pupils but even the teachers themselves, and we get them to face the disciplinary committee. We’ve had to sack teachers for immoral behaviour. All these abound, just as it abounds in the society at large.
Schools are springing up at a very alarming rate in the private sector, some by people who have no background in education management. How do you ensure quality assurance?
The governor, with his enabling powers, is doing what he should by way of provision of the necessary tools to make things work. There’s a World Bank assistance for that: Better Education for All. With this, we make sure we put all in place, and that’s why I talked of the different departments: the administration, the school services and of course the quality assurance departments. With all these working together, we expect better education delivery.
What kind of capacity development programmes do you have for teachers?
We have many. The principal one is the Teachers Development Programme. This is assisted by the government. There is a lot being done to maintain what we have, to train teachers and retrain them. You have from UBEC itself which puts in a huge sum of money from time to time. The last one we had was for 2018/2019; we are expecting 2020/2021 very soon. We were able to train thousands of teachers in many aspects of teaching. And we’ve been able to not just train them on the spot; we have cluster training whereby teachers from different schools are brought together and we get professors from universities to give them further training. We were able to train thousands of teachers; and their welfare is also well taken care of. They are given running cost in their various areas. They are given money every month. I can tell you that; N64 million every month, just the primary schools. It was N32 million, but recently, less than a year it was increased because of agitation to increase the money for their welfare. And this increment cuts across so many other areas too, not just the running cost.
What are the challenges in Ogun SUBEB?
Despite all the teachers we are employing, we still need more. A lot has been done to improve the situation when it comes to the employment of teachers. When it comes to their welfare, a lot has also been done. I’m sure there’s still more to be done; nobody gets it fixed 100 percent. The environment of our primary schools is very clean, both the pupils (we call them ‘learners’) and teachers are well dressed. There is discipline in the schools.
The Federal Government has just approved the use of mother tongue for teaching in the basic schools. As a stakeholder, what would be your comments as to how this policy should be implemented?
We all realise the need to do this. All over the world it has been found that using the native language as official language or language to teach pupils is better. You have better understanding, control and usage of the language. If this is done, what we expect is that our children will do better in any assessment and other examinations that are given to them.