“We’ll transform all schools in Ogun State so they can become flagship Schools”- Prof. Abayomi Arigbabu
The Honourable Commissioner for Education in Ogun State, Professor Abayomi Adelaja Arigbabu in an interview with Sparklight News Editor, Tosin Adesile and Staff Writer, Moses Olutunji spoke about level of decay before Governor Dapo Abiodun came on board and the Ongoing transformation. (Excerpts)
Sparklight News: Can you take us through efforts of your administration in the last two years in the area of Education?
Professor Arigbabu: Ogun State is known to be at the forefront of Education, and pride itself as the education capital of Nigeria because western education started from here. Talking about Tertiary Institutions in Nigeria, we have the highest number of tertiary institutions. Currently, we have 511 Secondary Schools, 1165 primary schools belonging to the government and 5500 private primary schools and 1,560 Secondary schools. We are talking in the neighbourhood of about ten thousand people.
When our Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, came on board, he saw the level of decay in the sector and because of that he declared a state of emergency in the sector because something urgently needed to be done at that time. Only the governor knows what we are talking about today and he had to do something that will be impactful and cannot be done in the usual way.
The state of infrastructure in schools was such that we had a lot of blown-off roofs and many dilapidated buildings and so on and so forth which led to massive rehabilitation of schools.
Till date, we have done over 960 of such buildings and still counting. That was the first phase, and we are still working on the second phase. And that has led to what we call the yellow roof revolution in Ogun State, and there is hardly any local government you get to in the State that you will not find one yellow roof in some schools. Beyond that, he also extended the emergency to the area of facilities –tables and chairs for the schools. He has already given approval for additional 25,000 tables and chairs to be distributed to schools. We are doing this in a systematic and strategic manner. We still have a few schools where there are shortages, and that is why we take note on daily basis as we get reports and we are filling the gaps in those various schools.
Part of the emergency action by the Governor was the declaration of full free education to schools. In addition to that, all forms of levy and fees in schools were cancelled forthwith and this allowed more learners to access school unlike before. We saw the need for us to also improve on teaching and learning. Unfortunately, just as we were thinking about that, Covid struck and learners were locked down in their various homes and it was going to make nonsense of that. If you remember, Ogun State was the first to respond with what we call Ogun- Digi class-and this is still ongoing- allowing learners to access teaching and learning from their various homes. The unique thing was that it was not just a virtual teaching arrangement: it was a situation whereby virtuality was combined with the power of television; we were able to use the television to project what the teacher was doing from the virtual teaching centres because the students may not be able to have access to internet and we don’t want this to stop them. This actually made the arrangement very robust and more learners were able to access the teaching and learning while the lockdown lasted
Immediately the federal government and the NCDC granted some relaxation, we started staggered resumption and later we started the full-grown lessons though still observing the COVID protocol, of course. Don’t forget that this administration came on board and removed all forms of levies and we felt this will pose a lit bit of challenge to school administrators, so the governor approved the payment of running cost to head teachers and principals in high school so that they can manage and run the affairs of the school and within less than one year, we increased the running costs by 120 percent. So, primary schools and secondary schools in the State actually got the payments and that has continued till today.
We also introduced what we call examination logistics payment because what we have before was unified examination. We returned the first and second semester back to school so they can conduct themselves. In doing this, they need to produce the questions and mark the exam by themselves and that’s has been going on very smoothly for a while now through the logistics aid while the ministry continues to handle the third semester examination as a unified one.
We also introduced the use of OMR in our basic education certificate examination so that learners can now find it easier to answer questions while it also helps learners to have access to their results early. Another step we took was to automate all forms of payments in the ministry which has brought about better revenue from various sources and also has led to a decrease in expenditure.
In enforcing discipline in Schools, some parents withdrew their children and took them to private schools. We went to these private schools not to take learners that are supposed to serve one punishment in one School and it will also be in their interest to cooperate with us because a learner may be leaving one school to another private school after owing money in one private school. In Ogun State today, all learners in the public school have student identification number. If somebody is Adeola Olabintan ,we can have 2 to 3 people bearing the same name in the same class and with specific identification numbers, you cannot have two people having the same number so that has helped us to achieve discipline. Should the learner do something and we find out, we can actually pick them up so it has also reduced indiscipline.
For the first time in the history of Ogun State, the governor approved the sum of 200 million as what we called intervention fund for all our tertiary institutions annually. This is the first time any administration will do that in the State.
Apart from that, the governor also approved project intervention support whereby you bring 50 million and the government will match it with 100 million to have a structure built. That is whatever you bring, the Government will multiply it. These and many more are what we are doing in Ogun State.
Sparklight News: To further curb indiscipline, you have asked students in Ogun State to sign an undertaking form to be of good behavior. What has that policy been able to achieve?
Professor Arigbabu: When we observed the indiscipline in schools, we had a retreat for all the stakeholders in the education sector including chairman of TESCOM, SUBEB, Permanent Secretaries, Board Secretaries and even the technical boards. We came out of that retreat with a policy and part of that policy was to sensitize everybody in the sector. We met them in groups- private school owners, Teachers, Parents, Principals, Zonal Education Officer, Security Agencies and Ministry of Justice, because some of the issue of indiscipline where a parent takes some hooligans to school to disrupt school activities can no longer be tolerated.. So, we felt sensitization is the first step. The other one that we did was to insist that all learners in school must attend school for a minimum of 70% for them to qualify for examination and that instilled discipline in them. Go round the town now and you won’t find learners roaming the streets like before. That is another effectiveness of the policy.
Another one is the fact that we asked parents and learners to sign an undertaking form. Some students go to school and their parents have never been to their school before. This form is not the one that you will sign and take to school. Your parent has to be there to sign in the presence of the teacher and the principal and affix their passport photograph.
It was a major commitment that we made those parents to make and the wordings of that undertaking is so heavy that you see that as they are signing it, you are actually committing yourself and you are promising to abide by the school rules and regulation helping the school to handle discipline issue to committing the schools that when they punish a child for one thing or the other, you’re not going back to the school to say you are going to reprimand the teacher.
And we also say teachers should not beat students and we actually convinced the teachers why corporal punishment is not good and they agreed with us. The policy has been so effective and we have other states coming to us asking us how we did it.
Sparklight News: There have been complaints of delays in approvals, corruption from the Ministry officials and too many bureaucracies. What is your take on that?
Professor Arigbabu: That is not the true situation. The Alumni Associations is one of the group we met and as speak now, we have a Whatsapp platform for the group and that is the first time the ministry in a robust manner is managing and engaging the Alumni association. So the president and the secretary of the known alumni associations, counsel of the state etc. are all on the platform. As we speak, there are 122 members on that platform and we have been interacting. Talking about bottlenecks, let me tell you, this is not limited even though- I want to help you, I must know the type of help you need so you can’t just say because you want to donate something and you come to the school and you see that they are in need of toilets in the schools and you go to the front of a principal’s office and you put a toilet there. Will you do that? And this is not even about the alumni group but generally about people donating to the schools.
For you to build a toilet, we have to take a look at the toilet you want to build and the structure. We have to take the drawing to the ministry of physical planning and they look at it and tell us the structure can stand because we don’t want collapsed structures. Sometimes, we ask donors to give us the drawing and they don’t have a building plan.
The point is that we don’t want a situation whereby our building will be collapsing and when any group wants to do anything in school, they have to first request for approval and we collect the building plan and process it to the ministry of physical planning and we also locate where you will put it. You cannot just put structure in the school anyhow.
We encourage private people, public individuals, business owners; Parents have even formed what we call Parents Clubs in schools. All we are saying is, we don’t want a situation whereby learners will be sent home from school because learners have not paid levies. If the parents agree they want to do some things in school, it shouldn’t concern the learners. There is no need to bring a list to the class and start calling the names of the learners that is his/her parent has not paid. If you have a Parents Club that cannot operate without saying that each learner should be sent away for fees, then we won’t allow that kind of thing to happen because Ogun State operates free education and this has come to stay.
Sparklight News: What do you have to say about Moshood Abiola Polytechnic with the issue of non-payment of salaries as well as non-constituting of a governing council via-a-vis an acting rector spending over 3 years in that capacity. Is that even right?
Professor Arigbabu: The issue of appointment of Rectors and Vice Chancellors will be addressed very soon. This is not just about Moshood Abiola Polythecnic alone, we are also going to constitute Governing Councils at all our tertiary institution very soon.
Talking about Institutions having issues, the world has issues, America has issues, Nigeria also has issues. Institutions will continue to have issues but management of whatever issue that comes your way is key. Moshood Abiola polytechnic is far better now than before when this administration came on board. They could not even talk of being paid salaries and so on but as we speak now, Moshood Abiola has paid salary up-to-date.
I will say the Institution is not doing badly but the thing is that every institution will continue to have one issue or the other but what is important is to look at where we are before where we are now and where we are going. If you look at it from that perspective, the institution is making progress and not only the school, all higher institutions in the State are making progress.
Sparklight News: Should we say your experience as a professor has led to all the giant strides currently being recorded in the Educational sector in Ogun State?
Professor Arigbabu: Whatever you have been doing before has a way of preparing you for the future. By providence, I have been privileged to have all this first-first experience. I was the first Commissioner of Education in Ogun State to be a Professor of Education.
I was the first Dean of Students Affairs in the university I was before the appointment for six and a half years; I was also the first director of ICT communication technology- that is why anywhere I go, I try to do things with technology.
I was the first Director of Academic Planning, Quality Assurance and Research and I became the first indigenous Vice Chancellor in Tai Solarin University of Education while others were appointed from other places.
As a Commissioner for Education, Science and technology, I knew what I wanted to do right from scratch because the position of Vice Chancellor and all the roles I have undertaken had also prepared me. I know what the challenges are and I know that I can actually tackle the problems with the right approach. The position of Commissioner has given me the opportunity to inject some fresh ideas to what is happening in the area of education in Ogun State and I have been able to impact over 2,000 schools in Ogun state and over Nine tertiary institutions in Ogun State. It doesn’t only stopped at that, the position of Commissioner of Education also helped me to part of decision-making in this country when it comes to Education and at the level of national council of education. This has further allowed me to interface with others colleagues Commissioner’s and making decisions that affects the entire education structure in Ogun state. For me, that is a lot of responsibility and a huge one. I am satisfied that I have been able to make some impact and I’ve been able to bring on board the experiences I have garnered over the years.
I thank the Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, for inviting me to join in rebuilding Ogun State in this administration and I thank the almighty God.
Sparklight News: What are your projections for Education in Ogun state in the coming years?
Professor Arigbagbu: I’m a mathematician, you can project when you draw a graph and see where it will go by touching all aspects and faces of education in the State as we are currently working on population control in schools. We are trying every possible best in managing population so as not to have a situation whereby a teacher is standing in front of more than 40 students. We are using 60 but we are going to maximum of 40 learners in a class.
This year, we will be building some classrooms and schools and then next year, we’ll do more and coming year and so on. Eventually, we will transform our schools so that all schools in Ogun state can become flagship Schools and then all schools in Nigeria. I have no doubt in my mind.