OLUWOLE IGE, in this report for The Tribune Newspapers, takes a look at the giant steps so far taken by the Osun State government in the education sector and the benefits that students and other stakeholders stand to derive from the mega projects which is spread across the state.
For pupils of Osun public schools, learning in a conducive environment with state of the art infrastructural facilities is now a dream come true.
The decision of Governor Aregbesola to build about 170 mega schools, spread across three senatorial districts of the state was borne out of the recommendations of 2011 education summit,convened to examine the condition of public schools, its challenges and formulate a qualitative policy that would pave the way for new educational policy and with the construction of mega school infrastructure.
Chaired by the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, the education summit, that paraded heavy weights in education sector like the former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, Professor Ibadapo Obe and Dr Peter Okebukola of the National Universities Commission (NUC) made far-reaching recommendations, which today has carved a niche and created distinct identity for the state in terms of enviable infrastructural facilities in public schools.
The new educational policy gave birth to reclassification of schools, namely elementary, middle and high schools. Though pockets of criticisms from the opposition and other interest groups greeted the new policy, especially the merger of existing schools as a prerequisite for the take off of the policy, the decision of the state government had been applauded by many for its success, quality, uniqueness and architectural master piece of schools, which now dots the landscape in Osun.
Under the new school policy, the primary school system gave way to the grade system with the former Primaries 1-4 with the age range of 6-9 years, merging into what is now called Elementary school, in Grades 1-4. Primaries 5 and 6 and junior secondary schools 1-3 merged together to become middle school and now to be known as Grades 5-9 with the age range of 10-14 years, while the senior secondary students are grouped together in Grades 10-13, in what is now known as high school.
Besides, the elementary schools currently have a maximum capacity of 900 pupils in a purpose built state-of–the-art school. Other features include the provision of school uniform, books and balanced diet meals. The schools were designed to be within the neighbourhood for easy access for all students.
For the middle school, the maximum capacity ranges between 900-1,000 students, with the provision of state-of-the-art educational infrastructureand catchment to be between 2-3 kilometers, while the high school will have a maximum capacity of 3,000 students with hostel facilities. However, the curriculum did not change rather, what changed were physical infrastructure and more conducive environment.
At present, many of the mega schools, located in the three Senatorial Districts have been completed and commissioned for use. Notably among them are AUD Elementary School, Osogbo; Salvation Army Middle School, Alekuwodo; Baptist Central Elementary School, Ilare, Ile-Ife; Wole Soyinka High School, Ejigbo and Anthony Udofia Elementary School, Osogbo.
Though, Osogbo High School is still under construction, Ataoja High School had already been completed. Both imposing edifices, located along Iwo-Osogbo and Gbongan-Ibadan expressways are beauty to behold.
Speaking on the new education policy and schools’ infrastructure, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mr Lawrence Oyeniran said the new grade system is the global trend and approach to modern education for effective teaching and learning, explaining that in adopting the grade system, pupils of the same age bracket are grouped together with fewer students in classes.
He observed that multiplicity of schools had decayed infrastructure over the years, culminating in poor funding, shortage of teachers and inefficiency, saying with the new policy and building of mega schools, the state government had succeeded in reversing the rot, by making quality education available to all children without discrimination, with public schools’ structures better than private schools.
Another interesting feature of the new education policy is the introduction of O’ Meal school feeding system, which affords pupils in elementary schools opportunities of enjoying free and nutritious meals everyday during school hours.
This scheme has gained international endorsement as well. In November 2012, Partnership for Child Development (PCD) United Kingdom and the Government of the State of Osun signed the Osun Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan Document to further strengthen the programme.
O-MEALS aims was to reverse the very low academic performance of pupils noting that good nutrition is necessary for development of cognitive skills. The daily feeding allowance for each pupil has also been increased from N50 to N250.
For effective service a total number of 3,007 food vendors/cooks were trained and are currently employed to serve midday meals for pupils of classes 1, 2 , 3 and 4 in all elementary schools in the state.
Nigerian Tribune authoritatively gathered that over N3 billion is being expended annually on the school feeding programme, which has helped to increase school enrolment by a minimum of 25 percent since its commencement.
But, the new face of Osun public schools, as well as its encouraging features, is taking a toll on the enrollment in some private schools in the state as some parents have withdrawn their children to government owned schools.
Sizable number of parents and teachers cannot hide ecstasy and satisfaction for the conducive environment created through the building of over 39 mega schools, spread across the three senatorial districts in Osun State.
Some of the parents who bared their minds to our correspondent lauded the efforts of government to rebuild confidence in public schools, saying the development had changed the views and opinions of the majority, most especially on the quality of education and modern infrastructural facilities now available in public schools.
One of the parents, identified as Mr Olalekan Adeyemi said “let’s be frank and objective, Aregbesola has tried to restructure education in Osun State. With these mega schools, he has accorded more priority to the future of the youth in this state, bearing in mind that the best legacy one can bequeath to his children is qualitative education, which is only obtainable in a serene and conducive environment”.
Similarly, Mr Sadeeq Ayobami, a teacher in one of the elementary schools opined that “we have never had it so good in terms of school infrastructure, but the state government should also pay more attention to the welfare of teachers, through prompt payment of salaries and other allowances”.
However, the principal of International School, Abere, in Ede North local government, Mr Babaremi Olusola, admitted that the educational reforms had affected his business, lamenting that “this is affecting us, I have seen parents withdrawing their children to public schools because of the free education and uniform and food.”
“The way they are going about it, it’s like they don’t want us to exist, look at everything they are doing, and we should be partners in progress. We also employ people here and we are voters too. There is need for Osun State government to grant private schools tax reduction and give them ‘special grants’ to also upgrade their own facilities”