That education in Western Nigeria may prosper again

It is still a sobering reality that the quality of education in South West Nigeria has experienced an abysmal downturn in recent years. The present story should be sufficiently shocking and worrisome, particularly to those familiar with the golden era of the region when it was an all-round tales of inspiring exploits in virtually all sectors of human endeavours. Unfortunately, this region that once prided itself as the bastion of educational excellence and scholarship has  retrogressed and now slides tragically behind other regions of the country that once looked up to her for leadership.

Take a look at the 2015 May/June West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination statistics: Only Lagos State, in the sixth position, was found on the top ten out of the 36 states, including Abuja. Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Osun and Oyo all ranked 11th, 13th, 19th, 29th and 26th respectively. As if this is not enough, the wave of scandals and crisis now dotting the education landscape in some of the western states should leave every true Yoruba son and daughter saddened, if not irked. The narrative is indeed disturbing, and thus, justifiably, requires all critical stakeholders in the country to devote concerted attention to finding a way out — urgently.

It was in apparent response to this that the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria Commission, the region’s impressive integrative force, took up the gauntlet last week, convening a Technical Roundtable of leading stakeholders in education.                 The theme could not have been more apt: ‘Developing a Collaborative Framework for Education Advancement in Western Nigeria’.

The effort was both timely and audacious.  And much of this purposefulness reflected in the overall make-up of the event and the array of stakeholders harnessed to candidly dissect the matter at hand, while also forging a realistic and strategic direction for education in the region.

Dipo Famakinwa, Director General, DAWN Commission, brilliantly captured the place of qualitative education to the region this way: “The people of Western Nigeria are the region’s most important asset. It is from within the people that capable men and women who would effectively lead the region, and work hard for its prosperity and social harmony will emerge. There is the necessity to create a bespoke but globally-aligned South West Education to transmit our worldview which in turn would help in sustaining survival and promoting our civilisation. The long-term survival and sustainability of the region is therefore hinged upon the production of educated, highly skilled, motivated and engaged people.”

Present at the event was a compact team of stakeholders. With these professionals of impeccable records joined by the commissioners and permanent secretaries of education from different states, it was not difficult pulling out a great outing. The uniqueness of the roundtable was definitely in its unpretentious approach of telling the truth as it is.

Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State who played host to the participants, delivered a very insightful keynote address. His presentation was sufficiently lucid and thus provided the required depth of conviction for the task at hand. Drawing randomly from his own childhood experiences, Governor Aregbesola emphasized the need to ensure the region focuses on functional education ideal that not only produces a graduate that aptly fits into the Omoluabi ethos, but one who is useful to the society indeed. “Education is that infrastructure of the mind that develops our youth to become models of good character, innovation and competence; the true Omoluabi. This Omoluabi personae is honest, courageous and rational; one who excels in character, innovation and competence. The educated person is well connected to his or her Yoruba culture and heritage,” he noted. Of course, the governor’s address would not have been complete without clearing the air on the raging controversy stirred over the recent court judgment on the wearing of hijab and the reclassification of schools in his state.

The plenary session that featured presentations of iconic programmes and projects in education from the participating states was a unique experience worth escalating nationally. Like a peer review session, it took a deep dive into some of the key programmes of the western states in primary and secondary education. The stakeholders consequently took turns to critique these projects, volunteered constructive feedbacks that the participating states obviously cherished. The highly successful school feeding programme (OMEAL) of Osun, the all-inclusive anti-cultism template in Oyo and the very ingenious public private model for funding public education cum data-driven system in Ogun, among many other interesting efforts, were well-regarded as being good enough to be replicated.

In many ways, it was the stakeholders’ panel session that undoubtedly turned out the most stimulating and rewarding. The team was led by a panel of five members: Mr Muyiwa Bamgbose, educational technology advocate and founder, Educational Advancement Centre; Dr Kola Babarinde, director, Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, University of Ibadan; Dr Tunde Adekola, Senior Education Specialist, World Bank; Dr Olufunmilayo Olalusi, DFID representative and Professor Joel Babalola, former Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan. Their diagnoses of the retinue of challenges bedeviling education in the region and the solutions proffered were both deep and irrefutable. Also, other stakeholders in the audience engaged their colleagues and what resulted thereafter was an exhilarating free-flow of bold ideas, which eventually culminated in a formidable template upon which the expected fortunes of education in the region could be anchored.

The crux of the enriching deliberations centred on injecting fresh ideas into the education sector for an urgent turnaround. Active partnership between the various stakeholders, including teachers, parents, government and allied stakeholders in the region was identified as being critical to delivering qualitative education in the region. The need to give teachers the deserved pride of place in the region also came to the fore. It was echoed severally that, to professionalise teaching in the region and commit teachers to deliver on mandate, stakeholders must redirect efforts and ensure teaching is made intensely attractive through improved remuneration. This, as the stakeholders noted, is required to retain the region’s best brains in education. This was in addition to the call made to improve the learning environment in schools, while also reviewing the subsisting school curriculum.

Again, it was canvassed that political leaders in the region must exert the right political will on forging a road map that is all-inclusive and visionary. To this end, it was emphasised that for the region to deliver on the promise of bequeathing a greater future for the coming generation, qualitative education deserves the right kind of attention, priority and commitment.

After the intensive deliberation that stretched late into the night, it was agreed that a technical working group should be commissioned to articulate the strategic thinking that emanated from the roundtable. One can only hope, as the DAWN Commission promised, that the gains that accrued from the event become a sufficient stimulant to spur greater action and reverse the uninspiring fortunes of education in the western region.

Babatunde sent in this piece from Osogbo.