Inside Ondo’s mega schools of controversy
The Ondo State government recently embarked on the renovation of existing primary schools and construction of new ones across the state, discontinuing with the mega schools project of the immediate past administration. In this report, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI looks into the various issues this move by the state government has generated.
When the Ondo State government took up the challenge to renovate and construct various primary schools in dilapidated condition across communities in the state, the argument was to develop basic learning among children in their early stage of learning, especially their first six years in school. To this end, over 700 different projects were carried out by the Rotimi Akeredolu administration in the last 16 months. Apart from renovation of these primary schools, learning aids and facilities were installed in many of these schools, bidding goodbye to aging school facilities, overcrowded classrooms and the like.
The anticipated development increased the enrolment of children in primary schools in three folds, which has been a loss to some of the private schools operating across the state, running in rented or rent-free buildings, most of which were unsuitable for learning purposes, as they were generally ill-ventilated and unhygienic.
Confirming the increase in school enrolment in primary schools, the head teacher of Muslim Primary School, Ile Oluji, in Ile Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government Area of the state, Mrs Elizabeth Ajayi, said the school had never witnessed such a geometric progression in its enrolment of pupils since it was established in 1955.
According to her, the aesthetic condition of the building has been attracting more students into the school. She stated that the number of pupils enrolled increased from 60 to 150 last session, adding that “we are still expecting more when the new enrolment commences in August.”
She noted that the construction and renovation of primary schools in the state provided a suitable teaching and learning environment for primary school pupils. She said adequate pieces of school furniture including desk, chairs, blackboards and tables were provided.
She, however, called on the state government to ensure the completion of the school fence for security and into prevent hoodlums from turning the school to their abode.
“We appeal to the government to complete the fencing of the school because some hoodlums and the destitute have turned the compound into their homes. Apart from this, we need more furniture for the students and the teachers in order to make learning and teaching easier,” she said.
Similarly in St. Mathias Primary School, the head teacher, Mr. Bayo Olufunmilayo, said the reconstruction of the school was a big loss to private primary schools around. According to him, the school pupils have been spreading the good news about the facilities in the school, leading to the withdrawal of students by their parents from private schools to the newly renovated public schools. He stated that the beautification of the schools include the creation of gardens, libraries and school fields for sporting activities.
While commending the state government, the chief imam of Akure, Alhaji Akeem Yayi-Akorede commended the state government for turning the primary schools around and making them more attractive. He hailed the state governor for resuscitating the Akure Muslim Primary School, located at the heart of the ancient city.
According to him, “The governor has done very well. He is a good man with a good heart. For a long time, the Muslim community watched as the school went into ruins. Our children could not go to the school as parents took their children to other schools.
“But, despite not being a Muslim, the governor ensured that the school was reconstructed and fenced. Today, our children have gone back to school and we are happy about this development.”
Some of the parents who spoke to Nigerian Tribune commended the state governor. Mrs Hafsat Abiola, from Ikare Akoko, said the new development in primary schools encouraged and motivated the pupils to learn because of the new conducive atmosphere.
Mrs Abiola said it would have made a great difference if other successive administrations had paid similar attention to education in the state. “You will agree with me that most of our schools would be in a lot better shape if other administrations had paid better or similar attention to education in Ondo State. I would love to see the government extend its programme to other schools needing attention in the state,” she said.
An educationist, Afe Oloketuyi, said: “Two years on, a solid and sure-footed foundation has been laid to ensure that the future of the state is better structured for modern day challenges through quality education. There is no repeating the fact that the Akeredolu administration inherited an almost comatose education system which, at best, was aimed at producing school leavers who struggled to pass external examinations. Despite the huge amounts purportedly spent on education, many public schools were in a shambles, with blown off roofs and dilapidated buildings. Two years on, the Akeredolu administration has not disappointed in its promise to revamp the education sector.”
Believing that the morale of the teachers is also important to the building of sound education at the primary school level, the state government recently promoted 1,800 primary school teachers in Ondo after a screening exercise carried out by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).
A parent, Mrs Ibirinade Olagunju, who commended the last administration over the building of mega schools across the state, noted that the concept failed to yield positive results, saying most of the schools had been abandoned.
She hailed the present administration of Governor Akeredolu, for reviewing the late Olusegun Agagu’s concept in developing education from primary schools and making learning more attractive and affordable.
She advised the state government to ensure that most of the mega schools constructed by the immediate past government are not abandoned, noting that most of the facilities in the schools should be converted for use instead of abandoning them.
Governor Akeredolu, while speaking on a radio programme, ‘an Evening with the Governor’ said he decided to dump the mega school project in the state because it failed to attract enrolment of pupils into primary schools while most parents chose to take their wards to private schools.
According to him, the aim of establishing the schools was defeated while the facilities are wasting away. “On education, for years my predecessor did not believe in the type of primary schools that we have, that SUBEB or UBEC at the federal level would support. Everybody has their own style.
“He felt ‘why don’t I spend money to build mega schools?’ And that was good for him. But for me, it is not something I am going to embark on because I am learning from his experience. I could see practically what mega school had suffered. The issue of attendance is very poor and some of the facilities are wasting away.
“So, I felt that I would still approach the primary school education and the improvement of infrastructure through the SUBEB and UBEC way. I got money, we paid our counterpart fund. For about four, five years, we had not paid. We got money, paid our counterpart fund and that led us to work on over 700 primary schools.
“We have constructed new classrooms in some of them. We have repaired so many. We have toilet facilities. We have their recreational facilities. We have solar power to provide them light. You can see so many schools all over the state, at every the nooksand cranny of the state.”
But it will be recalled that the former governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, said the mega primary school initiative by his administration was to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, adding that his administration made concerted effort to break the traditional jinx of lopsidedness in access to qualitative education between the children of the rich and the poor.
Mimiko noted that before his intervention, the children of the poor had to make do with public schools, while the children of the rich received early education in cosy environment and as such creating a man-made disparity and discrimination.
“We took the bull by the horns; we came up with a creative and well thought-out idea of a long lasting and enduring legacy that could make a difference in design, structure and in outlook. This marks the beginning of a new era, an era that puts both the rich and the poor together on a common platform.
“This is our home-grown idea of a near perfect study and learning environment, we can beat our chest that we are close to our destination, a destination that showcases an unprecedented educational development, using basic education as our benchmark,” he said.
However, the chairman of SUBEB, Princess Oladunni Odu, in an interview, said the building of mega schools for primary school pupils was a waste.
She said one of the mega schools built to accommodate 1,050 pupils has only 300 pupils. “The schools are underutilised. I don’t think that establishing mega schools was a very wise decision on the part of the past administration. If we are talking about basic education, we are talking about neighbourhood schools for pupils. So why should we be thinking of something mega? Why design such a huge concept for basic education?
“We don’t need that kind of structure. It can only be used for tertiary institutions. The present administration was wise enough to accept recommendation from a committee that the state does not need mega schools, especially when they are not functional.”
A former National Assembly lawmaker from the state, Afe Olowookere, also faulted the immediate past administration on the mega school, saying the administration wasted billions of naira on the projects, alleging that the projects further put the state into serious debt.
“I disagreed with the education policy of the last administration in Ondo State. The government rather than guiding her education policy through the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) recommendation which includes making education accessible and affordable for every child of school age, wasted billions of naira on building of mega schools”
But the Director of Media and Publicity of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Ayo Fadaka, said the former lawmaker was mischievous in his comments over the education policy of the Mimiko administration, noting that Mimiko’s administration touched the lives of Ondo people.
Fadaka said “the lawmaker did not put the future of the children of the state into consideration by making such statements about Mimiko’s education policy. His opinion was uninformed because a lot of input went into every action of government. Governor Mimiko in his days did let the people of the state know that he had the commitment of touching their lives.”
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Ondo State chapter, Mr. Victor Amoko, lauded the state government for the gesture and new initiative in turning primary school education around, saying it will go a long way in developing primary education in the state.
While speaking on the projects, the SUBEB chairman said the projects were carried out by the state government in order to reposition primary school education in the state.
She said “f you had gone round at the inception of this administration, you would have seen that many of the buildings in these schools were actually dilapidated and they needed renovations and the state government thought it was better to have a conducive environment for learning and teaching
“We think if the buildings of the public schools are attractive enough to the young ones, they will be motivated to come to school regularly and that’s why we have these projects. This is because we want to develop education and make the education sector attractive. If you remember when Akeredolu was campaigning, in his five-point agenda he did promise functional education and this include having good infrastructure in the schools and training and re-training of teachers.”
She disclosed that “about 700 projects in all these schools have been completed and in the next few weeks another 314 projects will be awarded. So we have over 1000 projects.
“Our projects are also made of new constructions of six classrooms, four classrooms, three classrooms and we have a supply of furniture for these schools for the pupils and the teachers too. We also have a supply of computers at schools. Apart from all these, we have boreholes to provide water in the schools.
“In the new projects coming up in few weeks we have a supply of agricultural materials because we are trying to encourage agriculture in our schools and some of the schools will benefit from this project. We are also trying to encourage sports; we have some sporting equipment to be supplied to our schools.”
While she promised that some of the uncompleted projects in some of the schools would be completed soon, she assured that new qualified teachers would be employed to complement those who have been in service.
She frowned at the failure of successive government to employ teachers for schools in Ondo State, noting that “this is one of the challenges we have because since 2006, government has not employed any teacher.
“Teachers were employed last under the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu and a lot of teachers have retired. Some of them died, and some of them changed jobs.
“But the governor has promised that the state government will start the recruitment of teachers and we are waiting because when a verbal approval has been given like that we must do the necessary things to see that, things are properly done and we follow due process, so we are trying to put the papers forward to receive formal approval for the recruitment of teachers.”