Kehinde Ojo,Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, in this interview with Adejuwon Soyinka, deputy general editor; Anthony Akaeze, senior assistant editor; Abiola Odutola, staff writer; and Sunday Adedeji, senior photo editor, reveals the efforts of the Kayode Fayemi administration to revamp the education system in the state that had been in the doldrums owing to neglect by past administrations in the state.
This administration came into office on the 16th of October 2010. What we met on ground was, to say the least, not encouraging. The buildings were dilapidated, there were no items of furniture, no chairs or tables for our teachers, very few desks and benches for our students, the laboratories and libraries were virtually empty, the general morale of the teacher was low; there was no discipline in our schools, there was manifest cultism and absenteeism as a result of lack of interest by our students and also apathy on the side of the parents. If you dig a little bit into the history of Ekiti State, you will realise that when Ekiti State was created, we had the accolade, the Fountain of Knowledge.
It was not just by accident because, long before now, even before the creation of Nigeria as a nation, Ekiti people had prided on education and there is hardly any higher institution in Nigeria today that you don’t find an Ekiti person either as a professor or something. In fact, to buttress this, there is a university in Zimbabwe today where the registrar is an Ekiti man, the librarian of that university is an Ekiti man, and the Chief Medical Director of that university is an Ekiti man. That is in far away Zimbabwe. So, Ekiti prided itself on education. And so when the administration came and met this rather parlous situation in our education system, which should have been our pride, it set up a committee to go round and look into the situation of our education system. It was the result of that visitation panel that informed the convocation of a two-day education summit.
The communiqué of this education summit, which brought together the best Ekiti brains within and outside Nigeria, informed the policy of government in education. And education and human capital development being the fourth agenda of the Eight-Point Agenda of Governor Kayode Fayemi, appears to be the fulcrum on which all other agendas are sustained. So, following this summit, government decided on a few things. First is that the three universities which we had in Ekiti should be coalesced so that we can have just one university that is world-class and the staff and students of this university were seamlessly integrated into the state university.
Then, in the secondary school sector, before now, there was bifurcation; you had senior and junior schools running on the same compound. In fact, you found that in those days there was disharmony within the school system. The principal of the senior school had no control over the students of the junior school. In some cases, there was almost unilateral demarcation of the school compound and this is not good for the educational system. So the first thing government did was to ensure that we have only one school in each of the compounds. And to ensure that this took off smoothly, government conducted series of tests for the principals in order to be able to select or appoint principals to these schools. So this was done, and based on merit, principals were appointed.
Then government realised that if the school environment is not welcoming, the child cannot learn. If the school environment is not friendly for teaching and learning, then nothing can be done in the schools. So government embarked on operation renovate all schools in Ekiti; it was code-named ‘ORASE’ and this took a giant step towards renovating almost all the buildings in all the secondary and primary schools in Ekiti and also supplying lockers, benches, tables and chairs for our teachers. And beyond that, government also provided books in the core subjects for all the students. In other areas, government provided core-teaching textbooks for the teachers and also provided reading texts in the libraries so that the child can go to the library and read.
One of the major achievements of this administration is ensuring that the state logs on to e-learning, which was new in Nigeria. How did the state government do this? It started by first supplying solar-powered notepads to SS3 students and with a promise that by 2014, there will be a laptop on the table of every child in the state. Right now, we have bought 30,000 and we are making arrangement to complement this with another 70,000. We also went further to purchase 18,000 laptops for our teachers at subsidised rates. They had to pay on soft loan. With their laptops, learning and teaching is made even easier for the students and teachers. And what we then did was to start training the teachers and we had to open up various centres in the local governments to train our teachers in the use of the laptops and also decide to have some specific centres to do a pilot running of the e-learning programme starting with Mary Immaculate School, so that we can be able to determine the gaps. It is a new programme, so there certainly will be challenges and for us to move further, we just have to block the gaps.
We have extended to 16 other schools so that each local government will now run a pilot school, so that when a teacher comes to class, as soon as he comes to class, the students will log on to his laptop and be able to pick his note for lesson. Then he teaches and complements; so the students can also mark their assignments on the laptops. The laptop we have is such that is adaptable; we loaded on it the curriculum for school certificate. We have also loaded textbooks. We are loading past questions. So it is an interactive tool and adaptable for the children. Still on e-learning, we want to ensure that each school in Ekiti State will be equipped with two computer laboratories where, apart from the child using laptop, he can also go there and do some learning and there will be a period when the teacher will be there to do the teaching and learning. We want to assume that JS1 students, because they just joined the school, may not be able to handle these delicate materials, will undergo training in e-laboratory in the first one year and later we will supply them with their own notepad.
On the tertiary level, apart from seamlessly integrating our three universities into one, when the Ekiti State University was rated two years ago, it was number 97 but I’m happy to report that today, Ekiti State University is number 14 on the list. And, of the 85 courses that are taught in that university, 82 of them are accredited; the only two that are not accredited are the ones that are in the College of Medicine because their assessors have not come. For the first time in the history of that university, it is this administration that gave the university a capital grant; we have given capital grant to the university to the tune of N400 million and that is what that university used in building its College of Medicine. But government felt it cannot do all this alone, so, government is always seeking intervention. And in the secondary school system, government had to apply to the World Bank. The World Bank came and found that only three states could qualify, Ekiti State, Bauchi and Anambra states.
What were the criteria used by World Bank?
One of the major criteria was the funding of education: how much have you been able to intervene in education? And in our case, I talked about ORASE. When they came and saw that we had renovated all our schools, that we had supplied laptops to students and teachers, and that we had supplied books to our people. That’s why the World Bank granted us the opportunity of keying into what is called SEPIP; this is the State Education Programme Intervention Project of the World Bank and they identified five DLI’s (Disposal Linked Indicators) for us. One was that we should have teachers in what they call rural areas. In Ekiti State, because of this administration that has done a lot of network of roads, there’s hardly any area you can call rural in Ekiti, because there’s hardly any town now that doesn’t have electricity or good road or water. And what did we do on that DLI?
To provide teachers for them, we said, 20 per cent of the basic salary of any teacher who is working in this hard-to-stay areas will be paid to them every month effective from January this year and we have paid up to March. Secondly, we also identified six key subject areas. We call them core subjects in agreement with the World Bank: English Language, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and the basic science in the junior secondary school. Any teacher that teaches these six anywhere in Ekiti State, we also give 20 per cent basic salary. Then all our registered teachers in Ekiti State, we are paying 16 per cent pecuniary allowance to all of them; so we are giving incentives.
What if a teacher falls into three categories?
It means that if a teacher falls into these three categories, he goes home with additional 56 per cent of his basic salary every month.
You’ve mentioned much about the projects and activities, but we see much of them as cost centred. How have you been able to fund this, considering the low revenue allocation of Ekiti?
Let me say that this administration prioritises education. About 23 per cent of the state’s budget is devoted to education meaning that the governor takes education seriously. So, when one is committed to it, he will look for it, which is why we are looking for intervention from various organisations. Samsung Engineering of Korea is equipping for us a centre at Government Technical College here in Ado Ekiti. Ekiti State is putting up the structure but Samsung is equipping it for us. It’s also the same thing in Life Academy, which we’ve laid the foundation at Iluomoba. So we are partnering. Right now, we are partnering with the British Council to see how they can train some of our teachers and staffers. We expect that a few of our teachers latest by June, will be sent to Britain, some will also go to Ghana for training.
Let me also add that even within here in Ekiti, we teach entrepreneurial subjects and not only teaching it, we practice it. In our boarding schools, we choose one particular trade and teach and practicalise. …. Beyond this, we are also in the process of renovating the three technical colleges in the state and we want to attach them to specific institutions so that they will have linkage with those institutions within and outside Nigeria, so that their students can go on exchange programme. Quite apart from this, we also award scholarships. Any child in our tertiary institution that makes 4.0 GPA qualifies for our scholarship. He will qualify for it throughout his course if he does not derail. At the postgraduate level, if you made a Second Class Upper in your first degree, you qualify for our scholarship for master’s and PhD, and we give scholarship within and outside Nigeria. Quite apart from that, this government paid for School Certificate Examination for its entire candidates from 2011 to date. Not only that, we also pay for JAMB; this year alone we have paid for over 2,500 candidates sitting for the exam. That is to say that we want to encourage education as much as possible.
All the schools in Ekiti State have been captured; it may not be all the buildings but all the schools have been captured. ORASE is a continuous exercise. We are in the second phase now; in fact we are going round to ascertain some of the things that were done, so that we will be able to know where we will start next. Right now I think we have 184 secondary schools and our primary schools about 800 and something. We have touched all of them by providing buildings and furniture. Then the teachers who are key to education. I earlier talked about allowance but we have started training and retraining our teachers. Some of them might also be going to South Africa before the end of the session. They will be there for about six months; some of them will go to Ondo State for training as well. But apart from this, for the first time in the history of primary education in Ekiti State and Nigeria, primary school teachers in Ekiti State were given car and housing loan, it has never happened anywhere before.
The secondary school teachers, we have also been giving them car and housing loan. But quite apart from that, we are also encouraging the building of houses for teachers in the various locations. We are partnering with some groups of people to be able to build houses so that if a teacher is posted to a particular area, there will be some house for him to live there. So, as much as possible we are trying to ensure that we improve the welfare of our teachers. At the secondary school level, the governor has approved the movement of some teachers who had stagnated on Grade Level 17, which is the first in this state. So we are ensuring that as much as possible we give incentive to the teachers because the teacher is key… the teacher did it in the past, he did not do it for some time because his morale was dampened. By what I have said you will discover that the take home salary of an average teacher is higher than that of his counterpart in any of the services in Ekiti State…
How would you compare the benefits enjoyed by teachers in the past to now?
I want to use the benefit of the hindsight. When I started teaching in 1974, the science teachers’ allowance was introduced and what was it then? It was N2.50k per month but later, about 20 years ago; it was increased to N2,500 per month. When this administration came in, what was given, as allowance to principals was so minimal, in fact it was nothing to write home about but the administration is presently working on this. An average primary school teacher on Grade Level 14 now goes home with over N140,000 a month. When I got to Level 16 in 1999, my take home salary was N6,100 and when I became tutor general and permanent secretary in 2005, my take home salary was N141, 000. That is now what a Level 14 teacher earns in Ekiti State. You can now see that quite a lot has gone into it. This administration does not take the welfare of the workers lying low because if there are no workers, there won’t be any service. The worker is engine room of the service.
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