Democratising and Revolutionising Education in Osun, By Rauf Aregbesola

Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State

On July 20, 1969, when American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, the first human to land on the moon, took his first step, his first words are those famous lines: ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Today in the State of Osun, we are taking another momentous leap forward in our unflinching and unstoppable effort to lay a solid foundation for the education of our children.

The much-awaited Opon-Imo has finally arrived. The smart computer tablet has entered the education scene, to the gloryof Almighty God, and to the victory of the public school studentsof Osun, but to the utter bewilderment of ill-meaning cynics,whose ardent wish is for the project to fail. Unfortunately for them, God has a different plan for Osun and for its good people.

In truth, our initial projection on the Opon-Imo – hence our original roll-out plan – was a gross under-estimation of the enormity of the challenges involved in what we had embarked upon. Not unlike any other ground-breaking achievement, we ran into hurdles where we did not anticipate and faced obstacles which we did not plan for.

Very much like other such computer devices, Opon-Imo contains both hardware and software components. The hardware component was the easier of the problem, but thesoftware part proved to be the storm unforetold. Nevertheless,we remained undaunted. The problem simply strengthened our resolve to succeed. It reinforced our mindset that every pioneering project of this nature must necessarily involve a never-failing spirit to surmount difficulties and challenges.

So,we fortified our spirit with the counsel of Samuel Beckett, which urges us to, ‘Try again. Fail again. [And] Fail better.’ The problem was fixed. Then we began a new round of test and re-test in order to certify the integrity of the product we would eventually hand out to our students.

But while we were working hard at success, the professional naysayers and incurable non-achievers had started to snigger. They went about town to wag their tongues in the spiteful meanness of their spirit and the small-minded pettiness of their self-conceit that the project had failed according to their dark prophesy. But instead, it was their false prophesy that failed. Our project is a resounding success; and once again, they were roundly disappointed. By the grace of God, we will continue to confound them.

The successful birth and delivery of Opon-Imo has been a difficult experience; but it is a happy story to tell; and I am delightfully pleased to tell it. The journey began from a trip I made to the Borough of Southwark in the United Kingdom in 2011 where I saw an electronic learning device while window-shopping in a bookshop at Dockland. And it occurred to me that we could build something like that and adapt it to our own purpose in a manner that would be unique to our circumstance. And then we went to work, and Opon-Imo is the product of our toil.

The idea of an electronic tablet is not our invention, and we make no such claim, for it would be patently false. But we have made something completely unique out of the existing idea. Hence, we make bold to say that Opon-Imo is a tablet like no other on the face of the earth. As we speak, learning devices are usually e-readers that require internet connectivity to access their library resources.

But Opon-Imo stands alone. It is a complete library in a single computer tablet. It’s a complete and closed system that cannot interface or interconnect with any other system, because it does not need them to function. It was commended at Harvard University and by the Mayor of Pittsburgh who made no disguise of his admiration for the device.

It is a first-of-its-kind standalone learning tablet in the world for self-paced study. It provides three major content categories vis-à-vis, e-library, virtual classroom, and an integrated test zone.The virtual classroom category contains 63 e-books covering 17 academic subjects for examinations conducted by WAEC, NECO and JAMB as well as non-academic life-enriching subjects such as History of The Yoruba, Sexuality Education, Civic Education, Ifa on ethics and morals, enterprise education, hints and tips on passing SSCE and ‘How to live a Healthy and Happy life’. This section also contains an average of 16 chapters per subject and 823 chapters in all, with about 900 minutes or 15 hours of audio voiceovers.

In the integrated test zone of the device, there are more than 40,000 JAMB and WAEC practice questions and answersdating back to about 20 years. It also contains mock tests in more than 51 subject areas, which approximates to 1,220 chapters, with roughly 29,000 questions referencing about 825 images.

From the foregoing, there can be little argument that Opon-Imo is a veritable tablet of knowledge that levels the learning playing field for all students from different social backgrounds. It allows students to learn at their own pace, wherever and whenever they choose. It provides robust and uniform learning content for all students, and offers a feedback mechanism for monitoring their performance.

Opon-Imo also has the advantage of offering a highly interactive computer-based learning and testing environment.Opon-Imo weighs 1.1kg. Its small size and light weight allows for flexibility in its use, which means a student armed with Opon-Imo can learn walking, sitting or even lying down. With Opon-Imo, learning becomes fun, easy and interesting. Because this tablet of knowledge is going to be distributed free to our students, it not only relieves their parents of the financial burden expended on learning materials, it likewise relieves the students of the burden of their book-laden backpacks. As the Mayor of Pittsburgh enthused, it also relieves students of ‘bad back’. His argument is that carrying a heavy backpack is bad for the back, therefore doing away with backpack is good for the back.

Opon-Imo has numerous other advantages. It can be solar-powered; it can record audio lessons; saves students the stress of copying notes and spares them more time to learn; facilitates early exposure of students to ICT; it has up to six hours of battery life; and its touch screen makes for easy use. To crown it all, this little device will greatly facilitate our free education policy by saving the state a lot of money that would have had togo into procuring text books on an annual basis. Indeed, the saving is humongous. Were the state to engage in the physical purchase of hard-copies of textbooks for the 17 subjects taught in our public schools, hard-copies of 51 audio tutorials, hard-copies of JAMB and WAEC past questions and answers for all subjects for a period of 10 years, it would (conservatively speaking) cost a whopping sum of N50.25billion.

In addition, we do not have to buy books as long as the tablets are in use. We also cannot quantify the cost of the virtual classroom which does not even exist anywhere, except in Opon-Imo.

The introduction of Opon-Imo is a precious high point in our comprehensive plan to totally remake the public school system in Osun. Our first concern after our inauguration was education. We discovered then, to our chagrin, that only three per cent of secondary school leavers in the state had the requisite pass for admission into tertiary institutions. We quickly held a summit of education stakeholders which looked into the state of education in the state and made far-reaching recommendations.

In a world tilting inexorably towards ICT, Opon-Imo is a bold statement of our determination to qualitatively redefine public education. With Opon-Imo, we are certain to open the doors of good education to more of our students who would otherwise have been denied that priceless opportunity. Through education we are rescuing our children from possible misery.

As Victor Hugo famously put it: ‘He who opens a school door, closes a prison’. Through Opon-Imo we are opening more doors to more students to learn. By educating our youths we are also doing our society a world of good; for an educated society will most likely be a better society. This is duly affirmed by Maya Angelou who pointed out that, ‘When you know better you do better’.

The eternal truth of this underlies our firm focus on laying a solid educational foundation for a brighter future for our young ones. The other aspects of our education reform are proceeding apace. The O’Uniform, the O’Schools, the O’Meal, and the O’Callisthenics are all being implemented according to plan.

For us, education consists in the making of the total student.This must be within the physical environment that promotes learning, hence the construction of modern buildings with requisite furnishing; the psycho-biological condition of the child that will make learning attractive and possible, therefore the elementary school feeding programme and uniforms. We will keep our hands steadily on the plough, and our eyes fixed on the goals. We will yield to no distraction because we are driven by a higher purpose that is unaffected by politics.

Some thoughtless critics accused us of eliminating textbooks with the introduction of Opon-Imo. The question to ask then is ‘what if?’ Textbooks are printed mainly from wood grown on hundreds of thousands of hectares of land every year. This has grave implication for the environment. Secondly, as all education managers know, after teachers’ salaries, books take the next disproportionate share of the budget. At any rate, the world is going digital and we would be doing the children a lot of harm if they are not exposed to the digital world at an early age. Nevertheless, this accusation is patently false. A child would have been exposed to textbooks from kindergarten to middle school but Opon-Imo is designed for senior school pupils. Even then, we are still looking into how to absorb the lower arms into the digital divide as soon as we can lay our hands on the appropriate textbooks and needed funds.

The tablet however is more than a learning device. It is a revolution that individualises learning and brings the school to the child. The old order is that the child goes to school, but we have now brought the school to the child. In the old order, the pupils go to school to study, but with Opon-Imo, they now learn.

It is also about democratisation of learning. Opon Imo provides equal access to every child, irrespective of his or her background. Pupils in the remotest village now have access to the same body of knowledge as their counterparts from the most cosmopolitan city.

Opon-Imo, by containing all subjects, is a veritable tool in the making of the rounded student. A science student for instance has access to textbooks on arts and social science and vice versa.

There is also a business side to the tablet. As we speak, a factory for the assemblage of computer tablets is taking off in the state. It will provide jobs for our youths and bring revenue to the government. The foundation for the making of Osun as the IT hub of the nation has been laid. It is our hope that Opon-Imo will spread to other parts of the nation from Osun.

The addition of Opon-Imo to our education is another turning point in the public school system in the State of Osun. I believe that history is in the making today with the official launch of this device, and the real significance of this day in the history of education in Osun will only be appreciated in the fullness of time.

I must acknowledge and thank every single person and organisation involved in the making of Opon-Imo; from my able deputy; the state executive council; our technical partners from China and United States; the project managers, Phillips Consulting; the project director, Bambo Bashorun; the hardworking individuals at the Office of the Governor and Ministry of Education; and the distinguished members of the public presentation committee.

Osun a dara!

Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the State of Osun read this remarks at the launch of Opon Imo, a digital study library for students in the state.


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