Osun and the Value of a Digital Revolution, By John Ogunlela

In 2009, out of Nigeria’s 36 states, Osun State came 35th in NECO examinations results. This was at the zenith of People’s Democratic Party-led government in Osun State. In 2010, the state managed to crawl up the rungs to the 32nd position. After one year of Aregbesola’s government in 2011, Osun State shot up to number eight.

The results of NECO attracted gratitude from the students in the state, their parents and all lovers of good education in the country. It was a credit to the tireless efforts of the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola. The jump in Osun State’s position in the ladder of the performance of students in NECO was even more significant because the benefits of the fundamental changes which the Aregbesola-led administration had started to make in the education sector in the state were yet to be fully realised.

This background is important in responding to a gale of disinformation, mischief-making and crass ignorance being spread about the unprecedented changes in modern learning, among other measures, which are being implemented by the Aregbesola government in Osun State. One of such is a recent piece by one Ayo Aluko-Olokun. Left to the likes of Aluko-Olokun and his confederates, teachers and school authorities in Osun State would still be shoving their list of nine books per student at the faces Senior Secondary students mired in insolvency. This much is revealed in the ill-informed, even if disparaging, piece that Ayo Aluko-Olokun caused to be circulated recently.

What is his grouse? In Osun, the government was looking for the most cost-effective means of delivering top quality education to kids in their public schools. One of their main thrusts was a computer tablet (Opon Imo), distributed free to the kids. Each tablet is preloaded with all the textbooks they need, 56 in all, not to mention seven extra volumes like the Bible and Quran, personal health, sex education, fitness bits and such assortments. There is more. The tablet also comes with ten years of WAEC and JAMB past questions in 17 subjects.

The state government reckons it has spent about N57, 000 per child. There is nothing in this that a child cannot understand, but Ayo Aluko-Olokun and the people he is working for are looking for an elephant in the room with a magnifying lens. The state government has not issued a decree that the parents should not buy physical books for their children to complement the e-device if they so desire. Therefore, was exactly is the cause of Aluko-Olokun’s angst?

It is evident some of the ignorance in some quarters around this revolutionary project comes from the fact that they are totally unaware that it is one of the products of a thorough process of an education summit convened by the state government in February 2011 and chaired by Professor Wole Soyinka. Therefore, when I read Aluko-Olokun’s estimation that an SS student will normally have nine books and his rage at a governor who provided them with 63, I was truly disappointed.

When I went to Ilesa Grammar School in the early eighties, Governor Bola Ige administration in had a free education programme through which it supplied all schools with every educational material: textbooks, notebooks, pencils, erasers, biros, crayons, rulers, quality desks, maths set, name it. The only thing our parents contributed was their taxes and our school uniforms because we paid no tuition fees too. In my own school back then, there was more. We had this lavish library with rows upon rows of shelves of books, quality books on all areas of learning.

My point is this: back then, we were being raised to be thoroughly knowledgeable so we can be seasoned, adaptable and prepared to contribute in an original way to the progress of our nation. Kids raised that way grow to adults who are hard-boiled and unflinching in their vision but flexible in their approach. I have no doubt whatsoever that what will come out of the efforts of the governor of Osun state in this Opon Imo innovation is what comes out of a kid that grew up around a rich library.

We should therefore soberly ask ourselves how has it come to this in Nigeria that someone who poses as a ‘public affairs analyst’ would recommend one book per subject for a Senior Secondary school student and reproach a governor who says they should have much more at no cost. Have the standards plummeted so abysmally around here? The next thing Aluko-Olokun – who is actually a media aide of a PDP gubernatorial aspirant – would do is to whine and squeal endlessly about the cost of this laudable project, while contesting how much has been saved by the state government by embarking of this innovative project. If he cannot calculate correctly, I bet every kid with an Opon Imo in Osun can tell him that 63 books at N1, 000 apiece for 150,000 students will mean 9 billion naira.

Imagine a state where the public schools kids go about with a mini-library and a hard stuff examination cracker of twenty years past question papers (WAEC and JAMB, ten years each) in their backpacks. That is positively taking on the future indeed, for those students. They can stretch and feed their minds and find relationships that link various branches of knowledge at their leisure. They can haul less baggage around for more educational value and key into a world that has gone digital in all aspects. Yet, those who want a return to the visionless, incompetent and inefficiency of the PDP years in the state see nothing commendable in this initiative, but insist on spreading disinformation and splitting hairs in attempts to discredit the idea.

One of the questions raised is how students will power the tablets given the epileptic power supply. The simple answer to this distracting question is to ask the likes of Aluko-Olokun, how do Nigerians power the 50 million-plus mobile phones that they use? Surely, a hundred and fifty thousand Osun students are likely to be able to find a way around charging their computer tablets too if Nigerians can keep their mobile phones working despite the problem of constant power supply. However, the Aregbesola administration is making arrangements for communal solar chargers in remote rural High School locations.

This year’s JAMB examination was done on the computerized format. The signs that the digital direction is the way to the future are everywhere and plain for all to see. The PDP ran this state for seven and a half years and they couldn’t figure out a thing as simple as computerizing salary payments. Certainly computer tablets were for them a class item for the rich and it could never have crossed their minds to employ it in public education.

Apparently, Ayo Aluko-Olokun and his PDP crowd would have been more at peace with kids using chalk and black slates because there is no electricity for computers. They are people who will buy handheld phones for a hundred thousand bucks and squirm at a government spending N57, 000 on a computer for a twenty-first century child. Well, maybe they are sincerely stunned and can’t figure out how such a thing can be done in a state that is 34th on federal allocation receipts. But Osun manages its resources judiciously and it is not in the list of CBN’s bad-debt states.

Check up with the Debt Management Office in Abuja whose job is to ensure that no state borrows beyond what it can possibly pay back in the light of its IGR and allocations from the federation accounts. Contrary to the lies about the state borrowing N280, Osun State only raised a long-term facility of N22 billion in the form of bonds through the capital market, which is a healthy thing in public finance. If you borrow on long-term basis for specific value-adding development projects like Osun state has done, by the time you have to start repaying, you would have grown your economy and IGR so your debts have become cheaper and mush easier to pay. That is what Osun State is doing and it agrees with development economics anywhere in the world.

Only recently, the National Bureau of Statistics announced that Osun State now has the lowest unemployment figure of all Nigeria’s states. This is the consequence of the vision, planning and shrewdness of the Aregbesola administration.

Mr. Ogunlela writes from Osogbo, the Osun State capital.

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