By Dapo Akinrefon
PROFESSOR Wale Oladipo is a Professor of Nuclear and Redio chemistryÂ who once lectured at the Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife He is also chairman of Osun State Universal Basic Education Board. In this interview, he proffers solution to the myriad of problems confronting theÂ education system in Nigeria and the activities of SUBEB in Osun.Â Excerpts:
As a university don, if you are to look at education presently, compared to what obtained in the past, would you say our educational system is making any progress?
If you are comparing us with our past, I will say there are areas of improvement and unfortunately, there are areas of retrogression. For instance, if you take the late 1970s and 1980s, I know that our laboratories in the universities were well stocked with chemicals and other equipments that are necessary for the training of a scientist.
If you go to our faculties of technologies then, you have even a whole car that they dismantle and assembly again as training equipments for students; but today, if you go to the same faculty, the situation is so pathetic that even students have to procure their chemicals for their own projects.
Be that as it may, you also have to look at the fact that during the period I was referring to, may be the student population of OAU was probably 5000, today, it is more than 30000. There is this population explosion which is a result of concerted efforts made at the lower levels to produce more certificate holders, not only from public schools, but also from private schools. In the south western part of the country for instance, you will see that the best students are produced in private secondary schools, that is the reality right now.
This problem is a temporary one, people should recollect that in the 1960s, there were hardly any private schools excerpt missionary schools. But nowadays, in the south west in particular, the best school in terms of performance are the public secondary school, the same thing cannot be said at the elementary level.
So, the system is producing at least one million school certificate holders, who are qualified to enter into tertiary institutions every year and out of this, the existing capacity is able to absolve less than twenty per cent. And we are so diligent in this country, particularly in the south west, that we see that private universities are on the rise, in number and quality.
I can foresee that in the next five years, these universities would have matured to the level of say OAU or UI. This is a temporary problem that I think with time, we will over come. The standard is neither falling nor rising depending on the parameter you want to consider. I think we have a lot to do in terms of quality control.
Aside the population explosion you mentioned earlier, people will argue that our educational system is dwindling by the day, what would you say is responsible for this?
You cannot divorce that from the general society. Ours is a society in decay, that is the truth. I personally believe that we need a rebirth in this country; Iâ€™m an advocate of political restructuring, we have to go back to the fundamentals so as to address all the societal needs and there is no way you can divorce our educational attainment from the general decadence in the society.
For instance, you have a child who will cheat, the parents will even help the child to cheat in order to pass through the system.
This is because of the unnecessary emphasis on certificate. In those days, we had technical schools that were thriving and producing secondary man power in all spheres of life. And these are people who will get employment and live a fulfilled life; but now, people believe that you have to get a degree by all means mainly by crooked means and the results is that you produce graduates that are not even employable.
So, the decline in terms of performance and quality can be associated to the increased quantity. And then the moral laxity that is currently prevalent in our society and I believe that a whole set of principles has to be developed for each community so that people can go back to the basics. From there, we can take off.
There is this opinion that a university graduate has an edge lover his polytechnic counterpart. What is your view on this?
I donâ€™t support this argument, that is the problem we have in this society. A university has a mission and vision, the same government that established the university is the same government that established the polytechnic with its own set goals and objective.
They have different functions. In the university, the training is both theoretical and practical with emphasis on theoretical knowledge; you are preparing people for managerial office in the university system. That is why a university graduate will climb the ladder and get to the top; the polytechnic is first and foremost designed to produce technically sound people with emphasis on practical knowledge of things.
They are supposed to complement each other, but unfortunately, there is this unnecessary competition that people have reduced it to master/slave relationship which naturally complicates their ability to work together. The two are meant to complement each other for the development of our society. I think we must go back to the basics like I said, we must re_establish technical colleges and re_orientate our secondary school leavers towards the future.
As chairman of SUBEBÂ in Osun State, how have you been able to improve the level of education in the state?
With all modesty, I came on board about two years ago. We are charged with basic education and thatâ€™s the most important component education because once you get the foundation right, then, the building itself will be okay.
Immediately, I got this appointment, the first thing I did was to sit down with my colleagues and study the problem of the system.
I identified three problems, the first is infrastructure, you had termite attack, you had corrosion of the roofs and you have the floor sinking.
So, I brain stormed with my colleagues on the board and other consultants who provided free consultancy and we came up with an innovative idea that if we can tackle these three components, then, we would have improved the lifestyle of the infrastructure that we were providing. Whatever building we are buildings we are putting in place now, are put in place to last; we envisaged them to be there for the next 15 to 20 years.
The second one was teacherâ€™s morale, their morale was relatively high, due to the good rappour Governor Oyinlola was having with them. So, we decreed that their salaries will not only be paid as at when due, but their promotion will be done as at when due.
For the first time, may be in decades, last year, out of 13, 400 teachers that we had in primary schools, we made sure that we promoted 9,200. These were all those that were due for promotion and it had a ripple effect.
In fact, most teachers now really value their jobs because they are well paid.
In the past, the re_training programme used to recycle a set of teachers, we now made sure that we spread it to all the teachers, including our teachers in the Junior Secondary Schools, who are also part of the basic education sector.
And the last one was the pupils themselves. We went round and Iâ€™m sorry to this, the standard was not acceptable to me as a professor. Presently, we are trying to develop a road map that will ensure quality. Another thing that we met on ground and encouraging is the home growth system, we saw that many of the students are either malnourished or are victims of child labour.
We had to reach out and interact with the parents through what we called school based management committees and I am happy to announce that the scheme is no bearing some fruits. And we hope that whoever comes after us, will build on this so that Osun State can regain its glorious past of educational excellence.