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Education and human development (II)

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This situation has produced an unfortunate symmetry between poor state of public education and levels of poverty. It has also produced a reality whereby public education is underfunded, unstable and unpredictable. Capital and recurrent funding to education in the last three decades is far below UNESCO recommended 26% of national budget and total enrolment is scandalously low.

With the possible exception of South Africa, this is the situation across all Africa. In the case of Nigeria with geometric rise in government revenue mainly from crude oil, the situation is the same – weak capacity to discharge responsibility towards developing the ability of governments at all levels to meet the task of creating productive citizens. By the accounts of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria has earned N8.875 trillion between 2002 and 2006. This has shot to N8.878 trillion for 2011 alone and in 2012, N8.117 trillion. GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) has almost trebled from $170 billion in 2000 to $451 billion in 2012. Similarly, GDP per capita doubled from $1400 per person in 2000 to an estimated $2,800 per person in 2012.

Total expenditures on education by all Nigerian governments combined are estimated at about 3.5 percent of GDP and 15.2 percent of total government expenditure. There is also the fact that it is one thing to make budgetary allocations, but another matter entirely on what actually gets expended in the education sector.

The consequence is that the act of governance has become antithetical to knowledge. Citizens even when trained and educated remained ignorant or overtime end up experiencing brain atrophy mainly as a result of inability to use or apply knowledge. With such unfortunate scenario, rather than direct society towards controlling the environment, the environment instead conquers citizens. Thus, it can be argued that in so many respects government has become partly the problem of our contemporary world with rulers crazily accelerating modern societies to disasters of increasing magnitude.

This is unfortunately the story of Nigeria. With estimated 170 million population, combination of collapse of public education since the 1990s, poor funding, corruption and mismanagement are increasingly taking Nigeria away from civilisation. Current state of education in the country is, to say the least, appalling. The situation has brought about a sad reality whereby people with means end up sending their children to schools in other countries, including relatively poorer nations than Nigeria. People with means include public servants whose main source of income is public funds that should have ordinarily been used to develop the educational sector.

The vehicle that is predominantly employed is projects so much that everything about governance today is reduced to contracts to execute these projects often with little or no zero value addition. So called chief executives are today’s chief valuation officers for projects and virtually all Executive Councils at all levels of government in the country have replaced the functions of Tenders Boards. With free money from the Federation Account monthly being distributed to all tiers of governments, rulers don’t have to bother about anything called tax which should normally be a function of disposable income of citizens. Oil resource (revenue) from the Federation Account naturally guarantees resources to execute so-called projects and through them our rulers are can guarantee themselves some ‘exotic’ lifestyles.

This is the sad Nigerian story today. It is a story that is dominant and has become cancerous producing all manner of crises across the nation. No doubt, there are some state governments that are genuinely working hard to develop initiatives that would reverse this trend, re-connect governance with quest for knowledge aimed at solving problems faced by citizens. In some ways, it would appear that State of Osun (as they prefer to be called) best represent the category of states that are genuinely interested in addressing this problem. Why Osun? What has the state done that is different? Are they not also implementing projects that may be prone to corrupt enrichment of public officials?

On Monday, June 3, 2013, the State of Osun launched ‘Opon-Imo’, which is an e-learning project for pupils in the secondary schools. It entails giving each student in senior secondary schools, Computer Tablet (otherwise known as Opon Imo) to aid teaching and learning in all secondary schools across the state. The Opon Imo is a self-study aid, a robust electronic device with uniform learning content for all secondary school students.

It is an Indigenous Computer Programmed Instruction (CPI) with locally produced content, designed for the Nigerian secondary education system. Presently, the project targets 150,000 students in the SSS 1 – 3 category and their teachers. According to the state government, “the advantages of the Opon Imo are many. One is that it has an in-built feedback mechanism for monitoring students’ performance. Second, the tablet frees the student from the physical burden of backpack of books and the healthcare-costs of ‘bad-backs’. In addition, it makes learning less stressful because of its handiness. Students can take it anywhere with them and have instant knowledge and information about their school work.

“The tablet is preloaded with seventeen (17) subjects offered by students in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE). The subjects have been designed in forms of lesson notes, textbooks, mostly provided by Publishers and Master Teachers Inputs. A content verifier has also verified lesson notes on each subject (Masters Teachers Works).

“Besides, seven extra-curricular subjects such as Sexuality Education, Civic Education, Yoruba History, Ifa Traditional Religion, Computer Education and Entrepreneurship Education, and Twelve Thousand Yoruba Proverbs are also included.

“Also included are ten years’ past questions and answers provided by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Consequently, questions and answers in 17 ordinary level subjects have been provided. They are English Language, Mathematics, Agricultural Science, Economics, Principles of Accounts, Literature in English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Yoruba, Commerce, Further Mathematics, History, Geography, Government, IRK and CRK.

“Presently, 56 e-textbooks, covering 17 subjects’ areas are preloaded in the Computer tablet – Opon-imo. In addition, seven extracurricular subjects with relevant books are preloaded, bringing the e-textbooks to 63. There are also, 51 audio tutorials embedded in the Opon-imo to further aid students through virtual study plan.”

What makes the story of Opon Imo very attractive and recommendable are not just the details of the content but the cost analysis, which was provided by the state government. Apart from the fact that its contents can be customised to meet the needs of users, it is very affordable base on the following cost analysis:

1. WASC past questions for all subjects for a period of ten years on seventeen subjects at a conservative estimate of N1000 per subject will give a conservative figure of N2,550,000,000 (N2.55 Billion).

2. Virtual Classroom zone containing 51 audio tutorials estimated at about N5000 per session gives N38,250,000,000 (N38.25 Billion) for 150,000 students.

3. 63 e-textbooks preloaded at a conservative estimate of N1000 each comes to N63, 000 x 150, 000 = N9,450,000,000 (N9.45 Billion).

The state government sums it up with the explanation that were they “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 & W.A.E.C past questions & answers for all subjects for a period of 10years, it would (conservatively speaking) cost a whopping sum of N50.25billion.” State of Osun is providing each students of SSS 1 – 3 Opon Imo free based on initial rollout of 150,000 to be distributed to students and teachers.

The question at this point is what is the cost of the 150,000 Opon Imo being introduced in all public senior secondary schools in State of Osun? Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of the state who conceived the whole idea while window shopping in an electronic store announced during the launching that the total cost of the e-textbooks is slightly above N200 million. One of the things that the Opon Imo project necessitated is the installation of solar panels in schools to power the devices.

At face value therefore it could be argued that with public investment of slightly above N200 million on e-textbooks, the government of State of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Aregbesola has saved the state N8.4billion.

Salihu Moh. Lukman, a development economist and activist, writes from Abuja.

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