By Damilola Akinyele
Ondo State is reshaping how public education is being done in Nigeria. As of 2016, the state has built over 50 model primary schools. The schools are categorized into 2 types: A & B. Type A can accommodate 1,050 students while type B can accommodate 525 students. Babatunde Fafunwa, a former minister of education in Nigeria, in his book New Perspectives on African Education, calls for a reappraisal of African education: the structures, the curriculum, the teacher quality— all issues that are being addressed in Ondo’s mega schools. The teachers in these schools have signed up to be lifelong learners, as teacher training is a priority of the education ministry in the state. In a global context, and in the age of knowledge, these schools are equipped with functional computer rooms, and libraries supplied with diverse content- international, and national.
In a study released in 2014, researchers found that the lack of infrastructure can shape the outcome of students. Minor things such as air quality in buildings can profoundly
Influence learning. The mega schools are structured so that students have access to playgrounds, rooms for art expressions, power generators for when electricity cuts off during the day, sick bays for when students are ill, good desk tables, chairs, and boards for students learning. For children around the world, a challenge to attending school is the distance to home factor. School buses have been provided for every mega school in the 8 local governments, and students are being picked up before and after school, increasing their chances of attending school, and keeping them off the streets after school.
The schools are also working with the mandate of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which means that poverty and lack of money are not a barrier to the students attending the schools: the schools are free of fees and the libraries are overflowing with learning materials that the government supplies to ensure that students or teachers are nothing short supply of materials to learn or materials to prepare lessons.
Although much has been achieved in recent years in the public education sector, and in Ondo, there is still more that the nation needs to address: the why, how, and what of the education system in Nigeria.
Public schools in Nigeria must also address issues such as the lack of education funding, accountability for how the education budget is being distributed and spent, the lack of teachers, untrained teachers, the classroom structures- school infrastructure, adequate and relevant learning materials with provisions for students with disabilities.
Other issues to be addressed include gender, conflict-ridden areas, and the plan for education, hunger and the expense of education (informal fees- textbooks, school uniforms).
In Ondo, as with Nigeria, it is critical that there is a sustainability plan for these schools, even after the current governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko who has championed this cause leaves office. In the words of Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania “we must run while others walk.” In addition to educating for social capabilities, intrinsic reasons, education is an investment in the human capital. Educating every Nigerian is critical to our national development. Quality education for every child regardless of ethnicity, socio economic status, gender, geographic location, is a human right.
I look forward to a Nigeria where our public school systems are not only for children of a low socio economic status, but every Nigerian, because it is good education- an education that fosters development, social responsibility, critical and analytical skills, productivity, innovation, artistic expressions, and change.
*Akinyele is an education consultant and social researcher