Improved Standards: Students who deserted public schools are now returning — Oyo Commissioner for Education, Olasunkanmi

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Barr. Olasunkanmi Aremu Olaleye

In this interview with the Publisher, Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr Samuel Ibiyemi, the Oyo State Commissioner for Education, Barr. Olasunkanmi Aremu Olaleye, spoke elaborately on the reforming efforts of the Present Governor Seyi Makinde-led Administration, to raise the standards of education in Oyo State beyond the bar. According to him, the effects of the efforts are now reflecting, as parents who have whisked their children to private schools, are now returning them back, having seen drastic improvements in standards. Excerpts:

COVID-19 is gradually coming to an end, and schools have resumed. As the Honourable Commissioner for Education, what are you doing to ensure qualitative education which Oyo State is known for?

There is no doubt that we are aware of the challenges the whole world faced with COVID-19. Equally, there is also no doubt that we are quite aware of the efforts of Oyo State government in ensuring that students continue to learn even during the pandemic. So, that is the situation on the quality we have in terms of policies on education, and these qualities are going to be sustained.

For instance, before the pandemic, especially the last one year, we gave out free textbooks to our students in Oyo State. We phased out payment of school fees in Oyo state generally. Not only that, we started giving grants to our schools directly in order to sustain non-payment of school fees. For the students that sat for WAEC, we specially organised intervention classes for them, and it was the same for those that sat for Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) Examination. So, we strongly believe that our students will give us good results in these examinations. Our qualitative education policies will continue in the state. Now that schools have fully resumed, we are presently recruiting teachers. We hope to add at least 7000 (seven thousand) teachers into our secondary schools. Very soon, we will follow suit for the primary schools.  Even at the Ministry of Education, we have started the recruitment of Education Officers. We have Ministry controlled schools in Oyo state. Therefore, we have started the recruitment of Education Officers by the Civil Service Commission. They will be mainly graduates. These are some of the steps we are taking here in Oyo State so that the quality of education can improve, and we can sustain the good name of our forefathers, even though what we met when we came into office is not something one can be proud of. However, with what we have done in the last one year, we have gone far, and we will continue to sustain the system.

What is the hope of parents and guardians on their wards regarding the  expected performance on external examination?

For the parents, we demonstrated seriousness; we demonstrated sincerity and commitment, especially the way we handled the idea of learning during the pandemic. Even now that we’ve resumed, we started with resumption of terminal classes. Classes have fully resumed now, and we are doing shifting of classes. So, for parents, with what we’ve done so far, there is no doubt that they are convinced that our children will come out in flying colours in all their examinations, and we’ve received a lot of support from them. Before the resumption, apart from training of our teachers on COVID-19 guidelines, we trained private schools as well, and we also held series of meetings with the Parents-Teachers Association (PTA) and our own School Governing Board. Parents should expect very sound and resounding success from our students in Oyo State. We will also count on their support as well during this period.

Talking on educational requirements for teachers, what is Oyo State doing about this?

If you have been following these requirement processes, we organised examinations for would-be teachers, and the minimum pass mark is 50 percent. Although about 66,000 (sixty-six thousand) sat for that examination, close to 7,000 (seven thousand) were able to scale the 50 (fifty) per cent mark and that has given us high quality graduates. From what we’ve seen in the interviews, we now have excellent graduates that can take up teaching jobs in Oyo state. It’s been very impressive. Of course, we’ve had NCE (Nigeria Certificate in Education) holders, Post Graduate Diploma in Education, BSC holders. We have close to 500 (five hundred) first class graduates who applied for the job, and several of them  also have their postgraduate certificates. So, the quality of teachers we are trying to recruit will be second to none. Even for those that remain in the service, training and re-training will continue in Oyo state.

On the structure raised by the Federal government for special salary to teachers, what is the status of salary in Oyo state?

We are waiting for the breakdown of that. So, I don’t want to comment on that for now because we’ve not seen the details of it. So, we are going to look at it. At the appropriate time, I’m sure His Excellency (The Governor of Oyo State) along with the Commissioner of Finance will be able to comment on that, but generally in Oyo state, we have good relationship with our teachers with timely payment of salaries, payment of leave allowances, and training and re-training of teachers. So, we have very good relationship, and our teachers are happy. With this amendment from the federal government, we’ll look at the details of it before we can start making comments about it.

Can you comment on the details of the requirements for students willing to cross from private to State public schools?

They have to effect certain payment for enrollment into the State owned schools. However, as soon as they are in, they don’t pay any other fee again. So, to enjoy our free education, you have to part with some amount. You need to go to our public schools and see the pressure, because a lot of students from private schools are now coming back to public schools in large numbers. A principal who visited me recently, reported that virtually all the students in the private schools in her area have moved to the public schools where she is the principal. That’s what is happening in Oyo State because teachers are happy. The quality of teaching has gone up. The salary is very regular. It’s being paid on the 25th of every month. So, the enthusiasm and the commitment have gone up.  The  parents are seeing it to the extent that within a year, the quality of students has really gone up, and the parents are seeing it. If you are paying higher money in the private school, and the children of your neighbours who are going to public schools are doing better at home, what will you do? You will want to bring them back to public schools. That’s what is happening in Oyo state, and the commitment of the government will continue.

What is the State Government doing on the standards tertiary institutions, particularly the Ladoke Akintola University and other tertiary institutions?

The commitment is very high. For example, before we came in, the last administration was giving them 25 per cent as subvention for their salary payment. But when we came, this government restructured it to 100 per cent subvention. That’s why you don’t hear any noise in these schools. For tertiary institutions, salaries are paid fully by the Oyo State government. And since July, the Oyo state government has resumed full payment also, even in LAUTECH. Although, the discussion on ownership is still ongoing with our brother State. We are still talking with each other. Hopefully, very soon, they will come to a position on it. But, you know, Osun is our brother state, and we are one. So, we are discussing with each other. The government is paying 100 percent of subvention to tertiary institutions in Oyo State. Also, in this year’s budget, the government has included capital grants for schools, ranging from N120 to N300 million depending on the size of the school. That has not been done before, but the Oyo state government is doing it now. During emergency at the Ministry of Education, we also established Education Emergency Response Plan Committee that has drafted education emergency response plan for tertiary institutions, and we’ve seen it through. What we are looking for is a situation whereby when any emergency happens, learning in tertiary institutions will continue in Oyo state. And the discussion on it is ongoing. The governor has reconstituted the governing boards of all tertiary institutions in Oyo State and they’ve started working as well. By and large, the focus is also very much on tertiary institutions in Oyo state.

Can you comment on the running of affairs, since you emerged office?

There’s a lot of work to be done here in the Oyo State Ministry of Education. I am a lawyer. I see myself as an administrator as well. I have held a number of public offices before now. At the Ministry of Education here in Oyo State, it should not be forgotten that education in this state is not taken for granted. So, there is a lot of work to be done. Having resumed here, I have to double my efforts to ensure that the parents, the students, and even the government are happy with what we are doing here. I will not relent. We’ll try to give our best. We’ll continue to improve the standard and support the dream and aspiration of His Excellency Seyi Makinde on the issue of education in Oyo State.

Can you implore Parents to take their children away from private schools for enrollment in State-owned Public Schools?

Well, it’s a matter of choice. We are offering the best, and the matter is speaking for itself. For instance, if your neighbour goes out to a food seller, and he comes back with a reddish and good looking food, but you go to a place where you paid huge price, and what you get is not looking the same. The next thing is to go to the person and ask, “Where did you get it? Did you pay for it?” However, the private schools are also in business, and they have to be in business as well. You know, they are also contributing their own quota. We have very good relationship with them in Oyo State, and most of them are very good as well, and we work together to ensure that the standard of education in Oyo State is very high. For example, when the governor directed that we should give out compendium of past questions to SS3 students, we gave free to private schools as well because it is Oyo State, and they are children of Oyo State’s citizens as well. So, we gave it free to them as well. In essence, we are working together, and we are ensuring that the standard is very high.