Oyetola’s policy in education has attracted huge investment to the sector — Bamisayemi

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Folorunsho Oladoye Bamisayemi is the Commissioner for Education, Osun State. In this interview with the duo of Nigerian NewsDirect’s Abimbola Abatta and Ayoola Florence, he speaks on the achievements of Governor Gboyega Oyetola’s achievements in Education and other sundry issues. Excerpts….

The retired teachers under the contributory pension scheme were seen outside holding placards, agitating for their entitlement. Now what they are requesting for the payment of their pension and the thirty-three months half salary that was incurred during the regime of the former governor. So what will the ministry in collaboration with the state government do to address their agitation, sir?

Well, I need to let you know that it has no direct bearing to the ministry. These are retirees and that question will be better directed to the office of pension, the honourable commissioner in charge of resources or generally speaking, the public service office. My job here is to look at how best to improve in our education. You know, once you are retired, your gratuity and other entitlement will be sorted out between the pension office, the ministry of finance, and the public service office. Human resources as well. For education, we deal with the people that are still in service.

We got to know that the governor approved hijab for the public service. Does this development apply to private schools?

It is not that the governor approved hijab. The court gave the students the right to wear hijab if they so like. So this was decided long before now. I’m sure it’s more than four years now or about 5 years or thereabout that the court ruled on it that Muslim female students of this state are entitled to hijab if they so wish. And since then they’ve been wearing it. So we are not about to change it. We respect the decision of the court, and our Muslim female students are entitled to hijab if they so desire.

Recently, you were on Rave FM. You mentioned something about unintended consequences. We would like you to dwell more on that and explain what the ministry is doing to mitigate these consequences as regards the education policy reversal.

Well, I thank you for that question. Like I said in that interview, we interacted with the stakeholders in educational sector when we came here. They lauded our administration under Ogbeni Aregbesola for the unprecedented infrastructural development in our school, but they also made it very clear to us that they have reservations about some of our policies, particularly the policy of single uniform, the reclassification into elementary middle and high, where we moved primary five and six to join the junior school to form middle. Also the turning of single-sex school to coeducational schools, that is bringing the opposite sex into schools meant for single-sex in the past and so many other policies. After the interaction with them, we sat down here with the SA and the top management of the ministry to reflect on the outcome of the stakeholders’ engagement. And we concluded that we will continue with some of our good policies that have delivered, and we will discontinue those that are causing disquietness in the state. Now we don’t want any distraction; we want to focus on what is happening in the classroom. We want to focus on improving teachers quality of instruction in our class. We want to focus on the effectiveness of school leadership with some principals and headteachers. You know things that will impact directly on the quality of education. Now if we don’t address this controversy, it will continue to distract attention away from the important things. So we decided that it is high time we addressed those policies inducing tension and controversies. So that was what led to the memo we took to the executives where we requested that we take a second look at some of these things. The Exco also agreed with is to a large extent and set up a committee of experts headed by Professor Olu Aina to look at some of these policies. And the expert committee came up with their report that single uniform is not desirable. And it is inducing indiscipline because you cannot actually track anybody. You don’t know who is who. Anybody can commit a crime here and mingle with others. He’ll just disappear into the thin air. Before you know it, you may not or will not identify such a culprit. So we said for us to bring discipline back to school, for us to curtail cultism that was already rearing its ugly head in our system, we need to let every school go back to their original uniform. That way, we will know who is who, we will know which school is which, we will be able to track anybody that commits any infraction. So that is the essence of reversing the single uniform. Again taking primary five and six to join junior secondary to form middle was another policy that was causing controversy in the system. We discovered, to our chagrin, that young pupils moved from primary five to six to junior school were being bullied by the older students in the middle school. Again, we discovered that families were dislocated. You have an older brother who takes his junior one to school every day now separated. The junior one, he is left at the mercy of some he is not used to, to take him to school, while the older one goes to another school. To be able to restore normalcy to the system, we think it is appropriate for us to take primary five and six to where they rightly belong, which is primary school. Apart from that, we also need to align with the national policy on education. The National policy is 1-6-3-3-4. We were running for 5-3-4, so we were not getting the support of the ministry of education again because the federal ministry considered it an affront for us to run an unusual system contrary to what the National policy stipulates. We were the only state doing it in the whole federation. So we needed to realise and get back into the mainstream. We needed to do what others were doing because if you need to change from this state to another state, perhaps you are relocating for the reason of transfer or whatever, it will be difficult for your child to fit in where they are going because the system, the two systems are not the same. We run 4-5-5-3-4 and other states run 6-3-3-4. It is in the best interest of this state that for the alignment of the National policy which is now 1-6-3-3-4. The 1 is for early childhood education. Again, because we refused to do early childhood in Osun, we also lost the support of UNICEF and other donor agencies. UNICEF refuse to support us because we refuse to run early childhood education. So we have reversed that now. We started early childhood education. I’m happy to let you know that UNICEF has written this state that they are back on board and that they are willing and ready to support us and some of our programmes now. Again, the naming of schools. In the process of renaming schools, rechristening schools, we lost the support of vital stakeholders, students’ association. As it is now, the government cannot do everything alone so we need to bring everybody on board because the resources at the disposal of government are dwindling daily. So we need to forge a strong alliance, a powerful partnership with critical stakeholders like parents, old students association, and high net worth individuals who are interested in giving back to society. So renaming the school, changing the uniform in the process alienated old students association. They refused to assist again in the development of their alma mater. So by reviewing the policy and reverting to their original uniform and their original name, most of them are back on now. I will give you the example of Ilesha Grammar School. They are spending so much money on their alma mater now just because we reverted to their original name and uniform. We are spending over fifty million. They are also giving out uniform to about one thousand students. Saint Lawrence, Ilesha is committing about seventy million for the renovation of their laboratory and the classrooms only because we reversed to their normal uniform. Ijesha Muslim Grammar school has committed close to forty-something million. They have renovated several classroom blocks because we reverted to their original name and uniform. Ditto for Saint Johns in Ife where they committed a huge amount of money. Modakeke must have spent more than 150 million. So, it’s all over the state. We now have Old Students Association partnering with government to improve the teaching and learning climate around their schools in terms of infrastructure, quality of instruction, support for teachers, support for students, and what have you. So that, in a nutshell, is what the reversal has done. Again, co-locating or having just single primary school from primary 1-6 and junior secondary school 1-3 and SS 1-3 co-located, has closed the vacancy gap that existed before now. Having junior school in a separate location and secondary schools in another separate place means you will need to build two parallel structures. If you need twenty teachers here, you must also provide twenty teachers there, but when they are co-located where you have a full secondary school at the same location both the junior and senior wings, teachers can teach across the line. There is no rigidity if they are not separate schools. If you teach government at the senior level, nothing stops you from teaching Civic Education or Social Studies at the junior level. If you teach Integrated Science at the junior level, nothing stops you from Chemistry or Biology or Physics depending on your area of specialisation at the senior school level. So, teachers can teach across the line in the process with the close that vacancy gap that hitherto existed when we were practising the old policy. Even if we now need to recruit, it will be supplementing what we have on the ground. So, we have reversed all these policies to improve the standard of our education. We have reversed all these policies not because we want to slight anybody but we want to add value. We stopped taking the normal process to life, you can’t just continue going on and on without stopping to reflect for a moment. Even in our individual lives sometimes we stop and reflect. We will do a self-appraisal. We will take stock. You’ll continue with what is working and discontinue what is not. That is exactly what we have done. The ones that are working, we are prepared to continue with them. The ones that are not working, we are ready to jettison them, reverse them and do the needful. That is exactly what we have done.

It can be deduced from your speech to some extent that Osun State ministry of education has been able to achieve a great deal in the level of education in the past two years. What are the challenges that confront this ministry? 

Like I told you, one of the challenges which I explained to you was the controversy around some of the previous policies that were causing ao much distraction. It was distracting completely away from issues that matter, and we have been able to resolve that. Now the other challenge is that we have parents that are not responsive. People think everything should be free. If you ask them to support as parents, they will tell you “the government has promised free education.” Without realising that education just stands on four legs. The four legs are government, the students, teachers and parents. If any of the four legs is not there, that education will not stand. The four must be present at the same time for education to improve. So we have a situation where most parents are not responsive, and they are not responsible. They are not supportive. Some will rather spend money on alcohol and Isiewu than to invest on their kids. Two, most parents don’t even have expectations of their children. There must be a reason why you have sent your child to school. Oh, you want that child to become a doctor. You want that child to become a judge. You want that child to be successful in life and take care of you when you are old. You want that child to advance the name of your family so much so that where they have not heard about you before, your child will take that name to that level. But here, you have parents who don’t even care who have not set any expectation of their kids at all. So, they are not ready to invest on such a child because where there are no expectations what do you Invest on? We now need to do parent engagement to be able to convince them that it is a worthwhile effort to invest on your children. That at the end of the day, you are the major beneficiary because when you are old, it is these children that will take care of you. When they become somebody in life, it is your family name that they will project that you are the major beneficiary and you must do everything possible to make sure that you support them. So the major challenge is parents that are not supportive, responsive, and responsible. Another one, we are talking of students that are not ready to learn that are not teachable. Students that will rather spend time on the social media than to study. Students that will spend hours on Facebook on WhatsApp than to use their telephone to read. So we now need to tell them what is the essence of watching another person’s vision and abandoning your own? If you want the world to watch your vision too, you need to work hard. You are watching Chelsea, that is somebody’s vision you are watching. You are watching Laliga, Real Madrid, Barcelona, that is somebody’s vision. You are watching Ronaldo, that is somebody’s vision unfolding and you spend hours watching Messi and Ronaldo while you abandon your own. When will people watch your own vision too? That is a message we are conveying to them. Don’t abandon your vision while you watch other people’s. Work hard so that others will watch your own vision too. There is no point spending five to seven hours watching Laliga or premier league and then you abandon your books. So we have the problem of student who are not ready to learn and those that are not teachable at all. We now have cultism in secondary schools. Students that are addicted to all sort of narcotics. You know there was a singer that sang about science students. Students that now mix all sort of things together just to get high at the secondary school level. These are the challenges that we at confronting, and we know that by the grace of God we will overcome and surmount them. We will resolve most of them before we leave here. We are ready and determined to make sure that we get rid of all these challenges in our system. And to get our educational system to be working again. They are more than that, but we are able to tell you a few of the challenges now. Another challenge is lack of capacity. Lack of adequate and regular training for our teachers. The last time we did recruitment was in 2013. Since that time, I’m not sure anyone of them has been trained up till now. And education is dynamic. Education is constantly changing. You cannot use the method of the 20th century to deliver 21st-century education. So you must be on top of your game. You must constantly train people because pedagogy changes with time even the subject contents also change with time. So you need to constantly train your teachers. That is another challenge because of paucity of fund. Because of the financial distress the state is going through, we don’t have regular and adequate training for some of our teachers. That is what we are trying to address. Thank God Mr Governor is a lover of education. He is prepared and ready to fund education so we ensure that we train teachers and give them the capacity to positively affect the lives of these children.

Last week, governor Gboyega presented the 2021 budget to the state Assembly, and 18.08% was allocated to the ministry of education. So what assurance are you giving Osun residents and citizens as regards development in the education sector?

Well as you can see, it is a new era. We are ready and determined to deliver on our mandate. So we can assure them, and we will be giving them guarantee that this administration will deliver on our policies. We will ensure that schools are renovated, that our students learn in a conducive environment. We will also ensure that teachers are trained, and we will give them the capacity to teach. We will also ensure that we create the right climate for students to learn. Don’t forget that teaching and learning are two-way things. The teachers will teach; students will learn and you need the two to play their part before you can impact. So we will ensure that we create the right learning and teaching environment such that the synergy between teachers and students will be perfect to ensure that we improve on the standard of education. We will also ensure that we take care of the welfare of our teachers so that they will be happy to teach and that they will be passionate about the job. Thank God Mr President is also working on that direction. We will also assure them that we will not have empty classrooms. We will recruit enough teachers, distribute them to all our schools so that no school will be left out. There will be no concentration of teachers in the urban to the detriment of rural areas. That will not happen. We will ensure even distribution and make sure that all schools have enough teachers to teach.