Opinion (13/1/2021): As Gov. Sanwo-Olu Promotes Academic Excellence – By Ayo Oyoze Baje

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

In the midst of several scary, dehumanizing and terrifying news items of killings of innocent citizens by terrorists and bandits, as well as the sudden deaths of some Nigerians courtesy of the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, an event brought a sigh of relief to many concerned citizens, going viral on social media. And what could that be?
It was the recent public presentation of cheques of N5 million each to the best graduating students of the Undergraduate and Masters degree programmes of the Lagos State University (LASU) by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu. That momentous occasion has reinforced his avowed commitment to enthroning and sustaining the ideals and tenets of academic excellence in the famed “Centre of Excellence.”
Not done, the state governor went a step further to ensure that Shotunde Oladimeji Idris, the best graduating student was also offered automatic employment into the state’s civil service. That is in a bold bid to improve the attractiveness of the civil service for the state’s best brains.
To put his words into action, he reminded the good people of Lagos state that: “At the start of this administration, improving education in the state was highlighted as one of my biggest priorities, and we demonstrated commitment by increasing budgetary allocation to the sector as we work on improving the quality of our curriculums and welfare of our students.
“Our development agenda for the state, which we codenamed THEMES (Traffic Management and Transportation, Health and Environment, Education and Technology, Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy, Entertainment and Tourism as well as Security and Governance), aligns perfectly with the global goals and we will pursue it with everything we’ve got,” he said.
For some of us who are critical observers of the goings on in government; looking from outside inwards, to ensure that the dictates of democracy are strategically skewed in favour of the people, one can say without fear or favour that it is ‘’so far, so good’’.
One noteworthy aspect of this policy in the state is making sure that well-heeled, professional teachers are frequently groomed to act as catalysts for the pupils/students’ all-round, mental and physical development. That perhaps, explains the creation of Michael Otedola College of Primary Education (MOCPED), an institution established about 25 years ago, with a mandate to train teachers at the basic level.
According to the Provost of MOCPED, Dr Nosiru Onibon, some 2,805 part-time and full-time students, cutting across 2013/2014; 2017/2018; and 2012/16 academic sessions have taken took a bow from the institution. It can successfully transmute into a full-fledged open and distant learning (ODL) university. The institution has improved on information and communication technology (ICT) delivery, made classrooms more conducive for teaching and learning; commenced computer-based test for some general courses, ensured uninterrupted academic calendar, creating a digital library and turned out the first set of teachers certified by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria.
It would be recalled, that as part of Gov. Sanwo-Olu’s ‘Greater Lagos’ moving mantra there is already the fulfillment of an inspiring increase in budgetary allocation from a paltry 12.07% to 18% within the tenure of his administration to education. This is a heart-warming development considering the fact that more funds would be channeled towards the promised scaling up of infrastructure development of public schools across the state. The salutary aim is to rehabilitate and renovate dilapidated schools, upgrade libraries to e-status and provide adequate furniture and tools to every child in the public schools.
This increase in funding also includes the state paying its counterpart fund to the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Scheme, an important issue that several other states have refused to meet their obligations. That brings us to the governor’s promise to leverage technology platforms to teach, assess, test and reinforce learning. The brilliant focus is by establishing 300 fully equipped and functional laboratories in secondary schools to complement the existing 12. In a similar vein, the administration which pledged to facilitate the creation of ICT hubs across all the LGAs/LCDAs within the first two years has matched its words with credible action.
To strengthen the vision for Lagos state education there are areas deserving a second look for a paradigm shift, to make it all-encompassing. For instance, one needed step is to get a credible data base of school-aged children that are currently roaming the streets, selling all manner of consumables when they are supposed to be in school. How to get them back into the classroom would entail a lot of public enlightenment and involvement of the parents. This would ameliorate the ignoble status of Nigeria being home to the highest number of school-aged children in the world, still out of school, put at 13.2 million!
One other critical issue, which the governor has touched on is that of training and retraining school teachers so that they would align with his vision for a technologically-driven economic development of the state. To succeed in this onerous task the Lagos state government should go into pragmatic partnerships with the private sector, Non-Governmental ones that could drive the process. For instance, back in the early ‘80s the United States was worried about the fact that Asian innovators, technologists and technicians were coming up with smarter and more fuel-efficient cars compared to the American Ford automobile. It sent its educationists to Japan, China and other Asian countries to understudy their education curriculum and assess what they could do better. Governor Sanwo-Olu and his able team could borrow a fresh leaf from this laudable initiative.
The government could as a matter of policy begin to identify the best of its students in public schools and sponsor competitions in innovations and inventions with the aim to fund the products of their creative ingenuity. For instance, back in November 2012 some girls from a school in Iyana-Ipaja, Lagos came up with a generator that uses urine instead of fossil fuel to power it. This attracted global attention but sad to note that not much has come out of that, because the interest was not sustained.
So, apart from granting scholarships to students, the Sanwo-Olu administration should act as the engine room to engage students in coming up with scientific and technological solutions to accumulation of waste, seasonal flooding, frequent building collapse, processing and preservation of sea foods and how to utilize the power of sea/ocean tides to generate power.
Good enough, Lagos state is host to the Federal Institute of Industrial Research, Oshodi(FIIRO), University of Lagos, Lagos State University and the Yaba-based IT hub that attracted the attention and visit of Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. This is how countries such as India, Malaysia, Indonesia galvanized their people to turn their countries to become the Asian Tigers.
There is no doubt therefore, that with these firmly in place making Lagos a technologically-powered 21st Century economy hub in Africa will become a reality beyond the realm of fanciful dreams.

– Baje is public commentator and analyst

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