What constitutes true poverty is not just the inability of an individual to be without a square meal per day. It is the inability to be mentally equipped. it is a condition and state of mind where there are limited educational resources thereby leading to knowledge deficit.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Forty per cent of Nigerian children aged 6-11 do not attend any primary school with the Northern region recording the lowest school attendance rate in the country. Despite a significant increase in net enrollment rates in recent years, it is estimated that about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.
As scary as the statistics above appears, it is still common knowledge that past leaders in post-independent Nigeria never took education as important as it was during the time of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The man who saw education as the best tool for lifting the downtrodden out of poverty and make their children compete favorably with their peers in the developed nations. No doubt, Chief Awolowo was a man who introduced free and mandatory primary education laying a strong foundation for qualitative education.
Today, beneficiaries of this acceptable standard of education are seated as top executives of various corporations, conglomerates and public institutions both locally and internationally. Standing tall among these great men is Dr Olusegun Mimiko, the Chief Executive Officer of Ondo state in Southwest Nigeria, a man who is setting the pace and blazing a trail in education with a special attention to primary education.
Mimiko did not achieve excellence in education without crossing the hurdles associated with the decay or bad status of education witnessed in Ondo state in the recent and not so recent past. A number of factors such as inconsistent government policies, poor funding, poor supervision and inspection of schools, inadequate capacity building for teachers and education managers, poor learning environment, truancy by pupils, also contributed largely to this decay.
It is no longer news that students of the Ondo state owned Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba Akoko pay the least tuition among state universities in Nigeria. It is also no longer breaking news that the first of its kind University of Medical Sciences in Africa was built by Gov Mimiko, it is also stale news that the first and second overall best teachers in Nigeria, excelled impacting knowledge in students in Ondo state.
The caring heart mega primary school concept was conceived by Governor Olusegun Mimiko to bridge the gap between children of the rich and the poor. It is a holistic approach to eliminate all forms of barriers to qualitative education. The 51 world-class Mega primary schools are scattered across the 18 Local Government Areas of Ondo state. These are primary schools of international standard that can compete with the best of schools in the U.S.A, UK, UAE and the likes.
The school models are in three types depending on the population density of the community. Type A will accommodate 1050 pupils with 25 pupils in each classroom, Type B and C will accommodate 525 and 250 respectively. The new addition to the three models is the eco-friendly sub-urban type, which has been proven to be cost-effective, child-friendly and world-class.
The schools are not built in the city’s highbrows but in the heart of the towns to give access to children of the less privileged in the society. For instance, a type A mega school was built in Iro in Akure, an area believed to house the hoi polloi.
It surpasses the UNESCO standard for child-friendly school environment as it contains a computer laboratory ensuring every child has access to a computer, e-library, sick bay, well motivated teachers with cooperate dresses as official dress code, 25 pupils per classroom, playground, crèche, kindergarten and conveniences designed for kids.
In these schools, no more chalk and duster. The traditional blackboard has been replaced with the interactive white board.
As if that was not enough, the Mimiko forward thinking Government marked the 2012 edition of June 12 anniversary with the commissioning of 90 free buses in the class of Lagos’ BRT to take any student in school uniform to and from school taking the burden off parents and guardian and removing one of the biggest barriers to school enrolment. The buses have been running for 3 years without hitches with a plan for free boat shuttle for kids in the riverine area.
To put the icing on the cake, the caring heart Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, has sent a bill to the State House of Assembly which will legitimize the state Free School Shuttle Scheme and ensure its sustainability even after his tenure.
The governor is ambitious, and living up to his promises that he will continue to build mega primary schools until every child in Ondo state has access to qualitative education.
The school is completely free including school uniforms, shoes, bags and books. And now we have a new story to tell;
The story of schoolchildren who used to trek 4 kilometers a day now riding in the cozy comforts of our free school shuttle, it is the story of those who shared school compounds with armed robbers and miscreants who now learn in ultra modern mega primary schools; it is the story of an Adekunle Ajasin University once derided as a glorified secondary school but now on track as a 21st century university, so properly called.
Need we say that children who spend six years in these conducive learning environments can compete favorably with children all over the world? Ondo is teaching the rest of the world that education can be free yet qualitative and also be a powerful tool for social integration.
John Paul Akinduro (@akinduro) writes from Akure, Ondo state