Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State has called for a national debate on compulsory qualitative education for every Nigerian child in order to address both the growing number of out of school children and the falling standard of education in the country.
Fashola who spoke at the City Hall, Lagos, venue of the 7th Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award/Breakfast Meeting of the State’s Support Our Schools Project explained that the real debate was not whether every Nigerian child should be educated but how it should be made possible nationwide.
The Governor described education as a journey that does not yield quick returns, adding that those who understand it know that it is the ultimate quality of the outcomes from what has been put inside that really matters.
Said he, “it is a debate we must have and this country must have that debate. Which way forward for Education? Can every child get education? Emphatically yes. The real debate is how we can ensure that every child gets education”.
He pointed out that the Support Our Schools Project became necessary because was now managing more schools that was the case some 40 years ago when, according to him, the state government was much more engaged in the regulation of the schools while the private sector, especially the Missions, owned the schools.
“Someone may ask: why is this (Support Our Schools Project) necessary, after all the budget of the State on Education keeps increasing every year? The truth is that we now have to manage more schools than were ever managed when I was a child. Forty years ago government owned less schools in Lagos than it owns today. What government did more in those days was to regulate schools not to own them”, he said.
According to Governor Fashola, missionaries owned and managed schools during this period and as such there was no need for corporate organisations, individuals and kind hearted philanthropists to intervene one way or the other in our schools as is the case nowadays.
“It was a time when private organizations, largely Missions, owned schools. There was no room for people to intervene in schools because there was no platform for the Support Our Schools initiative. It is debatable whether there was need for it at the time. But today on the Island alone, we have about 20 or so secondary schools owned by government. So this is the difference between the two seasons; one season when government left the private sector to own schools while it regulated and today when government is competing with the private sector in the management of schools and also regulates it”, the Governor said.
Governor Fashola noted that the state government was already working on a programme that will ensure that every school in the state enjoys an uninterrupted power supply adding that government was engaging another strategic partnership that will ensure that no fewer than 172 public schools in the state enjoys solar panel packs in the first instance of the programme.
“Ideally if you build a school and you don’t have responsibility for power supply you will take electricity supply for granted. But unfortunately with these people (PDP) still there, power is something you cannot take for granted. When we successfully complete that first tranche, we will go to the next tranche and one by one, school by school we will ensure that each school has a solar dedicated panel. So far, about 20 of those schools including Government Model College, Meiran among others have been completed”, he said.
Governor Fashola said Government has also issued maintenance contracts for all the schools in order to keep them in good condition adding that about 600 contracts have been issued for the annual maintenance of the schools with costs ranging between N2 million and N4 million for each school.
“We are preparing now so that by the time the children go on vacation, contractors will move in to carry out maintenance work on the schools. When the children come back from vacation in September they expect to see newly painted schools and other repairs on broken down equipment”, the Governor said.
He disclosed that graduates of the State’s technical schools would be the beneficiaries of the maintenance contracts adding that the question his administration thought through was that if it revived the technical schools the graduates must have the opportunities to work. “So the end gain is that they will be the contractors for the maintenance of our schools”, he said.
Noting that it was derogatory and discriminatory to have tagged schools in such a manner, Governor Fashola took a swipe at the much orchestrated Almajirin Schools by the Federal Government asking what survival chances they have when put in the highly competitive labour market in the country.
“It worries me, what is the end gain for the products of the Almajirin schools? Would you put your child there? What chance would an Almajirin graduate have in MTN for instance? I went to Igbobi College and Birch Freeman School and I wear the badges of those schools with honour. What survival chances does the Almajirin graduate have?” he asked
He expressed delight that from an initial seven percent average pass in five credits including Mathematics and English in one sitting at the inception of his administration, “year on year, meeting after meeting and day by day, we have grown that capacity to 45 percent and we are still moving”.
“So, if people don’t understand that, unless you are looking for miracle centres, this for me, is the way out of the problem of education deficiency”, the Governor said adding, “Another measuring standard for us in Lagos State is the public confidence”.
According to the Governor, public confidence in the State’s public schools is back with independent polls commissioned by government showing that as at December last year 52 percent of Lagosians voted to have their children in the State’s public primary schools while 61 percent voted to have their children in public secondary schools.
“That was not where we started”, the Governor said adding that similar indices could also be found in the State’s public health system where, according to him, “Services are largely accessible but the quality of services is not compromised”.
“The truth in our schools ownership is that although there are about 14,000 schools in Lagos, Government own less than 2,000. There are about 3,000 health institutions in Lagos but Government owns less than 300. And that is the essential and necessary means of public private partnership because we are not a Communist state where government owns everything”, the Governor said.
He thanked the numerous individuals and corporate bodies who, he noted, have continued to invest time and resources to support schools in the State to ensure that every child is given an opportunity to obtain qualitative education adding that it is the community of efforts that they have put in that has been defining.
“It is not just this involvement, it is not the money, it is not the equipment, it is the community of efforts that has been defining; your time and nothing can replace that. We can replace every other thing but we cannot truly replace the value of the time you have committed to this”, the Governor said.
Governor Fashola particularly thanked parents who, he noted, demonstrated great confidence in his administration when they released their children to return to schools at the request of the government during the Ebola Virus Disease saga adding, “I am humbled by that trust. It was a huge responsibility asking you to give those children back to us. It tells a lot about your belief in us”.
In her welcome remarks, the Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, described Education as the best legacy a country could bequeath to her citizens adding that education could also be said to be a basic human right and a most vital economic tool in the world.
According to her, “Technical and vocational activities, on the other hand, have been highlighted to align our self with world best practices. For us this is the path to true and long term sustainable economic prosperity for our nation and indeed Lagos State’’.
She said the Support Our School initiative essentially aimed at assisting the State education system through the active participation of the individuals, civil societies, corporate bodies, adding that the Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Education, has 1007 primary schools, 348 junior secondary, 319 senior secondary schools and five technical colleges.
She said no fewer than 424 corporate bodies, individuals and philanthropists have been earmarked for honour at the occasion and appealed to other corporate bodies and public spirited individuals to emulate the good gesture of those who are already contributing with a view “to enhancing the educational system in the State in order to ensure a brighter rewarding future for our children in the hope for our prosperous Nation for all’’.
Highlight of the occasion was the presentation of awards to individuals and corporate bodies who have consistently engaged in the Support Our Schools programme. They included such prominent corporate organizations like MTN, Oando Plc and Nigerian Bottling Company Plc. The Awards were in A, B, C and D categories.
Among those who graced the occasion were Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, Otunba Fatai Olukoga, Special Adviser on Eko Project, Ms. Ronke Azeez, United State Consular General in Lagos, Mrs. Dehab Ghebreab, Group Director, Skipperseil Group, Dubai, Ms. Poonam Sechdeva, Chairman, Tanus Communications, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, government functionaries, corporate organizations, sponsors and students.