Headline: Opon Imo :A Creative Frontier for Education

Posted on: 2013-06-11

Most Reverend Emmanuel Ade Badejo
Catholic Bishop of Oyo Diocese

The excitement generated by the novel computer Tablet, Opon Imo, introduced by the government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to enhance secondary school education in the State of Osun is only underscored by the crowded launching event of the devise last week at Ilesa. Many who headed out to be at the event could not make it there at all because of the mass of people and traffic around the venue. Beyond the hype of politics and sectional sentiments one must say it has been quite a long time that anyone in authority came up with any such invention that promises far-reaching implications in the area of education. I share the strong belief with millions of Nigerians that good education is the most potent weapon for liberating the individual and his future from the hindering demons which abound both within and outside his person. Whether every one actually uses that capacity or not, is subject to discussion. However, I wish to join many Nigerians who have expressed admiration for the initiative and effort of the governor and his team to invest in a novel project aimed at enhancing the education of the citizens in the state. There is a lot to be said for replicating similar initiatives all over the country.
I agree with Sulaimon Olanrewaju, who wrote in Sunday Tribune article of June 9, 2013 that the benefit of Opon Imo, preloaded with 53 textbooks to facilitate and enhance Senior Secondary School and post Secondary School education, goes beyond simply resolving the problem of non availability of textbooks. In fact, I personally hope that the devise will not become altogether a confirmation statement against the reading of other books as such for the students, given the limiting effects which an overemphasis on visual technology can have on cognitive and analytical learning. Correctly utilized however, Opon Imo could provide the launch pad for a new culture, a new mentality, and a new attitude to education. It could provide the missing link between class and clue, theory and praxis in education and could, as Sulaimon put it, unleash in the students the desire and the capacity to create solutions to lifeís problems and overcome hindrances to progress. Opon Imo, more than just a youth-friendly electronic devise, could become a metaphor for a problem-solving, invention-oriented and productive educational system and generation which Nigeria has not known much of, since that is the very basis of the devise under review. For all it is worth, one can expect Opon Imo to experience its own teething problems either on operational or administrative levels but with goodwill from all concerned, it is only fair to invest hope in its success. So once again, I join others to commend the Aregbesola government for intervening so creatively in this all important sector and if information going around is anything to go by, for undertaking to distribute the new devise to all the state students for free.  
The anticipated transformational success of Opon Imo must make us think of another considerable segment of the youth population of the state that might never benefit from its use. For all the millions of Senior secondary students in government secondary schools who will take advantage of the invention there are millions of others who, due to no fault of theirs will be excluded from this public service. It is for this reason that we must resurrect the long-standing marginalization in the education policy of most State Governments in Nigeria to exclude mission schools and privately owned schools from all perks and benefits granted to government schools. Time was in Nigeria when thanks to a correct perception of private sector participation in education in Nigeria, government provided grants-in-aids to mission schools which had a good track record of providing quality service in the field. In order to help the mission to partner with government to provide education for as many citizens as possible, government then, as it still happens in advanced countries of the world, provided mission schools with money for payment of quality teachers and the provision of necessary infrastructure in the sole interest of a better society. The fruits of that symbiosis are evident in millions of Nigerians who went to school in that golden age.
The ill-informed take-over of schools of the 70s destroyed all that until recently a few state governments have thankfully begun to redress the injustice of the past by giving the schools back to their original owners and providing funds to manage them. In all this, one fact remains incontrovertible. Government, with the best intentions and expertise, simply cannot alone provide all the educational facilities needed by the citizens. Credible non-profit organization participation, driven by good intentions must, rather than be penalized, be encouraged and supported. If it is true, as Mr. Aregbesola is quoted to have said, that the invention of Opon Imo will now save the State government about 8.4billion annually, then one can safely plead that the government, should in fairness provide the Opon Imo computer Tablet for students in credible mission and private schools as well under the very same conditions as their state counterparts. These students are no less citizens of the state as anyone else and members of their family arguably contribute as much to the development of society as anyone else. The logical gesture can only enhance the much vaunted character of the State of Osun as an Omoluabi state, driven by fairness and justice. That being said the ultimate redress for past injustice really is the return of schools to their original owners all over Nigeria and revival of the policy of supporting those non-profit organizations in that venture.
Still beyond the purview of students in mission and private schools are many other youth in Osun State who do not go to school at all. The expansion of educational opportunities is one of the Millenium Development Goals which all the countries of the world and by implication, the states, claim to subscribe to. According to UNESCO statistics for 2010, as published in the Guardian newspaper of Sunday 10th June, Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the entire world, a whopping 10.5 million individuals. The next country to Nigeria on that infamous list is Pakistan with 5.4 million out-of-school. There is no doubt that the State of Osun has its own fair share of the youth who have grown out of this unfortunate situation.  It is common knowledge that the attraction and pervasiveness of the electronic media in our age is such that even the youth who do not go to school are attracted to browse the internet and use electronic media facilities. Could a re-designed Opon Imo provide a fresh impetus and opportunity for educating people who will never sit within the four walls of any classroom? What opportunity can this innovation provide even for an adult education programme for many who, though past the age of formal classroom education, still desire to learn?
The government of the State of Osun has done well as stated but in a multilayered, challenged environment like ours, the reward for good work can only be some more work. It is therefore in that spirit that a creative hardworking government like Mr. Aregbesola\'s, worthy of emulation, cannot but be challenged to do even more for its citizens and for posterity in the state.