Thursday, 6 June 2013

Article: Opon Imo; Knowledge Nexus


By Salihu Moh. Lukman

One of the important lessons that students of history, politics and society learn is that Ancient Egypt was the origin of human civilisation. Dating back to around 3000 B.C., more than 30 centuries ago, the first organised society with government and leadership evolved. Located in the Nile Valley on the North East of Africa, it covered Upper Egypt, spreading Northwards to Mediterranean, occupying the Syrian coast, Southwards to present day Sudan, up to the Red Sea in the East and along the Nile Valley past Nubia in the South, and spreading west inland into the Libyan Desert.

Being the first human civilisation, it has attracted a lot of scholarly attention, investigation and enquiry, especially with respect to factors that made the people to respond with such organising initiative. Some scholars were very passionate about issues that bordered on identity of the people, mainly based on racial notion of Ancient Egyptians being blacks. Leading historian, anthropologist, physicist and politician, Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop (1923 – 1986) was a proponent of the black racial identity of Ancient Egyptians. Some of the explanations proffered include factors of cultural influences linked to racial hierarchy.

Many scholars have contested such interpretation of the developments and accounts of the Ancient Egypt. In contrast to racial notion, theses and propositions highlighting factors of constant flood from the Nile River were presented as critical factors that necessitated some responses by the people of Ancient Egypt. These responses shaped and enhanced the capacity of the people of Ancient Egypt to control and direct processes in their environment resulting in the emergence of the first human civilisation.

The responses mainly helped in tackling effectively problems of flood through regulating the flow of water along the banks of Nile Valley. The main tool that stimulated such landmark development that is today the most important heritage from the Ancient Egyptian civilisation include the invention of hieroglyphics (written words) which greatly facilitated the emergence of administration as well as innovations in the areas of quarrying, survey, mathematics, architecture, irrigation, agricultural production methods and ship building.

With these, Ancient Egyptians controlled the Nile Valley flood and in the process, created dams and canals. Work on the first canal joining Nile River with the Red Sea was said to have started in the 2nd Millennium BC under the legendary Sesostris between 1897 BC – 1839 BC. Knowledge of mathematics was deployed to construct pyramids and temples. They (Ancient Egyptians) also recorded tremendous progress in the areas of medicine and the art of governance resulting in the emergence of a ruler – Pharoah – who was regarded as representative of gods on earth.

The Pharoah was in charge of the army and governed the entire territory with officials and scribes organised in what is regarded as the world’s first civil service. Divided into about 42 regions (nomes) with nomarch, Pharoahs had ministers and courtiers (Vizier). The economy was mainly agricultural and the people predominantly peasant farmers. Fertile land on the Nile Valley enabled production of large surpluses that sustained the exotic lifestyles of the Pharoah. The peasants are also the source of mass labour that was employed to build the pyramids and temples along the Nile Valley.

This is the origin of modern governance. In fact, it can be argued that the most important legacies of Ancient Egyptian civilisation were knowledge of hieroglyphics, which resulted in development of mathematics and science, the emergence of structure of government administration with a ruler who is responsible for directing affairs, and monuments that are more represented by the Egyptian Pyramids.

Virtually modelled around the structure and orientation of Ancient Egypt, all modern nation states are organised with rulers, army under the command of the ruler, administrative structure (civil service) and regions (or states). Like in Ancient Egypt, in all modern nation states, the people are the source of mass labour. Similar to the situation where mass labour was employed in the construction of pyramids, temples and canals in Ancient Egypt, modern nation states recruit mass labour for all manner of constructions ranging from road, railways, building structures serving as schools, hospitals, offices, residences, factories, etc.

The logic is that governance is defined by initiatives based on the interests of the rulers. This means that the art of governance is about leading societies to take proper control of their environment to the advantage of humankind. The machinary of government should be embodiment of knowledge strategically employed to primarily eliminate all threats to human advancement. With good heritage of hieroglyphics and the emergence of institutions of learning therefore, unlike perhaps in the case of Ancient Egypt whereby learning is at best spontaneous based on the need to respond to challenges that were in most cases unknown to humankind, modern nation states have acquired a system of learning through schools that enabled proper orientation and development of skillful citizenry. With that also modern nation states can be argued to have by far more productive citizenry.

In some ways, given that these legacies have also produced what can be regarded as resource threshold, whereby through development in commerce and modern financial superstructure, nations are associated with minimum value often referred to as gross national product, gross domestic product or purchasing power parity. They all represent different measures of economic activities, which aggregate values of production and transaction in the geographical territory that define the nation state.

Therefore the critical underlying factors are production and transaction. The responsibility of government since the emergence of modern states has been to regulate processes of production and transaction. Leaders (properly put rulers) are expected to come with clear vision on how to direct society towards growth and human advancement, just like the Pharoahs in Ancient Egypt have directed their societies to produce hieroglyphics, quarrying, survey, mathematics, architecture, etc. resulting in development in irrigation, agricultural production methods, ship building, construction of dams, canals, pyramids and temples.

Partly on account of the aspiration to shape and orient citizens to become more productive, a critical function of all modern states is educational delivery. Accordingly, governments associated with good records of human progress are also reputed with functional and efficient public educational services. United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, China, the Scandinavian countries, etc. all have efficient public education. In the case of most African countries, public education has been on the decline since the mid 1980s with the introduction of IMF/World Bank promoted structural adjustment programme (SAP).

Systematic and continues decline over the years has left public education in African countries unable to meet the task of developing productive citizens. In some ways, this has undermined and constrained the capacity of African states to mobilise resources for development, thereby increasing the propensity to be poor and further pulling African people into poverty. This situation has produced an unfortunate symmetry between poor state of public education and levels of poverty. It has also produced a reality whereby public education is underfunded, unstable and unpredictable. Capital and recurrent funding to education in the last 3 decades is far below UNESCO recommended 26% of national budget and total enrolment is scandalously low.

With the possible exception of South Africa, this is the situation across all Africa. In the case of Nigeria with geometric rise in government revenue mainly from crude oil, the situation is the same – weak capacity to discharge responsibility towards developing the ability of governments at all levels to meet the task of creating productive citizens. By the accounts of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria has earned N8.875 trillion between 2002 and 2006. This has shot to N8.878 trillion for 2011 alone and in 2012, N8.117 trillion. GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) has almost trebled from $170 billion in 2000 to $451 billion in 2012. Similarly, GDP per capita doubled from $1400 per person in 2000 to an estimated $2,800 per person in 2012.

Total expenditures on education by all Nigerian governments combined are estimated at about 3.5 percent of GDP and 15.2 percent of total government expenditure. There is also the fact that it is one thing to make budgetary allocations, but another matter entirely on what actually gets expended in the education sector.

The consequence is that the art of governance has become antithetical to knowledge. Citizens even when trained and educated remained ignorant or overtime end up experiencing brain atrophy mainly as a result of inability to use or apply knowledge. With such unfortunate scenario, rather than direct society towards controlling the environment, the environment instead conquers citizens. Thus, it can be argued that in so many respects government has become partly the problem of our contemporary world with rulers crazily accelerating modern societies to disasters of increasing magnitude.

This is unfortunately the story of Nigeria. With estimated 170 million population, combination of collapse of public education since the 1990s, poor funding, corruption and mismanagement are increasingly taking Nigeria away from civilization. Current state of education in the country is, to say the least, appalling. The situation has brought about a sad reality whereby people with means end up sending their children to schools in other countries, including relatively poorer nations than Nigeria. People with means include public servants whose main source of income is public funds that should have ordinarily been used to develop the educational sector.

The vehicle that is predominantly employed is projects so much that everything about governance today is reduced to contracts to execute these projects often with little or no zero value addition. So called Chief Executives are today’s Chief valuation officers for projects and virtually all Executive Councils at all levels of government in the country have replaced the functions of Tenders Boards. With free money from the Federation Account monthly being distributed to all tiers of governments, rulers don’t have to bother about anything called tax which should normally be a function of disposable income of citizens. Oil resource (revenue) from the Federation Account naturally guarantees resources to execute so-called projects and through them our rulers are can guarantee themselves some ‘exotic’ lifestyles.

This is the sad Nigerian story today. It is a story that is dominant and has become cancerous producing all manner of crises across the nation. No doubt, there are some state governments that are genuinely working hard to develop initiatives that would reverse this trend, re-connect governance with quest for knowledge aimed at solving problems faced by citizens. In some ways, it would appear that State of Osun (as they prepare to be called) best represent the category of states that are genuinely interested in addressing this problem. Why Osun? What has the state done that is different? Are they not also implementing projects that may be prone to corrupt enrichment of public officials?

On Monday, June 3, 2013, the State of Osun launched ‘Opon-Imo’, which is an e-learning project for pupils in the secondary schools. It entails giving each student in senior secondary schools, Computer Tablet (otherwise known as Opon Imo) to aid teaching and learning in all secondary schools across the state. The Opon Imo is a self-study aid, a robust electronic device with uniform learning content for all secondary school students.

It is an Indigenous Computer Programmed Instruction (CPI) with locally produced content, designed for the Nigerian Secondary education system. Presently, the project targets 150,000 students in the SSS 1 – 3 category and their teachers. According to the state government, “the advantages of the Opon Imo are many. One is that it has an in-built feedback mechanism for monitoring students’ performance. Second, the tablet frees the student from the physical burden of backpack of books and the healthcare-costs of ‘bad-backs’. In addition, it makes learning less stressful because of its handiness. Students can take it anywhere with them and have instant knowledge and information about their schoolwork.

“The tablet is preloaded with seventeen (17) subjects offered by students in the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (WASSCE). The subjects have been designed in forms of lesson notes, textbooks, mostly provided by Publishers and Master Teachers Inputs. A content verifier has also verified lesson notes on each subject (Masters Teachers Works).

“Besides, seven extra-curricular subjects such as Sexuality Education, Civic Education, Yoruba History, Ifa Traditional Religion, Computer Education and Entrepreneurship Education, and Twelve Thousand Yoruba Proverbs are also included.

“Also included are ten years’ past questions and answers provided by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). Consequently, questions and answers in 17 (Seventeen) ordinary level subjects have been provided. They are English Language, Mathematics, Agricultural Science, Economics, Principles of Accounts, Literature in English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Yoruba, Commerce, Further Mathematics, History, Geography, Government, IRK and CRK.

“Presently, 56 e-textbooks, covering 17 subjects’ areas are preloaded in the Computer tablet – Opon-imo. In addition, seven extracurricular subjects with relevant books are preloaded, bringing the e-textbooks to 63. There are also, 51 audio tutorials embedded in the Opon-imo to further aid students through virtual study plan.”

What make the story of Opon Imo very attractive and recommendable are not just the details of the content but the cost analysis, which was provided by the state government Apart from the fact that its contents can be customised to meet the needs of users, it is very affordable base on the following cost analysis:

1. JAMB & WASC past questions for all subjects for a period of ten years on seventeen subjects at a conservative estimate of N1000 per subject will give a conservative figure of N2,550,000,000 (N2.55 Billion).

2. Virtual Classroom zone containing 51 audio tutorials estimated at about N5000 per session gives N38,250,000,000 (N38.25 Billion) for 150,000 students. 

3. 63 e-textbooks preloaded at a conservative estimate of N1000 each comes to N63, 000 x 150, 000 = N9,450,000,000 (N9.45 Billion).

The state government sums it up with the explanation that were they to engage in the physical purchase of hard-copies of textbooks for the 17 subjects taught in our public schools, hard-copies of 51 audio tutorials, hard-copies of JAMB & W.A.E.C past questions & answers for all subjects for a period of 10years, it would (conservatively speaking) cost a whopping sum of N50.25billion.” State of Osun is providing each students of SSS 1 – 3 Opon Imo free based on initial rollout of 150,000 to be distributed to students and teachers.

The question at this point is what is the cost of the 150,000 Opon Imo being introduced in all public senior secondary schools in State of Osun? Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of the state who conceived the whole idea while window shopping in an electronic store announced during the launching that the total cost of the project is slightly above N200 million. One of the things that the Opon Imo project necessitated is the installation of solar panels in schools to power the devices. It is not very clear whether the cost of installing the solar panels in schools is included in the slightly above N200 million expenditure.

At face value therefore it could be argued that with public investment of slightly above N200 million, the government of State of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Aregbesola has saved the state N50.25 billion. This is an understatement. The current estimated budget for supplying text books to schools according the state Ministry of Education is N8.6 billion. The total number of textbooks may not be up to 63 covering the 17 subjects contained in Opon Imo and may not be up to 150,000. For the purpose of analysis, let us even take the estimate of N8.6 billion as sufficient. At the same time, let us also ignore the arithmetic multiplication of N63, 000 x 150, 000 = N9,450,000,000 (N9.45 billion) based on the average rate of N1,000 for each textbook and therefore adopt the value of N8.6 billion as the correct budgetary value required. This means that with Opon Imo, the State of Osun is saved N8.6 billion from its current budget.

Apart from the state government, parents are also saved the burden of buying JAMB & WASC past questions for all subjects and are supplied seventeen subjects for ten years. At a conservative estimate of N1000 per subject, it means that, assuming average 9 subject per child, for WASC, on each child, parents are saved N180,000. In a similar way, but perhaps lower value, parents are assisted to make savings on each child sitting for JAMB. Based on the resources in Opon Imo therefore the total savings parent are assisted to make is N2.55 billion.

By far, the most excellent innovation of Opon Imo could be argued to be the presence of Virtual Classroom zone containing 51 audio tutorials estimated at about N5,000 per session. This is a complete new creation. It means the creation of new resource. Therefore with Opon Imo as presently designed, the State of Osun has succeeded in creating a resource that is valued at N38.25 billion. All with small public investment of slightly over N200 million.

To crown it all, during the launching of Opon Imo, Ogbeni Aregbesola announced that the state government has made arrangement with the makers of Opon Imo to setup Opon Imo production plant in State of Osun so that they can also supply other needy students, schools and states. This means that once successful, State of Osun will emerge as one of the major ICT hub of the nation.

Opon Imo no doubt represents a huge leap in educational delivery. It will come with challenges, which the government must prepare to address. The challenges would include the fact of Opon Imo coming with user-friendly features on account of which it can be expanded and amended to incorporate other contents beyond what is provided. Arising from this, there will be the problem of migrating our poorly trained teachers to this new digital environment. It may even result in some industrial disputes especially with trade unions such as Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT).

To prepare for this, there is the need to learn from experiences of other similar initiative. Luckily, neighbouring Ekiti State has been working on e-school project based on a target of providing 100,000 customised laptops to students. Like Opon Imo, the Ekiti e-school project is also solar powered and has been running since 2011. Although young, Ekiti state e-school project definitely has some experiences in terms of preparing teachers to migrate to e-learning digital environment as well as managing responses that may be conservative.

The second challenge is the issue of maintenance and possible loss through theft. In terms of maintenance, management staff of schools may require some training which should be in-plant (within the schools) in order to guarantee constant functionality and prevent possible breakdown. Given poor management culture in this country, there is the need not to take issues of management for granted. Related to management is the issue of how to secure the equipment. Hopefully, the devices come with tracking security features.

There are issues of sustainability. To what extent should we expect that another government after the current one will not abandon the project and return to the old mode that only end up destroying our educational system? This is an area that may require both legislative action and citizens’ engagement. In terms of citizens’ engagement, it would appear that, more than any state, again the State of Osun is introducing some milestone initiatives. It is common sight in all parts of the state to see young people dressed in brown kaki dress (similar to NYSC uniforms) clearing roads and streets. These are mostly young graduate school leavers. Therefore unlike what obtains in virtually all other states, the administration of Ogbeni Aregbesola has developed an effective programme of mass mobilisation. A critical challenge would be to systematically focus the programme towards emerging as a mass employment programme creating value that should translate into income for all the young citizens.

In many ways, State of Osun can be said to be succeeding in reviving the governance – knowledge nexus which is the fundamental heritage of Ancient Egyptian civilisation and what should be the defining attribute of all governments. It is clearly a conscious effort which is well reflected in the message from Governor Aregbesola during the launching when he state that:

The introduction of Opon-Imo is a precious high point in our comprehensive plan to totally remake the public school system in Osun. Our first concern after our inauguration was education. We discovered then, to our chagrin, that only three per cent of secondary school leavers in the state had the requisite pass for admission into tertiary institutions. We quickly held a summit of education stakeholders which looked into the state of education in the state and made far-reaching recommendations.

In a world tilting inexorably towards ICT, Opon-Imo is a bold statement of our determination to qualitatively redefine public education. With Opon-Imo, we are certain to open the doors of good education to more of our students who would otherwise have been denied that priceless opportunity. Through education we are rescuing our children from possible misery. As Victor Hugo famously put it: He who opens a school door, closes a prison’. Through Opon-Imo we are opening more doors to more students to learn. By educating our youths we are also doing our society a world of good; for an educated society will most likely be a better society. This is duly affirmed by Maya Angelou who pointed out that, When you know better you do better.

Clearly, with those words, Governor Aregbesola demonstrates good understanding of governance – knowledge nexus. More than anything, knowledge is what distinguishes the human race from all other creation. Departure from knowledge has produced crisis for Nigeria as nation. Interestingly, State of Osun is the third least earner from the Federation Account. While it is earning less, it has about the best comparative record of human development. Based on NBS surveys, the state is reported with 3.0% unemployment rate and 47.5% poverty incidence when national average is respectively 23.9% and 69%.

With Opon Imo therefore, the inspiring message from State of Osun is that our people are our most important resource, their knowledge, skills and talent will be developed to support them produce resources and wealth from our natural environment and the state government is ready and working to introduce innovative programmes achieve result. The only demand Nigerians need to make on especially Governor Aregbesola is that being a member and leader of ACN and member of the APC merger committee, we expect APC to truly and faithfully commit itself to this governance – knowledge nexus. With that, the Opon Imo innovation will be celebrated nationally and for generation to come the new Nigerian knowledge society to be produced with the aid of Opon Imo will be recognised as one whose foundation was laid on June 3, 2013 in the State of Osun under the leadership Ogbeni Aregbesola.

(Lukman can be reached on: smlukman@gmail.com)


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