Known as ‘Opon-imo’, Yoruba for tablet of knowledge, the device is actually a handheld tool fitted with an e-library, a virtual classroom, and an integrated test zone.
The scheme works by storing contents of prescribed textbooks, past examination questions for the last ten years, model answers to each examination question, and other materials. The scheme is to ensure equal access to prescribed textbooks by all school children; and answer to pains of parents who cannot afford all textbooks for all subjects or deal with replacements for those lost in or outside school compounds. It will also create equal access to a new information technology tool instead of the current situation where only children of middleclass families enjoy it. A corollary benefit is expected to arouse creativity in children in the vast and widening information technology highway.
The scheme appears not to have been discussed and agreed upon by all communities. The decision to buy into it was taken when the governor went into a shop in South Korea and was instantly fascinated by a cheap and versatile computer. It’s easy portability and weight is probably equivalent to children’s school bags. He may also have recalled huge sums of money expended in purchasing textbooks for implementing the free education policy across the state. One such leakage was suggested by a case involving Universal Basic Education Commission’s textbooks for schools in Niger State being illegally sold in markets in Anambra State. Prices of books are either inflated or books are not delivered at all, despite huge claims made on the state’s treasury. Various actors in the education sector become sucked into a corruption network which callously sacrifices the future of children whose parents had voted for a government that promised them change towards a better delivery of social services.
Cynics may accuse the Governor Aregbesola of latching on to yet another publicity stunt in a season of electoral rhetoric and the run-up to the next general elections. It is, however, more useful to join in a constructive consideration of a novel scheme which seeks to improve education from its critical base. At a time when various state governments have failed to collect funds from UBEC (because they cannot account for previous allocations) for supplying books, repairing leaking roofs of classrooms, purchasing or maintaining quality furniture, laboratory and sports equipment, it is noteworthy that a state government is actively involved in ensuring equity in quality access to learning material. It is also an important move because analogue’ teachers would now be encouraged to embracing a computer culture that will guarantee availability of quality lesson materials.
For too long, publishers abandoned the creative development of their industry through a parasitical dependence on earning huge amounts of money by marketing only school textbooks. This has led to the desperate practice of self-publication of poorly edited works. Accordingly, only writers who live outside Nigeria publish works of some appreciable quality. Foreign publishers and their local agents have been the biggest offenders. The Osun State initiative marks a calling of these publishers’ bluff and throwing a line of survival for Nigeria’s writers in various fields, including architecture and engineering. This is where the ‘Opon-imo’ challenge lays, encouraging local development of software to continually update the devices, at real time and on time.
Computers, even as simple as the ‘Opon-imo’, must be kept and recharged to keep them in good condition.