‘All Hands Must Be On Deck To Help Our Children’
Mrs Olayemisi Abosede Ottun, the Senior Special Assistant to governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State on Primary Education spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on her life, career and the state of primary education in Lagos State.
I was born in my hometown, Sagamu, Ogun State. My parents were Mr Emmanuel Ademosu and Mrs Omobowale Ademosu. They were disciplined parents with a passion for children’s education. I attended Wesley Primary School Sagamu, then Remo Divisional High School. From there, I gained admission into Ansarudeen Teachers Training College, Ota. Then, I did my National Certificate of Education (NCE) at Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos. I later did my B.Sc in Educational Management at University of Ado-Ekiti in 2005.
How did you start your career?
After my NCE, I was posted to one of the primary schools in Ogun State, Saint Peters Anglican Primary School, Agoro. Later, I was transferred to Lagos State when I got married in 1979. On getting to Lagos State, I was transferred to the last school where I taught, Araromi Primary School, Gbagada. I retired in 2012. The Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) later said that he needed my experience to work with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUPEB) on primary education. That was how I was given the appointment as Senior Special Assistant to the governor on primary education in 2013.
What does it take to serve the government in that capacity?
It is hard work. Two, in Lagos State I am very close to all the teachers. Apart from that, there are so many things that I used to do among teachers and the government while I was in service. They acknowledged my hard work and at the same time the recommendation of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT). The position is the first of its kind. I was the Chairman of the Association of Primary Schools Head Teachers of Nigeria. I even rose to the level of the Vice President of that association. As at the time that I was still in service. I think they felt that there are a lot of things that I can still do for the government. That was why I was given the appointment.
How has it been?
It has been good because whatever is the problem of our teachers, as soon as it comes to SUPEB and they let me know about it, I will work on them. As soon as we know that their promotion is yet to come, I will just go to the management and tell them that this is what is going on and this is what we need to do. Immediately, the SUPEB Chairman will work on it. Whatever that it is needed to be done will be done. Then for children that are supposed to be in Junior Secondary School (JSSI) there is a department at SUPEB that is working on that. There is a committee from the government that is working on transition from primary six to JSSI and I am part of that committee. Even after their resumption I would go out to find those children that are not in school because I want to know the reason why. One of the reasons given was that the government wanted to see the tax certificates of their parents. But most of the parents don’t know what to do. I enlighten them. Those are the types of things that I have been doing. It is not everybody that will know. Some parents don’t even know how to do transfer for their children. All those things are in my purview. And I am doing that for now.
What are those things that you would have loved to be done better in the education sector?
For teachers’ welfare, we are working on that. I am very sure that the governor is working on every problem of the teachers and it will soon be over. They have the problem of consolidated salaries. It is not only the teachers. It is all the civil servants in Lagos State. That problem will be resolved very soon. The only thing that I know as a challenge is probably teachers that are retiring and are not yet being replaced. That means the government needs to employ new teachers. I am very sure that will be done. We cannot say that the governor should appoint people for teaching jobs when he has only a few days to go. I am very sure the incoming one would do something about it.
The only thing that we need is the co-operation between the parents, the teachers and the government. And the government is doing its part as far as I am concerned. The teachers are also doing their part. But our parents, they are looking for money, they don’t really have time.
Do you see the standard of education falling in Lagos State?
I do not see standard of education falling. I started my education at a public primary school. Can we compare that time to now? Our children now, are they ready to learn? Our parents, are they ready to assist? I remember when I was in primary school, my mother was an illiterate. But as soon as I got home and she saw a red biro in my book, she will be asking whether what I did was right or wrong. Today, our parents, are they doing that? It is a joint effort.
Teachers must do theirs and parents must do their own part. And the government will surely do its own part. One thing is that if our children even if in the public primary schools, can remember the phone number of their parents, the standard is not falling for me. When I was in primary school, did I know anything about phone? We cannot compare that time to now. That time, we were 42 in a class. But this time around, we are talking about 40 pupils per teacher. We need all those things necessary for education. And all those necessary things are being provided by the government.
The only thing that we need is the co-operation between the parents, the teachers and the government. And the government is doing its part as far as I am concerned. The teachers are also doing their part. But our parents, they are looking for money, they don’t really have time. I will appeal to our parents to use that method my mother used. It was because she died early that was why my education stopped. I was trying to do certain things before I get to where I am today. Parents should look after their children. It is not everything that the government can provide. Sometime last year, I distributed exercise books to some primary school children. And we found out that a child was using one exercise book to do about four subjects. All hands must be on deck to help our children. We should always find out what is wrong with our children in their schools. You see some children living with their step-mothers and some step-mothers are wicked.
Don’t you think that frequent strikes are also affecting the standard of education?
In Lagos State, how many times have you heard about strike? Teachers don’t go on strike like that. That is why I believe we must listen to teachers themselves. But I know teachers are not always on strike because they use to think that the lives of those children are in their hands. The problem is not strike. How many parents have time for their children? So many of them would have gone out early in the morning. The children will not see them. In the night, the children would have slept before they come back into the house.
What is the government doing to improve the quality of infrastructure in public schools?
At all time they are still building schools in Lagos State. You cannot build for all the 1,007 schools at the same time. But for now if you go round, you will see that there are new structures here and there. They are now changing the Jakande types to new edifices. We will need to wait for all the schools to have their own share. There is private participation. Government is doing their own. Is it not better for us to use our money to do certain things to assist the children of the less privileged, instead of just squandering it? If you don’t train other children, our own children are not safe.
What is your final advice?
In some schools there are so many things that they need. For example, if you discover that they don’t have good toilets, talk to the authorities. All the head teachers are being given running cost. While I was in service, a boy just came to me and said that he wanted to use one of the classrooms in my school to do a programme that will touch the lives of some of the members of that community. He looked at me and asked: “Are you not Mrs Ottun?” I said: “Yes I am.” He said: “Mama, you taught me and you made me what I am today.” It is those children that will know you. You may not know them. That is why I tell teachers: “Do your best and leave the rest for God.”
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