Betweeen Aregbesola’s Educational Policy And The Cynics: Where Do You Belong?
We live in interesting times.Our psyche has been assaulted by years of criminal neglect and mediocrity that many have begun to mistake villa for village. An otherwise innocuous policy move of government that should generate encomiums is getting knocks as expected anyway from group of politicians whose stock in trade is to milk the state dry as exemplified in their years of locust.
The State of Osun’s decision to distribute school uniforms to the over 750,000 school children has attracted criticism from these set of people who question the rationale behind expending such amount (N800 million) , the rationale behind the conformity of the uniforms across board , the quality of the fabric and the likes. The penchant of these mischief makers to criticize any policy of Ogbeni Aregbesola’s administration and subject it to virulent attack, casting him in the mould of a controversial person is appalling. It is however pertinent to put the issues in their proper perspective.
The State Government decided to distribute school uniforms to pupils and students since it placed a high premium on education to reflect its avowed commitment to the uplifment of the plight of the hapless majority and to shift the burden on parents.
Uniforms ensure equality, as it does not indicate social or economic status, placing everyone on the same pedestal, hence a masterstroke by the government to instill strong moral values of oneness and togetherness in this children and disabuse their minds of feelings of superiority or inferiority.
It also ensures discipline as no student worth his salt will misbehave while in school uniform as that makes him/her easily identifiable.
Also, uniforms are compulsory as they are the official attire allowed in school. Without them, students are turned back home, and the gates of knowledge are shut against them.
Many Nigerian families in the light of the prevailing economic circumstances simply cannot afford the cost of uniforms coupled with the other costs they are required to bear such as school fees; examination fees; instructional materials; textbooks etc . So the state government’s decision should be hailed by all and sundry for bringing succor to those hapless families.
Interestingly, UNESCO did a survey in 2007 led by its advisor Dr Susan Nkinyangi in Kenya cataloguing the glaring gap in the number of school children, students enrolled and those of school age when the Kenyan Government decided to introduce free education to the whole nation. But, there was a caveat; parents were to provide for the compulsory uniforms while the government took care of fees payment, teachers’ salaries and instructional materials.
In a nation where more than half of the population lived under poverty, many people still missed out on education despite the golden opportunity presented to them. It prompted worldwide calls for aid to help the millions particularly girls who couldn’t afford school uniforms to get a chance of schooling. Yet, Kenya is the economic powerhouse of East Africa.
Few are the number of people who haven’t experienced or saw someone experience the psychological trauma that follows being sent back home on account of torn uniforms, or having no uniforms at all. I personally experienced such in 1987 in Oduduwa College Ile-Ife while in Form 3 where I was made the Time Keeper and my friend Onagbola Ebenezer( now a PHD holder living in America) lost his place as Assistant Time Keeper due to his torn uniform. Words cannot express the disgrace and emotional battering he suffered as a result of what wasn’t his doing.
The uniforms in question are of three different types: Elementary, Middle ,and High school, with each student getting two pairs . Sam and Sarrah , the garment factory handling the production of the garment is training 3220 tailors(10 tailors per ward,322 wards in the state) based in Osun state on the sewing of the fabrics using modern methods. The company was also mandated by the state government to establish a factory in the state which it has done by sitting its factory in Abere area of Osogbo, in a brilliant backward economic integration move .
The uniforms distribution however pale into insignificance when compared to the other efforts of this government at revamping education in our dear state. The government shocked at the alarming state it met the educational sector initially wanted to close schools down for a year to reappraise the situation. It hosted an education summit attended by various stakeholders in the education sector and it was graced by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, where the various strategies to be adopted were discussed and mapped out.
The government met classrooms that were waiting to collapse having been built over 50 years ago during Awolowo’s free education days, teachers who weren’t motivated enough , disoriented students who had no idea of what the purpose of education was about, leaving them unskilled, with deeply prejudiced minds, narrow thinking and shallow thoughts. Surely something drastic had to be done to stem the tide, and redirect the state on the path to greatness.
It has tampered with the curricula in such a positive way as to encourage the development of the body, brain and the mind. The calisthenics programme which involved scores of school children to celebrate the state’s 20th anniversary is a case in point. It has been hailed widely for the aerobics, inculcation of hard work, teamwork and patience which it fosters among those students.
The Government has commenced the building of about 171 schools which involve 100 elementary schools, 50 middle schools, and 21 high schools. The elementary school pilot project is being started in Ile-Ife, while the pilot high school is being built in Ejigbo with a capacity of 3000 students. Coupled with that is the increase in running cost of each pupil in primary schools to N400 per student per term as against payment of between N200-N1000 per school per month, While the secondary school receive N550 per child per term as against N300 per child per term during Oyinlola’s administration in the state. Instructional materials to be used by the teachers and students are provided by the government. Teacher emoluments and examination fees(WASSCE) are also being paid by the government as against the practice in eras gone by. Over N1.8 billion has been expended on the exercise so far.
The O-meals initiative is another feather to this administration’s cap, and a testament to what focus and mental strength can achieve. School feeding isn’t entirely a novel idea in this country; however the scale at which Osun has gone at it is amazing. Pupils in the various public primary schools from primary1 –primary 4, are being fed with healthy and nutritious meals that millions of Nigerians can only dream about. They are fed with chicken, beef, fish, cocoyam, rice, plantain (QUOTE ME ANYWHERE) being served these children on a regular basis. It’s no wonder classroom enrolment spiked by 25% in 2 weeks!!.
Groups such as the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) have a signed an MOU with the state government on the various ways it could assist the state on verifying the sincerity with which the feeding was being pursued and the increase in mental retention ability, and physical ability of the kids attendant to such endeavor.
A multiplier effect of the scheme is that the food materials are sourced from the state itself, and farmers have been encouraged to engage in massive production of cocoyam, plantain and other crops used in feeding the pupils. In fact, the government is putting plans in top gear to establish rice mills to ensure supply of the food crops necessary to sustain the scheme.
Farmers engaged in fish farming and poultry have also been engaged as the government buys from them, ensuring there is demand for their products, and has assured them it wants to source for 80% of all produce from the state.
Additionally, over 3000 food vendors from the state were trained, well-kitted with kitchen utensils and bowls to ensure the distribution of the meals to the pupils. The Kits alone cost more than N152million. All this is to encourage the development of the local economy.
It should be noted that over N2.6 billion has been expended on feeding, health education, textbooks and uniforms, a humongous amount by any state standard, yet Osun is 34th on the revenue allocation list. A whopping N30 billion has been budgeted for education this year. Yet, some people still claim the Government has not done anything in the last two years.
The tablet of knowledge (OPON IMO) ,through which instructional materials on various subjects are contained is another example of the government’s ingenious deployment of ICT to solve our educational problems. It was conceived to aid students in reading, digesting and testing themselves on the various topics on different subjects. A curious twist however, is the insistence of the government that the Chinese company handling the mass production of the gadget establish a plant here in Osun where it would be assembled as a condition for the award of the contract. Such patriotism and desire to prevent capital flight abroad is rare.
Education, for those who appreciate it, is too delicate to be toyed with. A JSS1 student who still can’t recite the multiplication table off hand, will have problems understanding fractions, then algebra, word problems and the likes. Which university lecturer has the time to explain the characters of ‘Lakunle and Sidi’ of Wole Soyinka’s .’ The Lion and the Jewel’ .
The foundation is the key, and that is what the Government through our amiable Deputy Governor, Mrs Grace Titilayo Laoye-Tomori is tackling with such gusto. Indeed, the educational template set by Osun was what made Senator Uche Chukwumerije, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Education, to affirm, Osun has the best educational policy in Nigeria, advising other states to drop party affiliations and learn about the revolution going on.
There is however an eerie sense of dejavu at the criticism directed at Aregbesola over his expensive educational programme. In 1951, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his accolytes in the Action Group were campaigning extensively for free education in the country. They were maligned by the British potentates, and other competing parties like the NCNC and NPC who questioned the rationale behind it when there were seemingly unavailable funds to prosecute it. In fact, some considered them mad, for the myriad of goodies they promised people such as increased number of roads, health servicesand increased food production.
Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Pa Emmanuel Alayande, Professor Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, wrote policy papers on education and projected that by 20 years of unbroken free primary education and adult literacy education, everyone would be literate in western region by 1975. A highly vocal Awolowo even called for ‘free and compulsory’ education, a statement which the rival NCNC latched on, going to town, inciting people, the Action Group desired to separate children from their parents, thereby preventing them from helping them on their farms, a highly explosive comment by the standards of the 50’s since agriculture was the mainstay of the economy.
The agricultural tax from proceeds of the lucrative cocoa trade introduced by the Western Region Government to prosecute the programme also added fuel to the early dissension to the scheme, and the fact that close to 37% of the budget was allocated to education irked some. Yet, by 1959, when he left office, the success of the progamme was so resounding and popular support so fanatical, that other regions, Eastern and Northern, rushed to also introduce free education to their people but with varying degrees of success.
Awolowo’s achievements include the first modern stadium in Africa(Liberty Stadium), development of an efficient civil service led by Chief Simeon Adebo, first television station in Africa, first free medical services for children up to the age of 18, granting of loans to provide electricity to vast number of towns , construction of nine times the kilometers of roads he inherited from the British, rubber processing factory in Benin, food canning industry in Ibadan, timber processing factory in Sapele, first Housing Estate (Bodija Housing Estate) ,first Industrial Estate (Ikeja Industrial Estate) , among other firsts. None however compares to his everlasting legacy of free education which has given people of South-West including Delta and Edo ,a headstart still unmatched after 58 years. Infact in 1980, on the 25 years anniversary of Free education, a triumphant Awo, toured the states of the Old Western Region, regaling people with tales of the unbelievable hurdles they faced in actualizing the programme.
The Southwest remains the industrial hub of the country with its people dominating various sectors of the economy,: Banking, Oil and Gas, Shipping, Property Management etc. The most vocal section of the media are domiciled in the SouthWest, its people are the unarguably the most sophisticated, and are very enlightened with a strong ideological bent mainly due to Awo’s continuous insistence on education. Its political pulse is read critically by other sections of the country as it is a key decider in deciding where the power pendulum will swing.
Awolowo and Aregbesola share some curious similarities. Awo due to the death of his father faced serious problems as regards his academic career which made him a hewer of wood, and fetcher of water. His spell as a teacher revealed to him the wonder which education can perform in the transformation of a human being, hence, his unbending advocacy for free education.
Aregbesola on the other hand has experienced straitened economic circumstances before, though liberated by hardwork and complex interplay of forces that is life, he understands the frustration of parents who can’t afford some educational costs. Also, being a lover of the masses, he understands that the surest way of climbing the socio-economic ladder is through education which is constantly being pried away from the common man. Future generations would remember him for having stuck out his neck for their prosperity.
A literate mass is a danger to a thieving class anywhere in the world as the Arab springs have shown. Make no mistake about it; this is a war, between those who want to expand the socio-economic space so that everyone would have a fair chance of competing, and those who desperately prefer Nigeria to remain their personal fiefdom to be run by them and their children.
•Lawal is the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor, State of Osun on Legal and Judicial Reform.
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