By Shina Abubakar Osogbo
A LOT has been said about the adoption and the implementation of the report of the Education Policy Review Committee set up by the Osun State Governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, to look into some policies in the education sector in the state. Rather than viewing the exercise holistically and dispassionately, it has been reduced to scoring political points. Even in the rank of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, opinions are given based on the caucus people belong to. The same goes for the opposition that is feasting on it to gain political relevance.
However, Governor Oyetola, while naugurating the committee, emphasised that the exercise was necessitated by the agitation of residents of the state to take a look at the extant education policy in the state and to create an enabling atmosphere to enhance the quality of education in the state.
Some of the extant policies which were looked into by the committee included school mergers, single uniform, Opon-Imo, name change of schools, mixture of male and female for schools meant for single sex and cancellation of school manager’s contract.
Others were enhancing technical education, enhancing the status of Tutors and Headmasters-General, introduction and increment in tuition fees among others.
Problem of identification
Since the introduction of the extant policies in 2013 by the administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola, there have been reported cases of bloody inter-school clashes. Students of different schools could not be identified because of common uniform, thereby creating a problem of identifying students of schools fomenting trouble at a point in time. The most recent was the crisis in Osogbo Baptist Girls School where some students allegedly wielded weapons against their teachers forcing the government to close the school. Similarly, some students in Iwo unleashed mayhem on fellow students following a disagreement and the suspects could not be identified although some suspects were later arraigned in a Magistrate’s Court in connection with the disruption at Osogbo Baptist School.
The National Public Relations Officer of Parents Teachers Association, PTA, in Nigeria, who is a also a former Osun State PTA chairman, Dr. Ekundayo Ademola, while reacting to the issues, said uniform is an integral part of a school’s culture and identity, adding that taking it away was alien and counter-productive.
“You cannot completely separate security breaches in public schools from the policy of single uniform. The schools lost their unique identities with it and it became difficult to attach troublesome students to a particular school.
“Prior to the introduction of the single uniform, there were clashes among rival schools and such students were easily identified by the uniforms, but that was lost with the single uniform policy,” he said.
However, Mr Adegboye Adewole opined that the idea of a common uniform was aimed at curbing the syndrome of tattered uniform students wore to school and to ensure neatness among students.
But Comrade Mutiu Ibrahim said tattered uniforms returned after the electioneering campaign of 2014 when politicians stopped buying and distributing free uniforms in public schools across the state.
He added that “besides the return of tattered uniforms, students need to be identified by their uniforms in case of breach of peace. Moreover, those who are saying the government is taking some financial burdens off parents by providing single uniform have forgotten that those parents also buy clothes for their children and government can free funds from that and use same for another beneficial purpose,” he added.
Another crisis the policy caused was security breaches in some schools in the state. A retired headmaster, Pa Kazeem Ibikunle, opined that merging schools created a lot of security breaches at the early stage.
He recalled how masquerades invaded some schools protesting the use of hijab while students of different schools embarked on wanton destruction of property without the ability to trace them to either their schools or homes.
Breach of National Education Policy
Reclassifying the schools into a 4-5-3-4 system was contrary to the 6-3-3-4 education system adopted as the National Education Policy.
Chairman of the Review Committee, Prof. Olu Aina, while submitting the panel’s report to Oyetola said the panel proposed 11 recommendations within the context of the National Education Policy and global best practices. Aregbesola had introduced the middle school system by merging Primary 5 and 6 with the junior secondary school classes.
However, the panel said that merging Primary 5 and 6, though laudable for reason of school feeding initiative, violated the 6-3-3-4 structure. Aina, the former Registrar of the National Business and Technical Examination Board, NABTEB, said the panel had painstakingly reviewed and addressed all education-related issues with a view to “strengthening the delivery of quality and affordable education in response to the wishes and yearnings of the people of the state.”
He added that the creation of “the 4-5-3-4 and the Middle School are unknown to the National Policy on Education, NPE.
“Even though education is on the concurrent legislative list of the constitution of Nigeria, a state policy should be closely aligned to, and flow from the National Policy so that products of our education policy and practice are not disadvantaged,” Prof. Aina added.
Difficulty in accessing schools by some students
Another fall out of the extant policies was the difficulty by some pupils and students to access education because of the movement of some schools from their original locations to new ones to accommodate the merger and reclassification policy of the government.
Dr. Ekundayo opined that the policy negated the United Nations Children Education Fund policy on easy access to schools.
“It is only in a country like ours that we can experience such an irrational policy in education. Students have to take cabs and pay exorbitant fares because of the distance of schools due to the policy and UNICEF policy states that a school should be located a kilometre within residential areas where the pupils live. How would you describe the money paid for transport and other risks that the policy caused”, he queried.
The good sides
It was not all reversal of policies as some were retained and only need to be improved upon. In that category are the Opon Imo Initiative and the reawakening of technical colleges and in effect, technical education in the state.