Recently, secondary school students in Osun State embarked on a protest where students of various faiths wore apparels of their faith to school. Christians wore choir robes, Traditional Religion adherents came as masquerades and Muslims wore their customary hijab. This is part of the fallout from Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s education reforms.
In all fairness, some of the calls our leaders have made are technically sound but are diminished or rendered inefficacious by combination of – wrong processes, prevalent socio-political circumstances and timing, amongst other factors. Let me elaborate with a few examples –
Fuel Subsidy Removal – This should have been a sound economic decision; instead of paying humongous sums of money in the name of subsidy to a group of business people we all came to know as ‘the cabal’, why not take same money and plough it directly into the society for economic, social and infrastructural development that will benefit the masses? Very good thinking, however, the problem was the prevalent socio-political order of corruption, which was the reason why Nigerians vehemently protested against the policy. Nigerians were convinced that if they went along with subsidy removal, they would pay more for fuel and still not partake in the promised gains from the removed subsidy as the saved revenue will still go into the pockets of a few people. Judging from recent arguments in the media about whether SURE-P funds are missing or not and the bellow 10% evidence in development nationally since the subsidy hullabaloo, it appears Nigerians were right to scream an emphatic NO about the issue.
Local Car Production Drive – The federal government recently announced a new tariff regime for imported cars. Before now vehicle importers paid about 20% duty and another 2% levy, which brings everything to about 22%. With the new regime, duty becomes 35% while levy becomes 35% as well, totaling a whopping 70%; we can all imagine what that will do to the price of cars for the average Nigerian who wants to buy one. Now, the government’s reason for this 200% hike is to discourage vehicle importation and encourage local manufacturing, very brilliant goal, but here again the process in my own perception is faulty. Why rush into something that is obviously a long-term project? Even the Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Ryuichi shoji, in various interviews, has echoed that car production isn’t a venture that gets set-up in a year or two. He stated how we need to fix power and a lot of other relevant infrastructure, as well as the need to ensure security and create enabling economic and political structures. The postulations of Mr. Shoji aren’t rocket science and have been clear to some of us, so one would’ve thought that after the government has put everything in place, then we will be hit by a hike in tariff to encourage us to patronize our local products instead of the hike coming first.
A baby crawls, walks and then runs, not the other way round.
Pictured: Osun Governor in a snapshot with school pupils promoting the new ‘universal’ uniform.
With their retinue of advisers and other staff, how come most leaders get to put the horse before the cart or do they refuse to pay heed to these advisers? This brings me to the focal point of this article; the education reforms of Governor Rauf Aregbesola in Osun State and the recent dramatic protests by school kids in Osun. His hunger to better education is laudable. Some have accused him of trying to Islamize the state but I perceive that allegation as being more sensational than objective.
I have read a little on the governor’s education agenda and the highpoints are – provision of exercise books, text books and a specially designed tablet known as Opon Ịmo for school kids, payment of running grants to primary and secondary schools in the state, payment of WAEC fees averaging about N300 million yearly for final year students in public schools, imposition of 90% class attendance rule, provision of free meals for younger primary students, renovation of school buildings and physical realignment of schools by reclassification.
Reclassification entailed regrouping and merging of schools in some major cities according their age brackets and needs. Primary and secondary schools classes were renamed elementary school (grade 1-4), middle school (grade 5-9) and high school (grade 10-12). All students across the state were now required to wear the same uniform. Now this is the issue I raised about faulty processes, the aim of the reform is good.
Providing exercise books and text books are good. The education grants, WAEC fees, building renovations, tablets and free meals are quite alright, but I don’t quite see the wisdom in altering the designations of classes, school mergers and the harmonization of uniforms. Osun exists within a federation that has a defined academic structure which isn’t intrinsically faulty, I believe the wisest approach would have been to rejuvenate that ailing structure to optimum working condition within the state.
While grants, WAEC fees, building renovations, tablets and free meals could enhance the established system, altering of designations of classes, school mergers and the harmonization of uniforms are more of distractions.
Firstly, changing class designations is cosmetic if the contents stay the same and if content is customized, facilitating the integration and acceptance of the Osun system across Nigeria is an issue on its own. How easy will it be for a kid to move from Osun to another school in the nation should the kid’s parents have to move?
Secondly, merging of schools meant terminating old school traditions and history. I don’t see the necessity in this and I perceive it as even detrimental because from experience pride in school tradition and history goes a long way in driving the willingness to learn and ambition of students. Imagine merging Kings College with some other school, what would that do to the psyche of students and even alumni of Kings College who have their roles in nudging the students in the right direction?
Finally, the issue of one uniform across the state kind of takes the shine out of everything. Uniform is part of identity, taking it away is like taking away part of identity. Properly cultivated identity psychologically fosters team spirit and healthy inter team competition. For example, football clubs, football fans and club jerseys. At least if the governor had to go for uniform overhaul, he should’ve gone all out, kept everything strictly secular and stopped even the Muslims from wearing their hijab which some have alleged was the cause of the protest.
I believe the governor should ditch the alteration of class designations, school mergers and uniform harmonization for teachers’ development. One of the most important keys to making students willing to learn is having the right teachers. In fact, whatever state infrastructure and most other factors in the academic environment might be in, the calibre of teachers in charge make a whole lot of difference, so I am even surprised teachers’ development wasn’t one of the pillars of the reform process, unless I missed it. Part of the reform process might not really be on point, but the whole package isn’t rubbish.
No matter how much she fumbles, we are her children, we belong to her as much as she belongs to us, we can’t disown Nigeria. Our leaders have gotten a lot of things wrong but despite their overwhelming selfishness and politicization of most things, I don’t think they are totally devoid of good.
Chukwudi Madu is a Contributing Editor at The Trent; a writer focused on creative writing, copywriting and technical writing. He is a proud alumnus of the prestigious Government College Umuahia (following in the steps of great Umuahians like Chinua Achebe, Vincent Chukwuemeka Ike, Elechi Amadi, I. N. C. Aniebo, Ken Saro-Wiwa and Christopher Okigbo) and an alumnus of the University of Nigeria Nsukka. He tweets @maduchuddi. His Facebook page is HERE. You can buy his books HERE.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.