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Osun and its controversial education reforms

By Ujunwa Atueyi
12 March 2020   |   4:25 am
Prominent among the issues that have been raised by stakeholders is that the incumbent governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, who suddenly found some of the educational policies imprudent...


Failure of the former governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola to consult widely, would cost the state more millions of naira, despite its lean resources, as the current governor, Gboyega Oyetola, embarks on the reversal of some of the educational policies made by his predecessor, UJUNWA ATUEYI reports. 

Prominent among the issues that have been raised by stakeholders is that the incumbent governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola, who suddenly found some of the educational policies imprudent, was part of the government that formulated and implemented the alleged “ill-conceived,” policies.

But his aides are not looking at the issue from that perspective. Their emphasis is on the purported claim that the policies were badly thought out and would mar the very essence of teaching, learning and human development.

Accepting any appointment as president or governor’s aide in whatever capacity is not all about occupying big offices and enjoying the fame and benefits therein. It is much more than that!

In 2013, October 4 precisely, the Internet went agog as the picture of the former governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola and his then deputy, Titi Laoye-Tomori, received glamorous publication in national dailies and social media platforms.

It was the introduction of the state’s unified uniform tagged “O-Uniform, and the then governor and his deputy made their first appearance with the uniform at the inauguration of a remodelled Salvation Army Primary School, Osogbo. It was a great joy for the governor, his aides/advisers and all the supporters of his much-touted educational reforms.

The ex-governor made bold to announce then that the O-Uniform project would cost the state N900 million at the rate of about N1, 200 per set. They partnered a private company, Sam and Sera garments limited, to purchase, sew and distribute the uniforms to students and pupils.

The government then also stated that tailors would be trained at the factory while uniform sellers across the state would subsequently be supplied the uniforms to be resold by them.

Single uniform for all, was not the only policy of Aregbesola’s government. There were numerous others introduced and implemented at the time, though not welcomed by majority of the people.

Aregbesola’s administration introduced Opon-Imo (tablet of knowledge), the school reclassification policy, leading to the merger of schools, and abolition of gender and religious-based institutions.

He also replaced the 6-3-3-4 operated by the Nigerian government with what was described as a 4-5-3-4 system, leading to the restructuring of primary and secondary schools into elementary, middle and high schools, among numerous other modifications.

Under the 4-5-3-4 system, the elementary level, comprising pupils aged six to nine corresponds with primary 1 to 4 in the existing system; the middle level, primary four to junior secondary school (JSS III) is for pupils aged 10 to 14; while the high school level covers ages 15 to 17 and corresponds with the senior secondary school III (SS III).

Barely seven years into “Aregbesola’s wholesome reform,” Oyetola’s administration found the changes ill-considered and had since commenced moves to reverse some of those reforms.

Oyetola was the chief of staff to Mr. Aregbesola throughout his two-term in office and couldn’t fault any of those policies at that time.

Just recently, Oyetola’s government announced that it would reverse some of the policies of the past administration considered to be controversial and ineffective.

According to reports, the state commissioner for information and civic orientation, Funke Egbemode, announced that the governor has approved the reversal of the single school uniform, ‘reclassification’ of the public school system and the abolition of single-sex schools introduced by his predecessor.
These reversals, she said were approved during the state executive council meeting in Osogbo and will take effect from the next academic session.

The clamour for policy reviews by stakeholders, she said necessitated the setting up of the panel that reviewed the policies and submitted its recommendations.

“The state considered 10 out of 26 recommendations by a panel led by Olu Aina, set up to review education policies of the past administration. The governor, Mr. Oyetola reversed nine of the policies outrightly, while the ‘Opon Imo’ education tablets would be enhanced and reintroduced to schools.

“The council unanimously agreed with the experts’ report that the State of Osun should reverse to the 6-3-3-4 structure as opposed to the 4-5-3-4 system as the policy is unknown to the national policy on education (NPE).

She continued: “The council also agreed that the state would henceforth allow every school to return to its old-established and recognised public uniform.”

Another issue was the review of the current arrangement for managing new model high schools. The council agreed that the operations of the “Omoluabi education services limited” would be wound up since it has not been fulfilling the mandate for which it is established.

“The council agreed that early childhood education be restored while the state will employ well-trained professionals to handle the segment that was suspended.”

Reacting to the policy flip flop in the state, stakeholders said, first and foremost, accepting the nomenclature, “State of Osun,” was the beginning of poor policy reforms of the Aregbesola administration.

Former vice chancellor, University of Lagos (UNILAG), Prof. Oye Ibidapo-Obe, who was also part of the committee inaugurated to review the policies, regretted that people who are supposed to speak out and advise government wisely failed in their duties.

“First, let me apologise, during the deliberations of the committee, I got in touch with the Chairman, Prof Aina, but I couldn’t attend because I was away. They said they are going to send the document to me, which they never did. All I heard was that the policy has been reversed. This is really sad, because the present administration was part of that government that implemented the policies. It shows that those in government don’t think.

“Whatever their leader says they just support, they don’t go through any critical analysis, that is what it shows, because this man who is now the governor was the chief of staff, which means he was with him all the time. Now, if he was there and this happened, then he supported it. Now, people don’t want it again, the people have never liked the policy, that is the truth of the matter. People complained and protested, but the then government was adamant. I think the lesson is this… let those who are commissioners, special advisers learn to speak out and provide alternative thinking. The boss should not be the only one thinking.”

Speaking on how Aregbesola’s education reform affected teaching and learning in the state, Ibidapo-Obe said, “When they introduced Opon-Imo, there was so much drop in terms of the performance of the students the following two years. Opon-Imo, technology brought to the rural area, was a good idea, but the learners could not cope because they didn’t provide the infrastructure. The infrastructure should have been on ground before this.”

On the change of uniforms, he said, “Sometimes, I think we also allowed it, because even changing Osun State to State of Osun, should not have been allowed. As much as you are in the federation, there are certain things you cannot do. So, I would advise them to wait until the uniforms are exhausted. For economic reasons, what will happen is that the uniform should be distinguished by putting a badge to different schools until they phase out what they bought.

“Everybody should wear a badge or different type of neck tie or head wear just for identity. I agree that there was no need for that uniformed dressing in the sense that uniforms are usually peculiar to groups and the group of all secondary school students is too large. So, he should have allowed the uniforms relevant to the schools. When you look at the micro economy, the headmistress, wife of headmasters and teachers usually do this. These are the things they do to make a little bit of money for themselves, they supply uniforms and food, so I agree that it should be reversed, but it should gradually be phased out.”

Also, a vice chancellor, who does not want his name in print, said he was not pleased with governor Oyetola’s decision; afterall he was part of the government that conceived the idea.

He said: “I will not call that a reversal of policies, out of 26 items, they are reviewing only nine, so you won’t call that reversal. I don’t know why there is so much fuss on this issue; after all, the same people that formulated the policy are the ones kicking against it. It shouldn’t have been a controversial issue.”

Meanwhile, the chairman of the panel, Prof. Olu Aina, had while explaining the decision of the committee stated that the group l 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 said the recommendations of the panel were within the context of the national education policy and global best practices. For instance, the merging of Primary five and six, though laudable for reason of school feeding initiative, violated the 6-3-3-4 structure of the national policy on education.

“Even though education is on the concurrent legislative list, 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.”