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Oyo’s brewing educational crisis

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
03 November 2016   |   4:14 am
The last five months have seen the gradual rise of irate pupils in Oyo State public schools, just as it is also solidifying students’ and their parents worse fears that the Ajimobi ...
Abiola Ajimobi, Oyo State Governor

Abiola Ajimobi, Oyo State Governor

The last five months have seen the gradual rise of irate pupils in Oyo State public schools, just as it is also solidifying students’ and their parents worse fears that the Ajimobi’s government is favourably disposed to commercialising education in the state. Assistant Features Editor, ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, writes that last week’s razing of classroom blocks in seven public secondary schools by pupils, who failed to gain promotion to the next class on account of a new education policy, opens a new vista to a troubling scenario that is playing out in the state’s education sector.

The battle line may have been drawn between public school students, and the Oyo State government, not minding the dire consequences such actions may cause the former.

The burning of several classroom blocks in about seven schools, by irate students, who were unable to record 50 per cent pass rate in mathematics and English language in their session end examination, clearly represents the new low that they have sunk to.

In the recently released results of the 2016 June/July Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE), by the National Examination Council, Ekiti State students towered over their peers from other parts of the country, as the analysis across the 36 states and Abuja, concluded that the state topped all others, with 96.485 of its pupils that sat for the examination coming out victorious.

According to Registrar of NECO, Charles Uwakwe, Edo State came second while Abia and Kogi states settled for joint third.

In the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), organised by the West African Examination Council (WAEC), Ekiti State finished 11th out of the 36 states, while Oyo finished the race in the 26th position.

Increasingly, the present crop of Oyo State public school students, are showing that while their regional neighbours are burning the mid night oil, they appear to care little about such exercise.

Since June this year, the state’s education sector has been eruptive, with the state government sometimes acting decisions that could compromise quality education.

The drama series started when thousands of pupils from public secondary schools in the state poured into the streets of Ibadan, the state capital, protesting the state government’s plan to adopt a public-private participatory approach in the running of some their schools.

The pupils who took to the streets as early as 9am, made anti-government chants, and dared policemen to do their worse. As they coasted along, they attacked the headquarters of the ruling All Progressives Congress in Oke Ado, vandalised it, and manhandled secretariat workers.

The pupils, apart from asking Ajimobi not to sell their schools, also demanded his immediate resignation, stressing that his novel education initiative was crafted to multiply their parents’ burden after they were being owed several months salaries arrears.

At the Governor’s Office, where they cascaded to, the police cordon led by then Commissioner of Police, Leye Oyebade, blocked all entrances denying them access to the complex.

The protesting pupils, who nevertheless made several demands from the state governor were drawn from St. Luke Senior College; St. Luke Junior College; Yejide Girls Grammar School Christ the King Secondary School, Agugu; IMG Grammar School, Agodi; Oluyoro Girls’ Grammar School; Ratibi College; Ikolaba Grammar School; St. Clegg Girls’ High School; Queen of Apostle Grammar School, Oluyoro Oke-Ofa, and St. Patrick Grammar School, Basorun.

That pupils protest did not only see to the disruption of government activities, as well as, the breach of law and order, public workers in the state, in apparent support of the pupils kicked, alleging that the move by the government would lead to the commercialisation of public education in the state.

Even after Governor Abiola Ajimobi, had explained that the initiative did not translate to selling or privatising the 31 affected schools, labour unions in the state threatened to down tools, in a bid to force the government to reverse its decision.

Faced with a scenario that was capable of snowballing into full-blown crisis, the state government was forced to shut down all public primary and secondary schools in the state, but not without accusing the labour unions of engaging pupils to stage the protest.

Not a few people chuckled weeks after Ajimobi demanded to be apologised to, by schools whose pupils were part of the anti-government protest over the proposed education initiative.

Chairman of the National Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Oyo State Chapter, Abiodun Jimoh, who spoke after a meeting with the governor to plead for the schools’ re-opening, said during his interaction, “The governor said that the heads of the schools should write letters of apology to the government.

“We have promised him that we will meet with the heads of the schools to immediately write the letter in the interest of the pupils. We are fed up with the strike action and our children staying at home for so long. We want them back in school and for teachers to resume at their duty posts,” he said.

On July 10, the state government announced that it would, the following day, reopen public secondary schools earlier closed in the wake of the education crisis in the state. However, pupils of the 17 schools, who were part of the June 6 protest had their stay at home extended until the principals and management of the schools submitted an undertaking to the government that the students under their care would not engage in, or be used for violent acts.

One of the schools set ablaze by pupils in Oyo State.

One of the schools set ablaze by pupils in Oyo State.

The state’s Commissioner for Information, Toye Arulogun, in a statement he released maintained that the protest “… threatened the peace and security of the state and endangered the lives of the students, who participated in this breach of peace and affront on constituted authority.”

The commissioner, in the statement added that, “Following several representations by the Parents Teachers Association, community leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, Prominent and well meaning Nigerians at home and abroad, the Oyo State government has decided to reopen public schools in the state …”

Arulogun statement added, “Considering the need for strong character moulding and to emphasise the importance of good conduct and acceptable behaviour for the leaders of tomorrow, the students must tender a written apology to the government, through the school management.

Despite tendering an apology as well as an undertaking, some pupils in the state last week, specifically Thursday and Friday, set ablaze classroom blocks in about seven schools in three local councils, over alleged mass failure in their examination, forcing the government to announce the indefinite closure of affected schools.

The schools affected include Anglican-Methodist Secondary School and Oba Adeyemi High School in Oyo East Local Council; Isale Oyo Community High School in Atiba Local Council; and Community Secondary School, Iyana Idi-Ose, and Ojoo High School in Akinyele Local Council.

After the government shut down five schools on Thursday, and warned the students against further breakdown of law and order, pupils of Ladigbolu Grammar School, the following day attacked their school, bringing down a section of its perimeter fence. Same day, Oke Olola Community School in Atiba Local Council was torched by the students.

In the melee, which also saw the students attack their teachers, vandalised billboards bearing Ajimobi’s image, one person, a non-student, that sustained injury passed on, last week.

The state government recently put in place a new promotion policy, which stipulates that only pupils that score 50 per cent in mathematics and English language will be promoted to the next class.

Before now, all a student needed to do to get promoted to the next class was to score 35 per cent in the affected subjects.

Expectedly, this prepared grounds for a lengthy spell of very poor performance by the substandard pupils in public schools, as they repeatedly performed woefully in external examinations.

“What government says is that there is no automatic promotion again. Our external examinations from 1999 till date have been abysmally poor. If we push them to the outside world, we are not helping them. We are trying to give them the opportunity to rediscover themselves…” a worried Commissioner for Education, Adeniyi Olowofela, was quoted as saying at one of the razed down schools.

While the disgruntled students give the impression that the state government was getting back at them, through the new promotion policy, after some of them joined forces with their teachers to kick against the proposed public private partnership policy in June, Olowofela said nothing could be farther from the truth as the “no automatic promotion was conveyed to stakeholders far back in April this year.

According to Olowofela, the seven-month-old promotion criteria was the same thing as, “No Automatic Promotion” policy, which an April 23 circular to stakeholders in the state bore.

“Records available from WAEC showed that from 1999 to 2015, over 50, 000 students failed to get five credits, including English language and mathematics each year. The abysmal failure necessitated government to set up an educational reform committee. The report had since been submitted and the white paper has been approved by the State Executive Council, and is awaiting full implementation,” the commissioner said.

“The rationale for the stoppage of old policy of automatic promotion in public schools include the fact that the system denied the schools the ability to truly and rigorously prepare our students for external examination of bodies like the West African Examination Council (WAEC), National Examination Council (NECO) and the JAMB-organised Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), “ he added.

The state police command has already arrested 30 pupils in connection with the burning of classroom blocks while the hunt for others continues.

The command’s spokesperson, Adekunle Ajisebutu, told The Guardian yesterday that the alleged culprits were arrested in Oyo town and Ibadan. While some were charged to court yesterday, others will have their day in court today or tomorrow.

“I can confirm that the arrest is ongoing as long as investigation is till going on. If we get useful information that would warrant an arrest, we would definitely do so. But for now, we have only 30 of them in our custody,” Ajisebutu said.

As part of efforts to cut short the unpleasant scenario playing out in the state’s educational sector, an emergency town hall meeting on public education, drug abuse and violence is on the cards, and scheduled to take place next Sunday.

At the behest of a group, the Oyo Global Forum (OGF), the meeting is expected to be co-chaired Olowofela, and Kehinde Ayoola, a former lawmaker in the state.

A chieftain of OGF, Olorunpoto Rahaman, reportedly linked the rising violence among pupils in the state to the crisis in the sector, saying, “The school violence is emblematic of the hydra-headed crisis facing the education sector in our state, and certainly our society… our investigation reveals link between the growing indiscipline as well as criminal tendencies among students and widespread drug abuse.”

Prof. Bisi Obadofin, of the Department of Educational Foundation & Counselling Psychology, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University (LASU), is also of the opinion that the rascality displayed by the students is a reflection of what obtains in the larger society.

“It is the society that is causing all these kinds of problems because these kids are the products of the society we live in. They are taking after what happens in the larger society when the older members of the society just resort to destruction of public property when they have issues with the government. So, for the pupils, as they are growing, they tend to believe that whenever they have a major issue bothering them on account of the government, they have to destroy.”

She continued, “Unfortunately, the pupils in their fury have failed to realise the fact that they are the ones that are going to lose at the end of the day. For me, they should not be admitted into any other school, but should be expelled right away so that they can learn their lessons.

“If we had done something to other people that committed this level of atrocity before now, these young people probably would not have been bold enough to do what they did, in order words, follow these ugly footsteps,” Obadofin said.

She frowned at the pupils resolve to kick against a policy that is meant to strengthen them academically.

Her words, “Since the no automatic promotion policy is of the government, the pupils should never have contemplated doing what they did because it is not the government’s fault that they fell short of grades to earn promotion. If they had studied well enough, they would have had no business scoring below the stipulated grades to earn promotion.

“I think it is not right to keep on pushing pupils that are not studying enough to higher classes because it is a disincentive to learning, as they would be incapable of defending their certificates when they acquire them eventually. So this action of theirs is irrational, and the state government should never condone that type of rubbish.”

However, rather than prosecuting the pupils, she said, “they should be warned and counseled because these are young people. In case they do not know, they should be told in clear terms that they and their peers as well as their juniors are the ones that need the classrooms, and not the adults who are done with schooling. If they are thrown out now, and barred from being admitted into other schools, except they relocate from the state, they are doomed for life. As a person, I would love a situation where the culprits, especially the ringleaders are dealt with, in order to serve as a deterrent.”

Before the irate pupils decided to vent their spleen on their classrooms, the state government last month again stoked the embers of discord when it said it would peter down to 25 per cent, subvention to state-owned tertiary institutions in the state.

While scathing criticisms followed the government’s position, especially as knowledge economy was generating a groundswell of resources to governments that place premium on the education of its youths the world over, the state assembly faulted the government’s position, saying it contravenes the 2016 budgetary allocation of 75 per cent subventions to the institutions.