INDEPENDENT OPINION: Protests Against Osun’s Reclassification, A Needless Distraction

Religious protests against Osun’s public schools reclassification divert attention from a key development programme

Protests by religious blocs, against the new Osun State schools reclassification policy, divert attention from perhaps the most revolutionary education policy since Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s free primary education of 1955.

This is grave and unfortunate; for there is a limit to which people should misdirect themselves and willfully gamble with the future of their children and wards.

Yet, the Osun government would appear to share part of the blame. It is either it had not consulted widely enough with key opinion moulders or had not, sufficiently enough, enlightened the mass of the people – or both – before launching the programme. Otherwise, the protests, across religious lines, should not be.

The government should therefore fuse into its education reforms as many partisan or religious views as are reasonable. But it must not abandon its reforms, simply because some political and religious partisans growl at them. The future generation would not forgive it, if it did.

If the programme is meant to better the future of children in Osun State – and there is absolutely no doubt that it is – then, with good mass enlightenment, it is only a matter of time before the majority of the people buy into it. After all, as Jeremy Bentham stipulated, government exists for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

Yet, before the reclassification policy can be reasonably discussed, it ought to be properly understood.

The genesis was the cascading fall in educational standard in the state, so much so that the state came among the laggards in Junior Secondary School (JSS) and Senior Secondary School (SSS) examination results. That prompted an education summit, which recommended the current reforms.

The imperative to properly fund education, merged with the reality that resources are, at the best of times, scarce, necessitated the restructuring of education infrastructure, starting with school buildings. Instead of rebuilding each of the existing, decrepit schools, therefore, the government would appear sold on school clusters to save costs and also ensure the economies of scale.

Also, according to government sources, the classification into Elementary (Primary 1-4), Middle (Primary 5-6, and JSS 1-3) and High (SSS 1-3) schools, has to do with the distance covered by a child before reaching school. That means that the 100 elementary schools being built would be basically neighbourhood schools, to which every minor involved would easily trek, the 49 middle schools are a bit more distant but could be accessed by short transport. The high schools are the farthest; but then the more mature are envisaged to better cope with the distance.

With this new paradigm, there must be need to merge schools, on the sheer economics of it all – and that appears to cause all the raucous. The sentiments by the Christian missions (the Baptists and Methodists kicking against their schools being merged) and Muslims in Iwo staking the rights of their children and wards to wear the hijab in schools bearing Christian names are understandable, even if some of the demands border on being unreasonable.

The Baptist kicking against Methodists is queer – can’t they sink their sectarian differences in one church for the sake of their children’s future? Muslims insisting on wearing the hijab in a ‘Christian’ school betrays lack of respect and crass intolerance that appear un-Yoruba-like. The Osun State government should, however, engage these religious partisans and see how it can accommodate their worries.

Still, the religious “warriors” must not push their luck too far. Most of these schools are “missionary” schools only in name, by virtue of founding. Since the government took over the schools, the missionaries have no dime in their running. So, as the government respects their historic links to these schools, they should also respect the government’s right to implement programmes for the citizens who elected it.

The government should engage all the aggrieved. But it must press on with the fundaments of its policy. Like Awo, it would not be judged by the sentimental babble of the present, but by the genuine awe of an appreciative coming generation.