THE controversy embroiling education reform in the State of Osun is needless, if not contrived. It tends to reduce the significance of what Governor Rauf Aregbesola is trying to achieve in restoring the lost glory of education in the state. While it is perfectly in order for citizens or groups to show concern over the activities in the sector, bearing in mind that everyone is a stakeholder, the concern should be expressed with a view to preserving and indeed complementing government’s efforts at revamping education. In any case, the critics of government should not be perceived as throwing the baby away with the bath water. The state of education, throughout the country is pathetic; such that any serious attempt by a government to redress it deserves the support of the people.
In reclassifying the Osun schools system and merging some schools, it is conceivable that the state government may make mistakes or run foul of the preference of some groups; where any of these happens, it is the responsibility of government to listen and clarify or adjust its position. But the duty of the citizens in pointing out the possible mistakes should not be extended to undermining what is clearly a state policy aimed at the good of the majority. What is deductible from the present imbroglio is that some religious leaders in Osun suspect, rightly or wrongly, that the governor has religious motives in formulating or implementing some of his state policies. It would be worthwhile in the circumstance for the citizens to give the governor a chance, as the current bickering cannot help the generality of Osun people. In the same vein, the grouse of the people should not be dismissed by government.
As part of a reform process, the state government had reclassified the school system into Elementary, Middle and High School categories – a novel step by any education authority in the country. The elementary step comprises pupils from age six to nine, corresponding with the current school system’s Primary 1-4. The middle level takes care of primary four to junior secondary school III for ages 10-14, now classified as Grades five to nine. At the High School level will be children between 15 and 17 years, corresponding with senior secondary (SSS III) tagged Grade 10-12.
Instructively, there are no issues with the reclassifications, and the warring Christian community – particularly the Baptist denomination – made that clear in their protest. The sore point has to do with the merger of schools which became expedient in the re-classification targeted at a “speedy recovery” of the sector to “secure the future of the children”.The government is resolute on “going ahead…with developing the new man,” while the Christian community is afraid that the schools would lose their religious identity. This mill of confusion should not be prolonged further, else it will negate the essence of achieving quality.
It is no use trading arguments on whether or not government informed or carried the other party along. Those in opposition to government policy should at least appreciate that the schools in issue are already in government custody, and are no longer controlled by the missions. Luckily, the state has not discouraged the existence of private schools which can be nurtured to achieve particular culture. The protesters therefore would have no need to “compromise the legacy of forefathers and the missionaries…to affect our faith”.
However, the State of Osun which proudly claims the ‘Omoluabi essence’ should always be aware of the feelings of its people, and should strive to iron out all contentious issues with all parties. This is notwithstanding its explanation that it organised an education summit of stakeholders in February this year, which produced a communiqué endorsing the reform. The state must not slip into a battleground between brothers on faith matters. Open protestations of blocking school gates against male students being merged with all-female schools, or female students of one faith being given dress codes of another school of opposite faith may be signals of clashes in future. But this can be prevented.
Interestingly, the protests against merger have been spearheaded by both Christians (in Iwo and Osogbo) as well as Muslims (in Esa-Oke). To ensure that it is on course with the people, government could compare the current reaction to the one it received at the launch of its novel, globally acknowledged Opon Imo – Tablet of Knowledge – that has become a reference material for other states across the country. More importantly, both sides should exercise restraint in the interest of the students, peace and justice. All told, we are fully persuaded that the Osun State government should continue to communicate the essence of this controversial education policy to the people. Education is too important to be trifled with.