The merging of public schools in Osun State has generated a considerable dissipation of sentiments bordering on needless controversy in the media lately. While a critical section of the public to which the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has lent its face by giving the government an ultimatum to rescind its decision, has condemned the move as being tendentious, a handful of others including experienced educationists like Dr Modupe Fagbulu and Professor Olasupo Ladipo have pitched their tents on the side of rationality and endorsed the move.
On separate occasions, both eminent persons have given reasons why the present intervention of the government in public education in the state was not only necessary but urgent. Professor Ladipo said in an interview; “The educational system went bad because we had too many schools and were unable to equip them adequately. Education is expensive and requires equipment. Modern education requires expenses on all the modern amenities. If we do not merge, we will not be able to afford to give sound education to our children who are the future of this nation.”
Before the merging of these public schools that are exclusively financed with public funds, service delivery in the sector had ebbed terribly. Even the so called poor people avoided public primary schools like a plague despite the fact that the more experienced and better trained teachers are there. They would rather send their children to private nursery and primary schools where they imagine their children stand the chance of a head start. Many of these public primary schools lack pupils to justify their existence and they have been visited by such dilapidation that they have become death traps.
If the poor can struggle to avoid public primary schools, they may not be able to sponsor their children and wards to private secondary schools where the fees are steep. Besides, public education is the only avenue through which any society can hope to replenish itself with a better generation and develop its human capital because it offers education to the rich and poor alike. Private education can only take care of the rich who, as it has been proved throughout human history, do not have the exclusive preserve of genius. What will society do to its members that are geniuses but poor? Are they to be left to waste and become human debris? What will be the implication of that on social security? Avenues like public education are what the society use to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor and prevent the anarchy that may result when the number of the social malcontents increases in geometric progression.
This is the premise for public education through which the government can hope to deliver the greatest good for the greatest number to its citizens. But for a long time now, these public schools have failed dismally in this function. The public institutions have gone to seed and any pupil in any of these schools will have to be exceptionally brilliant to pass out with enough credits to earn a place in any institution of higher learning that is worth its salt. It is against this backdrop that the reclassification of schools in Osun should be seen as expedient in order to bring back the glory of these public schools.
Dr Modupe Fagbulu, a retired education planner observed while speaking with reporters recently that when it was obvious that some schools were not viable to operate alone they had to be merged for efficiency and optimal performance in order to restore the lost glory of these public primary and secondary schools which he described as a crucial foundation for any child. It is better to have few schools that are delivering in terms of imparting knowledge to the students and developing human capital than having many schools that cannot answer for the name they are called and churn out massive failures.
Many of these schools lack infrastructure like libraries and laboratories that are crucial to learning. Perhaps the government will seize the opportunity of reclassification to employ seasoned teachers and school administrators and guidance counsellors for these new mega schools at all the levels of elementary, middle and senior schools in order to ensure that the service delivery is both comprehensive and successful in terms of the quality of students passing out from these institutions.
The critics however have based their resentment of the reclassification of schools on sentiments. Although sentiments can have a powerful effect on public perception and politics is in the main perception, yet it is more important and positively functional to eschew sentiments now for the overall need to rescue these public schools from the dysfunction which they represent as they are currently.
The people in Osun really do not have a dilemma to my mind in making a choice between improving the schools through merging and reclassification and thus restoring the glory of public education or retaining the old schools based on sentiments like the alumni’s sense of nostalgia or the odd chance of former single sex schools becoming co-ed or not.
The government of Osun State should see the resistance only as a normal response of the people to change. It should allay their anxiety and prove itself as a trustworthy outfit that would make the revolution replicable in other states as a result of its success.