That Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s approach to governance in roughing feathers in Osun State is an understatement. On his assumption of office, the first decision he took was that he should not be addressed as His Excellency, rather preferring the prefix-Mr. or Ogbeni in Yoruba.
He was more or less a sole administrator of the state for the first six months in the state as he simply refused to appoint commissioners and aides to work with him.
By the time the list was eventually sent to the State House of Assembly for confirmation, he had ensured that loyal men were at the helm of affairs in the Assembly.
His approach to issues has consistently been different but his series of reforms in the education sector has created more enemies for the governor than friends. Many have criticised the moves as it appeared as if the whole state was in turmoil.
But the dust seems to be gradually settling as indigenes and opinion leaders have taken time to study the new model being introduced by the governor. Combing the schools in the length and breath of the state is revealing. From Iwo to Ila, Ile Ife to Ejigbo, Ede to Ikirun and the entire state, there appears to be a fresh air breathing into the schools with some new things happening.
On the economic front, the school feeding scheme has helped to improve the production capacities of farmer-suppliers of farm produce in the state. It has empowered 3,007 women who were appointed food vendors to serve nutritious meals to pupils on school days.
By the middle of this year, the National Bureau of Statistics had said Osun emerged number one in public school enrolment in the country.
Osun Government also insisted that the re-classification became necessary to avoid multiplication of mushroom schools that compete for scarce resources of the state, to pull resources together to enjoy economy of scale for maximization of the state resources.
According to government, it is more economical to cater for 300 pupils/students in one school than in three schools of 100 pupils/students each. The erstwhile school system in the state has schools with as low as 30 pupil’s total enrolment in primaries one to six.
Other reasons for the exercise are to remove financial burden of education completely from parents through provision of modern facilities, furniture and improved funding; to democratize education and provide equal opportunities for pupils without discrimination; to make public schools comparable to the private schools in terms of facilities and to reduce pupils/students-to-teacher ratio from the current abnormal rate of 60-100 students to a teacher to the UNESCO standard.
On the features of the new school system, the old primary and secondary school are reclassified into Elementary, Middle and High schools.
The Elementary School is for pupils in Grades 1-4 and in the age range of 6-9 years. These schools are to be neighbourhood schools, not to be too far from areas of residence, trade and work places of parents with enrolment at maximum capacity of 900 pupils in cities and big towns but those in rural communities may have lesser population.
The Middle School have students in Grades 5-9 classes; age range of 10-14years to be sited within maximum of 2-3 kilometers from where pupils live and enrolment of 900-1000.
The High school will have students in Grades 10-12 classes; age range of 15-17years, enrolment will be 3000; a 3-schools in 1 complex at 1000 students per school.
The Aregbesola administration has taken a number of measures to address the dearth of teachers in specific subject areas and geographical locations within the state as part of its total overhaul of education sector.
The deployment of 6,000 OYES cadets and voluntary teachers into public schools; 600 teachers were recruited and posted to specific Local government areas of the state.
Recruitment of over 3000 teachers into the public primary schools; on-going recruitment exercise for another set of over 3000 secondary schools teachers and SUBEB promoting a total of 6,777 teachers in the primary schools sub-sector in 2012.
One of the reasons given for the heat generated by the ongoing reforms include the alleged possible loss of identities by some schools, the government held that in Osun and all over the country, public schools are 100% owned, staffed and funded by the state government.
The use of hijab by female Muslim pupils had also raised concerns among Christians. But just as the governor could not say that Muslim pupils must not wear hijabs, it also could not legislate against it as the government reminds that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says that no student can be discriminated against on the basis of his parents’ religious belief and mode of worship.
As part of its efforts to restore the old glory to education sector of the state, Osun is determined to give the students total, qualitative and functional education through resuscitation of curricular activities in schools. This is with the view to giving students all round education for their overall development.
Worried by the religious dimensions being introduced into the whole saga, eminent religious leaders had come up with their positions on the matter saying that the beauty of the reforms being introduced should not be tainted with religious colourations.
A journey through the state and the schools indicate that majority of the schools being upgraded and rebuilt completely are actually those established by the missionaries of the old. This has gone on without any attempt by the government to make any school hitherto belonging to the Christian Missionaries to change their outlook even though the ownership still resides with the government that funds them.
General Evangelist of Christ Apostolic Church Worldwide, Pastor Samuel Kayode Abiara who had appealed to Christians to be patient with Aregbesola on the reform, said: “I want to use this opportunity to appeal to Christians in the state to be patient with the government, if one wants to be fair, Aregbesola meant well for our children, when I saw the Opon-Imo, I was amazed because the tablet is a school on its own. Our Christian brothers and sisters should be patient, they should always ask for clarification on issues if it is not clear to us.” Prophet Abiara stressed.
The Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade while comparing Aregbesola’s reform to that of Obafemi Awolowo noted that, in 1955 when Awolowo started his education reforms in the then Western Region, people antagonized him but the late sage remained undaunted in his commitment to turning around the region’s education fortune.
Ooni said Awolowo’s reform succeeded at last because of the late politician’s tenacity of purpose and selfless conviction for the future of the region.
He added that but for the focus and determination Awolowo had, he would have chickened out of the programme and the entire South West region would have been the worst for it.
He regretted that a few people had failed to see beyond the immediate to see the overall benefit of the school reform process blaming those antagonizing the plans as mixing pure development issues in the education sector with politics and religion.
He commended the bold step of the governor in tackling the rot in this all-important sector, advising him not to be distracted by what some people are doing or saying about the reforms.
Also, Parents Association of Osun led by Dr. Ademola Ekundayo appealed to politicians in the state during their rally not to play politics with education, “Our association is coming out in the open to tell politicians in the state not to play politics with the education of our children as we have not had it this good until Aregbesola came on board.
“We will like to use this opportunity to tell government not to relent in his efforts at giving the best to the children, we know what it used to be in the past, we can now see the difference, parents have been to these schools and we are very happy with the situation.
“Our children are now being taught in classrooms with ceiling fans, we don’t have to buy tables and chairs again, our children in elementary schools are now feeding free of charge and every classroom now have teachers. We are grateful to Aregbesola.” Dr. Ekundayo noted.
It is yet to be seen whether the reform introduced in the education sector in Osun State will bear fruits but what is certain, however, is that education is not going to be the same in the state again.