FEATURE: Inside Aregbesola’s Big Dreams For Public Schools In Osun

Pic-5When Governor Rauf Aregbesola began the implementation of the public schools reclassification, doubts were raised about the intent of the new policy. The government insists the new grade system will improve education. Two years after, how has the policy changed the state of education? Seun Akioye investigates

It was 11:00am and preparations were ongoing at the AUD Elementary School, Isale-Osun, Osogbo for the mid-day meal. Meal times at this school are always a special time not only for the immaculately dressed food vendors but for the pupils, many of whom are from poor families. In Grade Two classroom, the children beamed with smiles as the vendors passed around a sizeable bowl of rice and vegetable, garnished with melon and chicken. A bottle of water was placed beside each student. Two pieces of banana completed the meal.

The class teacher, Mrs. Mariam Aderinola, watched with glowing pride as the pupils performed this pleasurable duty of completing their meal. Everyday spent in that classroom, for her, was a reminder of what the school used to be and how in a spate of two years things have changed completely.

“I used to teach in this school before the reclassification policy of the government, I was teaching this same class then known as Primary Two. Coming to school then was agony and we used to be fearful because the building had fallen apart and touts taken over the school,” she said, a small frown creeping to her brow.

The teacher had a solid reason to be fearful. In 2011, AUD Primary School – as it was known, was a specimen of rot and mismanagement. The buildings, the ones still standing were dilapidated, while the roof in many places had gone off. According to Aderinola, the whole premises was overgrown with weeds and immediately the children left the school, touts took over the compound. “They will mess up the whole compound with faeces and we would see left over marijuana and drugs. Different things were going on here, the touts were sleeping here and in the morning we would cover our noses while we teach because of the stench,” she said.

New policy, new challenges

The state of AUD Primary School was a reflection of the state of education in Osun’s public schools, when the Aregbesola administration came into office says the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Oyelade Oyeniran. According to the state government, public education had been so badly managed that only pupils whose parents could not afford private schools were left in the public schools. Primary school pupils, especially, were poorly dressed and malnourished while performance at both internal and external examination dipped to an all-time low.

But in February 2011, the state government convened an extra-ordinary education summit with the aim of finding a solution to the deep rooted problems. The summit paraded heavy weights in the education sector like Professors’ Wole Soyinka, former vice-chancellor of University of Lagos, Ibidapo Obe and Peter Okebukola of the National Universities Commission (NUC).

The recommendations were far reaching and one of the vital points was the reclassification of schools, which implementation began in 2012. But the government knew the change will generate controversy so there were series of meetings with the stakeholders. Materials explaining government’s position were produced and distributed, while the Ministry of Education continued to engage with the public.

Under the new school policy, the primary school system gave way to the grade system with the former Primary 1-4 with the age range of 6-9 years, merging into what is now called Elementary school, in Grades 1-4. Primary 5 and 6 and junior secondary 1-3 merged together to become middle school and now to be known as Grades 5-9 with the age range of 10-14, while the senior secondary students are grouped together in Grades 10-13, in what is now known as high school.

In the new policy, the elementary schools will have a maximum capacity of 900 pupils in a purpose built state-of–the-art school. Other features will be provision of school uniform, books and balanced diet meals. The schools were designed to be within the neighbourhood for easy access for all students.

For the middle school, the maximum capacity will be between 900-1,000 students, with the provision of state-of-the-art educational infrastructures and catchment to be between 2-3 kilometers, while the high school will have a maximum capacity of 3,000 students with hostel facilities. However, the curriculum did not change rather, what changed were physical infrastructure and more conducive environment.

But fierce opposition began against the policy immediately it was announced. While the government may have anticipated some resistance, it probably underestimated how organised the opposition will be. Questions were raised about the merging of students from different schools and backgrounds under one roof, the loss of identity especially for mission schools and the problems of how workable the new “complicated” model will be.

The government gave reasons for wanting to change the way public education is being conducted in the state, probably forever. According to Oyeniran, the new grade system is the global trend and approach to modern education for effective teaching and learning. In adopting the grade system, pupils of the same age bracket are grouped together with fewer students in classes.

The government also claimed that multiplicity of schools had decayed infrastructure over the years, leading to poor funding, shortage of teachers and inefficiency. The new policy, the government said will reverse the rot and make quality education available to all children without discrimination making public school comparable to the private schools.


The promise of new infrastructure

On October 2, 2013, the state government rolled out the drums to celebrate the commissioning of the state-of-the-art new school infrastructure, The Salvation Army Middle School, Alekuwodo, Osogbo. It was not the fanfare or the presence of top government functionaries that became the center point of the event but the arrival of Governor Aregbesola, wearing a middle school uniform and beaming with smile as he commissioned the first mega school that would accommodate students of the middle school.

There are lots of promises in the new education policy of the state government. In moving students from different schools together under the same roof, the government promised to build 170 mega schools throughout the state. While elementary will have 100 schools, middle will have 50, while 20 high schools will be built. These mega buildings will have laboratories, libraries, clean toilet facilities and ICT centers. These new infrastructures will complement other schools that would be upgraded to acceptable standards under the reclassification policy.

The government also promised to feed all students in elementary school under what it called the O’Meal programme. About 3,000 food vendors have been contracted throughout the state and the students followed a regime of nutritional meals throu-ghout the week.

Under the reclassification, all public schools in Osun State will be free while government will also supply books and uniforms to the students. But how much of these promise have been fulfilled and what has been the impact of the new education policy on students?

Inside Aregbesola’s Grade Schools

Passing through the busy Aleku-wodo road, Osogbo, the imposing Salvation Army Middle School is unmistakable. Built in a rectangle shape and painted in bright yellow colours, when viewed from the opposite direction without the benefit of the equally imposing signboard, one would believe the building is part of a new private university.

Three members of the Osun Peace Corps movement mounted guard at the gate while students continued with their studies in the classrooms. No student loitered around and an examination of the entire classroom revealed that the students were all studiously engaged. There were no blackboards but white boards and instead of the chalk, markers were used to write on the boards. The students sat two in a seat and none of the classroom had more than 40 students.

At the same time, Eunice Yaya, the Head Teacher at AUD Elementary School was having her first classroom inspection in the morning. Like the middle school, AUD is recently commissioned as a mega school, which catered for Grade 1-4 students of six primary schools. The students in Grade Two, on perceiving a visitor sprang to their feet in greetings, welcoming the visitor to the classroom and ending it with a prayer for God’s blessings on the visitor.

“The difference is clear to what we used to have,” Yaya said as she exited the classroom. “We have a very conducive atmosphere for learning and our children loves to come to school because there is free feeding,” she said.

Yaya also said the reclassification of schools has improved the education standards. “Now we have teachers commensurate with the students unlike what we had before. This is a far better system than what we used to run.”

The AUD Elementary School also boasts of some world class infrastructures. “There are 12 toilets and bathrooms, electricity and running water and we have toys for the children. We have a multipurpose hall that can sit 200 pupils at the same time and we educate our children on how to use the facilities because we are determined to preserve and maintain it,” Agbelekale Serifat, the facility manager said.

Currently, 39 mega schools have been completed across the state and many are still under construction. At the CAC Araromi Middle School, work was about 40 percent completed when The Nation visited. But the old school built in 1998 by Theophilous Bamigboye’s military administration had been refurbished with the leaking roof replaced and temporary chairs provided for the students. One teacher who spoke anonymously said: “As you can see, work is going on our new school but the government has given this one a face-lift. It is not what we want yet but we will get there.”

Also, at former Osogbo Grammar School, work is ongoing for the construction of a 3,000 capacity Model High School. While that was going on, the old building has been refurbished and given a face-lift. But questions have been raised about the distance of the high schools which has been mitigated by the purchase of 100 Omoluabi scholar buses, which according to a government official would be strictly for the students. The Nation can also verify that these buses are currently at the state Ministry of Finance.

The impact of the new educational policy has also been generating interesting permutations among the residents of the state. More than 90 percent of the people sampled by The Nation agreed that the policy has changed the landscape for education forever. “I have two children in school. I withdrew my son from a private school where I was paying N60,000 to join a public school. Now the money is back in my pocket because he attends school free and the facilities are better than the private school. I have a small girl in a private school, as soon as she is old enough, I will take her to a public school,” Toyin Barry-Ogwu, who works at Diamond Bank said.

Barry-Ogwu said the reclassification and reforms in the education sector has changed the face of education. “In Osun State, no child is forced to go to school, the children are looking fine when you see them coming from school, everyone wants to be part of them now because they are well fed,” she said.

Lolade Olanipekun, whose daughter attends AUD Elementary School, may have had a tiring day but the mention of the new school system brightened his face. “That is one reason I am happy. My daughter is in Grade Two, she talks everyday about how good the school is. She said they eat food everyday and they have this car that goes round to play with,” he said enthusiastically.

On the education standard, he said she is showing more promise. “I am so happy that she is even writing. Her handwriting is not too fine now but she is improving every day. She wants to go to school almost every day of the week, I have seen the school myself and it is a very good environment,” Olanipekun said.

Aderinola, Grade Two teacher at AUD Elementary School said, a child came from one of the private schools and sat in her class. “She had a different uniform and she sat in the class. We inquired and found her school but she insisted she wanted to stay in our class. She must have been attracted by our facilities here and that is to show the improvements that have happened to this school, even the teachers are also looking very fine,” she said beaming with smile.

One parent who declined to be named said: “You will not know what the governor has done if you don’t know how bad things used to be. I have a shop here and I used to see the students begging for money in the traffic or hawking, when they should be in school, but can you see any child on the road today?” he asked.

The policy has also had a reverberating effect on private schools. According to investigations, many parents are withdrawing their children from private to the public schools, while to counter the Opon-Imo policy. The private schools are now selling a similar device to their high school students. The President of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Osun State, Prince Wale Oyeniyi, who is also the proprietor of Mustard Seed School, Ode-Omu, told The Nation that while the new school policy is a welcome development; it should also incorporate students of the private schools. “I want to say the reform in schools is good but I must caution that the government must maintain the standard so that it won’t become a distortion in the end. There has to be a balance too, so the other sector of the state won’t suffer,” he said.

Oyeniyi denied that private schools are losing their pupils. “I see no difference throughout the state, we have a symbiotic relationship, there is no problem. But I should say that government should also treat private school pupils the same way. They are all citizens and we too are electorate and we vote, all the children are the same, so they should all enjoy the dividends of democracy,” he said.

But the situation was slightly different at International School, Abere, Ede North Local Government. The principal, Babaremi Olusola, acknowledged frankly the educational reforms had affected his business. “To be candid, this is affecting us, I have seen parents withdrawing their children to public schools because of the free education and uniform and food.”

Olusola also had knocks for the government: “The way they are going about it, it’s like they don’t want us to exist, look at everything they are doing, and we should be partners in progress. We also employ people here and we are voters too. He also implore the government to grant private schools tax reduction and give them what he called special grants to also upgrade their own facilities.


“We want our mega high school”

At 2:00pm, members of the Christian students fellowship at St. Daniel High School 3, Ode-Omu, began a session of prayer. They prayed for progress of the state and also for a new high school. Outside the old building where they met, three of their teachers sat huddled together.

“We are not happy because our school is split into three when we should all be in the same compound. Our buildings are not to be compared with the other schools, we are waiting for the government to build us a mega high school because we really need it,” the teachers said.

About 150 meters from the high school is an imposing new building that will house St. Michael Elementary School, Ode-Omu. Inside the compound, workers put finishing touches to the painting. “We have 22 classrooms here; we have modern toilets, hall, playground and even a projector. But the best part is that it is dry construction, no brick was used, fire cannot affect it and if we need to move it away from here we just dismantle it and set it up somewhere else,” one of the workers said.

Besides the new building is the old school refurbished by the state government, but compared to the imposing new building, it looked like materials made ready for the museum. The teachers of St. Daniel, while praising the new building insist they deserved it more. “That should have been our school, we need it more but they gave it to the children.”

At the sound of a signal, students of AUD rushed to the playground where several toys have been provided. They played on the see saw, the swing and other toys provided by the state government, Elizabeth Ajala, the second Head Teacher stood by watching. “We will maintain this standard, we are determined. This is the only way we can show our appreciation,” she said with a smile.