Aregbesola Government’s Education Reforms: Socialist Alternative to Piece-meal Reforms
Aregbesola Government’s Education Reforms: Socialist Alternative to Piece-meal Reforms
By Kola Ibrahim
The recent protest by the students of the famous Fakunle Comprehensive High School (FCHS), Osogbo, Osun State, against the planned (now suspended) demolition of their school by the state government has again brought to the fore the unorganized and ill-motivated education reform of the Aregbesola ACN state government. According to government sources, the school, built some 50 years ago, was marked for demolition by the government to allow the building a ‘modern’ motor park and market. The government had hinged the policy on the ground that the school was situated along an expressway, and close to a motor park. Indeed, as against the hurried denial by the government that it was not planning to demolish the school, the state government had FCHS students in the school to relocate to another school far away from their existing school’s location.
The excuse of the government is at best funny. Many schools in the state are situated along road and near one facility or the other. This has not prevented several generations of students from passing out of these schools with good grades. More ridiculous is the fact that the same government that is so particular about the location of a school has not deemed it fit to renovated hundreds of schools that are in decrepit state across the state. Indeed, the school, FCHS, aside being one of the largest in terms of student population in the state, has one of the most outstanding facilities in term of number of classrooms, spaces, etc. How then can a state government, that has added nothing new in terms of infrastructures to existing schools, other than the never-ending construction of ten mega-schools, decide to demolish such a school, for motor park or market? Worse, the schools in which the students were sparsely relocated are facing their own infrastructural constraints. Indeed, the rude and unorganized manner in which relocation was announced was so disgusting such that the protest march by the students was spontaneous.
This is not however an isolated case. Indeed, the whole education policy of the Aregbesola government is characterized by unorganized and seemingly dictatorial approach reminiscent of the inglorious Bisi Akande administration. For instance, few days before the students’ protest, the government, through the deputy governor, in a meeting with primary and secondary school head-teachers, has issued what can be termed the most bizarre and dictatorial policy of the government. Many schools, more than half of the public schools, were to be closed down and merged with some other schools, with the pupils/students and their teachers expected to move to new schools. The policy is so ridiculous that students of a school are distributed over about two or more schools, with teachers not knowing where to go. Worse still, the government launched a virulent attack on the teachers denying them the right to seek transfer. Most of the schools the teachers and their pupils were relocated to had little or no infrastructures to sustain even their existing pupils/students population. With such a policy, many teachers and students will be sitting under trees.
The government of course hinged the policy on the fact that many of the schools have few pupils and students. While it may be true that some of the schools have witnessed reduction in their student population, the fact is that majority of these schools still have huge pupil/student population than the capacity of the schools, even with the decrepit buildings. Moreover, the fall in student population in some of these schools is itself a reflection of the chronic underfunding of education that has led to collapsed infrastructures and demoralized teaching staff among other factors. This has made many parents, even the poor ones, to take their wards to private schools, a good number of them which are sub-standard.
Another excuse of the government is that it wants to overhaul the school system vis-Å•-vis rebuilding schools, and re-arranging school structures. Accordingly, over 3, 000 classrooms were pulled down in various schools across the state by a government-appointed but undemocratically run committee nicknamed O’School. Furthermore, primary and junior secondary schools are to be merged in what the government tagged “intermediate” schools. The sum up of all this so-called reforms is total disorientation and disorganization of school system in the state, which if not properly handled is capable of completely shipwrecking the already sick education system in the state.
In the first instance, the dilapidated classrooms have not been replaced by new one; rather the government had undertaken a policy somersault by closing down many schools, without a viable alternative. Worse still, the so-called demolition was estimated to have cost over N300 million. Of course, the government is rebuilding some selected ten schools, which is welcome; but this is a token, and it should not be taken as a solution to the infrastructural problems facing education. Ten schools out of over 2, 150 schools are like a drop in the ocean. More so, if it takes government over two years to build ten schools, how many years will it take it to rebuild all the schools?
The government of course did some minimal programmes like procuring school uniforms to pupils of public schools, which is progressive, but this itself is not without question mark. The so-called free school uniform is sort of rip off. The N1 billion contract is given to a Lagos company, Sam and Sarah, thus denying local tailors of patronage leading to capital flight. While N1billion is used to procure uniforms, just N240 million is to be given to 5 tertiary institutions in the state in a year i.e. N5 million per school per month. This will lead to further commercialization of education. Already, fees in the state-owned polytechnics and colleges of education are between N40000 and N80000, while fees in the state owned university is as high as N100, 000. Most of the tertiary institutions including the state-owned university, UNIOSUN are already chronically deficit in needed facilities and infrastructures
Yes, free uniform is a good but this should not be done in a way to defraud the state. By establishing a medium-scale textile factory, secure and decent jobs for thousands will be created while saving hundreds of millions of naira. At least fractions of over N30 billion the governor claimed to have saved can conveniently do this if it is used judiciously.
While socialists will welcome any genuine effort at solving or mitigating any of the problems facing education, no matter how minimal, we are bound to point out the futility of a piece-meal approach based on capitalist logic. By capitalist logic, we mean education policy that is not democratically organized by the affected sections of the society â€“ teaching and non-teaching staff, students, parents, community, etc. We also mean an education policy, which is premised on awarding contracts to quench the profit thirst of big-time contractors and big business while giving token to the masses, as a way of courting their political favour. Nothing exemplify this than the fact that education workers, especially teachers and parents were merely made passive participants in the already planned government education policies, while unelected individuals and political sycophants, who have no direct role in the day-to-day running of education activities are made major policy makers and implementers. These individuals are only serving as conduit pipes for misdirecting the state resources under the guise of development. It is of course safe for a capitalist government to prevent workers, parents and communities from playing decisive roles, as involving them will expose the frauds inherent in the contract system of government.
Most schools lack basic facilities like laboratories, libraries, workshops, staff offices, etc. In fact most schools are unfenced and without sanitary facilities. In this kind of condition, it is be at best ridiculous to start the so-called ‘education reform’ with some bogus school rearrangement.
For us as socialists, the real reform in the education will mean that the real participants in the education sector such as teachers, education workers, labour movement, students, parents, retired teachers, education workers, and communities will be involved in the planning, execution and supervision of education policies, programmes and projects. More than this, such projects and policies will be aimed at total development of the other sectors of the economy. Genuine education reform will mean not just rebuilding of a handful of schools, but a complete plan of rebuilding and refurbishing of schools and school infrastructures. It will involve massive recruitment and constant retraining of teachers, adequate remuneration of workers, renovation of existing schools, and establishment of new ones, provision of basic and modern facilities in schools such as libraries, laboratories, sport facilities, etc. With this, it can be possible to attract tens of thousands of working and poor people’s children who have been forced to turn to mushrooming, mostly substandard private schools, which are only meant to satisfy the profit interests of their proprietors. The labour movement including the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) should be fighting for these programmes.
By deploring the human, material and natural resources of the society, these and other social services can be improved upon. For instance, by developing the public works department and employing thousands of able hands, the state can save huge amount from the contracting system that favour only a tiny rich few. Even by merely exploiting the landed resources of the state like sand, granites, etc, a lot can be saved from this. Moreover, by reducing the huge emoluments going to politicians in power, both appointed and elected, huge amount can be realized for various projects. With direct supervision and democratic involvement of workers, communities, students, bureaucracy and abuse of privilege in public service can be greatly reduced. With this approach, it can be possible to improve conditions of schools and the education sector in general, on democratic planning basis.
This however presupposes that the government is run on democratic socialist basis, and not on capitalist profit-first basis as is being witnessed currently in the state. Therefore, despite the grandstanding and piecemeal policies of the Aregbesola government, the education reform will not be fundamentally different from the old dark eras of the military and the two civilian regimes of Bisi Akande/AD and Oyinlola/PDP. At best, it will give a fake impression of a working government but will not, in the long run effect any fundamental change in the condition of education in the state. This is why the working people need their own party, which will put genuine reform needed for massive development of great minds on the front banner. The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN) is formed to fight for and implement revolutionary programmes in the education sector as part of the holistic development of social services, infrastructures and the society. We enjoin the working and oppressed people to join us in this task.