Focus  

Ondo’s new education policy and future of indigent students

Ondo State Governor, Mr Oluwarotimi Akeredolu


It is no longer news that the Ondo State government is planning to charge parents for enrolling their wards in public secondary schools and review the fees charged in its tertiary institutions as the economy bites harder and it owes its workers. The Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, writes about the effect this may have on students and parents alike.

Education in Ondo State may not be the same again following an announcement by the state government that secondary school education will no longer be free. For discerning minds, the ominous news was apparent when on October 26, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu asked two rhetorical questions while giving a speech at the opening ceremony of the state’s 2017 Education Summit held at the International Event Centre, Akure, the state capital.

“Who bears the cost of educating our citizens in the face of dwindling fortunes? Can the resources of state sustain the current ostentatious practices, such as the payment of the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination {WASSCE) fees, free bus shuttle programme, maintenance of over-bloated workforce with no discernible schedules of responsibilities, duplication of disciplines in our tertiary institutions, among others?” the governor had queried.

To Akeredolu, education in Ondo State is in a deplorable state and there is the need to reform the sector. But observers of the education sector in the state noted that this has always not been so under the administration of former Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who left office not long ago.

   
In December 2016, the then Senior Special Assistant on Public Communication to Mimiko, Taoheed Ajao, made a telling statement that the current administration might have missed or ignored.

“The Mimiko administration has bequeathed legacy projects in Ondo (State) which non-continuation may provoke restiveness. Mimiko has emplaced a development trajectory the reversal of which may be difficult to effect; he has defined the state after his vision of governance. Mimiko’s critics must contend with the historical perspective of his tenure which may not necessarily be in tandem with their perception of him as a friend, ally or governor.. History is written on stubborn facts and does not have much room for wishful thinking or, still unfolding events,” Ajao had said.
   
The investment in education by the previous administration caught the eye of the nation and the international community as it began a revolution of mega primary schools, quality education assurance agency and intensive structural and curricula upgrade in secondary schools.
 
Such measures made the state to move from the 33rd position in 2009 to the 7th position in 2016 in the WASSCE results. The former aide of Mimiko added, “Even though a similar scheme was cancelled in Oyo and Osun states because of sustainability challenges, the cancellation of the free Bus Shuttle in Ondo State, if ever contemplated after a four-year hitch-free operation, will likely generate disappointment for parents who save up to N15, 000 monthly on transport fares to and fro schools on their children. 
   
“The 3i-initiative projects, of which there are over 500, comprehensively spread out in the different local governments in the state cannot be discarded. Soon, the masses will realise that the administration of Mimiko has always employed a masses-centric view of development in Ondo which has, significantly, eroded his support and understanding in elitist quarters.”
   
About one year after his observation, the Akeredolu administration said there would be no free education for secondary school education to the chagrin of students and their parents.Akeredolu, however, noted that the state would continue to fund pupils in primary schools, adding that tertiary institutions in the state would have their tuitions reviewed.
   
This was contained in a communiqué issued and signed by the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Education, Steve Awosika, on Sunday at the end of the education summit.At the summit, it was agreed that education funding was too important to be left in the hands of the government alone.
   
“The government should fund education at the primary school level, while parents should be responsible for the education of their children at the secondary and tertiary levels. There should be a review of chargeable fees in the state’s tertiary institutions, in line with the needs of each school and the current economic realities. The issue of returning schools to their original owners requires further engagement among stakeholders in order to arrive at an amicable and workable solution,” the communiqué said.
   
The summit also resolved that government and other stakeholders should embark on aggressive renovation and reconstruction of dilapidated school structures in the state to make such schools learner-friendly.According to the participants, the Examination Ethics and Disciplinary Committee should be strengthened in the ministry of education and in schools to checkmate examination malpractice.
   
It added that a measurable parameter should be designed for the promotion of teachers, while a Teachers Biometric Attendance device should be designed to monitor class attendance and enhance productivity.It added, “The state government should recruit teachers to fill all relevant vacancies in public primary and secondary schools. The ministry should enforce the cancellation of automatic promotion of students in schools, while the conduct of the joint SS2 promotion examination should be sustained to present qualified candidates for the school certificate examination.”

   
It is apparent from the summit’s resolutions that the Mimiko legacy has failed. What will be the reaction of parents and students who have hitherto enjoyed such legacy of free education?
 
Shortly after the position of the government to introduce tuition in secondary schools was made public, students and parents alike kicked against the development.
   
To some of the parents whose children are in secondary schools, Akeredolu’s decision is a deliberate effort to aggravate the burdens they already bear in the face of the current economic recession.
 
“The Ondo State Government has yet to pay us five months’ salaries and in its wisdom has decided to compel us to pay school fees for our children in secondary schools. How can that be possible? Is he not adding to our problems? We understand that the primary responsibility of any government is to cater for the welfare and security of its citizens. Is it responsible for any government to act this way?” a civil servant in the state said.
 
Another parent, Mrs Adejoke Oni said, “The government should not ask parents to pay school fees for their children. For now, the state government owes us salaries and if it should stop paying tuition for secondary school pupils, it will compound our problems. Mr. Akeredolu should help us.”
   
Speaking on the development, the Ondo State Chairman and National Vice Pesident of the Parents Teachers Association, Abimbola Omoloja, said the association is studying the situation and will react accordingly to the issue later.
   
But he said concerning the introduction of school fees in secondary schools, “If such provision is there, we won’t accept it. We’ll consider what the communiqué say before we make the necessary step.”Education analysts observe that the introduction of tuition in the public school may lead to many indigent students missing classes and some others dropping out entirely.   According to them, the pupils will likely have to assist their parents or wards by hawking or engaging in some commercial activities in order to pay the tuition.
   
There are some homes, they noted, in which both parents are civil servants. They wonder how these ones will be able to afford the tuition when the state government owes them salaries.There are even homes that cannot afford to pay for their children to go to school.

How will they give their children any education in the current regime of Akeredolu?
Stakeholders at the summit had resolved, according to the communiqué, “That the issue of education funding is too important to be left in the hands of the government alone if we must achieve functionality in education. It must be the business of all stakeholders.“That there should be a review of chargeable fees in state’s tertiary institutions in line with the needs of each school and current economic realities.
   
“That the state government, philanthropists, old students associations, PTAs and corporate organisations should embark on aggressive renovation/reconstruction of dilapidated school structures to make such schools learners-friendly.Reiterating the need for the shift in paradigm, the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Femi Agagu, said,  “A cursory look at the state’s philosophy of education indicates that it is based on the development of individuals into sound and effective citizens and the provision of equal opportunities for all citizens of the state at the basic and tertiary levels, both within and outside the formal school system. This has brought the idea of organising a virile education summit that would proffer solutions to the identified problems in the sector.” 

It will be recalled that the previous administration began a tuition-free policy for primary and secondary schools in the state to make education accessible to all.Giving an insight on the initiative in 2014, Mimiko noted that there was the need to make public schools as good as private ones, if not better.

He had said, “We quickly realised that in this uneven kind of competition with private schools, the public school system, either at the primary or secondary education tier, produced students from poor homes, who never made it to any tertiary institution because of the manifest deficiency in their scholarship.

“The resultant effect of this inherently discriminatory system is that qualitative but free primary and secondary education in the state, became only a mental construct and catchy political sloganeering because in practice, only the rich could afford it.”
Mimiko’s aesthetic and functional mega schools became a hit to many in the state and across the country. 

The mega schools can accommodate 1,050 pupils for the Type-I; 525 pupils for the Type-II; and 225 pupils for the Type-III. The schools have computer rooms, music rooms, art galleries, clinics, demonstration farms, sports centres and are all adorned with the latest accouterments of modern in educational facilities.

But a lot has changed about those schools and there is the need to revamp the education system in that state, according to Akeredolu.
While the controversy rages, the state Commissioner for Information, Yemi Olowolabi clarified that resolutions from the summit were mere views, opinions and suggestions of participants and do not translate to a policy of government.Olowolabi said the Commissioner for Education, Femi Agagu would bring the report to the state executive council where it will be discussed, debated and appraised in the overall interest of Ondo people.

He said, “As at today, the resolution is not yet a policy of the government, is merely a summary of views expressed by participants.”Is this a deliberate attempt to reverse the policy of a previous government from another political party? Or, an attempt to re-write history? It may be too early in the day to conclude whether the decision to introduce tuition in secondary schools is the best gift the Ondo State government can give its long-suffering citizens during these hard times.

In this article:
Rotimi Akeredolu


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