Gov. Amosun, it’s time to eat the humble pie

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 Olabisi Deji-Folutile

It’s very easy to conclude that any man that dumps the responsibility of taking care of his household on   the society and goes about wining and dining as if he has no care in the world is irresponsible. But it’s amazing how the story changes when those perceived to be irresponsible are people in power, especially people that think they wield absolute powers to do and undo as their imperial majesties please.

That is when one begins to hear different interpretations of a word as simple as irresponsibility. A very simple analysis is subjected to complexity and all sorts of interpretations and conjunctions come to the fore. This is what happened in Ogun State a couple of days back when a simple summary passage highlighting government’s irresponsibility in the education sector was turned to something else.

 
 

   According to reports, Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State took a swipe at some school officials for setting   what he described as an offensive English Language question for   public schools’ students in the state. The   question   was a summary passage in the State Unified Examination.

The summary passage indicated that in spite of the money being spent on the education sector, there was little or no impact on the people. It noted that schools run by government had lost their prestige, forcing parents to withdraw their children and sending them to private schools that are better managed. For highlighting an obvious phenomenon that the students could easily relate with, angry Governor Amosun   sacked all the top education officials involved in setting the question. To him, the workers were trying to bite the finger that fed them and therefore deserved no mercy.

I guess this level of abuse of power can only happen in a country like Nigeria. Here, leaders are seen as lords and masters, emperors, kings and rulers whose authority is unquestionable.

In all sincerity, I can’t see the difference between a government that impoverishes its people and is half committed to its responsibilities and a man who thinks his major task in life is to give birth to children that someone else would train for him. Nigerian leaders waste millions of naira on self-aggrandisement and do not care if the people they govern go hungry for days. In fact, we have become accustomed to being short-changed to the point that we celebrate mediocrity and call it excellence.

A look at statistics of private schools in comparison with government schools in Ogun State   clearly validates the summary question that Governor Amosun is complaining about. Ogun State has a total of 4,137 primary schools and of this figure, the government controls 1,490 while the remaining 2,647 are privately owned. And out of its 1,156 secondary schools, 474 are owned by government while 682 are privately -owned.

It is no longer news that the best schools in Nigeria especially at the primary and secondary school levels are privately owned. Enrolment in public schools is dwindling every day while private schools are increasing.

The situation is so bad that the country does not even have the figure of its private schools. Statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics only indicate that there were   54,434 public primary schools and 7,129 junior schools in the country in 2006. But a lot of people know that private schools are much higher in number. They are almost in every corner, especially in the country’s   major towns and cities.

Whether Governor Amosun likes it or not, the fact remains that many of these private schools offer a higher quality of education. They have better physical infrastructure and are better equipped than the public schools. Their teachers are better paid and more motivated to work. Their products perform better in external examinations and are admitted to top universities. Whereas products of public schools rarely do well in external examinations.

You know a serious country by the attention it gives to the education of its people. Government remains the major provider of primary and secondary education in countries like Australia, the UK and the US to mention just a few. Even in Ghana,   government is still substantially responsible for providing education at primary and secondary school levels.

There are 24,372 schools in England. This includes nursery schools, state funded primary schools, state funded secondary schools, special schools, pupil referral units and independent or what we call private schools in Nigeria. But according to Good Schools Guide, only nine per cent of children being educated in the UK are doing so at fee-paying schools at GSCE level and 13 per cent at A Level. And unlike what obtains in Nigeria, enrolment in government schools is increasing in the UK   with 32,471 more pupils enrolled in public schools in the 2013/2014 academic session.

In Australia,   government is the main provider of quality education for its citizens. In 2014, 2,406,495 students representing 65.1 per cent of student population in the country, were in government owned schools compared to 1,287,606 students (34.9 per cent) attending non-government schools, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In Ghana, private sector share in schools at the primary, junior high schools and senior high schools, according to GH Teachers, is 24.5 per cent, 25.1 per cent and 26.4 per cent respectively.

Worldwide, education is seen as a public good. That is why advanced nations of the world prioritise and invest heavily in it. Wise nations believe that their wealth is a function of the quality of education they provide for their people.

As much as possible, they ensure that quality primary and secondary education is not only available but free to encourage literacy. They know that investment in education is advantageous in the long run, because, education among others, helps people in making better life choices which ultimately reduce pressure on governments.

And when you find private primary and secondary schools burgeoning at the expense of the public ones in any society, it is a sign that government is abdicating its responsibilities.

We all know how once upon a time public primary schools were the best in Nigeria. But this soon became history as the rot in the sector went on for a long time unchecked. Then only the children of the rich could afford private primary schools. But as the rot continued unabated, more private primary schools sprang up. Parents and guardians started sending their children and wards to private primary schools. Not long after, the rot caught up with public secondary schools and private secondary schools took over. It became so bad that even the poorest of the poor would struggle to send their children to private schools even if the schools are substandard and manned by half-literates.

I recall a particular documentary on substandard public schools in Lagos which at a time had more enrolment than the state public schools simply because people had more confidence in them than in the so-called government schools.

Now, private universities are gradually taking over from public universities .Of the 147 universities in the country,   61 are private universities, 40 owned by states and 46 by the Federal Government. Facilities in public universities are being overstretched day by day. And in spite of the rise in enrolment figures, infrastructure are rarely upgraded.

No one is saying government alone should handle education especially at the tertiary level, but it seems to me that government at all levels is too eager to surrender its duties. This attitude can’t take us far as a nation.   It won’t come as a surprise   if our public universities, like our primary schools, become objects of scorn in another 10 years from now. Today, our public primary schools mainly cater for orphans or maids who can’t afford anything better.

The rot in Nigeria’s public primary and secondary schools calls for urgent attention. Government should provide well -equipped laboratories, learning tools and upgrade infrastructure in these schools.

So, rather than grandstanding and abusing executive powers, Governor Amosun should thank the sacked examiners for   innocently telling him what he ought to have known. He should   recall the workers and critically assess the education sector in the state with a view to making it better. He should work on restoring the glory of public schools in the state.   After all, as it is, Governor Amosun is not likely to send any of his children to any of Ogun State’s public schools. Late Chief Bola Ige as governor of Oyo State and former governor Lateef Jakande of Lagos State sent their kids to public schools. There is no reason why that can’t happen again.

If Amosun won’t send his own children to Ogun schools, he should at least make them decent enough for those who can’t afford to send their children anywhere else but these schools for now.

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