By Dayo Johnson
THE ripples generated byrecommendations at the just-concluded two-day 2017 Education Summit organised by the Ondo State Government may take a long time to settle. Over 2,000 stakeholders met and came up with 19 points recommendations. But only two of the recommendations drew the ire of majority of the people of the civil service state.
They are that free education in secondary schools be scrapped while tuition be increased in tertiary institutions. It was like pulling the tiger’s tail as the people rose to shoot down the two sensitive issues. The people’s fear has its root in the submission of the governor who openly declared during the opening ceremony that his administration would follow to the letter, the recommendations of the eggheads at the summit in as much as it will reposition education in the state.
Even the state House of Assembly toed the populist path by asking the state government “not to implement the recommendations until it is fully debated by the legislative arm who are the elected representatives of the people. The Deputy Majority Leader of the House of Assembly and Chairman, House Committee on Education, Segun Ajimotokin, assured the people that the Assembly will not keep silent on the issue and will not abandon them.
The two vexed recommendations
Ajimotokin added that government has been asked not to ratify the recommendations until they have been ratified by the Assembly. Many had believed that the idea of an education summit was pre-determined to take some drastic actions that will reposition education in the state but did not envisage that the two vexed recommendations would shoot down the lofty idea. In fact, the question on every lip across the state presently is this: ‘why would Akeredolu who hails from Owo and benefited from free education initiated in the old Western Region by another Owo indigene, the former governor, the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin, want to shoot down the policy?’
However, to be fair to Akeredolu, times have changed and if truly functionality is to be achieved in the education sector, its funding cannot be left solely in the hands of government except we want to deceive ourselves. Also, the Education Commissioner Femi Agagu had said this to say: “The Summit is just the first step in the consultation process. The conversation is still on. Let me assure that this government will not impose any decision on the people and the Governor’s speech made that very clear.”
Some fundamental posers raised by the governor during the opening ceremony of the education summit that supported the argument that government was over-burdened by the policy occasioned by the dwindling economy include: “This Summit is designed to address the manifest gaps discernible in the system. It is expected that realistic solutions will be proffered at the end of the engaging interactions from the galaxy of intellectuals arrayed to deliberate on the current challenges.
“The main thrust of this discourse is basic to the survival of any society. We must be frank in our deliberations to proffer workable solutions to the parasitic system which exacts so much from the society with progressively vanishing hope of recompense. It is heart-corroding to note that our state, which was the envy of all other states in the field of education, now parades vestigial relics of that glorious past. Virtually all public schools are in a sorry state. No serious society allows such pervasive decadence in its system and expects progress.
“The fact that the Government is seen as the main provider of employment for the citizens confirms the state of monumental failure of the current system. The practices associated with the sector cannot lead to real development.”
Akeredolu’s posers that may have formed the template for the two supposed vexed recommendations were these: “Who bears the cost of educating our citizens in the face of dwindling fortunes? Can resources of the state sustain the current ostentatious practices such as payment of WAEC 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?
Should we continue to pretend that education is free at all levels while sundry fees are charged by operators and nothing enters the coffers of the State for maintenance? Should we maintain our mega schools and allow the progressive degeneration of existing structures in our public primary and secondary schools? What should be the correct attitude of all stakeholders in the face of these challenges?
“Should the Government return schools to faith-based organisations? In what specific ways should interventions come from civil society organizations? What should be the appropriate structure which will culminate in the desired end? What should be the role of government in all these? Should it be content with its regulatory role while providing all the resources? What programmes of training will assist in arresting the free fall into the abyss of infamy?
“I leave us to ruminate on these posers as we proceed in our deliberations. I should be most delighted and this administration would be eternally grateful to every participant present if this Summit can resolve sundry posers, such as funding, roles of parents and guardians, curriculum, recruitment, training and deployment of teachers, the school environment, right of the child to be educated, responsibility of government at state and local levels, the expectations of the State and the people of Ondo State on institutions which gulp considerable chunk of their resources without any discernible dividends and other matters ancillary to the issue.”
Observers believe that once the body language of the initiator of the summit showed that the state was biting more that it could chew, all they needed do was to lift the burden off his shoulder hence the vexed recommendations. For two days, the over 2000 stakeholders brainstormed and came up with the 19 recommendations via a communiqué signed by the Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Steve Awosika.
Recommendations in the communiqué
Some of the recommendations include the following: “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.
“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. •The issue of Education funding is too important to be left in the hands of Government alone if we must achieve functionality in education. It must be the business of all stakeholders. •The issue of return of schools to their original owners requires further engagement amongst stakeholders in order to arrive at amicable and workable solution.
“•Mega schools in the state should be put into more functional,optimal and better use by government to address the current state of underutilisation of some of them. •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 learner-friendly and that the state government should recruit teachers to fill all relevant vacancies in public primary and secondary schools.”
Hours after the communiqué was made public, mixed reactions dogged the two vexed recommendations of scrapping of free education and increase in tuition fees in tertiary institutions across the state. Not comfortable with the backlash, the Information Commissioner, Yemi Olowolabi, issued a statement to clarify government’s position on the recommendations of the education summit. Olowolabi said that “the communiqué from the summit is as a result of the summary of the views of all the stakeholders in the education sector in the state. “Over 2,000 stakeholders, drawn from all walks of life, including teachers, parents, PTAs, faith-based organisations, ANCOPPS, VCs, NUT, SUBEB, UNICEF and ASUU among several others, participated in the two-day summit.”
“That, it is expected that at the end of any summit, there is a communiqué, but it should be noted that the communiqué from the summit is not yet the position of government or government policy.
“Expectedly, the state Commissioner for Education, whose ministry organised the summit, will ultimately present the Communiqué to State Executive Council (SEC), where every point in it will be thoroughly discussed and debated before government takes a position. Therefore, the flurry of criticism and commendations that have greeted the release of the communiqué are hasty and premature. Government wishes to state that it has not abolished free education in Ondo State and asks to remain calm until the SEC appraises all the points raised in the communiqué.
However, the State Chairman and National Vice-President of the Parents Teachers Association, Alhaji Abimbola Omoloja, has said the association would not support the idea of parents paying the tuition for their children.