Quote: “Government’s continuous control of these schools is simply a political expediency designed to impress the masses and lacking in actual substance”. – Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu

I have recently been thinking aloud, thinking about our children, about their education, about the future we are preparing for them, how effective our plans have been so far and the impact on the current crop of youth. I was at the 2017 Ondo Education Summit which held on the 26th and 27th of October, 2017 where I was privileged to chair one of the technical sessions. The experience was a refreshing one and the discourse has kept me wide awake with racing thoughts. This piece is my own way of contributing further to the discourse.
Professor Michael Omolewa in a 2007 presentation said “‎Educational reforms emanate from the basic conviction that considerable progress can be made in a nation by its people through careful engineering of the educational process”.
Reforming education is not an easy task, it must take care of all the relevant parameters such as; national needs, wider consultations, commitment, reliable data, practicability and sustainability all in the quest for development to achieve desirable outcomes useful to the society. The process of education reforms must match modern scientific and technological innovations for it to remain relevant to both learner and the nation. It also takes years for any meaningful education reform to yield results. Nigeria as a nation, has had its fair share of education reforms preceding independence and like every other sector of the nation it has continued to evolve amidst serious challenges.
When in the 1970s, the Federal Military Government by military decree took over the administration of schools from faith based institutions. Without a plan or clear cut policy, they used poor funding, poor facilities and teacher unavailability as excuses for their decision, desiring to bring the educational sector up to the same level as international counterparts. Policy formulation though, is not the problem, as with most things post-independence, implementation has proven to be a herculean challenge for the Nigerian Government. Consider the free Universal Primary Education which was launched in 1976 but the policy on education itself appeared in 1977, one year later, there is bound to be confusion in implementation.‎ In the case of the Universal Primary Education, government’s take-over of faith based schools had no clear cut policy direction on paper let alone an appropriate plan for implementation. This was done in the absence of sound information or valid data to implement the take-over of mission owned schools and assumed full financial responsibility of running the scheme throughout the country. This was similar to many policies and decrees made during military rule; taken by fiat and hurriedly implemented using the routine fire brigade approach that was characteristic of the military era.
The fact remains that Government’s take-over of the faith based schools was poorly thought, ill-conceived and haphazardly implemented. The parochial purpose of the proponent of the scheme, as I stated was an attempt at buying into the excuse ‎of poor funding of faith based schools for the sole trajectory of promoting dictatorial policies, without considering the sustainability of the scheme in the long run.
In present day Ondo state for instance, public school attendance has grown to 800,000 students, where enrolment in primary and secondary school is about 500,000 and 300,000 respectively with a total number of 18,420 teachers are on the state payroll; 8,222 in primary schools and 10,198 in secondary schools. The state also has about 1,445 public schools to cater for in her budget.
The foregoing statistics put an average of 554 students per public school and a student to teacher ratio of 43 to 1, which is alarmingly above the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommended ratio. The State can reduce the level of overcrowding in our public school system, tackle infrastructural decay and invest more in public establishments if it reduces the number of schools it is currently responsible for. They can return some of the schools to faith based organisations or make a conducive environment for them to establish schools which they would be responsible for and would increase competition and standard of education.
Ondo state, with a required budgetary allocation of 26% for the educational sector, a total of N38.3billion has been expended on public schools from 2013 to 2016 with nearly 80% of this figure spent on recurrent expenses leaving just 20% for capital projects. Coupled with an overwhelming recurrent wage bill in the civil service, a high debt burden and fast dwindling revenue in the face of a harsh national economic climate, the enormous responsibility Government took in respect of the programme cannot be effectively sustained.
The financial burden has become too great for government alone to carry. The resultant effect of this is very glaring and our failing educational standards are audible even unto the deaf. The return of these schools to faith based organisations will eliminate the back and forth funding manoeuvring that has become characteristic of our educational sector, closing this funding gaps will help accelerate the rapid improvement in the quality of education offered, thereby leading to an overall improvement in the standard of our graduates.
Sensing the obvious weakness of the scheme, the Federal government under the leadership of Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1979 constitution placed primary education under the joint control of the state and local government. This strategy was aimed at reducing the financial burden of funding on the part of the Federal government and shifting it to the states which barely had enough resources to keep its wage bill alive. The truth remains that States can no longer fund primary and secondary education effectively hence the need to return these schools back to their rightful owners who are willing and competent enough to run these schools effectively. Government’s continuous control of these schools is simply a political expediency designed to impress the masses and lacking in actual substance.
If this return policy is successfully implemented, of the 304 public secondary schools in the State, 71 of these schools which are faith based would be returned to the missions and 233 left in government’s control. While a total of 688 schools out of 1,141 public primary schools would be handed over to the missions with 453 left for the government to carter for. This would result in a drastic change in the facilities of both the mission owned and public schools as there will be enough resources to carter for their infrastructural needs effectively. Also, parents who for a very long time have longed for their wards to be raised within the religious setting would be afforded the opportunity to do so.
In a society where moral insanity has become a priceless possession, the need to raise our children with good values has become imperative. There is no gainsaying that faith based authorities come in second to none in offering sound moral values at both the primary and secondary levels, which forms the foundation on which the child’s future pursuit is enshrined. The recent increase in crime rate in our state can attest to the fact that there is a sharp decline in morality amongst children and these failing standards are potential landmines that need to be seriously addressed. The implication of the acceptance of these failing standards is interchangeable with the fast eroding moral structure of our public schools system. It is in this frame of confusion that religious leaders, especially those who received core conservational training while growing up, easily take recourse to playing the Praetorian Guard in whose custody the holy grail of moral sanity is eternally preserved.‎ Returning these schools back to faith based authority will help arrest this situation.
There needs to be an adequate and efficient monitoring, evaluation and disciplinary scheme that would promote and ensure sound and effective service delivery in schools and would allow for better, more efficient execution of existing facilities in the remaining Government owned schools. This will be a welcome development for both the government and the public as educational standards would definitely improve and be stabilised in the following years. Ondo State must learn to plan its education policies and implement them with commitment and sense of direction for the greater good of all its citizens. Returning these schools back to their faith based owners if followed through will prove to be the panacea of repeatedly failed educational reforms in Ondo state.

Disclaimer : This article is solely the opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of the Ondo state government, the Ministry of Education or the thinking within education policy makers circle in Ondo State.