ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE FAILURE OF THE POLICY
ERC Calls on the Osun State Government to Reverse the Policy Immediately
ERC Stands Against Religious Division But for A United Campaign to Resist School Mergers
The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) hereby calls on the Osun State Government to immediately reverse its counter-productive policy of school closure and merger. We make this call moreso now that evidence shows that the policy threatens to lead to religious tension and chaos. Indeed in certain towns and villages of Osun State, this policy which consists of arbitrary closure and merger of schools could provoke ethnic tension and crisis. In recent times, Osun state people have been known to live together in peace and harmony. Any government policy that seeks to unsettle this state of affairs have to be vehemently resisted.
We must quickly point out that as a group involved in education campaigns over the last 10 years, the ERC is very much aware that to revamp Nigeria's collapsed and degenerate public education system, radical, painful and perhaps inconvenient changes and alterations might be necessary. However this has to be done by democratically involving people in the debates leading to such decisions. This is missing in the Osun state school reclassification policy which is why the ERC considers the policy as undemocratic. Before the policy was announced, the real representatives of the stakeholders in the schools like teachers, parents, students and communities were consulted. When consultations were eventually done, it was after the policy had been announced and they were done in such a way that it was obvious that the government had already made up its mind.
The ERC however frowns at the seven-day ultimatum issued by the Osun State branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) over the merger of schools by the Aregbesola-led Osun state government. While we welcome and are prepared to work with every genuine opposition to the bankrupt and chaotic education policy of the state government, especially as relating to unwarranted merger of schools, we are totally opposed to dividing the mass of the working people on the basis of religion.
Worth stating also is the fact that the religious degeneration of the issue confirms the bankruptcy of this merger policy, which adds nothing but chaos to education in the state. This is made worse by the undemocratic manner this merger policy is being implemented without democratic discussion and agreement by most stakeholders including teachers, students, parents and communities.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Osun state is opposing the merger of Muslim students with former Christian missionary schools, while also calling for the maintenance of the archaic and divisive colonial heritage of the missionary schools. This aside reversing the gains of public education system, may also degenerate the overwhelming anger against the obnoxious education policy of the state government into religious crisis. For instance, one can only imagine what will happen if groups of another religious faith take a different position to that of CAN. This can lead to unnecessary cacophony, which will give government opportunity to divert genuine agitation to selfish end.
Also, we are totally opposed to the position of the CAN which tends to suggest that public schools, already taken over from private missionary owners are still under the ownership and control of church and religious groups. This is an attempt to suggest that these schools can still be returned to former church owners who had been fully compensated when the schools were taken over by the government. This will be mere privatization of education at the expense of millions of working class pupils and students. This will be worse than even the current merger chaos the government is introducing. Evidence of horrible results of handover of public schools to former missionary schools are visible in states such as Anambra. Besides, the outrageous fees charged by virtually all faith-based private schools at all levels have made them beyond the reach of the ordinary people including members of the congregation. We are also perturbed that the Osun State CAN is only concerned about the religious aspect and not the untold hardship this merger policy will mean for parents, students and teachers. This is clearly one-sided.
However, it needs to be pointed that this religious degeneration of the issue further confirms the outright failure of the school merger and reclassification policy of the Osun State government. This policy has only created chaos and crisis in the education system in the state with rising drop in school attendance and rise in truancy rate among pupils of both the primary and secondary school pupils across the state. This is largely due to the placement of the new schools at long distance from the residence of the students and transfer of students schooling at schools close to their neigbourhoods to schools which are very far from their residence. Many schools are already short of facilities like furniture and enough classrooms due to this merger, as schools where students are diverted are themselves in decrepit state. Moreover, this crisis is causing avoidable loggerhead in schools.
Instead of further accelerating illiteracy across the state, we of the ERC contend that Osun State government should concentrate its efforts into renovating and expanding the existing schools and furnishing them with libraries and laboratories. We also demand building of new schools to cater for influx of private school students, who will be attracted by genuine improvement in public education. Contrary to this, the government has only jettisoned reason by playing to the gallery in demolishing over several schools for mere 30 poorly-furnished and insufficient "modern-day" structures. This is already reversing the little gains in education.
What is urgently needed is a mass united campaign against the obnoxious education policy of the Aregbesola regime. Working people across Osun State must be prepared to build united action committees of parents, pupils, teachers and community people, irrespective of their religious or ethnic persuasion, to organize mass protest rallies to demand the reversal of the policy. This must also be linked to the demand for democratic running of the schools by elected representatives of the parents, teachers and the communities.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary