A major lesson from these developments is the need for governments to seek the cooperation of stakeholders and, as much as possible, to base policies on citizens’ needs and demands, rather than on what is considered by politicians to be beneficial to the people, no matter how well intentioned. This is especially true of policies, such as education policies…

If my party believes there are areas which I ought not to have done or which I would have done differently, the party will adequately inform Ileri Oluwa, and he would do so. So, expect him to do things differently. — former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, now federal minister of Interior, during the 2018 governorship campaign in support of the present governor, Gboyega Oyetola.

If it is the yearning of the majority of the people that we should reconsider any policy… we would look at it. — Governor Gboyega Oyetola (then APC governorship candidate), responding to the question during the governorship debate in 2018, on whether he would scrap the common school uniform, if he became the governor.

A government appointed Review Committee recently suggested broad changes to several education policies in the State of Osun. The changes affect school uniforms; the reclassification, mixing, merging, and renaming of schools; the management of the Model High Schools; early childhood education; and the structure of the Ministry of Education.

Nevertheless, one of the signature policies retained by the Committee is the innovative Opon Imo, otherwise known as the Tablet of Knowledge. I will return to this later.

In the meantime, it is important to place the recent changes within the appropriate historical and political contexts. The policies being changed now were introduced by the immediate past administration, led by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, now the federal minister of Interior.

Two major factors motivated the policies at that time. One, educational achievement was very low when he came on board in 2010, requiring immediate intervention. The need to raise educational standards in the state became a prime motivator for the new policies.

Two, many of the new policies were driven by the dual need to provide employment and training for Osun youths, while also generating income for the State. For example, the construction of Model Schools provided immediate employment for construction workers, while the Garment Factory provided both employment and training. Similarly, school feeding provided employment for caterers and nutrition for school kids in the vulnerable 6-9 age grades.

As it is the case with most innovations, many of the policies met with resistance. As indicated in the opening quotes, both Aregbesola and the present governor, Gboyega Oyetola, anticipated these changes. A major reason for this anticipation is that the policies were being criticised, even as they were being implemented. For example, alumni associations of several secondary schools opposed the renaming, mixing, or merging of their schools. Some, including Ilesa Grammar School, my alma mater, even went to court.

Neither the past nor the present administration was oblivious to these criticisms. After all, the core of the Oyetola administration today is a carry-over from the immediate past Aregbesola administration. This includes Oyetola himself, who was then the chief of staff; the present chief of staff, who was then the director general of the Office of Economic Development and Partnerships. In addition, the commissioners for Finance, Health, as well as Budget and Economic Planning, all retained their former portfolios.

The question, then, is: Why these changes now, when the present administration is a continuation of the previous one?

As indicated above, the agitation for change preceded the present administration and endured during the governorship campaign, when the voters knew that a new administration was coming on board. It was this agitation that led ace political reporter, Seun Okinbaloye, to pose the above question to Oyetola during the governorship debate.

Oyetola’s response notwithstanding, he did not just wake up one morning to change the policies. He went about it methodically, employing a bottom-up approach, and he spent over a year doing that. First, shortly after becoming governor, he embarked on a Thank-You tour across the State. As it is to be expected, the people seized the opportunity to make several demands, including changes to several education policies.

Not done, Oyetola invited the U.K.’s Department for International Development to conduct a Citizens Needs Assessment for the State. I attended the presentation of the findings and also read the full report. In local government after local government, the citizens agitated for one change or the other in the education policies of the State.

Armed with these data, the Ministry of Education interviewed various stakeholders on their reactions. According to its report of these interviews, there were overwhelming requests for a thorough review of the education policies.

It was at this point that the governor set up an internal committee, headed by the deputy governor, to review all requests for changes in the education policies. It was this committee that distilled the various requests into eleven critical ones. The governor subsequently presented the eleven requests to a Technical Committee for its recommendations.

The Committee recommended changes across the board, save for Opon Imo. Rather than scrap it, the Committee recommended retooling the tablet for cost effectiveness. It further recommended the cooperation of critical stakeholders, especially parents and teachers; streamlining production and distribution; and exploring an alternative power source, such as solar energy.

In retooling the tablet, established makers of cheap tablets, such as Amazon and especially Xiaomi (whose products run on Android) could be considered. Textbooks and other content materials could be written and downloaded locally.

The Committee noted several problems with the education policies. One, although the springboard for the new policies was an Education Summit led by Professor Wole Soyinka in 2011, there was insufficient stakeholder engagement in driving them. There were also some lapses in the implementation, which became an albatross for some of the policies.

Two, the common school uniform for all schools made it difficult to identify pupils or students with particular schools, especially where there were security breaches. It is unclear whether the Review Committee ever considered the possibility of adding labels such as badges to distinguish between schools, as in the United Kingdom. Beyond the problem of identification, there was also the problem of discontinuity: For financial reasons, the policy of free uniforms was discontinued, thus creating room for reconsideration of the uniforms and their cost to the parents.

Three, the merging, mixing, and renaming of schools irked many alumni associations, whose members could no longer identify with their old schools. In a number of cases, some renamed or mixed schools retained their old names in the records of the West African Examinations Council. There were cases of boys whose WAEC certificates placed them in Girls Schools, leading to suspicion of fraud.

Four, the reclassification of grades into a four-year Elementary, five-year Middle, three-year High, and four-year Higher education system is viewed as a violation of the National Policy of Education, which adopts a 6-3-3-4 system. Although this departure from the national norm was an administrative strategy to separate school-fed kids in Primaries 1-4, from those in Primaries 5 and 6, it nevertheless opens the state to criticism.

Such a departure from the national norm now appears unnecessary, since the federal government now supports feeding children in Primaries 1-3 within the existing 6-3-3-4 system. This may be the way to go for Osun State, given its limited financial resources.

Five, the suspension of Early Childhood Care Development Education led to grave consequences, including stoppage of grants from the federal government and UNICEF for this education tier. Parents were forced to take their children to private schools, with little or no government supervision.

However, the challenge for Aregbesola was not limited to criticisms of the new policies and their implementation. Improvement in educational outcome lagged behind the huge investment in the sector. Had his policies translated to significant improvement in educational outcome, perhaps the need for change would have been limited.

This leads to the critical question of whether a return to the pre-Aregbesola status quo will lead to improvement in educational outcome. This remains to be seen but one thing is sure: The recommended changes in uniforms, naming, classification, and so on, have little or nothing to do with the substance of education. Therefore, implementing these changes cannot transform educational outcome as such.

Clearly, then, the pressure now is on Oyetola to move beyond surface structure to content and process, by investing in curricular reform, teacher recruitment, capacity building, ICT training, library and laboratory equipment, and more effective instructional delivery methods. He should also learn from the mistakes of the past by carrying relevant stakeholders along during the implementation of policies which affect them directly.

A major lesson from these developments is the need for governments to seek the cooperation of stakeholders and, as much as possible, to base policies on citizens’ needs and demands, rather than on what is considered by politicians to be beneficial to the people, no matter how well intentioned. This is especially true of policies, such as education policies, which touch on people’s lives and their future.

Niyi Akinnaso, chairman and CEO of Professorial Associates, writes from Akure, Ondo State.