By Sesugh Akume
At Seyi Makinde, the new Oyo governor’s inauguration he among other pronouncements canceled the 3,000 naira education levy in the state, he says this would help absorb the 400,000 out-of-school children in school. I knew right there and then that he didn’t know what he was saying. Two weeks on, in response to critics who raised concerns about the of the costing entire endeavour, he says it’s just 1.2 billion annually, which the state can conveniently come up with. Now I’m sure he doesn’t know what he’s saying or doing.
In the first place, what does he want; to simply absorb out-of-school children in school, or he also cares about the quality of education they’d be getting? What is the state of education in Oyo presently? Absorbing 400,000 children can’t be only about the money. Certainly, it can’t cost just 1.2 billion naira only. For starters, Oyo is 1 of the 28 states in the country which didn’t recruit a single teacher in the primary school system since 2015. It’s also 1 of 26 states that didn’t recruit a single secondary school teacher since 2015. Clearly as things are, the number of teachers in the state is inadequate. This is just the number, not the quality yet. Education experts say by far the most important factor in quality education at the basic level is centered around the teacher; it’s estimated at 70%. Absorbing 400,000 schoolchildren means recruiting 10,000 teachers, at 40 learners per teacher, assuming each class has 40 schoolchildren with 1 teacher. Is anyone looking at recruiting 10,000 teachers and paying them?
Where will the 400,000 schoolchildren be learning? This is 10,000 more classrooms. Right now many schools are overcrowded, especially in the rural areas. What will it cost to build 10,000 classrooms, and how long?
I’m aware that 3,000 naira could make a whole difference and could be the reason for a child being out of school. No child should be out of school, for any reason. Therefore, any effort to get them absorbed in school is something all should support. Whereas I’m all for government ensuring that every citizen gets basic education at no cost, free of charge, I’m not very excited about making it absolutely free. This is dangerous.
There’s a school in Lagos where parents pay their children’s school fees with sacks of pep bottles. They may not have cash, but they can help the environment by getting as many pep bottles as they can. Same can be for the children in Oyo. They have to be taught from a young age that ‘there’s no free lunch in Freetown.’ There’s no such thing as ‘free education’. Their parents must be made to appreciate this too, and help contribute to this end.
Clearly, education is expensive, and somebody is paying. Everybody needs to appreciate this. We don’t want to raise yet another entitled generation. If parents don’t have 3,000 naira, why not engage them, make them productive, let them earn the 3,000 naira to pay. For instance, tree planting. What if Oyo had a system whereby the state provides trees to be planted, planting and nurturing one is 50 naira. Every child gets to plant and nurture 60 per year. But they won’t be paid in cash, but with 50 naira vouchers, 60 of them is an equivalent of 3,000 naira. One hundred thousand children (and/or their parents) planting and nurturing 60 trees each is 6 million trees. I won’t go into the benefits of trees, and tree planting, please google it.
Six million trees a year has immense, innumerable benefits. A value that can’t be ignored. That’s a win-win situation. The children pay for their school to show some commitment, reciprocate the kind gestures of the free education they’re getting, they learn responsibility, the state also greens its environment, preserves its today and tomorrow.
Most of us have heard the cliché, ‘The policies are good, the problem is with the implementation.’ This is a fallacy. Above is an example of such. The policy of getting children in school is good. Further to that, nothing else was properly done. How can it succeed? If it fails what do we blame, the implementation?
We need far more than sweet words and platitudes. We need to go beyond exciting pronouncements to dig deep, do the unexciting work, to really make things happen; turn things around. It’s what we need. Not populist pronouncements.