time out! Governor Segun Oni

TIME OUT, GOVERNOR ONI! BY J. CHUMA OKOYE
I read with concern the report on the reaction of the governor of Ekiti State Mr. Segun Oni to the lingering crisis of performance of school pupils. Although I am taken aback by the solution he proposes, I must first acknowledge the governor’s courage. It takes courage to open that discussion and even more courage to take on the monster that bedevils education instead of pretending to be on top of things.
For academics, it is often frustrating trying to figure out why stakeholders cannot see in its simplicity, the problems that hold down our education sector. Sometimes, we are quite convinced that they see them but shy away. Some make up new indefensible hypotheses that fall apart even before scrutiny. At the last convocation of Tai Solarin University of Education Ijebu Ode, I squirmed in my seat as the Pro-Chancellor of the institution (a former VC of Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye whose students besieged the State House of Assembly in their numbers and would not go until he was removed from office) laboured to explain that education is not free anywhere in the world. Whereas there is an argument that education cannot be free inasmuch as someone is paying for what people would get at no charge, it is erroneous to use that as an excuse for mind-blowing school fees. Leaving the semantics aside, what needs to be said is that a government may decide to provide full or part education for its people and pay for it. If you call it free education or some other nomenclature, it is by the way. That is what a manifesto declares to attract the electorate in a place where democracy makes sense. We not have to look far to find an example of this. Being a beneficiary of the Unity Party of Nigeria’s Free Education Policy in 1979, I received books and stationery. I saw children go to school who would not have dared to appear before the school gates for poverty. Repeatedly, I have read of people who still remain grateful to Obafemi Awolowo for his free education stance. For anyone to stand on the same soil where Obafemi Awolowo actualized free education and within only miles of Obafemi Awolowo’s home town and say that education cannot be free is to open the doors to acute controversy.
There is no harm in admitting that one does not know how to make a thing or a policy work. All that is needed is the courage to call in people who know what to do. That free education cannot work in Nigeria is a lie. Another lie is to create the impression that the problems leading to poor performance are inexplicable. It would not do for a governor or any other administrator to throw his hands in the air in exasperation and create the impression that the problem is insurmountable. The teacher at the point of examination is only the finishing point of a bad product and cannot be fully responsible for the quality of the product. The teacher at this point has no effective way of completely reversing the process that led to finishing line. Going back down the production line to determine where the error is domiciled may be a better approach. That is why we look with dismay at politicians who distribute exercise books and those who donate two or three computers. If Ekiti State (or any other state or local government for that matter) puts fifty computers in each school, does that automatically translate to better performance? Sadly, no! Other fundamental things need to be taken into consideration. Like electricity to power the computers. Like conducive locations to use the computers to teach effectively. Like teacher training to ensure that the teachers themselves understand the machines and can deploy them to teach. Not Computer Science teachers, all the teachers. Like providing Internet facilities to enable the teachers stay at par with the rest of the world. Like ensuring high morale among the teachers to ensure the right kind of dedication can be attained. All these are attainable if any governor sets his mind to it. Perhaps not in all schools at once but one is better than nothing.
The problem we have in the education sector has been so institutionalized that we have forgotten that it is not the way it should be. Governments have learned to stay away from these issues. Some because they fear that their impact would be so meagre it may not be felt. They prefer quick-fix situations that would translate to immediate glory, awards and commendations. So they prefer to provide boreholes and buy a hundred thousand naira worth of obsolete books and hand them over in front of press photographers. What needs to be done cannot be completed in the life of one administration. What we need now is someone who will jettison vainglory and do what is needed. Only last week, The Nation reported that a governor was elated at the proceeds of the science Schools they established in the state. He saluted the vision that established the schools thirty years ago! How then can Ekiti State be talking dividends in two years most of which was spent speculating on court proceedings?
One important aspect of stabilizing education is a realization that teachers are key to achieving the desired success. Lagos State Deputy Governor, Mrs Sarah Sosan spoke recently about the quality of teachers. In her lamentation, she unwittingly admits that there is no real way to regulate that important area. She is not the first to realize that teachers are not what they are supposed to be. But this is a part of a larger picture. The teachers are the products of the same flawed system. Ogun State Government in its drive for job creation, employed many of the freshly qualified teachers and sent them to schools. It is now clear that many of them do not have any grounding in what they qualified to teach not to talk of becoming innovative in the delivery of their content. The newspapers went to town with an unending list of fake teachers initially absorbed for Universal Basic Education, but who were found to hold fake certificates. An incredibly long list of names and institutions was published with money that could have served other purposes. That is not what is very disturbing and hypocritical. Fact is that this screening can be done in the Teaching Service in a hurry. They are just teachers. There are other institutions, more needy of this exercise, where the screening should have started. All of them were schoolmates of the teachers that have been exposed. We could start in the National Assemblies; after all a former speaker is a certificate cheat. Then we could move to Customs and Excise; a comptroller has currently being accused of certificate pranks. The Police will not supervise this because they too would need to be under probe. Let it sweep through the nation – political aides, special assistants, diplomatic corps, the armed forces, the civil service and still counting. When we see the number of casualties, only then will we see the impact of the neglect of education.
Rather than berate teachers, they need to be re-branded by restoring the dignity of the profession. You can barely find a dozen teachers in a Local Government who are proud to be teachers. Thirty-five years on the job without a training workshop is an abomination! Political office holder jet the globe attending workshops and seminars and still the result tells us they have learnt nothing. We see them at workshops where they import resource persons for mind-blowing sums. They sleep through the sessions and take home goodies including laptops they can barely operate. Until the teacher’s psyche receives a boost, nothing will make sense. The new concept of making teachers write promotional examination is someone’s fancy. It will only create new demi-gods in the ministries and in the end, teachers will pass the way their students passed their own promotion examinations. The ulcer will remain unattended and eating deeper.
This brings me to Ekiti State finally. In latching students’ performance to teachers’ promotions, you will only be tackling your problem from the top. The teachers and the school heads will solve the problem for you from the top, period! In that one action, you would have institutionalised examination fraud. In any case, there is a way to make it work. Apparently, it must have worked in political situations. Deliver your ward and get a post-motion into the teeming army of the governor’s aides. The same desperation the politicians adopt during elections will transfer to examinations.
If indeed an official’s performance is used to promote or demote him, how many demotions would some persons have got? When it comes to teachers, we heal from the top. When it comes to electricity, petroleum, police, INEC, roads and healthcare, the Information Minister is quick to explain that it has taken time for these things to degenerate and there needs to be time and concentrated effort to make these things work again. At least they understand.
Governor Oni, you may continue now.

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