ON Tuesday, the Oyo State governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde, reiterated his administration’s ban on the collection of ‘illegal fees’ in all primary schools, secondary schools and technical colleges owned by the state government. This was made known via a circular released by the state Head of Service, Mrs Amidat Agboola, and addressed to permanent secretaries and heads of education-related agencies in the state. A statement issued by the government indicated that the circular had been made available to the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology; permanent secretary (School Administration); the executive secretary of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and his counterpart in the Board of Technical and Vocational Education (BOTAVED); zonal inspectors of education, local inspectors of education and principals and head teachers of public schools.
The circular reads in part: “The collection of fees under any guise in public schools across the state remains illegal and any violator of this directive will be treated as a saboteur. Heavy sanction awaits violators of this directive.” It will be recalled that the governor had, while giving his inaugural speech on May 29, announced that all forms of payment in public schools in the state, primary and secondary, be discontinued with immediate effect. The latest directive was however dictated by reports across the state that principals and head teachers were still collecting various sums from students in the name of examination and test fees, among others.
To all intents and purposes, Governor Makinde’s latest directive seeks to make education in Oyo State public primary and secondary schools and technical colleges free in every sense of the word. Without doubt, this is soothing news to the thousands of parents struggling with poverty and barely able to eke out a decent living. Hitherto, parents in the state paid a N3,000 education levy, a reasonable sum by any standards, but that, too, has been outlawed by the Makinde administration in the belief that coughing up that seemingly marginal sum has been a difficult task for many parents, and hence they are entitled to a reprieve. These steps are, we believe, worthy of applause.
In a country where politicians make campaign promises merely to appeal to the sentiments of the electorate, thereafter denying or twisting with their own words, it is refreshing to see a few leaders actually intent on keeping their word. Many a time, politicians in this clime do not take their own promises very seriously. They speak merely to excite positive passions and gain electoral advantage. Although there have been departures since the return to civil rule in 1999, these are few and far between. This is why when such departures come to light, they ought to be given all the needed support.
Ordinarily, it is disturbing that some teachers and heads of schools have, in clear violation of the Oyo State government’s policy, reportedly taken to the practice of preventing students from writing tests and examinations for failure to pay for “answer sheets.” Even if the sundry charges that their students have been subjected to were genuine, would it not have been more sensible to allow such students to write their tests and examinations, then compel them to pay up later? Among other platforms, there are parent-teacher association meetings where such issues can be addressed and a compromise reached. But the fact that the fees being demanded in this case have been outlawed speaks to the laxity in policy enforcement in the country and it is cheering that the Oyo State government has indicated its willingness to back up policy pronouncements with action.
As is well known, the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Action Group government was able to give the defunct Western Region a massive turnaround, lifting millions out of the shackles of poverty through free education and other policies. In recent years though, free education has become a mere catchphrase used by politicians lacking both the vision and the commitment of the originators. Education is supposedly free in many states where school buildings are dilapidated and even scary to behold. Pupils sit on the bare floor and teachers occupy makeshift “staff rooms’’ under trees, exposed to the elements. In many of the states practising ‘free education,’ teacher inadequacy sticks out like a sore thumb and, worse still, teachers are being owed as many as seven months of salary arrears. In this regard, we urge the Oyo State government to address the deficiencies in the state’s primary and secondary education, including the inadequacy of learning facilities in schools. It must also make the welfare of teachers a core concern. Where teaching conditions are clement and discipline is maintained, progress would be easy to achieve.