Merger of schools in Oyo State

The decision of the Oyo State Government to reverse the creation of more secondary schools from the existing ones is frowned at by principals, vice-principals and even teachers who view the policy as a coup against their career, writes OLUFEMI ATOYEBI
From around 570 secondary schools in Oyo State, the number rose sharply during the administration of former governor, Rashidi Ladoja, to more than 900.
The governor, who was voted into power in 2003, seized the opportunity to establish popularity with the teachers, by creating more schools from the existing ones and promoting some of the teachers to become principals and vice-principals.
It had no cost as the administration did not build new classrooms on new lands. It only used the existing structures to expand the schools, hinging its action on the then Federal Government policy on education, which recommended division of existing secondary schools to reduce the number of pupils in one school.
The policy was made by the National Council on Education, which is the highest education policy making body in the country. It has all commissioners of education and permanent secretaries in Nigeria as members with the Minister of Education as the head. In essence, a school like Loyola College for example was then divided to various arms of senior and junior schools.
But the present administration headed by Governor Abiola Ajimobi is adopting a new policy which is a direct opposite of what was once used in the state. Like Ladoja, Ajimobi was also acting on another FG’s policy, but which reversed its earlier principle on secondary school education with the introduction of articulation, re-articulation and de-articulation policies.
The articulation policy merged all the new schools with the existing ones from where they were created. The re-articulation policy recognised that only the junior schools would be created and granted autonomy, which meant that the various arms of senior and junior schools created would be scrapped, while de-articulation policy also merged all the new schools with the existing ones.
The state adopted re-articulation policy, which means that some of those who were promoted to head the newly created schools by Ladoja could lose their status under the new education policy adopted by the state.
Although the state Commissioner for Education, Prof. Solomon Olaniyonu, stated that the policy did not mean re-deployment or demotion, some of the affected members of staff who spoke with our correspondent frowned at the strategy used. Some of them said the state would have allowed those who were nearing their retirement age to complete their years of service in their present status as principals.
Mr. Salako Adeniran (not real name) had acted as principal in a junior secondary school in the South West council area of the state for five years and is due to retire in three years. He is a level 15 officer which qualifies him as a principal. He said he would have retired as a teacher in the classroom but for the policy that promoted him to the management level. He said the principal of the senior school where he works no longer respects him as he dishes out instruction to him since the new policy was enforced.
“The FG policy gave autonomy to junior secondary school and other schools created from the existing ones and many of us were beneficiaries,” said Adeniran.
“It means that within a secondary school, five or six more schools could be created, so there were more principals and vice-principals. Before then, few teachers assumed principal’s position even if they were qualified. This is because the position was subject to vacancy. If a principal did not retire, other qualified officers would not climb the ladder. Ladoja adopted the policy but that was because he chose to, otherwise, he could stick with the old policy because some states did not follow the Federal Government policy. We have been asked to hand over to the principal of the senior school but that dented our ego and morale as equally senior officers. It makes us interim heads of the schools that will soon be scrapped and we now take instructions from our colleagues who are lucky to be senior school principals. Even before we are removed, our autonomy has been swept away by the new policy,” added Adeniran.
A member of the state chapter of Nigeria Union of Teachers who also preferred anonymity raised questions over the reversal of the old policy. He said although the government adopted systematic merging of the schools, political consideration should have favoured the old policy because it allowed teachers to have a fulfilled career.
He said, “It (the merger) has been on for two years now because it will be difficult to scrap them at once. At the time, the question was, ‘what will happen to the heads of the schools that were being merged with the existing schools?’ There is law and there is culture of education in every state. The state government would have used its discretion to ensure that no one was embarrassed in the process.
“The impression was that some vice-principals could end up becoming teachers in the same schools where they were revered as academic or administrative deputy heads, while some principals would end up becoming mere departmental heads in the schools. Although these were addressed with the systematic approach that allows some of them to retire with the present status, it shuts the door against aspiring school heads, who had thought that the policy would give them the opportunity to live their dreams of reaching the pinnacle of their career. The earlier policy received applause but when there is policy change, it should have been done with human face.”
Another member of the union who simply identified himself as Mr. Joseph backed the government’s policy to reduce the schools to ‘manageable figure’ because of what he described as abuse of office by some of the ‘emergency principals.’
“I will describe them as emergency school heads because they were not trained in administrative work. They lack knowledge of the rules guiding leadership while some of them levy the pupils illegally. I am sure that the government would have conducted an investigation before taking the decision. Every teacher will not retire as a principal but it does not mean that they will suffer financial loss. The affected officers were not demoted, it only takes us back to the tested old policy where the government had the number of schools it can manage,” said Joseph.
He added that the NUT also advised that the government should allow the principals who are close to retirement age to retire as principals so that as they are going out, there will be no replacement for their position, which according to him, is exactly what the state has done.
“I am aware that the leadership of our union was involved in the various meetings held before the decision was made and I am certain that the state government listened to its recommendations. No one has resigned because of the decision, although there could be friction between the senior and junior school leaders but that is normal and I think we should learn to obey state policy,” he added.
While responding to questions from our correspondent, the state education commissioner, Olaniyonu, said the state was following a national directive on education.
He said, “What the state is doing is to follow national policy on education, which removes the unnecessary divisions where three or four schools operate within a school premises. We are re-articulating them by bringing them together so that the administration could be directional.”
Olaniyonu confirmed that the schools were being phased out in stages and that most of the affected officers retain their positions.
“There is no principal or vice-principal that was returned to the classrooms. Many of those who were affected are already close to retirement age, so we do not have any problem with where they would be redeployed to and they do not suffer any loss in financial status.”
He also addressed the fear that the new policy would be a barrier to career aspirations of some of the top-level teachers.
“Some of the schools created are still on while we gradually face them out. Indeed, some of the vice-principals will assume the principal’s position as soon as there is vacancy in the regular school structure. So the government is also concerned about areas where there could be wrangling,” said the commissioner.
Culled from The Punch

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