Monday, February 17, 2014

Good policy/ Bad politics: Osun education reforms

Credit: Mike Asukwo
Osun State's education reforms patterned after K-12 (US education system) is an interesting study on the connection between policy and politics. 
In 2011, the government held a summit where the reforms were planned and  implementation commenced in October 2013. For a policy that reads well on paper, implementation has met resistance because  as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

The policy aims to revitalize the educational system in the state by reclassifying schools, building new school structures, merging  schools, having a standard uniform for all schools (the rationale for the uniform is to create employment for the state- owned tailoring factory and schools would be differentiated by badges on their caps) and provision of school lunch to elementary school students.

According to the Deputy Governor, this policy exists  to improve the position of Osun State in comparison with other States in student achievement (it is reported that Osun State Students were under-performing in national examinations and enrollment rate into universities was low), to maximise teaching resources (some schools do not have the population and resources to stand on their own), to boost agriculture and employment in the State through the one-uniform policy and provision of school meals. The Deputy Governor also claims that the one-uniform policy is in line what the US and UK practice.

Below compares the Federal system with the Osun system  

Pry 1-6 
(Ages 6-10/11)
Elementary school 
(Ages 6-9)
Grades 1-4
(Ages 11/12- 14/15)
Middle School 
(Ages 10-14)
Grades 5-9
(Ages 16-18)
High School
(Ages 15-17)
Grades 10-12

It is clear that the government put some thought into this policy. However, implementation is the cause of  religious tension in the State. The merger of schools was done without regard for religious and gender sensitivities and this is threatening the reforms. I have been unable to get the full list of schools that were merged but in October 2013, there were protests when 2 single sex schools were merged to become a mixed school. More problems emerged when students of Baptist High School, Iwo and an unidentified muslim school were merged. In protest, the students came to school in religious attires. The merger of schools without regard for these emotional values (religion and gender) has  created a situation of good policy/ bad politics. 

In the field of policy, this occurs when  the political feasibility and acceptance of a policy is not properly thought out and managed such that the politics overshadows the policy. A related issue on the merger of the schools is the one-uniform policy. The Deputy-Governor noted that schools in  the US and UK  have standard uniforms. That is incorrect because what exists in these countries are basic school wears  and colours that schools mix and match. Some schools have their own school uniforms . The State can still provide employment for her tailors without the one-uniform policy. Schools should be allowed to have their own uniforms because a basis for uniform is identification of students and that should be allowed to stay. 
That the government did not engage, involve and get the buy-in of stakeholders (the faith groups and parents) shows the lack of political management  and the consequence is the resistance to the policy. For a policy that was conceived in 2011, there was enough time for engagement to sell the benefits of changing the system and not force it  on stakeholders. Humans by default are resistant to change –even when it is for their benefit. To discount the values and emotions of people because the schools are public schools and the government has the power to do so is a mistake. 
Dipak Gupta says “when it comes to politics and public policy, we most often make our decisions using our guts and political instincts, which may or maynot involve questions of rationality or self-interest. Thus, emotions is not only legitimate but central to political persuasion".  
It is not to late for the government to re-engage and listen to the various groups and then implement what is agreed. Parents have reasons for enrolling their children in either faith-based or single sex schools. That emotion valid or not should be recognized.  On the other hand, the government’s idea of integrating faith schools thereby encouraging interaction of children of different faiths is also valid. However, it is not the government’s role to force socialization. People would interact without the government’s help-  the Yoruba family culture facilitates that (Yorubas' have Christians, Muslims and non-believers in the same family). The government needs the help of parents and the influencers ( the faith groups) for the mergers to succeed.
In the spirit of adapting US& UK school systems, the government should provide school buses for students. A criticism of the reclassification policy is that students now walk longer distances to school (though the governments says the walking distance is not more than 1km for elementary and middle schools ) and parents are unable to provide for transportation to the new locations. In the US, school buses are available in every school district that pick up and drop off students at certain points, UK& US pupils do not trek to school. 
In conclusion, every government policy should aim to be in the realm of  good policy/ good politics. The education reform of the government is a brilliant idea. The government needs to engage  stakeholders and re-work aspects of the policy. For holistic reforms the government should also focus on teacher training. Systems and structure are nice but the people that deliver education are very important and should be invested in.

1 comment:

  1. This analysis is spot on, we are still waiting for them to tell us where the new policy is related to the education system in US or UK.
    In this age of the internet I wonder why they are still maintaining their deceit that, the so called policy is similar to what is obtainable in US and UK.