When the idea was first mooted by Professor Idris Bugaje, almost two decades ago, I was one of those who readily welcomed it. It was at a conference of Northern old students which held at the Arewa House in Kaduna. The conference was organised in order to brainstorm on the problems confronting Western education in Northern Nigeria, with a view to finding lasting solutions to them.
Dr Bugaje, as he was then, was one of the speakers there. He boldly suggested that the only way to salvage the education sector was to close down all private schools and force all parents, public office holders and otherwise, to take their children to government-funded schools. He believed that was the only way public education could be resuscitated and given due attention and priority.
When I went ahead and did a vox pop on the issue I was surprised to find out that most parents were not in support of the suggestion. Many feel it is too drastic a measure to close private schools because the public ones could not meet up to the challenge of absorbing the huge population of students that will line their doorsteps.
But the generality believe that the best way forward will be to make it compulsory on all top public office holders to enrol their children in government schools.
Governor Masari of Katsina State obviously subscribes to this theory, when he recently enrolled his young children in a public primary school in Katsina metropolis. His move was said to be in fulfilment of a campaign promise he made before he was elected last year. In keeping with his promise, Aminu Masari not only enrolled his own children in a government school but he also issued a directive urging top civil servants and political office holders to do the same.
According to news reports, the state SSG, the governor’s former chief of staff and a few commissioners have all enrolled their children and wards into a public school. For now the school of choice is the Family Support Primary School, because that is where the governor’s children and those of the other Katsina top shots are. And the fortunes of the school have already begun to improve because of the presence of these VIP pupils.
When other top ranking Katsina citizens comply with the governor’s directive and take their children away from private schools to public schools, more and more of them will benefit from improved infrastructure and quality of educational output.
This is not a campaign against private schools but it is an admission that private schools alone cannot ensure an educated populace because majority of our people just cannot afford to pay those ever increasing school fees. It Is also an admission that no country ever develops where the education sector is entirely in the hands of private individuals. In Malaysia, where Professor Bugaje drew the inspiration for his suggestion almost 20 years ago, public schools run at a par with private schools because the government funded and took good care of the public education sector. Parents who took their children to private schools did so out of choice not because it was a necessity.
The same thing obtains in Turkey where government schools are sometimes even better than private schools, according to a Turkish acquaintance of mine. Everywhere in the world, where the government is interested in mass education of the population, it had taken the bold and important step of providing good quality education to its citizens through the public education system. There is no other way to do it. But in Nigeria where the sector has been neglected for too long and private individuals and organisations have been making a kill by establishing schools and charging whatever they wished, since we have no option but to use them, only a step such as the one taken by Governor Masari can save the system.
Over 80% of our leaders today, at least in the North, are products of public schools. I see no reason why they should not do all in their power to rescue public education. There is great merit in what Aminu Masari did. Though it might not be very comfortable at first, once our governors and other top shots make the sacrifice by trying this measure, children of ordinary citizens will benefit greatly from their sacrifice. They will enjoy quality education from public schools, a luxury which they can’t afford now. And it will all be thanks to a legacy such as the move initiated by Governor Aminu Masari. Here is hoping that other governors will do the same in the interest of our present and future generations of Nigerian youths.