Mixed reactions have trailed the free and compulsory education policy in public schools in Anambra State as recently announced by Governor Chukwuma Soludo.
The governor, during a visit to one of the schools in the state, said education from Early Childhood Care and Development Education (ECCDE) to Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) is free and compulsory for school-age children in the state.
He also announced reduction of levies in the senior secondary level, pegging the levy at N5,000 for running cost for schools, that would not be remitted to government’s coffers.
He said the move was in line with his vision of an all-inclusive education for the state.
While assuring that machinery would be in place to ensure effective step down of the directive in the state, Soludo warned that his administration would not look kindly on any who failed to comply with the pronouncement.
“From henceforth, no child within that education range will be charged school fees or any other fees to acquire education in the state.
“Children of school age will no longer be deprived of access to quality education; core community schools will be upgraded to smart schools in line with our vision of imparting skillful and sustainable education,” he said.
But residents of the state who spoke to the Nation said there was nothing to celebrate about the policy as it was not original to Soludo’s administration.
Others however described it as a welcome development, which should be embraced by all stakeholders.
A parent who preferred anonymity, said, “Soludo is not doing anything new. The free education policy has been there before he came on board. Other administrations before him offered free education to students without fanfare.
“Soludo is just looking for opportunities to advertise himself. Every six months this government will come with a policy that has been there for 10 and you guys are clapping for him.”
A resident, Pascal Candle, while describing the policy as big deceit and jamboree, urged the Governor to explain the SCOPE of the free basic education he reintroduced for accountability and transparency.
“The official declaration of the purported free and qualitative education for students in nursery and basic classes (covering Primary 1 to JSS 3) and attendant joy is not about “tuition fees” as this has long been made free by the previous administrations starting from Dr Chris NGIGE down to Governor Obiano,” he said.
Candle urged residents of the State and civil society organisations to step up vigilance and demand for basic accountability and transparency from the Soludo-led administration, especially on the free education declaration.
On its part, State Chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has asked Governor Soludo to clarify what his free education policy really meant to avoid obvious ambiguity.
Reacting through its secretary, Okelo Madukaife, the party sought to know whether Soludo’s referenced pronouncement meant there would be no fees in the public schools or that after the fees, there should be no additional charges, as well as who had approved the monies to stand the gap.
The statement partly reads, “Only a proper clarification and backed up by firm official action would point the direction that Soludo’s government wants to go.
“For lack of this badly-needed clarity, these remarks made amid understandable juvenile cheers have been interpreted in different ways by different sections of the media; some as abolishing of additional payments after school fees and others as removal of fees (emplacement of free education) from nursery school to junior secondary school.
“The government of Anambra State now needs to clarify the nature and extent of the governor’s new drive,which, according to the 19-month-old government, runs from ‘this term’ ( 2023/2024 first term).
“Without justifying the action of any school that places parents under stress in and out of difficult times, every fee is charged for a purpose, overt or covert and are oftentimes intended to fill a vacuum left by Anambra State Government in funding.
“Any policy that claims to have eliminated these payments must as a basic minimum, clarify how those headings will be funded and what stands the government in better stead than before now to guarantee sustained funding on these activities, for the sake of standards.
“In our peculiar circumstance, where government manages to strangulate local governments, it is needless to stress that the financial projections backing the withdrawal of ‘schools subsidies’ should be based of the state government funds, and not LG funds, except in partnerships approved by various elected LG legislatures.
“Outside this, we might be heading back to those things that erase peoples trust in government by creating a huge gap between talk and action.
“The clarification sought from the government now has to include in clear terms whether Soludo’s referenced pronouncement meant that there will be no school fees in these schools or that after school fees,there should be no additional charges, and who has approved the monies to stand the gap.
“We restate that security, power/energy ,local government elections, erosion checks and creative management of the impact of floods are top needs for Anambra State.”
A university don, Prof. Dennis Aribodor, however lauded the policy, noting that it would be a game changer in the development of the State if successfully implemented.
He said, “It’s good and quite commendable. It should, however, be matched with adequate budgetary provision to carter for needs of each public school both urban and rural, improvement in infrastructure and environment, teacher welfare, supervision and monitoring.
“If it is implemented successfully, it will be a game changer in the development of Anambra State.
Also speaking, Leader of Anambra Civil Society Network (ACSONET), Prince Chris Azor commended the Governor for his uncommon development strides, not just in education, but in entire social and economic sectors.
“He’s simultaneously addressing development in a simultaneous manner.
In addition, Mr Governor announced proposed recruitment of yet another 3000 Teachers to complement the earlier 5000 previously engaged.
“Knowledge is fundamental to unlocking the potentials of every society. Ours is a State blessed with natural talents and intelligence. Skills based knowledge is therefore, a prerequisite for sustainable development.
“We enjoin Ndi Anambra to key into the Governor’s template and accord him all the necessary and sufficient support for desired result.
“We as civil society, will partner with the government, through adequate sensitization of the citizens to take ownership of the projects.
“We will also, engage the government to ensure there’s transparency and accountability standards in service delivery for democracy dividends,” he noted.
A resident, Dr. Chuma-Odili Harris said as praiseworthy as the policy is, its enforcement was critical to ensure total compliance by concerned authorities.
“It’s a welcome development, Sok is enforcing the existing education policy in the state. His team of enforcers should go round the state and ensure strict compliance.
On whether or not the policy was original to Soludo, Harry said, “Government is a continuum. It doesn’t matter who owns the concept, the good news here is that Prof Soludo has the political will to make it work. Why didn’t his predecessors promote the policy? What happened?”