Should the FCT shut down ‘substandard’ private schools?

A private school in the FCT PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

A private school in the FCT PHOTOS: ITUNU AJAYI

Experts Weigh Controversial Education policy
…Offer Solutions
On Shoddy FCT Private Schools

The term, ‘private school’, was not prevalent in the lexicon of pre-independence Nigeria. Majority of the country’s current policy makers passed through government-owned schools. Incidentally, these people now prefer to pay millions of naira to train their children in private schools or send them abroad, as a result of the decadence that has befallen their Alma Mater.

Most government-owned primary, secondary and tertiary institutions are characterised by dilapidated buildings, lack of science equipment in laboratories, shortage of current books where libraries exist, and a demoralised workforce that sees duty as a means to an end, rather than a passionate engagement.

Like other sectors of the economy where government has failed in its responsibilities over the years, private individuals have latched onto lapses to make money, at the expense of standards. The unemployment rate in the country also has not helped matters; it is, therefore, common for unemployed graduates to launch out as lesson teachers, graduating later into ‘proprietors’ of private schools.

Most illegal schools thrive in suburbs where there is no government presence, in terms of schools and other amenities. And in areas where they exist, many government schools in the FCT lack infrastructure and teachers. The Guardian of August 17, 2014 features a story on Kuje area council where a clerk does the job of six teachers. The clerk teaches Class One to Six. On government’s record, however, such school may have teachers posted to it: teachers who also draw salaries from the pay role of the local council.

A disturbing trend among many private schools is shoddy infrastructure. Crèche, nursery and primary sections could all be choked up in a three-bedroom bungalow. Such buildings are often frugally partitioned so that space for children to move around becomes luxury. There are also little or no playgrounds where kids can engage in field events, as it used to be in the glorious days of government-owned schools, when school sporting competitions produced talents. In the FCT, it is not unusual to find private schools run from uncompleted buildings. It is against this backdrop that the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) announced, recently, that it would to shut down 556 such schools in the city.

The Department of Quality Assurance of the Education Secretariat of the FCT cited unlicensed operations, poor teacher quality, structural defects and illegal practices, as reasons for its decision.

Another private school

Another private school

The FCT Minister, Mohammed Bello, had announced the impending closure. But in a swift reaction, the House of Representatives during its March 1, 2016 plenary directed him to stay action on the plan. It said the education of not less than 100,000 pupils would be affected by the move. It directed its Committee on FCT to investigate the desirability or otherwise of the clampdown on the affected schools and report to the legislative chamber within four weeks.

The FCTA’s agenda, however, poses a number of questions. While the policymakers may have had noble intentions, could there have been better alternatives? And why wait for the number of illegal schools to reach 556 before waking up to the need to rein in control? What can be done to improve the quality of education?

Professor Tunde Adeniran, a former Minister of Education told The Guardian it is imperative for government, parents, teachers and regulatory agencies to ensure that the sector meets global standards.

He said: “It is a challenge to government to do more on the prevalence of private schools. At the same time, the government cannot do it all alone. We need these private initiatives to complement whatever the government is doing. In terms of quality, I am familiar with some of them, but not all. I am aware that some of them offer good quality education while some need to be cropped up. So much needs to be done with some of them.

“With the primary and secondary, it is embarrassing. A lot of them have been turned into moneymaking ventures, rather than opportunities to contribute to the society. And this is why the government would have to do a lot in this regard. There are two areas I will like to emphasise. There is need for the government to make sure that education is free and compulsory for every Nigerian child. Now, with regard to funding, it could be very exorbitant but the price of education is nothing compared to the price of illiteracy. Through illiteracy, ignorance and lack of opportunities, a lot can be destroyed overnight and the development of a nation can be arrested or retarded. So, no amount of money spent on education is too much or misplaced. But then, it has to be properly managed and those who are going to impart education must themselves be well equipped because you cannot give what you do not have.

“I should also like to stress particularly that when you consider the amount of money involved, there is need to partner with the private sector, mission schools and private schools. Christian and Muslim organisations could set up schools and the government can encourage them with some assistance, so that the amount of money they would charge the pupils would be reduced. If you do not assist them one way or the other, controlling them would be difficult in terms of how much they charge, and it would be easy for them to get out of hand. As of now, what you find in the private schools is also found in public schools where the quality of education is embarrassingly low, and this is not good for the future of this country.

“I also believe that we should expand the scope of our educational curriculum in such a way that civic and moral instructions are incorporated, to make our children committed to the Nigerian nation and moral standards that will eventually reduce or mitigate the prevailing culture of violence and lawlessness witnessed on daily basis.”

He said those charged with the responsibility of regulating schools should be empowered to do so, stressing: “The government should be up and doing in the area of regulation. Schools are supposed to be licensed before they can operate. For an entire school to be confined in a three-room bungalow is unacceptable. If regulatory agencies do their jobs well, you won’t find such in existence. Once they know that government would clamp down on them, they would not operate, and parents too would be careful of the type of place they take their children to. If the facilities are not there, what type of knowledge will the child acquire? So, regulatory authorities should do their part. They should wake up. The general attitude of Nigerians to work these days is reflected in the way the education sector is being run. We are not keen at paying attention and it is high time we started doing something in that regard.”

Dr. Dayo Olagunju is an education consultant. He said the FCT’s decision to shut down the schools is not the best option. He noted that the decadence prevalent in private schools and government-owned schools is due to the fact that those who are left to manage the sector are not educationists, and as such do not know what it takes to put working structures on ground for the overall benefit of pupils and the country.

He said: “Do you say because somebody has a headache you cut off the head? That’s the way it looks to me. Yes, the schools are not up to standard, according to the FCT. Although, I don’t know their criteria, whether structure wise, teacher/student ratio, quality of teachers, curriculum or whatever. Whatever the reasons, would closing down the schools be the answer? This is the first question one should ask. Would you say because your house is leaking, the only solution is to demolish it? What were you looking at before the house became dilapidated?

“I am not surprised because presently in Nigeria, people have already rented out their common sense. This is a country where we think that everything that is commercialised is better, and so education has been commercialised. The rich and middle-class feel that the moment money comes into their hands, the next thing to do is establish schools. And when they advertise the schools, you hear things like air-conditioned classrooms, computer for every student and others. And I can’t help but wonder what education is turning to. Nigeria is in the tropical region where we have more heat than cold, and air-condition is a disincentive in the classroom; it becomes too cozy, and the tendency for students to sleep is very high. All we need are roomy and airy classrooms with doors on opposite sides and windows for proper cross-ventilation.

“In Nigeria, education has been given to just anybody to manage. I don’t know those who are in charge of education in the FCT, but I don’t think they are education managers. Closing down the schools will not be the solution to failing standards. Everyday in my own cubicle, here, I agonise over what is happening in this country. Those who claimed to have gone to school, who claimed to have had education are not doing things right. Going to school is not the same as having education. A lot of Nigerians are schooled but not educated. The students’ parliament session when I was at the University of Ife was better than what we have in the National Assembly today (NASS). We called it students’ Representative Council (SRC) in those days. We had better discussions, better interactions and even better output. Not a single time did I hear that they fought during sessions and threw chairs or exchanged blows or tore their cloths or that people took their own personal opinion and used it to judge the entire student body. Few of the ones we have in the NASS now are paedophiles, few are wife barterers, so they could not look concisely at a bill proposing equal rights for women. And you can hear them shout ‘nah’ on top of their voices. So, education is on the downward trend.”

Olagunju added: “The mode of learning was ‘A for apple’, ‘B for ball’, and so on. We jettisoned education that was inculcated with culture. Any education that is devoid of cultural orientation is nil and that is the problem we have now.”

According to Olagunju, if he were made the minister of education, the first solution would be to integrate culture into education. He said the likes of Wole Soyinka, Akinwunmi Ishola, Niyi Osundare, Toye Olorode, who are still making waves in education today are deeply rooted in their culture. “A country that has no cultural revolution will perish. There is none of the countries we are copying that has not had a cultural revolution.”

On the quality of teachers in schools, Olagunju said the teaching profession in Nigeria was destroyed the day the Grade II was cancelled, saying there are no other institutions in Nigeria where teachers are trained. He also said placing premium on paper qualification has destroyed the system and that eliminating mother tongue education would not take the country far.

Mr. Anthony Ogunleye is an Assistant Director and Head Public Relations unit at the education secretariat of the FCT.

He said owners of the private schools that were to be shut down failed to obtain the approval of the FCTA before they commenced operation and subjected pupils to danger, as a result of their poor environment.

“The owners of the schools are operating illegally. The right thing to do, if anyone is desirous of establishing a school, is come to the education secretariat where we will enlighten the person on how to go about it. They never did; they were just operating in places not convenient for children’s learning. Imagine someone running a school under the windbreaker bridge in Area II. He just made some inscription on the bridge walls and made some demarcation and a school started.

“The FCTA is not in competition with private school owners. In fact, we need them to partner with us because of population growth and enlightenment. But you have a situation where some schools are run under makeshift structures or situated in the middle of drinking joints, brothels, or on the floors of shopping mall. Some schools have teachers that have not passed their secondary education. Those are the kinds of things we see in the FCT. And as educationists, we are aware that there is no quality in whatever the children are being offered there. If children are not having quality education now, then the future is very bleak, because whatever foundation they have now is what will be built upon. We are complaining that the country does not have employable graduates. These are the issues.”

He cited an instance in Abaji where a school owner collects a fee of N20 per day from the pupils and any pupil that fails to pay on any particular day is denied access.

“There is no school that has been marked for closure that has the approval of the FCTA to begin operation. This is what we do every year. We go about monitoring the schools and the ones that do not meet the standard are closed. People just assumed that school is a money-making venture, and parents too have the wrong notion that private schools are better than government-owned ones.”

Ogunleye said the FCTA’s idea of a school is one with qualified personnel, playground for pupils, proper curriculum, roomy classrooms with minimum number of pupils, to ensure comfort and successful impartation of knowledge. He said the FCTA will continue to update the National Assembly on its activities and that much as the FCTA appreciates the contributions of private school owners and is ready to partner with them, the administration will continue to enlighten them on the need to see government as a progressive entity that is interested in their contribution to the sector.

But Abimbola Ayeni, an Abuja resident, noted that the FCTA should have quietly closed down the affected schools without media hype. She said the attitude of the Mohammed Bello-led administration is a reflection of sycophancy and eye service common in civil service.

“You said the closure of illegal schools in Abuja is a routine exercise, so why is this one causing a lot of noise. You see why it is best for politicians and the civil service to maintain some level of anonymity. That is what we are saying about sycophancy; the minister wanted to tell us that he is working. And see where that had led us. There are lots of things they should do without drawing media attention. How many of our lawmakers have children in the type of low standard schools the FCT complained about? But because they cannot be smooth operators, their lead has been blown open and the children who find themselves in these type of schools will be the losers for it.”

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