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Back to school: Coping with recession, as new academic session begins


School children PHOTO: Courtesy

School children PHOTO: Courtesy

The holidays are almost over. And no doubt, many students are looking forward to returning to school, after the long separation from cherished mates and friends. They are preparing to embrace the new academic year. But the same cannot be said of many parents and guardians, who are saddled with the responsibility of providing funds for payment of school fees. In the face of the current economic downturn, they must be feeling the heat, which has affected every sector.

Expectedly, some parents are devising plausible ways of tackling this issue, without infringing on the requirements of their children’s school. So, how are parents going about sorting out this ‘problem,’ especially as some school owners are still increasing fees, despite the downturn?

Jayne Augoye, who works with The Punch Newspapers, is somewhat lucky, as her children attend a school, where fees are not arbitrarily increased, and the management is considerate. So, she is not overly troubled that resumption date is drawing near.

“My kids’ school did not really increase the fees, as only about N1, 000 was added to the school bus fare, which is almost insignificant. The school fee usually covers books and other materials needed for schoolwork. The school is not like your typical schools, where increment is done almost every time. In fact, I’m yet to pay my children’s fees. The school doesn’t disturb you for fees, until after about two weeks into resumption. Although they remind you of it, but they usually advise we pay up before mid-term,” she explains.

Before enrolling her kids in the school however, Jayne says she made enquires and gathered that they don’t increase school fees anyhow. To her, this was a major consideration before choosing the school. Another parent, Mrs. Olubunmi Adedina, the immediate past Head of Department, Adeniran Ogunsanya College of Education, Ijanikin, Lagos, is philosophical in her approach to the issue.

“People always say that Nigerians have a high coping mechanism and you don’t have to cry over what you don’t have, as you have to confine yourself within your capacity; whatever you have is what you live with,” she says. “The present economic recession has actually taught every one to live within our means, not to be extravagant and just get the basic things needed for survival, because other things have become luxury.

“One can only hope that things improve with time, but before then, let’s try to be moderate, so we don’t live above our means. For instance, if people can only afford cheaper school, then they should send their children to such, and when the economy gets better, they can return to the standard they were used to. I only live based on my income, because we have to save for the unknown.” Yvonne Odita, a PR Manager, is one of those parents having to cope with increased school fees, but she is not greatly upset on that account.

“My kids’ school fees were slightly increased, although we were pre-informed at a parents’ forum, before the end of last session. The same goes for the books, which the school includes in the list sent to us at the end of third term. So, we pay at the beginning of the new session. I think it is okay that way, because they take away the stress of moving from one bookshop to another, in search of books,” she says.

Odita, who has three kids in JSS 2, Grade 5 and 3, however, explains that she had to tone things down this year, when shopping for school accessories, because of costs.

“I had to cajole my kids to use their old school bags, which were still good,” she says. “The only thing I changed this time is their lunch boxes and we had a serious discussion before I did, but I saw that they couldn’t be managed. However, the lunch boxes are expensive compared to what they were last year. Whereas you could get one for between N1, 500 and N2, 000 in the past, now it is between N2, 000 to N4, 000. So, what I did this year was to strike a balance between what they need and what they want.”

To help parents cope with the hard times, Mrs. Abolaji Osime, Principal and founder of Global International College, Lagos, explains that her school does not engage in indiscriminate increments, rather, they give them discounts.

She says: “A lot of parents are struggling, and the primary problem is that most of them are losing their jobs, so they don’t have income to fall back on. This is also taking its toll on payment of their kids’ fees. So, we have to devise a means of providing scholarships and discount to the children. We also make payment plan easy, so that parents will not feel the burden, while having access to quality education for their children. Parents are allowed to make payments monthly, if that is what they can afford, just to aid them in giving the best to their kids, as the focus is on the child.”

Shedding more light on the discount and scholarship, she explains that parents, whose older kids have passed through the school and then bring in their younger children, are given what is called ‘siblings discount,’ which is a five per cent reduction in the fees. If such parents are able to pay in advance, they get a higher figure.

Interestingly, there is a positive development brought about by the hard times. Mrs. Osime explains that due to the economic recession, a number of parents are withdrawing their kids from their schools in the UK and U.S.

“This development is both positive and negative, because it will help educators look inward and improve on the quality of education they give, so that people bringing their children back to the country will be assured of quality education,” she says. “That way, one can say that it is a positive fallout, as Nigerian schools are going to be patronised more than before. The negative aspect is that with many parents now losing their jobs, schools have to devise means of helping, which could majorly be done by having a forum. Some parents can come together to contribute and give a child a scholarship. This is a serious time for Nigeria, but we believe that things will turn around for good soon in this nation.”

She urged school owners and all educators to ensure that school expenses are minimally reduced, while still giving quality services to the kids.

“They should try and reduce the expenses, but still try to maintain the fees. And even if they can’t give discounts, they should give parents the opportunity to come forward with suggestions that will benefit everyone. Parents must be encouraged to approach the school and tell them what they feel. Schools should be considerate and strike out all extra-curricular activities, including excursions, visits and all such, till the economy improves.

“At this point, the school cannot be unilaterally taking decisions for parents and school children. There is need for all stakeholders to come together and decide on what to do and the way forward. It is not only when things are good that you care about people, but it is in this type of situation.”

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