Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Hike in fees: Fresh worry over dropouts, out-of-school children

By Iyabo Lawal
04 September 2023   |   4:05 am
The rising costs of living and operations are limiting access to education and beyond the reach of many parents.

School pupils taking a dash across the expressway. PHOTO: ADEDAMOLA SAKA

The rising costs of living and operations are limiting access to education and beyond the reach of many parents. While many are already considering the option of enrolling their wards in public schools, others will be adding to the out-of-school group, Iyabo Lawal writes.

As private school operators increase fees for primary and secondary students by over 300 per cent, there are fears that many pupils may not return when schools resume today.

Already, some parents are considering the option of enrolling their wards in public schools since they are not charging such exorbitant fees, while others are confused on the next line of action, raising concerns of possible increase in the number of out-of-school children.

A significant increase in tuition, feeding, transportation and cost of uniforms and other fees have been announced by school owners, some schools have announced between 200 and 300 per cent increase, while others are planning to do so in order to cope with the effects of the new petrol pump price.

Affected mostly are schools running a boarding system with the challenges of high cost of food items, transportation and other utilities that have eaten deep into the gains they made initially.

While some parents said it has become a norm for most private schools to increase fees at the beginning of every session, some schools said the increase was with the consent of stakeholders who also acknowledged the prevailing economic situation occasioned by rising inflation and deteriorating value of the naira.

Already, the Federal Government had announced a substantial review of school fees in the Unity Colleges. The fees have increased from N45,000 to N100,000, a change that will affect all aspects and activities of the schools, including tuition, boarding, uniforms, textbooks, and more.

In a directive from the office of the Director of Senior Secondary Education Department of the ministry and addressed to all principals of Federal Unity Colleges, students are expected to pay N100, 000 instead of the previous N45, 000.

Though most private schools, particularly the high flying ones, are yet to make an official announcement of the increase, indications are rife that such an increase is imminent and would be announced before schools resume for the new school year in September.

For instance, Greensprings School, Lekki, Lagos, has increased its school fees for the 2023/2024 school year, citing high cost of items and current economic situation as reasons.

A letter to parents and guardians titled: “2023/2024 School Fees,” and signed by the Chief Executive Officer of the school, Mrs Lai Koiki, said: “These are indeed very challenging times, but we remain hopeful that there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, as a result of the current economic situation in the country, we are constrained to announce an increase in school fees for the next school year.

“We are keenly aware of the pressures that the prevailing realities have put on families and our parents at this time and have come to this decision with an acute sense of responsibility and a mindset to continue to support our students and their families as best as we can.

“To this end, there would be an average increase on school fees for the next academic year, while we presently continue to subsidise the impact of the economic landscape on our fees, we are charting a strategic course to remain sustainable and will continue to optimise our operations on the premise of innovation, quality holistic education and academic excellence.

At Babington Macaulay Junior Seminary, Ikorodu, the fees have been raised to N437, 000 from the old N250, 000, to cope with current economic challenges. The situation is the same at Aaresther Divine Secondary School, Ajao Estate, Lagos; as parents are expected to pay N237, 000 instead of the old fees of N107, 000. In a new term bill payable by junior secondary school three students, tuition is N181, 000; BECE 20,000; medical 6000; while extra curricular activities and admission are 15,000 each.

Also, Immaculate Schools, Ogba, Lagos, according to a parent, has increased its school fees for day students from N180, 000 to N300, 000 per term. The Proprietor of Brilliant minds, Akute, Ogun State, Mr Femi Anjorin, lamented the current cost of running the school, saying they have to increase fees to meet with the present realities.

A parent, whose child attends Ambassadors College, one of the top rated private secondary schools in Ota, Ogun State, said an increase in school fees is inevitable and would soon be announced.  Another parent told The Guardian that it is absolutely necessary for school owners to increase fees in the face of the current economic realities.

The Proprietor of Kiddies Touch Schools, Ikorodu, Lagos State, Mr Tobias Eze, while lamenting the current running cost, hinted that a 200 per cent increase would be made in order for the school to deliver.

Also, owners of Tower Gate Schools, Ojodu, Lagos, have increased the cost of the school bus from N30, 000 to N75, 000 per student, while fees were increased to N285, 000 from N165, 000 ahead of the next school year. At Blooms Private School, Omole, Lagos, one of the teachers said students would now pay about N290, 000 against the former fees of N186, 000 being paid.
It’s unbearable, say parents
Many parents and guardians have expressed concern over the increment, saying if public schools were functioning well, they would have no reason to take their children to private schools.

Victor Ademuwagun, whose two children attend a private primary school at Ogba area of Lagos State, said:  “The increment is worrisome. We used to pay N240, 000 per child but it is now N320, 000. This excludes uniforms and books.”

Another parent, Esther Onwochei, said the fees for her four-year-old daughter who is going to nursery one is N170, 000.

“We have to buy uniforms and books from the school; it is sad because they don’t allow parents to go to the market and buy uniforms.”

Asked why she would not take the girl to a public school, which is free, Onwochei said: “We all attended public schools during our days but the dynamics are different now. This is the truth; if you want your children to excel, you have to pay heavily for their education,” she said.

A civil servant, Tobi Oladejo said he might enrol his wards in public schools because of the arbitrary increase in fees in private schools.

“Apart from school fees, I have so much on my neck, like feeding, rent and so on. I am thinking of enrolling them in a public school to ease my burden.”

Kelvin James, a Lagos-based businessman, lamented that tuition takes the highest portion of parents’ annual income, and has reduced the standard of living for households. “My son’s school has increased the school fees by over 85 per cent. I have decided to withdraw my son from the school because I cannot cope.”

Another parent, Mrs Oluchi Onumah, said the economic situation of the country is making life difficult for her, despite being a salary earner.

“Sincerely, this is not going to be easy for parents because even the summer lesson fees were increased above 50 per cent compared to what we paid last time.  We understand the situation of the economy, but most of these schools are taking advantage of the situation to exploit parents,” Onumah said.

No salary increase for teachers
Despite the increase in fees, findings by The Guardian showed that most of the schools have no plan to increase salaries of their teachers.

Many of the proprietors said the increment might not necessarily translate to an increase in the salary of teachers, as it was meant to cater for the day-to-day running of the schools.

Mrs Tope Osho, who teaches in a private school in Igando, Lagos State, said she is looking for another job.

Osho said she gets N35, 000 as salary in the private school she works. “This is not enough to buy grains for my family for one month.

“We are humans and we deserve empathy. We pay for food items, electricity, transportation, house rent and school fees for our children too,” Osho said.

Proprietors blame increase on inflation
National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), said the new fuel price has affected its members’ financial sustainability and ability to deliver quality education.

National President of NAPPS, Chief Yomi Otubela, said many parents may withdraw their children from school due to increased costs, while there may be mass exodus of teachers as their monthly pay no longer covers commuting costs.

Otubela appealed to the government to acknowledge private schools’ critical role in the country’s education ecosystem and engage with stakeholders to address the challenges they face.

He said: “We have so many parents who are withdrawing their children from school for their inability to meet up with the cost of transporting them to school or even paying the fees. We have teachers who have tendered their resignation because their take-home pays can no longer take them home and back to school.

“We have instances where vendors, who supply one material or the other, have increased the cost of their materials. For instance, publishers have taken the cost of books from N25, 000 to N65, 000 for all books needed on average in all classes.”

“As it is now, we have a report of so many schools selling off their buses because the cost of patronising buses to parents has tripled and there is so much uncertainty as to what the actual price will be with the rising inflation. Generally, there is so much uncertainty within the private school sector.”

Proprietor of Little Angels in Ojota area of Lagos, Ms Nwanneka Ugorji, said given the current economic situation, they have to increase the fees to render effective service.

“If you look at the present economic situation in the country, you will find out that things are getting out of hand. We have to make little adjustments to see how we can take care of the cost of running the school. We have staff wages to take care of and we also have utility bills to pay,” she said.

A Principal in one of the schools, said the management is in a fix over the increment as many parents were yet to fully pay for the outgoing academic session and may likely withdraw their wards over the hike.

Public schools in deplorable state
Some of the parents blamed their predicaments on the poor state of public schools. They claimed if public schools are functioning well, they would have no justification for taking their children to private schools.

For example, as at December 2022, states in the northwest were unable to access N7,081,756,391.61 marching grant intervention funds from Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC); northeast has N7,684,052,581.34 unclaimed funds; north central N10,451,414,422.25; southwest N8,630,780,422.26; southeast N14,325,933,575.13 and south south N4,819,872,190.09.

Although the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) put the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria at 20 million, data from the Federal Ministry of Education puts the figure at 16 million.

In spite of this, between 2018 and 2022, the number of primary schools in Nigeria increased from 113,450 to 131,377. In the case of junior secondary schools, the number jumped from 31,077 to 38,217 within the same period.

However, attacks by the Boko Haram group caused the destruction of 910 schools and led to the closure of a further 1,500 within the period.

Besides, about 40 per cent of Nigerians are living below the poverty line, while public spending on education is very low. As a result, households pick up 72 per cent of total education expenditure in the country.

According to the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) report, Nigeria holds the unenviable position of being the country with the largest number of out-of-school children of primary school age: 10 million in 2022, 9.6 million in 2020, 7.5 million in 2010 and 6.4 million in 2000. But the out-of-school rate among adolescents and youths of lower and upper secondary school age has been increasing since 2008, reaching 31 and 40 per cent respectively by 2022.

Nigeria has signed up to the promise of ensuring free quality primary and secondary education for all children by 2030, committing to reduce the percentage of out-of-school children of primary school age to 17 per cent by 2030 and youths of upper secondary school to 26 per cent by 2030.