One year after: School owners yet to benefit from Lagos’ post-COVID edufund
One year after the launch of N5 billion post-Coronavirus (COVID-19) recovery support capital for low-cost private schools in Lagos State to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic, school owners are yet to benefit from the fund.
Recall that the advent of COVID-19 pandemic last year, threw up more problems for school owners, who were already challenged, heightening fears that most private schools may be forced to close down.
To halt the dangerous slide, the Federal Government came up with N2.3trillion stimulus package, part of which was to address challenges in the education sector.
In the same vein, the Lagos State government, in partnership with First Bank, launched a N5 billion support capital for education sector to support low-cost private schools across the state.
According to the governor, the intervention was part of the state government’s sustainable solutions to stem the negative impact of COVID-19 on both residents and businesses.
Chairperson, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) Board of Trustees, Mrs Bola Adesola, said schools that have a minimum of 100 students and have been in operation for, at least, a year, are the ones qualified for the loan facility.
The loan scheme was for two categories of applicants, Micro-Enterprise (ME) as well as Small and Medium Enterprise (SME). Those in ME category were to receive a sum of not more than N500, 000, while those in SME were to get N5m.
To apply for the loan, applicants were expected to submit their applications through LSETF portal for screening, while details of the successful applicants would be passed to First Bank for appraisal and disbursement.
While speaking with some school owners in Lagos, many said they were not aware of such scheme to assist private schools. Others who knew about it, cited challenges such as bureaucracy and stringent conditions imposed by government, which pose as stumbling blocks.
Education consultant, Grace Schools, Adesope Edun, who commended the state government for the initiative, said the impact of COVID-19 on schools was massive and only a government that is aware of education’s importance will implement such policy.
Edun, however, stated that only a few schools have confirmed getting part of the fund and urged government to follow up on monitoring of such funds to ensure that it gets to the right people.
He said: “Bureaucracy is a big problem in government and must not be allowed to become an issue when such policy is being implemented.”
The consultant said the success of the scheme would depend on whether its objectives are met and whether the initiative is a one-off or continuous process.
He said for the programme to scale through rough patches, government should put in place a policy tool kit, which should have subvention for educational sector, especially private schools. “Such subvention can be on energy, to help schools cope with electricity cost,” he said.
Edun noted that to improve support for schools, especially private ones, government should take steps to reduce taxes imposed on private schools, reduce import duties on educational tools and grant subvention on energy to reduce their overhead.
The consultant said once government is able to carry out some of these measures, private schools would perform better than they are doing presently.
Proprietor of De Vessels Nursery and Primary School, Ijeododo, Mrs. Nkechi Amaji, said none of her colleagues in the community received the funding.
While underscoring the importance of the intervention to schools, Amaji called for transparency in accessing the fund.
Director, Kiddies Star Heritage, Mrs. Ronke Akinsuloye, said she did not know the requirements to qualify for the fund. “But I can tell you that most schools may not access this fund. The challenges may vary and the impact may be limited to those who know people at the corridor of power.
“It is important to make the process free, fair and transparent. Government can regularly publish names of beneficiaries to know how the fund was spent,” she said.
Proprietor, Standard Bearer School, Lekki, Modupe Oni, said she didn’t apply because she was said to be ineligible. “However, the truth is that most people have developed grant application weariness. For example, for the Federal Government’s loan, we only received N60, 000, which was paid in installments between December 2020 and February 2021, after they pledged to help at least 10 teachers from the school.“We need money but the bureaucracy government has imposed as criteria for obtaining the fund has a significant impact on its disbursement. I believe government must recognise that the educational environment in the private sector, like other schools, has been disrupted, with nothing to fall back on. We generate our own electricity, water and security, among others. Although our income appears substantial, most people are unaware that over 85 per cent of it is spent on employees and operational activities. I reduced my employees’ salary by 30 per cent during the lockdown and subscribed for internet services to enable them access the internet. But how many private schools were able to do so?
“Government must realise that we are rendering service because if the private sector is sidelined, there will be nothing to fall back on,” she noted.
Oni lamented despite the intervention fund for private school owners, there is no noticeable impact on the sub-sector.
“I conducted a survey and majority of the responses were along the lines of ‘I couldn’t access it due to tax issues.’ So, in my opinion, the requirements are rigorous and the helplines are ineffective. The money is there, but very few can get their hands on it. This ineffective bureaucracy, which suffocates the project’s goal, should be looked into thoroughly. If government truly wants to help, they can set a deadline for schools to achieve specific standards rather than completely cutting them off, which further limits their growth,” she said.
Speaking on challenges facing effective disbursement of the fund, Oni said the only difficulty they might face is that the fund would not be used if people do not apply or do not qualify, and access is denied.
She said: “I hope, if the money is not accessed by school owners, it will be returned to the government so they can see the true picture of things. Five billion is a lot of money and I’m not sure how many schools have accessed the fund at this time.
“People just assume that we don’t need intervention. This is wrong and very unfortunate. Private schools are increasing; part of what this fund can do for schools is helping in the training of teachers to enable more schools embrace blended digital learning. Our education system has collapsed and the world is not waiting for us. The good news is that technology has made it easier for teachers to have access to resources, some of which come at a price. We must make a deliberate effort to help teachers and private schools survive this season.
To improve support to private schools, the educationist urged government to accept that private schools are major contributors to the overall examination success of Lagos State. She said with this understanding, it will be easier to make policies that would benefit them.
“Private schools in the United States and United Kingdom received government financial interventions in various degrees, which helped many schools to remain open. Some private school owners were forced to close down, which is very sad because, public or private, we still don’t have enough schools to meet the needs of the youths and children in Lagos State.
“There are various recognised bodies of private schools in Lagos, I’m sure they are speaking for our sector, but I believe government needs to be a little less rigid by looking at the bigger picture, which is the large number of out-of-school children in our underserved communities. Our human capital needs to be tapped so we can grow our internally generated revenue. Education is key to unlocking these untapped talents in readiness for the great number of jobs coming to Africa. The private sector should be motivated to support the overall process as we really need to bridge the inequality gap,” Oni added.