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We have lost over N100 billion since schools closure, says AFED

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Orji

President, Association of Formidable Educational Development (AFED), otherwise called low-profile schools, Orji Emmanuel Kanu, in this interview with IYABO LAWAL, spoke on the hardship being faced by school owners, teachers and students as a result of continuous closure of schools and why the government should support private education investors and stakeholders.

What is your take on the continuous closure of schools?
It has simply shown that the people at the helm of affairs have either lost touch with realities or they do not have any regard for education. Where even this virus started from, they have been able to fashion out ways of ensuring that their school system is not interrupted.

Coronavirus came to Nigeria all of a sudden, and it is going to be with us for a longer time, but are we saying that the school is going to be shut down in perpetuity?
I’m sorry, but the people who are in power do not have regard for education, and as far as I’m concerned, there is no reason schools should remain shut.

I have personally written to the Federal Government and Lagos State government, but nothing has come out of it. In fact, apart from the fact that schools have been shut, the government is doing practically nothing to help people who are in this system – the private school owners – that have invested and the teachers who are being paid stipends (between N10, 000 and N20,000 based on their qualifications and status) have been out of jobs for more than five months without pay. This is very unfair.

The Federal Government backtracked last week on its earlier plan to reopen schools for graduating students to prepare for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and other terminal exams. How would you react to this?
I’m not in support of the continuous closure of schools. When the government announced that the graduating students could resume, we had hoped that the government had started considering those of us who are here, and the future of those children too, only for the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to say something else.

It appears that even in their own house, they are not together. Sadly, we are at the receiving end. Some of these government functionaries and politicians have their children studying abroad, and for us who have our children here, schools are shut down. For those of us who have invested, it is like we did a wrong investment.

When you consider the number of children in the public and private schools, you would discover that those in private schools are higher. In Lagos State, for instance, over 70 per cent of children in the state are in private schools, I don’t know why the government would decide to punish us. I’m crying that the government should reopen schools.

Private school owners have been leading the call for the reopening of schools, but how truly prepared are they, especially your members?
We have done everything the government said we should do. In fact, AFED has gone as far as inventing our own automatic buckets; one of our teachers produced it. A microfinance bank asked me to produce 5,000 pieces so that we can distribute to all the schools.
Apart from that, we went into alliance with the local government heads across the different states. They have been disinfecting the various schools. We have done all that. We have made over 500,000 facemasks for the children. We even had donors from Poland, England and Nigeria who donated money for making all these things in preparation for resumption. So, we have practically done everything they said we should do, yet the schools remain shut.

The 5,000 dispensing buckets cost about N100 million, and facemasks also cost about N10 million, while the local government councils were mobilised for disinfection.

Between March when schools shut down and now, we have lost about N100 billion.

Most schools have embraced online learning since schools were shut down. Has AFED members also joined in this trend?
Even in the advanced world, online classes have never been an alternative. It is just a complimentary system of education. No matter how we are going about it, it cannot replace the conventional system of learning, not to talk of those of us who are still in the learning process of using the technology of online education.

Online learning cannot take the place of conventional learning. There is a university abroad which muted online learning, but the parents protested, how much more Nigeria.

In this country, there are different categories of schools. Where I superintend, we have the low cost schools where parents pay as low as N5, 000 and N10, 000 or even less in a term.

Is it people that are still battling to pay and have a lot of carryover (of fees) that will pay for online learning? When they cannot even pay the regular school fees, we still go ahead to teach them. You see some products of these low-cost schools leaving school and contributing to the economy.

The boy who produced that automatic water dispenser finished from one of the low-cost schools, and he came out with a first class from Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH).

Even when we are offering our education as low-cost, it does not mean it is low in quality. What we need is encouragement, but we are not getting it.

Private school teachers have been the worst hit since schools were shut down, as they have not been able to receive their salaries. What is your association doing to cushion the effect of the lockdown on teachers?
I am facing a similar problem as the teachers do. I’m a helpless person who cannot help the teachers. During the week, one of the teachers on my street accosted me, and I had to lead her to go and collect some food items on credit, hoping that when school resumes, I would pay for those items collected.

I want to appeal to the Federal Government to reopen schools, and even when the schools are reopened, education should be adequately funded. It is a direction that they have never looked at and that is why we are the way we are. While other nations of the world are battling to have solutions to the virus, looking for vaccines, we folded our hands, looking for the other countries to produce for us to buy. That shows the level of our educational development. We don’t prioritise education. I want to appeal that the government at all levels should give priority attention to education.

Besides, the government must assist private schools to survive. Government is supposed to provide jobs for teachers in these schools and if it has failed to do this, it should not see them as aliens. Some private school teachers have died of hunger, and I’m just coming from a family who got married last year and we got to know that the person is dead. He died from an illness associated with thinking and hunger.

In other countries, governments have been sending palliatives to citizens using their existing database. The Federal Government should follow suit. It can be a kind of incentive, grants or even loans. When the economy stabilises, we will begin to pay back.


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