Away with spurious fees in private schools
Reports that parents are being fleeced practically by schools in many parts of the country, under the guise of various levies and charges are disheartening. They point glaringly to official neglect of the rights of children and failure of government to carry out basic obligations for the children’s education.
It appears that the nation’s duty bearers many of whom benefited from public schools are showing helplessness as parents groan under these spurious fees in Naira and sometimes in dollars. In the light of government’s ineptitude, many parents are suffering in silence and clearly, they and the children in this category ‘cannot breathe.’
According to media reports, some private primary and secondary schools across the country charge parents and guardians for many spurious items, including development and entrepreneurship levies, without materials or tools for practicals; and fees for diction in the English Language in the absence of a language laboratory; not discounting payment for end of the year or new year party, which sometimes is five times more than the cost of the party items and event management. These fees are exclusive of school, report card and lesson fees, among others such as security, websites, magazines commonly described as “Skool media.”
Some private school owners responded that they offer value for money; that some of the fees are to cushion the effects of the harsh economic realities, including the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the global economy to its knees, the spiralling inflation in the country as can be seen in the high cost of doing business and the multiplier effect of the endless insecurity in the country, which have consequential effects on the cost of our operations.
What is clear is that governments at various levels have failed the people and exposed them to exploitation because the poor state of public schools led many parents and guardians to patronise private ones. If the government had maintained quality in public schools as it was in the 70s and 80s, people will not be at the mercy of private school owners who run businesses for profit.
Essentially, children’s poor access to education in public school is occasioned by the deteriorating standards of the public schools and the overpopulation, inadequate number of qualified teachers, materials and schools, particularly for children in remote areas, children living with disabilities, children in IDP camps and ethno-linguistic minorities all of which have exposed parents and guardians to exploitation by private schools.
Governments at all levels appear to have no regard for the Child’s Right Act, 2003, which in section 15 (1) states that “every child has the right to free, compulsory and universal basic education and it shall be the duty of the Government in Nigeria to provide such education; while Section 15 (2) states at “Every parent or guardian shall ensure that his child or ward attends and completes his – (a) primary school; and (b) junior secondary education.
It is unfortunate that till date, the Child Rights Act 2003 has been promulgated into law in only 28 states. This means that millions of children in eight states in Nigeria still do not have the appropriate legal framework for their right to free, compulsory and universal basic education. As well, millions of other children in states that have passed the law are not being cared for as they should because the laws are not being fully implemented.
While provision of basic schools may be the preserve of the states, Ipso facto, the Federal Government cannot distant itself from the ‘cry’ of parents and guardians on this issue, because the reality is that there are not enough public schools in the country for Nigerian children! It is now becoming clearer why Nigeria has a high number of out-of-school children (OOSC).
Ignoring children’s access to quality education is poor management of the huge human capital that could increase the number of out-of-school children, which could result in demographic ‘disaster’ in the future. It is therefore imperative that the Nigerian state gives her children access to quality education in order to harvest them as demographic ‘dividend’ in the future. As a result, there should be renewed commitment of government and the private sector to address the situation and give the children a brighter future.
At present, there is no single measure to change the narrative. The solution lies in multi-level interventions and investments in public schools. Therefore, people holding trust for Nigerians should rise up to the occasion and push for investment in public schools, so that citizens can be reassured of quality education in such schools.
Across various levels of government, making sure that children have access to quality education in public schools should been seen as a moral and legal obligation in line with the 2003 Child Rights Act. Leaders should address corruption to free up funds to invest in education; and the country should implement the Universal Basic Education fully. Government at all levels should equip public schools to compete with the private ones by developing a culture of continuously improving the quality of education from primary to tertiary levels through the provision of state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities, capacity building for teachers and many other programmes to promote effective teaching and learning in public schools.
Governments can curb the spurious fees by addressing the burden of multiple taxations faced by private schools through legislation. So, government can legislate at least on the ease of doing ‘education business.’ The government can also ensure adequate power supply to reduce the cost of running on generators in order to reduce the cost of running the schools, which is pass on as spurious fees.
The private sector should also come to the rescue or else today’s neglected children are tomorrow’s abductors, kidnappers, street urchins, who will be threats to that multi-billion dollar business. This can be done as corporate social responsibility projects.
Governments and education-focused NGOs should raise public awareness; seek the support of relevant multilateral and bilateral agencies; engage the public and mobilise them for action towards the realisation of children’s right to education in Nigeria.