The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) is worried by the proliferation of low-cost private schools. Reason: A research by Education International that the schools are not well regulated and do not employ qualified teachers. The union is also unhappy that a multinational got donor funds to establish low-cost private schools in Nigeria. However, low-cost schools owners defend their roles in the education space.
Last Thursday, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) leaders gathered at the Protea Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos for the presentation of findings of a study commissioned by Education International, the umbrella body of teachers’ unions and education personnel worldwide, on low-cost private schools operations in Lagos.
The study titled: “Quality and equalities: a comparative study of public and low-cost private schools in Lagos”, was conducted by Elaine Unterhalter and Lyndsey Robinson of the Institute of Education, University College, London, in collaboration with Jibrin Ibrahim of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, between last January and March.
Education International, headquartered in Brussels, commissioned the study to assess the spending of aid money by the Department for International Development (DFID) on private education through the Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN) programme and others, especially in light of the £3.45 million given to Bridge International Academies (BIA), a U.S.-based foreign multinational, to run low-cost private schools in Nigeria.
The researchers studied public schools, BIA and low-cost private schools in three neighbourhoods in Lagos to find out the cost of education, “working conditions of teachers, and ways in which quality and equalities were understood and put into practice”.
It found that BIA schools charged higher fees (N27,000-N36,000) than low-cost private schools (N11,000-N18,000) per year and had children whose parents had higher income bands than low-cost private and public schools. The study also found that BIA schools were more likely than low-cost ones to send school fees defaulters away, thereby excluding the poor from education.
In addition, the study found that compared to public schools, which employed only qualified teachers, BIA and low-cost private schools did not prioritise teacher quality and also paid barely above the minimum wage of N18,000. While the government paid teachers up to N52,000; BIA schools hovered around minimum wage, while most low-cost private schools paid even less.
The study also found that regulation by the government was less stringent with BIA and local low-cost schools compared to public schools, with the allusion that the government turned a blind eye to them likely because of the support they got from DEEPEN (and the argument that the government cannot fund education alone for all and the low-cost schools were saving the government huge sums that it would have cost to educate the children). As such, schools that would have been shut for not meeting minimum standards were not.
The study noted that the expansion of public schools was slow compared to the proliferation of private schools – a situation that may have been influenced by this backing for low-cost private education.
The study recommended that no DFID funds should be spent on BIA anymore, called for greater investment by the government in public education to fulfil the SDG4 Universal Education for All goal; and regulation of all schools such that they all comply with minimum standards.
The findings of the study have set the players involved defending their roles in providing quality education for children of Lagos State.
NUT/Education International: low-cost
private schools not alternative for public schools
The NUT and Education International have decried the use of aid money to support low- cost private education in Nigeria, especially as the study showed that the schools are not necessarily accessible to the poorest of the poor, and both bodies questioned the quality of education provided by the schools.
The union’s President, Comrade Michael Alogba Olukoya, said they were not an alternative to public education and called for increased government investment in public education.
Though he praised the Lagos State government for its efforts in regular payent of salaries and rehabilitation of schools, Olukoya said increased investment in education was necessary to give school-aged children equal opportunities to go to school without fear of exclusion because of fees.
Olukoya lamented that the DFID supported BIA with £3.45 million to enter the Nigerian education market rather than support expansion of public education.
He said: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria remains in need of and appreciates the assistance of international agencies in working with us to strengthen our public school systems. However, we consider it inappropriate that international development assistance is going to the private sector, rather than working with the government to develop quality in public schools.
“In effect, aid money is supporting the expansion of private schools. These schools are not accessible at all, certainly not to the poor, and are, therefore, contributing to a growing inequality and segregation in education.
“It is deplorable that millions of UK pounds (£3.45 million) have been donated from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to Bridge International Academies, facilitating its entry into Nigeria.
“Research has found that among private education providers in Lagos, Bridge is on average more expensive for parents, uses unqualified staff, has low standards for staff training and is less concerned about inclusiveness and equality than others.”
On his part, Angelo Gavrielatos, a representative of Education International Australia, said the research should raise alarm bells as it showed that multinationals were coming in to operate private schools without much regulation yet got aid money to do so while investment in public education was insufficient.
He said: “We know that in every country, we still have a lot of work to do to improve our education systems, but we should work together to improve our education systems to ensure access and equity for every child. It is deplorable that the UKAID agency is providing tax players dollars, funds intended for international development to a for profit US company. It is deplorable. It is not acceptable that AID money be given to for profit corporations. AID money should not be in the pockets for profit operators; AID money should be used to further develop the capacity, the strength and the quality of public schools which are open for all and to all in every country.”
He urged the government to invest further in public education and stop the exploitation by multinationals in the name of low-cost private education.
“We must expand the provisions of public education. That requires further investment. There is no greater investment than for a government to invest in children.”
He also called for regulation of schools based on uniformed government standard.
“What I am saying is that all operators should observe the law and where the laws are observed, there is no place in education for those who disregard and neglect national laws,” he said.
TRCN, SUBEB, Quality Assurance react
Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) Registrar, Prof Segun Ajiboye, who represented the Education Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, at the presentation, promised to present its findings before the minister.
However, in his capacity as the TRCN helmsman, he told The Nation that the teacher regulatory body was ready to enforce standards on teacher quality and sanction erring schools. He said the TRCN would set up a tribunal to probe teachers teaching without requisite qualifications.
“Enough of sabotaging our education system; enough of those coming to milk our education system. We will visit private schools to remove unqualified teachers from our schools. The minister has been asking when we would remove unqualified teachers from the classrooms,” he said.
When asked what the government was doing to address the limited expansion of public schools in Lagos, the State Universal Basic Education Board (LSUBEB) Chairman, Dr Ganiyu Sopeyin, told The Nation that the government was making efforts by requesting for land, taking over community schools, and expanding classroom infrastructure in public schools.
“The government is working on it. We are encouraging communities to establish schools where there are none and we take over these schools. Definitely, we will establish more. Those schools we have, we are increasing the classrooms in them. In some areas, we have clusters of schools on the same premises,” he said.
Director General, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Mrs Ronke Soyombo, said government had not relaxed its regulation of schools but was doing it in phases because of the large number in Lagos.
“There cannot be anything like relaxation because my office has been monitoring schools. Even her Excellency the Deputy Governor commended the work we have done. We have a planned itinerary for a year. But apart from that we respond to specific reports of concern from people about schools and we do so within 48-hours. If we haven’t been to some schools, it is just that we have not gotten to those areas,” she said.
Where schools are found wanting, Mrs Soyombo said they are assisted to meet standards, adding that they are paired with schools adjudged to be doing well.
Regarding BIA schools, Mrs Soyombo said those she visited were doing well – though they had to be cautioned to use only qualified teachers.
“We saw some of them (BIA schools) and in terms of standard, definitely they are doing well. Part of the things we fought with them was that teachers were not qualified and we told them to use only qualified teachers. We also insisted on the use of local resources so they have adapted and use our curriculum,” she said.
Nevertheless, source in th e ministry noted that not all schools are visited yearly. “We have over 20,000 schools and we cannot reach all the schools in a year,” the source said.
‘Shut low-cost schools, cause calamity; Kudos to DEEPEN, DFID for capacity building’
AFED National President, Mrs Esther Ifejola Dada said it would be counter-productive for the government to clampdown on low-cost private schools in the name of meeting standards without considering the peculiar services they rendered.
She said without low-cost schools, the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria would have been much higher.
She said despite charging fees as low as N3,000-N5,000 per term, many low-cost private schools still gave scholarships to children of the less privileged – confirming findings of the Education International research that low-cost private schools (not BIA) were more sympathetic to school fees defaulters.
“If we allow our children to leave, and we decided not to run schools, you would have seen the problem that would be in Lagos today – more area boys, so many atrocities committed. If we allow them to go out so that we can look for another job, then we see if the public schools can cope. We are trying to make sure we complement government effort. If we are not allowed to operate, there will be calamity,” she said.
Mrs Dada said as a result of the low fees, not all AFED schools could afford to employ qualified teachers and pay competitive wages – though the association urged members to comply with government regulations.
She said: “People outside are looking for jobs. How many are employed? In my school, I have 15 teaching staff and three non-teaching staff. If I let them go, multiply it by my 8,000 members, TRCN will not be able to do anything. Most of our schools have qualified teachers, but we cannot afford to pay with the fees we are collecting. What has TRCN done to address the issue?
“In my school, all those working with me are qualified. I have my qualification. If, out of 80, 50 are qualified, what can we do to manage the remaining 30? What is the quality in public schools that is not in our schools?”
Corroborating her, Mr Michael Adeyemi, proprietor of Berechah Royal Academy, Sogunle, and AFED Vice President, said AFED encourages its members to give scholarship to the poorest among their pupils, especially when they are operating in areas where there are few public schools.
On teacher qualification, Adeyemi said many so-called graduate teachers could not deliver in the classroom.
“I put out a vacancy outside my school for teachers. I tested the teachers using Ugo C. Ugo textbooks that is used to prepare children for Common Entrance. Most did not score more than 30 out of 50 in Mathematics and Quantitative Aptitude. The highest scored 32 in English. I gave the same test to a School Certificate holder and he cleared all the subjects. I employed him instead and trained him to teach,” he said.
Mr Emmanuel Orji, proprietor of Rockford School, Ikorodu, said though he had no school certificate holder in his school, he employed graduate teachers for difficult subject areas only. However, he said many teachers he had employed got their qualifications on the job.
“We take qualified teachers and engage them in specific areas of difficulties – like maths and English. I don’t have school certificate holder in my school but I have National Diploma and Higher National Diploma holders, B.ed and BSc. I have people who come into my school and use it as a passing phase and when they get to greener pastures, I wish them well,” he said.
Unlike BIA, schools under AFED received no grants from DEEPEN/DFID to operate. However, Mrs Dada praised the programme for making low-cost schools visible to government and building their capacity to deliver better quality education.
She said they appreciated how the programme attracted service providers to AFED schools.
Mrs Dada said: “Our cry is that DEEPEN is going by August. We are coming out of breastfeeding because they have tried so much for us. They intervened on our behalf. They gave government the reality of what we are doing. DEEPEN discovered that we are serious minded people. We have the vision and mission of helping the poor children. The parents that we have wiped away their tears will never forget AFED because they never believed their children will go to the university. Because of the way we nurtured them from primary school to secondary school they now gained scholarship to study in the university.
“Thank God for UK Government; they are the ones looking inward to encourage us and they brought in service providers. These service providers educate our members. DFID has assisted us. DEEPEN has given us millions of ideas to prosper in our businesses.
“In the area of tax, they came to deliver us from local government’s multiple taxation. We pay for registration, approval and local government will also come and bring their multiple taxes only to schools. It was UK government that came in to assist us and today we have our peace.”
Bridge International Academies: parents pleased with our schools
In an open letter made available to The Nation by the Public Relations Manager, BIA, Mr Femi Awopetu, in response to findings of the research, BIA faulted claim that its schools were more expensive and excluded the poor, adding that it offered more value than the pupils paid for.
Regarding the £3.45 million it received from DFID, BIA said it was in fulfilment of mandate given to DEEPEN to develop low-cost education in Nigeria.
The letter reads: “The report states that Bridge is on average more expensive for parents and is not serving the poor. This is not true as contrary to claims in the report, Bridge’s school fees remain within the threshold of low income school fees of N25,000.00 per annum. It is important to note that Bridge’s school fees includes the cost of classwork books, homework books and ALL textbooks used in class. Our fees also include the cost of extra lessons from 2pm to 5pm.
“We make our schools available to everyone who desires to give their children the chance to a life changing education and learning irrespective of their socio-economic class or affiliations at affordable fees. In addition to the low fees, there are scholarship programmes in place to support families who are unable to send their children to school or find it extremely difficult to pay the fees. In 2017, we also introduced another financial assistance programme to further provide support for families in our communities.
“On the grant, the £3.45m funds given to Bridge in 2015 by DfID through Developing Private Education in Nigeria (DEEPEN) was the minor component of a two-part £9.6 million grant given to DEEPEN. The minor component of the DEEPEN programme was set up to provide financial support for developing and deploying innovative business models for low cost private education to improve the quality of education for children in Lagos. The Global Partnership for Education, DFID, WEF and the World Bank reports have firmly advocated the use of private sector help in tackling the learning crisis. The reality we in Nigeria live in today is that our education system is in dire need of re-building.”