By: Dorcas O. Aluko
On a bright Monday morning, the usual early dawn, rush was in full gear on the streets of Lagos as children with different colors of uniforms were heading to their schools.
Some were on their own while others were guided along the roads by older children or adults. Along Ishola Daniel Street, a group of pupils in their orange and black uniforms were headed in the same direction. After a brief walk, they arrived at their school, Unique Private School which was situated at the end of the street.
A visit to the school reveals that it was a low-cost one, boasting of about 80 pupils with five teachers offering academic services in some rooms in a face-me-I-face-you residential building. The general assembly started at exactly 7:45 am with teachers supervising the activities and pupils in their queues, singing melodiously not minding the gazes of passersby feeding their eyes on them.
In other places, it might be an unusual sight but in Lagos, it is not new. Low-cost private education institutions utilize every available space judiciously to do their jobs while trying to do their best to make it as conducive as possible for their students. Low-cost schools are private educational institutions found mostly in communities densely populated and characterized by low tuition fees, moderate physical structure in a not-too-good conducive learning environment, and providing a standard of education of average quality.
A class session in one of Lagos private school. PC: Doracs Aluko
These schools which were seen and treated as social pariahs in the last decades seem to have become a normal part of today’s society, especially in Lagos State. They have spread at a very fast rate and are present in every corner of the state. A survey showed that in Orile-Oshodi LCDA alone, there were more than 50 of them. Adejumobi street which contained just 18 houses, for example, had three low-cost schools operating there.
According to the World Bank Report, Lagos is the biggest private school market in the world with over 57 percent of the state’s primary and secondary school students enrolled in over 12,000 private schools in Lagos. There are currently 1045 public primary schools in Lagos which is not enough to cater for over 1,250,000primary-age children. These government schools are no doubt attended by children from the poorest homes.
The establishment of these low-cost schools has become expedient as the state government can no longer cater to all the educational needs of the population that keeps increasing day by day. The state population had moved from 11,127,000 to 15,388,000 in just a decade. Pupils have doubled in number but the creation of new schools has scarcely happened in the last decade in the state. Even the existing ones do not have enough facilities to give adequate education to their numbers.
A survey of five different schools in three local governments showed that the schools had an average ratio of fifty pupils to one teacher as opposed to the United Nations recommended ratio of thirty-five pupils to one teacher. Since public schools can no longer guarantee standard education anymore, parents are forced to enroll their wards in private schools. This has generated hardships for parents who have low incomes and can hardly feed themselves.
Although they have little to spare for school fees, they still desire that their kids have access to good education and are torn between very limited options of paying huge amounts of fees in a standard private school or allowing their kids to continue in public schools where adequate attention are not being paid to them. This is where these low-cost private schools come to play. They serve as a third option for these parents as they provide the desired service at a low cost.
Government-owned schools are not bad themselves when compared to low-cost schools, public schools have more conducive environments and stronger staff strength. A larger percentage of the low-cost schools are not government-approved (only about 5000 out of 18,000 schools are approved) and have a low percentage of certified teachers. Most of their academic staff are O’level holders with a few having NCE and B.Ed. However, members of staff of public schools have a poor attitude toward work and lack good management for the schools, which has continued to paint the academic institutions in a bad light. This has contributed to why many parents do not see them as viable options anymore.
Over time, academic superiority, higher opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities, dissatisfaction with government-owned schools and the desire to have their kids study in a more disciplined environment have become leading reasons why parents choose private schools. Many parents do not also want to send their wards to public schools because they do not want to be attached to the tag of being poor.
However, there is a conventional assumption that only the poorest of the poor attend government schools and some parents will choose to affirm their financial status by sending their wards to private schools rather than sending them to government schools even if the facilities in the latter were better than the former.
Parents Share Their Experiences
When asked why she chose to have her kids attend a school that operates in the boy’s quarters of a residential building rather than register them in a public school that has enough classrooms, Mrs. Hannah Kalejaiye, a 36 years old mother of twin boys explained that the public schools had very little to offer her kids.
“My kids were attending Community Primary School, Ewutuntun last year and I always had to visit the school for one complaint or the other. If it is not that they were made to spend four hours cutting grasses in the school, it would be that they attended school and had no assignments for a whole week. It became a big embarrassment when my neighbor’s kids who were agemates with mine could read big words and sentences fluently and my two boys of nine years old in primary three could not even pronounce three-letter words properly.
“I went to the school to complain again but the teachers rudely advised me to register my kids in after-school classes as they were doing enough on their parts already. After this event, I just knew there had to be a change. Although I and my husband are not earning much we will prefer to starve than to have our kids suffer academically. So we decided to enroll them in a private school we could afford” she narrated.
When asked about the difference after she enrolled her kids in the school, she responded that it took only one term at the low-cost school for her kids to start reading fluently and doing better in their academics.
Another parent, Mrs. Emelda Nwosu whose child is a pupil at God’s Time Children Academy, a low-cost private school in Meiran, Lagos had nice things to say about the school. However, she also mentioned that the school had challenges in terms of physical structure.
“My daughter who is five years old attends God’s Time Children Academy and I am always proud of the school. My daughter can read words that many children of her age cannot and she can recite a lot of things she was taught as poems. This is because the school uses a play-and-learn method to teach its pupils.
“I have never regretted enrolling my child in the school even if people consider it a low-cost school that does not have the colors and toys that regular private schools have. However, I’d love the school to change the location too because their present place of operation is not conducive.
“The roofs are leaking and pupils get wet each time it rains. I have spoken with the proprietress and she said that there are not enough funds to do that yet but she is on top of the issue. I wish I had more money, I would have given her to do the needful because the school is doing a great job” she said.
Mr. Seun Joseph Aderotimi, a registered teacher and the Lead Consultant at Joes’ Educational Consult claims low-cost private schools are a blessing because they are actively filling the gap for the government in areas of provision of quality education and employment opportunities.
“We cannot overlook the fact that they have helped to reduce the number of unemployed in the country. The establishment of low-cost schools is a good thing because many people will be able to afford them. A lot of parents are not satisfied with the service or quality of education provided by public schools today so those low-cost private schools serve as alternatives to them.
“They may not be able to compete with the standard of high-cost private schools but we cannot say they pose a danger in any sense. They are not a threat because if we look at the economic status and the earning level of Nigerians, it is not everybody that can afford high-cost schools. At the level they operate, they are trying”.he said.
Aderotimi also recommended that rather than banning them, the government supports these establishments with loans and grants and also ensures an enabling environment for them so they can improve in the kind of services they are providing.
The President of the Association Of Private School Owners (APSO), Mr. Toriola Ayinde believes that private schools, in general, are established to fill the gap the state government has created due to the lack of adequate public schools in densely populated areas.
According to him “It is a fact that public schools don’t provide nursery Education but majorly primary education. The need for parents as well to drop their children off at an early age in school to afford them the opportunity of fending for the family, so such kids are enrolled in daycare centers cum nursery Schools.
“Many working-class parents as well are only giving a few months of maternity leave after which they have no choice other than to give their kids to a caregiver which is usually schools with daycare facilities. So the need to cater to these needs of parents has led to the increase in the number of Private Schools.
“Some of the major reasons for the proliferation of Private Schools in Lagos is the need to fill the vacuum created by lack of adequate public schools in some densely populated areas aside from the fact that public schools don’t provide nursery Education but majorly primary education.” He said.
The low-cost schools are not without their shortcomings and excesses
Ayinde pointed out a few of them. In his words, “Large class of pupils in public schools makes teaching not to be effective, so any parents who can afford or spare some token will eventually put their kids in private schools which are believed to be better off. This development however is not so good as it has become an all-comers affair. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry is now a school owner because the profession or industry is not well regulated and monitored like engineering, nursing, and medical professions.
“This in itself has done more harm than good to the industry. There’s no doubt low-cost schools are filling some gaps but not all as some are bastardizing the industry. There’s a lot of danger inherent in the quality of education provided by low-cost Schools. It’s obvious these days and will be worse in years to come because their products can not pass any external exams without being aided.
“The irony is there are no Central regulations for low-cost Schools but there’s a body in Lagos State ministry of education saddled with the responsibility of regulating, monitoring, and supervision of Private schools in general but lack enough manpower to do the job” he added.
Reacting to the question of what APSO is doing to curb the excesses of the low-cost schools’ practitioners, he said that the association is doing its best in terms of sensitization on the need to set a standard and training of members yearly in all areas of education up to school approval just to ensure that members give the best to the society.