As primary and secondary schools in Nigeria resume for a new academic session after an extra ‘Ebola holiday’, one thing is certain – new pupils and new students in schools and also new schools for ‘old’ pupils and students.
Sometimes I ask: how really do parents and guardians go about choosing schools for their children or wards?
In the last two decades or more, parents of primary or secondary age children do aspire that their children attend private sector run schools, which now litter every corner of our urban spaces. This aspiration is against the background of the visible decay of the public school system in many states of the federation. Riding on this popular disapproval of public schools, is the pervading perception that all private sector schools are better than all public sector schools.
Even with tertiary education in the country, the generalization is escalated and private is better than public. But on a close and rigorous examination, popular judgment is somewhat misleading.
I am particularly worried because the facts on the ground reveal that the quality of instruction being provided by schools should not be deciphered by the ownership – public or private.
Once a sales man for a book publishing company, I visited many primary and secondary schools, public and private in the course of my daily selling routine. I realized that a good number of the private schools I visited had teachers who had no business being in the teaching profession, because they were neither qualified nor had any justifiable passion for teaching. And to make matters worse they groan over poor emolument from the school proprietors, making them de-motivated and naughty. In such schools, the teachers get by through veiled extortionist methods unleashed on parents in the guise that they would provide extra care for pupils or students. In such private primary schools, pupils are kept after school for compulsory extra lessons paid for by parents. Imagine little kids that left home as early as 7am being in school till 4pm all in the name of extra lessons. What is the school period meant for? Are the normal school hours not enough for approved curriculum?
This extortionist culture is also seen in many public schools, even when teachers in these schools are largely qualified and earn better than the average teacher in the average private primary or secondary schools, with provisions for pension and other welfare packages provided in the Civil Service.
With global reports highlighting that little is learnt in many schools across Africa, and the increasing incidence of poor pass rates in certifying examinations, governments in Nigeria should not be laid back in the duty of monitoring the method and quality of instruction in the schools system. The private sector schools that collect more tuition fees, sometimes outrageous fees, should be monitored to evaluate how cost-effective they are, and re-assure Nigerians that parents are not been fleeced.
We have in recent times observed the clamp-down on private schools that are un-approved and sub-standard. Such practice should continue and not be done in a reactive way, but in a pro-active and strategic manner across schools, whether private or public. Also, if a public school, owned by government is not providing appropriate instruction, shouldn’t such a school be shut down and appropriate sanctions meted out to persons responsible?
Beyond the temporary threat of Ebola spread as schools reopen, is the threat of weak regulation of our schools system especially as schools now mushroom, and school operators ride roughshod on the back of a ‘magic wand’ private sector.