• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Teacher scarcity hits private schools in Nigeria as cost-of-living crisis worsens

Kogi Govt promises robust welfare package to motivate quality education delivery

Quality teachers in Nigerian private schools are deserting the classrooms in protest over salaries too low to shield them from a rampaging cost-of-living crisis.

It’s a difficult time not only for private school owners who are struggling to hold on to their staff but also for parents and their wards with quality education at risk.

This is creating teacher scarcity as most upcoming private schools in Nigeria pay these teachers a monthly salary that is below N50,000 ($33) a month.

Many pay a monthly salary of N25,000 which is below Nigeria’s minimum wage of N30,000, a pay that the Nigerian Labour Congress and other trade unions have been calling for a review owing to the biting current economic situation.

Presently, ordinary Nigerians are battling to keep their heads above water amid soaring living costs, which have continued to escalate since President Bola Tinubu introduced economic reforms that led to the removal of both petrol and forex subsidies in June 2023.

For 40-year-old Rasheed Babafemi, a school proprietor in the Songo-Ota area of Ogun State, the situation has not helped his school business.

He was excited to become a proud owner of a nursery and primary school, which opened its doors to pupils in the 2021/2022 academic session, but little did he know that he was up for a new challenge in his career.

Two years down the line, Babafemi and his co-founder of the school are struggling to find teachers and caregivers to take up the classes due to their inability to pay a living wage to willing teachers.

Babafemi blamed the scarcity of teachers on poor pay given to them as he confirmed that the school would not be able to raise its payroll above its present numbers due to a lack of finances to fund a bigger payroll.

His plight was worsened by the surging inflation that has battered many families and made it near impossible for families to put food on their tables.

“All these problems started after COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalated global inflation vis-à-vis Nigeria and shrunk the purchasing power of common Nigerians,” said Babafemi.

According to him, schools are now finding it extremely difficult to get qualified teachers basically due to the low pay that is given to these teachers.

Babafemi said that teachers in his school are resigning to take up jobs in factories where they earn between N40,000 and N50,000 or to do Point of Sale (PoS) business, which is putting food on their tables more than the teaching profession.

“We are pampering the teachers in our school just to make sure that they don’t resign because one can stay for months looking for a replacement. We condone their excesses in some cases, listen to their problems and attend to their case as if it is ours.

“Sometimes, the situation will be frustrating, and I regret going into school business. If I hadn’t started nurturing this school business before COVID-19, I wouldn’t have gone ahead with it because, before COVID-19, things were a lot easier. Today, the economic problems are mounting, and it is touching everybody,” he said.

“I can tell you for free that two of my friends that had schools have recently shut down. They told me they cannot continue as it was negatively impacting their health,” he further said.

Meanwhile, Bukola Abiola, a head teacher in a secondary school in the Ayobo area of Lagos, confirmed that the school has been suffering from insufficient teachers since the last academic session when the school lost one of the dedicated teachers to childbirth and another resigned.

Abiola said it has been difficult to find replacement for those teachers as the school has employed four different teachers who have resigned because they could not cope.

“The last teacher we employed said she could not continue because the task was too much for her and that she would not be able to deliver on them. She also said that the pay does not align with the task involved,” Abiola said.

Many families are seriously under pressure and they are finding it difficult to survive as the surging inflation keeps eating deep into their little income.

Soaring inflation squeezing income

In January 2024, the headline inflation rate increased to 29.90 percent relative to the December 2023 headline inflation rate which was 28.92 percent, according to the latest data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

NBS said in its Consumer Price Index (CPI) report – which measures changes in prices of goods and services – for January – the January 2024 headline inflation rate showed an increase of 0.98 percent points when compared to the December 2023 headline inflation rate.

Similarly, on a year-on-year basis, the headline inflation rate was 8.08 percent points higher compared to the rate recorded in January 2023, which was 21.82 percent.

According to the NBS, the food inflation, on a year-on-year basis was 35.41 percent, 11.10 percent points higher compared to the rate recorded in January 2023, which was 24.32 percent.

NBS stated that the rise in food inflation on a year-on-year basis was caused by an increase in prices of bread and cereals, potatoes, yam and other tubers, oil and fat, fish, meat, fruit, coffee, tea, and cocoa.

Teachers deserting classrooms

“I am desperately searching for a new job because I want to leave the teaching profession. The N40,000 that I’m earning is no longer adding up for me,” said Sandra Nwauba, a 45-year-old sprinter.

Nwauba has been in the teaching profession for over 20 years, yet her salary is still below $30, and this is making it extremely difficult for her to pay her bills.

“We give our all in the classroom to mould future leaders, yet our take-home pay is not taking us home anymore. Two weeks into the month, I will be struggling to feed and pay other bills yet, I’m working and collecting my salary. This is why I want to change jobs as soon as possible,” she said.

She said she has submitted her résumé to different establishments and gone for interviews for a few, adding that if any opportunity presents itself, she will be leaving teaching.

Multiple taxation and low tuition choke schools

BusinessDaySunday tried to find out why the school owners are not measuring up in terms of paying their teachers up to N75,000 (about $50) a month, but the school owners raised a lot of concerns.

Suleiman Adewale, a school owner in the Idimu area of Lagos, said schools can only pay teachers according to tuition fees that parents are paying.

According to him, his pupils are paying about N20,000 tuition per child and if you try to raise the fees to meet up with present economic realities, parents will be crying and pleading while some will pull their children out without paying.

“It is even difficult for parents to pay the little that we are collecting as tuition. Some parents will allow their children to attend classes for a whole term without paying fees and at the end of the school term such a parent will her children to another school without paying the school what they owe,” Suleiman said.

He said that apart from parents resisting raise in school fees, the government is also piling the school with multiple taxes that is making things difficult.

“The business environment is not friendly and the little money we raise from tuition fees is what we use to run the school and pay all the bills including teachers’ salaries and high energy costs,” he added.

Teachers’ coping mechanism

The question now is how are those who are teaching in such private schools coping with the hard times in Nigeria?

Joshua Apata, a teacher in a school located in the Surulere area of Lagos, told BusinessDay Sunday that he was currently multi-tasking to raise extra income.

He said he handles home coaching classes for students and after-school lessons in school.

“We do one extra hour of lessons for students in our school and encourage their parents to pay a token that we teachers share to make up. After the extra lesson period, I also have students who are not in my school that I take on home coaching classes,” Apata said.

Amanda Efe, another teacher said she does online sales on her social media page to make up for the low pay.

She said she buys and sells articles of clothing and fashion, to both physical and online customers to raise extra cash.

“I upload them on my social media page and also go to church or social gathering with them to sell because man must survive,” she said.