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A common sight on the streets of Nigeria is the presence of low-fee schools that provide basic education for the country’s sprawling population of children below sixteen years of age due to the government’s weakening ability to do so.
Nigeria’s population has increased by 53 million in the last 12 years; figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show. The figures captured in a report, “Demographic Statistical Bulletin 2017” available on the website of the NBS, show that the country’s population which stood at 140 million in 2006, had swelled to 193 million by 2016.
The data means Africa’s largest economy and most populous country has 53 million children between ages 0 and 12, to cater for. In another ten years, these children are going to be the country’s labour force in an age that will be dominated by technology in a knowledge-driven economy. But educationists have noted that the country is not adequately preparing its children for the challenges ahead.
As population gallops away at 3.20 percent yearly, Nigeria’s capacity to provide basic education is not keeping pace and low-fee schools, that is, schools that charge less than N10, 000 per term are filling this gap.
Experts have also said education has gone beyond what government alone can provide at any level. Private sector participation is necessary. At the basic education phase, the scale: either big or small is does not matter. What counts most is compliance with set standards, especially with reference to the quality of teachers.
“Whether a school is low or high fee, it needs to comply with basic standards. We do not regulate private schools but we regulate their teachers” Josiah Ajiboye, registrar and executive officer of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria told BusinessDay.
Many of these low-fee schools in Lagos and Benin City, those BusinessDay visited, can best be described as makeshift structures, located either in uncompleted church buildings, church multi-purpose halls, residential buildings (with tenants living alongside the schools) and crowded noisy environments (which make learning a major challenge).
Some of the findings of the investigation show that low-cost schools face four challenges, which include government regulation, tax and revenue, managerial knowledge gap among low-cost fees schools operators, and lack of funding opportunities. However, the Association for Formidable Educational Development (AFED) is helping low fees schools’ operators interface with government, particularly in Lagos State, where there have been appreciable milestones. The Association has also established a secretariat in Benin City.
“There is a need for AFED schools to begin repositioning students to harness, create and leverage on local and global opportunities; meet the growing demand for technological skills which include, logical reasoning, problem solving, design and creativity,” said Ronke Soyombo, director general, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos State Ministry of Education at AFED’s 2018 National Congress.
During a visit to one of such schools, Brighter Future Nursery and Primary, School in Isolo area, the school was located in the type of building called face-me-I-face-you of 12 rooms. The school renovated and occupies six of the rooms.
When BusinessDay’s reporter arrived at the school’s premises, 11:13 am some of the tenants were busy preparing lunch and the aroma filled the air while pupils in each of the six classrooms chorused one repetitive rhyme or item of a lesson as instructed by the teacher.
“We used to stay in a smaller building across the street but as the number of our pupils grew, we had to expand into this building. We hope to eventually acquire a piece of land and build our permanent site” the proprietor, who wishes to stay anonymous said.
In 1999, Nigeria’s Federal Government introduced the Universal Basic Education, a programme to provide free primary and secondary education for every Nigerian child aged 6 – 16 years. But the UBE programme got legal backing five years later, with the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education Act, 2004.
In the Act “basic education” means early childhood care and education and nine years of formal schooling; “child or ward” means a person of primary or junior secondary school age who is between the age of 6 years and 16 years whether disabled or not.
In Part 1 of the Act without prejudice to the provisions of item 30 of Part II of the Second Schedule and item 2 (a) of the Fourth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution dealing with primary school education, the Federal Government’s intervention under this Act shall only be an assistance to the States and Local Governments in Nigeria for the purposes of uniform and qualitative basic education throughout Nigeria.