Sola Ojo, Kaduna
After teaching in several private schools in Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria, for several years, Mr Oliver Okorie, an Abia State-born educationist, resigned to start his own school in order to meet the primary and junior secondary education needs of his immediate neighbourhood in a low-income setting called Gonigora in Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Statistics from the National Association of Proprietors of Private School (NAPPS), Kaduna State chapter, states that there are about 4,000 private schools with 2,300 of them duly registered with the body and with teaching staff strength of approximately 10,000 spread across the 23 local government areas of the state, thereby making them critical stakeholders in the education sector.
For the past 14 years with the staff strength of 20, Mr Okorie has been managing Excel Star Academy, located at Gonigora, until the emergence of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and subsequent lockdown of the global economy including schools where he and others earn their living.
Since then, Mr. Okorie and several others in his shoes, who shared their experiences, are finding it difficult to weather the storm flung at them by the pandemic. Okorie is bittered because he has not been able to pay his staff salaries for five months since that depends on payment of school fees by parents.
“I have 16 teaching and four administrative staff. So, plus me, we are 21 workforces in the school. We manage to pay them March salary. Afterwards, it has been a hallowing experience because we have not been able to pay. I am now a teacher turned preacher. I try to let them see the reason for what is happening, the source of the problem.
“We were asked to close the school before the end of the term. Invariably, many parents still owed. We did a comparative analysis on estimated revenue for the term and what had come in as the time the schools were locked. We easily understood and that was because I don’t belong to the group that makes the school fee drive a tradition.
“I now organise lessons for some students and my wife runs small poultry which is what we do now to manage ourselves and the family. In some other countries, they give subventions to private schools. However, with what is happening now, simple palliative will help a great deal”, Okorie submitted.
Mr. Benjamin Olabode is a teacher and also the Vice-Principal (Academics) at Baptist Model Academy, Angwan Baro, Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna, where payment of salaries depends on the payment of school fees which was not forthcoming since the lockdown in the state.
According to the VP, the last time he and his colleagues got paid was in April, hinging the sustainability of his financial obligations on the provision from above and long term planning, “this is a faith-based school, so, the fees was not much and even at that, parents too are lockdown and some of them could not earn returns and that effect payment of school fees”.
“Since the lockdown, things have not been easy for the staff of the college. We have to engage our SSS 3 and JSS 3 students online and of course, that cannot be effective as if they are in the classroom, especially the subjects that have to do with practical.
“As a teacher in a private school where our payment depends on payment of school fees, it has been hectic managing the five months of lockdown without equivalent income. Though the school is trying, the last time we got salaries was in April. God is the one sustaining us, “ he said.
At Ansar-Ud- Deen College, Bida/Abeokuta Road, Kaduna North Local Government Area, teachers were happy as schools begin to reopen gradually with the exit students, though it has not been easy for some of them to keep body, soul and spirit together without the regular income they were used to.
A teacher, who was at the school’s entrance when our Correspondent visited, Mr. Abdulyekeen Taofeek, said his saving grace was his ability to save for the raining days like what COVID-19 presented to the world.
He said “This is a society school and the management is trying to keep it running as much as possible without compromising the standard and I commend them for that. However, it was not easy to stay without salaries within the lockdown period in Kaduna though the school management tried to cushion the effect of the lockdown on the staff.’’
A teacher at a private school at Hayi Malam Bello New Extension, Kaduna North Local Government Area, Mrs. Halima Mu’azu, lamented that for the past five months, she has not received salary from her employer as the lockdown persists. She said the last time she received salary was in March 2020 shortly after schools were shut down due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“Honestly, it has not been easy since schools were shut. We have not been paid salary for more than five months. But in my case, I’m happy that I’m married and my husband is working and doing his best to take care of me and the children.
“But my major concerned and worry is when I think of my male colleagues that are married without alternative sources of income. Teaching is the only work they do and now the schools are closed. So I used to wonder how they were fairing. Presently I heard life has not been easy for some of them. But we are hoping that things will normalise so that we all return to work soon – God willing,” she prayed.
Meanwhile, the staff of some private schools like Danbo International Schools, located along Kachia Road in Kaduna South Local Government Area of the state, did not experience a break in transmission with regard to payment of salaries as at when due. Findings by The Education Report revealed that the school management got a loan in addition to available resources in order to retain its good hands.
Mr. Emmanuel Obaka, who has been teaching Biology for the past 20 years until he rose to become the Principal at Danbo International Schools, said there was no much gap within the period of physical academic hibernation orchestrated by COVID-19 because his school was in tune with information and communication technology.
“Before COVID-19, we were in tune with ICT. There were no much missing gaps within the period of the lockdown because we keep our students closely. The school has been paying its staff and that was why we are able to keep them. But, that was because of the healthy relationship we have with the Parent Teacher’s Association (PTA) under the chairmanship of Mr. Rabi Aminu, an engineer and the foresight of our Executive Director, Christianah Abosede, “ Obaka said.
Vice Principal, Special Duties, Danbo International Schools, Mrs. Zainab Mohammed, confirmed that she has been receiving her salaries as at when due, adding “we were ever prepared. In fact, the school was the first to commence online classes even before the lockdown. This was because we don’t want to keep our student’s boring while they are away from school especially, during school breaks. It has been amazing to me as a woman – managing work and home at the same time. I would not want to say it had not been challenging because I have to work from home and at the same time managing the children.
Secretary, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Kaduna State chapter, Mr. Philip Lorhena, called on both the Federal and Kaduna State Governments to provide a special palliative for private schools, noting ‘’the state government has not done anything for private schools. There is no palliative from both the state and the federal governments. I am aware of planned palliative for private schools but we have not seen something tangible. Only a few, very few schools have accessed the palliative. What we have is just propaganda in the media but in the real sense, we did not accessing anything here.”
Lorhena said, “What we want as schools is for the government to come out and say we have seen the effect of COVID-19 and as one of our major stakeholders in education, this is what we want to do for you. I mean, a specific opportunity for private schools where members can go and access so far they meet up with the requirements on a single-digit.
“Just like what is going on in Oyo State which has created that opportunity to access like N2million and above as loan just to cushion the effect of COVID-19. But in our own case, nothing is really coming from both the state and the Federal governments,” he claimed.
Even with the partial reopening of 270 schools on August 9 for boarding schools and August 10 for day students to enable the over 44,000 students in senior secondary school (SSS3) write their external examinations, operators of private schools are uncertain of their near future while their counterparts in government schools are getting alert on a monthly basis.