…As students return en masse to public schools
From George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Okey Sampson (Aba), Aloysius Attah (Onitsha), Emmanuel Uzor (Abakaliki) and Petrus Obi (Enugu)
Before now, in the South East states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo, most of the people preferred to send their children and wards to private primary and secondary schools.
The chief reason for this was the instability in the calendar of the public schools occasioned by strikes by the teachers when owed by the government.
However, with some of the states in the region operating free education, the public schools still enjoyed high patronage by parents and guardians whose resources are lean. But this was not so in the states where there is no free education like Abia.
People in the states that don’t practise free education still preferred the private schools. But that was before the economic downturn. At the moment, most parents and guardians have been forced to withdraw their children and wards from private to public schools.
In Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha’s free education policy anchored on his rescue mission agenda has had held together the public schools in the state.
Following that policy pronouncement, the public school enrolment in the state immediately went up to over 400,000 in both the secondary and primary schools.
But ironically, most of the middle income earners, including civil servants who could afford the high fees charged by the private schools in the state, shunned the public schools that are free, preferring to pay the higher fees charged by the private schools.
Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that most parents and guardians were hesitant to leave the private schools, as they believed that such schools have more dedicated teachers, well stocked libraries, are better equipped with necessary instructional materials like science laboratories, and would provide opportunities for their children and wards to be exposed to information and computing technology (ICT) unlike in the public schools where such facilities are either inadequate or non-existent.
However, public schools in Imo have continued to enjoy increased enrolment as the state government embarked on the expansion of infrastructure like in the Owerri City School and the newly established Imo Girls’ College, both in the Owerri metropolis.
One of the teachers at Owerri City School, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the school has witnessed more influx of students in the last four years as most parents had taken the advantage of the free education policy of the government.
According to her, “the number of students, both in the secondary and primary sections of the school, has increased because of the free education. That is why the state government commenced the building of another extension of the city school at the former Fire Service where the primary section would soon be relocated to decongest the main school.
“We had more enrolment last September, as most parents who previously had their children in private primary schools brought them to the school either because of increment in fees or the current recession and even some of our staff who also have their children in private schools have enrolled them in the school now.
“It is the same with the Imo Girls Secondary School which the state government established after the Owerri Girls Secondary School was returned to the Catholic dioceses of Owerri, the original owner of the school. The Catholic School now charges school fees. And as most of the parents can no longer afford the fees being charged, they had to relocate them to the public schools.”
Investigation also revealed that the current economic crunch has adversely affected the income of most families in the state. The middle cadre civil servants are the worst hit, as they now receive only 70 per cent of their monthly salaries.
This has made most of them to either withdraw their children and wards from the more expensive private schools like the Madonna, Oak, Rosy Kids whose fees per term range from N35,000 to N60,000 and now put them in the public schools that are more affordable.
Mr Martins Kelechi, a trader, told Daily Sun that he had to withdraw two of his wards from the private schools at the beginning of the new academic session last September as he could no longer afford the fees of the private school. He said he had to enrol them in the public school to ensure that their education was not disrupted.
Said he: “After my shop was demolished in June by the state government because of the Orlu\Owerri Road expansion around Amakohia, I could not continue to pay the fees for my two wards which is about N75, 000 per term. I had no choice but to enrol them in a public school in the meantime because the little money I had was used to rent another shop. As soon as I recover financially, I will take them out of the public school because they are not being properly taught. The teachers are being owed salaries.”
Speaking in the same vein, Margaret Amadi said that her two children had to be withdrawn from their former school, Madonna, a Catholic-owned school last year because of the fees. She said she got them enrolled in another private school whose fees were affordable.
Her words: “The school is quite good, because it is managed by Reverend sisters. But when we could no longer afford the school fees, we had to find an alternative, which is to register them in another private school whose fees are affordable. Taking them to the free public school is not an option. In the public schools, the children are not well taken care of like it is done in the private schools. So, our main priority is to ensure that the kids are taught very well. For instance, my six-year-old daughter, who is in primary three, can read very well.”
However, some of the private schools in the state, in a bid to retain their students, have dumped the old practice of sending home students whose parents have not paid fees so that they would not be taken to other schools.
Similarly, Anambra State has enjoyed free education over the years. But most of the residents still sent their children and wards to private schools until recently.
Investigations carried out in Onitsha and its environs revealed that there is really an increase in the enrolment of pupils and students in public schools.
The biting economic crunch has forced many families who had up to five children or wards in private schools to withdraw many of them and enrol them in the public schools.
When Daily Sun visited Awada Primary and Secondary School, a government-owned institution, located between the boundary of Onitsha and Obosi, a schoolteacher and the principal confirmed that there was an influx of students during the beginning of the new academic session.
Theresa Umeokanne, who teaches primary three pupils in the school, said President Muhammadu Buhari should re-examine his governance policies and style, noting that the masses, who were dying from hardship, could get some succour.
The Head Teacher of the school was not around when Daily Sun visited, and so the reporter could not get the accurate statistics of the enrolment. But Umeokanne said her own class had increased by 35 per cent during the beginning of the new session.
“We have six primary schools in this compound and they all have classes from Basic One to Basic Six too. You can see for yourself that all the classes are booming. Both the morning school and the afternoon school had an increase of pupils during the last academic session. There is too much hardship in the country today and parents had to realize that it is imperative to adjust in their spending.
“But funny enough, it was not because the private schools were doing better in terms of teaching and learning that made many people to enrol their children in the first place there. Many just wanted to create a status symbol that their children study in such ‘highbrow’ school where they pay huge amounts, ranging from N10,000 to N120,000. But today, things have changed and they need to readjust, or else many wouldn’t be able to feed their families three times in a day anymore,” she said.
The Principal of Awada Secondary School, Sir Anisiobi Obiora, in a chat with Daily Sun also confirmed that there was an astronomical increase in the number of students, noting that the school was battling to contain it.
“Last year, 1,800 pupils during their Common Entrance Examination chose our school as their first choice. This year, we had 3,860 seeking admission, but out of the number, we couldn’t take more than 500 because of space. You know that education is free in Anambra public schools as the junior classes just pay a little token for exam fees while the senor students don’t pay more than N3, 000 in a term here.
“Compare it with some of the private schools that take up to N60, 000 as school fees and you can easily spot the difference. The scale has fallen off the eyes of most parents, and they’ve realised that the so-called quality, which the private schools brandish as their selling point, is just in parenthesis. Some of them employ secondary school leavers as teachers, but in our public schools, the least qualification you can see is the NCE certificate.
“Besides the fees is the issue of equipment and facilities. Public schools in Anambra have internet facilities and computers paid and provided for by the government. Our libraries are stuffed with books while the teachers are paid as at when due. All these are what parents have now realised and they are now trooping back to public schools. We have 65 per cent increases in population now because of both economic recession and realisation of all these I’ve enumerated,” he said.
At Great Minds International School, Omagba, Onitsha, the proprietor of the private school, Mrs Muofunanya Bridget confirmed that there was a drop in enrolment this year, but refused to disclose the actual number.
She attributed the situation to the economic recession. She however countered the position that private schools lacked facilities.
In her words, the private schools merely charge relatively higher fees because the government does not give them subvention of any kind. She said private schools have to struggle to offset all bills and pay their members of staff.
A parent, Mr Chijioke Iwuchukwu confirmed that it was the prevailing hardship that made him to return his children to the public schools.
“I had four of my children in a private school with my house-help. Initially, the owner of the school enticed me and some of my friends when she came up with a promo that if you register four, you get one free. That was how I carried all of them to the school and again, the distance was an attraction because the school is just close to our residential apartment.
“But during the beginning of the first term, they came up with new fees coupled with textbooks and other writing materials to buy. I used to pay N9, 000 for each of them, but the fees were increased to N13, 300 while we were supposed to buy books totalling about N7, 800 for each too. By the time I calculated the whole sum, I realised that I had to do something fast because I know how much I make from my little business,” he said.
Iwuchukwu said when he enrolled the children in the public schools, he realised that Anambra schools are now doing very well. He asserted that he had concluded that he would not send the children back to any private school even if the economy improves.
Ebonyi State’s education system is a peculiar case. It is still considered an educationally backward state as only the government runs the affairs of the entire state in terms of income.
There is no other known source of income in the state except the government, and as such public or private schools patronage is largely dependent on the state and income accruable to its citizens.
Years ago, the missionaries were running schools in the various parts of the state.
But in the early 70s, with the taking over of the schools by the government, the fortunes of public schools started dwindling, resulting in a mass exodus of pupils from the public schools to the private-owned ones.
However, today, the public schools are in a dilemma, with most of them fast losing their grip and patronage.
The infrastructure, where it exists, is in a shambles while most of the schools owned by the state government do not have roof on them.
The PRESCO Secondary School, Abakaliki is one of the schools that have lost its shine. This has led to the exodus of pupils from the school.
Despite the fact that the school has produced notable personalities in the state like the Deputy Governor, Dr Kelechi Igwe and others, the school has lost its past glory.
Another example of a government-owned school in Ebonyi State is the prestigious Government Technical College (GTC), Abakaliki and Afikpo, which has become the shadow of itself with the emergence of private owned schools.
Before the coming of Holy Ghost International School, Abakaliki, one of the most sought after private schools in the state, these public schools were the pride of the state.
Unfortunately, with the berthing of the private schools, parents and guardians started withdrawing their wards from the public schools to private school. It remained like that until late this year when things fell apart.
With the economic reality hitting harder, the reverse is now the case. These parents and guardians have started running back to the public schools, as most of them can no longer afford to pay their school fees and meet up with various challenges arising from the responsibility of the private schools.
Last September witnessed high influx of pupils and students back to the public schools in the state, as many parents can no longer afford to keep their children in the private schools with high cost of school fees and other conviviality.
Indeed, private schools are fast losing grip in the scheme of things as far as patronage is concerned. Before now, only those in government were running these private schools, but with the current economic realities, there seems to be a paradigm shift.
Also helping the public schools in the state is the announcement of the approval of the state executive council that all the technical schools in Afikpo, Abakaliki and Agba be handed over to the missionaries. This has led to seen many people running back to the public schools.
In Enugu State, the state government provides free education in the public schools. But most parents still struggled to put their wards in private schools, believing that there was more quality in the private-owned primary and secondary schools.
The situation got to a point where it almost became a taboo to send children to public schools. As such, the public schools became the exclusive preserve of the poor and the very low class.
Mr Anthony Tex Okoro, a businessman tried to capture the situation when he said: “The public school has long lost its glory. There are question marks on the quality of teachers and the standard could be said to be below average. You can see that even when most states in the South East declared free education, people refused to respond. They still preferred private schools where there is better discipline.
“For instance, in the Catholic-owned schools, the Reverend Sisters that manage the schools are very strict on the teachers, thereby instilling discipline in them. In public schools, the facilities are so decayed; in some parts of the country, you see pupils studying under mango trees, just as dilapidated school buildings abound everywhere.
“All these factors discourage parents from sending their wards to public schools. Moreover, the quality in public schools is poor and most times teachers teach in the local languages. Many Nigerians want their children to speak good English and the place to learn that is the private schools.
“Today, however, there is an upsurge in the population of the public schools because of the economic situation in the country. Things are too hard that many parents cannot afford three square meals for the family, not to talk of taking them to private schools. And the private schools are becoming so expensive because of the economy. The proprietor wants to increase his fees to augment his income and meet with the demands of the economy. I have a neighbour who has three children, and having lost his banking job, he had to withdraw them from a private school where he was paying N120, 000 as school fees.”
From the Community Primary School Ibeagwa, Corner Stone Primary and Secondary School, the story is the same.
Public schools are benefitting from the inability of parents to meet up with the rising cost of education in private schools, just as the private schools complain of shortfall in the strength of enrolment.
A head teacher in one of the primary schools, who identified herself as Mrs Rosemary, told Daily Sun that her school recorded an increase of about 200 this year than what it enrolled in 2015.
But Enugu-based Catholic priest, Rev. Fr Evans Offor, said that he was not surprised by the turn of events. He said: “Because of the economic situation in the country, the cost of education is too high now and people are running back to public schools.
“The country is too hard for people and especially for the ordinary man in the street. People find it extremely hard to eat, not to talk of sending children to private schools where the fees are so high. From where will they get the money? The economic situation in Nigeria now is terrible. If the government is wise, it should be very fast in arresting the situation. Otherwise, Nigerians will die in their thousands before next year.”
However, the trend in the other cities appears to be the reverse in the commercial city of Aba, Abia State. Here, there seems to be no such mass exodus from private to public schools.
When Daily Sun visited some of the public and private schools in the city to find out why the situation was like that, it was discovered that fees paid in public schools in the city was relatively higher than those paid in most private schools.
The proprietor of Glamour International School, Nkem Kalu said despite the astronomical rise in the cost of things in the country, private schools in the city did not increase their school fees, which in most cases are relatively cheaper than that of the public schools.
On the other hand, Okechukwu Madu, a trader who resides in the Federal Housing Estate, Ogbor Hill, Aba, told Daily Sun that before schools closed for their long vacation, he had two boys at the Federal Government College, Ikot Ekpene, Akwa Ibom, where he was paying a school fees of below N70, 000 for the two boys even up to July this year.
But by the time schools reopened in September, the Federal Ministry of Education, according to him, had increased the school fees per head to between N65, 000 and N70, 000, meaning that he would cough out double the amount he was paying for his two sons before the increment if he wanted them to remain in the school.
Madu said he weighed his options and decided to withdraw his sons from the school. He subsequently enrolled them in a private school in Aba, Glamour International School, where he is presently paying less than N50, 000 for his two children.
One of the sons of Madu, Kelechi said he was happy that his father changed school for him to a private one.
The boy, who now goes to his new school from home, noted: “I am very happy that daddy changed school for me. Apart from saving money with which to train my other siblings, at least I’m sure of eating my mum’s food everyday.”
Indeed, one of the teachers at Boys’ Secondary School, a public school, who does not want his name in print, said that the population of the school had slightly gone down over the period.
He said before now, the population of the school was more than 2, 800, saying it had decreased to about 2, 500.
He attributed the decline in population to the proliferation of private schools in the area and the relatively cheaper fees charged by such schools.
He was of the view that if the trend would change, the government should make education truly free and then rehabilitate most of the schools to make them conducive for teaching and learning.