BY KATE HALIM
“HOLIDAY is coming, no more morning bell, no more teacher’s whip… Goodbye teacher, goodbye colleagues, for I’m going on holiday.”
That song with which parents welcomed their children from schools with relief a couple of weeks back, may have started sounding like a dirge, as a new school term approaches. The reason is not far-fetched. The new school term means another time to pay school fees, perhaps, change school uniforms and provide other necessities for the young ones. And for many Nigerians chaffing under the prevalent economic crunch, the situation could be rather daunting, especially where a family has three or four more kids in private schools.
With the tuition fee and other levies to be paid almost every three months and many civil servants owed salaries, the challenge has really become tough, forcing on some parents, the option of withdrawing their kids from expensive schools to cheaper ones in order to save costs. Others simply asked the children to stay at home till they could afford to pay their fees.
The development, Saturday Sun learnt, has had unsavoury effects on private schools, some of which, had reportedly witnessed a drop in enrollment.
As the schools prepare to resume for the new academic session, sourcing funds for quality education for the kids and other essential needs has become a major headache for many parents and guardians.
Although some parents had prepared well for this period, a good number, who hitherto, found it easy to pay school fees, confessed that they are also experiencing hardship coughing out money to meet the obligation, and they have been forced to resort to borrowing.
The parents who spoke to Saturday Sun expressed concern over the bleak economic situation of the country and the seeming absence of respite in sight, despite many assurances from government.
Mrs. Sarah Aderibigbe, a mother of four, said it was not easy coping with running her family and paying her children’s school fees. ‘’Yes, I actually withdrew my children from their former school to a cheaper one because they increased their fees without prior notice. I have no complaints now as the fees are reasonable, compared to what we were paying before in their previous school. I won’t change school for them this new term,’’ she says.
But the story is not the same for Mr. Simeon Eze, who lost his job last year and has been surviving running a commercial bus his friend gave to him on hire purchase terms. ‘’I’m not coping well. I had to borrow money to pay my son’s tuition because I don’t want him to stay out of school. The thought of withdrawing him hasn’t occurred to me yet and I believe God will keep providing.’’
For Mr. Olu Bamidele, however, he has only managed to cope with the economic situation because his wife has a good job and helps out with some of the financial responsibilities at home. He doubts that the situation would get to the point that his three children would have to change schools for cheaper ones because he and his wife have a strategic saving plan to make sure the kids get the best education. ‘’My children’s school fees have remained the same for a year now and my wife and I have an account where we put in specified amounts monthly that has helped us meet up with their tuition demands. So, the economy hasn’t affected our ability to pay our children’s school fees so far.’’
Mrs. Blessing Okeke, a civil servant, says her children may not resume with their mates next term because she has not received her salary for the past few months. ‘’I have been trying to sell some of my jewelery just to raise enough money for their fees, but people are just playing with my predicament. The amount I am being offered for my gold won’t cover half of their school fees and I am not optimistic because of the way things are at present,” she says.
Mr. Ibezim says the economic situation is affecting many families, not because parents are lazy, but because things are really tough now. He had to sell some of his personal effects to feed his family and pay school fees, he says, because of poor business. ‘’We are finding it really tough to cope, I must tell you. I have even taken my last child to a public school. The two in the university are still there. We borrowed money to pay their tuition fees last session.’’
For Mrs. Martins’ family, the challenge has been the increase in school fees of the children, even as they struggle to buy other needs. “Generally, prices have gone up, especially school fees. Shortly before my kids went on break, the school authority informed us that they were likely to pay higher fees next session. We were also given an advanced notice of books that are likely to be bought at higher prices. However, there is consolation that the commitment of most schools has also improved, just like the school fees and prices of school materials.’’
While parents are being overwhelmed by the weight of prohibitive school fees, the schools are justifying the hike on their fees with the rising cost of running the schools and paying the teachers.
School proprietors also confirm that the population in many private schools has dropped, with those having boarding facility experiencing more withdrawals of their wards. Saturday Sun learnt that sometimes, the schools were forced to call the parents of pupils absent from school to find out what happened. Some of them are begged to bring their children back and write an undertaking stating when they would pay their school fees, all in a bid to retain the pupils. In some cases, concessions are made for others to pay twice just to ease the burden on the parents.
It was also learnt that some schools are downsizing the size of their workforce, while some have increased their fees.
The Executive Director of Princeton Schools, Surulere said his school, in a bid to alleviate parents’ burden in meeting up with the payment of their children fees offer them more time to pay. ‘’We definitely can’t reduce school fees. The only thing we can do is give them more time to pay because we are human too and we know how hard the times are. The school also gives discount to parents with more than two children in our school just to keep them by our side as we sustain the high standard of education.’’
According to a school proprietor in Gbagada, Lagos, there are special provisions for children from poor homes. This is because the school is committed to the vision of providing quality education for children from all walks of life.
Another school proprietor says that giving parents one month grace to pay after school resumes makes the them feel wanted.
As the holiday gradually winds up, the prayers on the lips of many parents is that the country overcomes the present economic doldrums. The third and final term, as well as the long sessional vacation certainly offer hope for a breather!