By Vivian Onyebukwa and Vera Wisdom-Bassey
Across many states, a new academic session for primary and secondary schools commenced a few weeks ago. And for parents, especially those with wards in private schools, the fear of school fees is the beginning of wisdom. In Nigeria, school fees have become a nightmare to parents considering the present harsh economic condition of the country.
In spite of their fears, however, many parents would always do whatever they could to ensure that their children went to school. While some have withdrawn their children from private schools and relocated them to public schools where the fees are much less, some others have changed their wards to schools with lower fees.
“The economy is bad, so what I have done to make sure that my children still attend school is to look for a cheaper school, John Okwuosa, a stock broker in Lagos told Saturday Sun. “So I had to withdraw them from their former school to another school, which is cheaper. In their former school, I used to pay N30,000 for my son who was in JSS 1, now in JSS 2. Now I pay N24,000 and I am allowed to pay at least twice before the term runs out, which was not possible in their former school. In that former school, you must not owe fees a month after school resumption. Same goes to the one who is in Primary 5. Instead of N28,000, now I pay N18, 000.”
Joseph Njoku, an executive in a media and marketing company based in Lagos, said paying school fees for his children has been a real struggle. “At the time they were much younger and attended a private primary school, the economy was not in the current terrible state that it is now. Yet, one had to juggle needs to fit into the available monthly income of a salaried person. The school allowed us to delay paying fees. I had three children in the school. So I paid their fees sequentially. The concession was granted to parents with more than two children. The school, which was owned by a born-again Christian couple, was assured of this. That way, the school knew what to expect at the end of the month and planned its operating costs accordingly. Now, my son is an undergraduate. My daughter just finished writing West African Secondary School Certificate Exam (WASSCE), while the third child is going to SS1. All three are products of a Unity school, where the fees are subsidised by the Federal Government. Despite the subsidy by the government, there are other fees/levies imposed on parents. To cope with the extra costs, I strive to earn legitimate extra income.”
Another parent, Wole Adesanya, said he has five kids in school currently. “The first born is in JSS2 and is in a private secondary school. The second born just got admitted into the JSS1 in a state government model school. The other three are in primary and kindergarten. Honestly, it hasn’t been easy paying their school fees. We have been paying them in instalments and that is how it has been working out.”
Adesanya lauded the school authorities for their understanding as far as the state of economy is concerned. But he noted that because of the concession given by the parents, there have been many instances where the school fees for last session spill over to the following session. He appealed to the government to kindly assist the parents with subsidy for school fees.
Cynthia Okere, also a media practitioner, while relating her experience, said: “The country generally is tough for everyone. Both the high and the mighty are experiencing the same thing, and we can’t fold our hands. No matter how tough it becomes, we become stronger. That is actually how God made it. I am paying for four children. It has not been easy. At times when it gets so choky on my neck, I speak out. At times I ask people for help, but I have not been so lucky to receive such help from people. It’s just one woman that surprised me recently.”
To make ends meet as a single mother, Okere said: “I don’t go for occasions, apart from those events we cover as a media person. I don’t go for people’s weddings because I don’t have clothes. Most of the things I have, I spend it on the kids here, and then also what to eat. I don’t also look flashy. I don’t buy things I don’t immediately need. Everything I buy is what I know will be crucially needed. I don’t bother much about my hair, so far as I have some things to cover it if I am going for work. I don’t have friends. So, it is only me and my kids, and I don’t have any external means of livelihood. It is just me and my kids. So we don’t live beyond our means. I have also trained my kids like that. If you like, give them gold outside, they don’t collect it.”
Mary Modupe, a fashion designer, told Saturday Sun how she has been able to have all her children enrolled in school without stress. “I have three children, one in nursery, the second in primary and the third just entered secondary school. In their former school, the fees were about N25,000, N30,000, and 35,000 respectively. But I saw one flyer by a school closer to where I live and they advertised the school fees. I found it very affordable that I had to transfer my children to that school. The most important thing is that I am allowed to pay bit by bit and should complete the payment of school fees at least before the end of the term. Their school fees is N17,000 in all classes- Nursery, primary, and secondary. This amount is after I must have paid the initial payment of school uniforms and other necessary things since they are new students. It is better for me”
Ikem Okoro a big time farmer in Owode, Ogun State has cried out that the school fees paid in private schools is on the high side so he had to change his children’s school to another where he could afford the school fees. “I have had to change my children’s school twice. They hardly teach the kids anything, and they have increased their school fees,” she said.
Mama Nne, as she is fondly called, is a trader at Folashade Street, Owode, Lagos. She complained that the children’s school fees were increased from N15,000 to N30,000. “Where will I get that money? So, I have decided to change them to another school. They come home with nothing, and again with the economic situation in the country, I can’t continue keeping my children there. The school owners said they want to increase teachers’ salary. So I ask, am I the one that will pay the teachers?”
The Proprietress of Del Nursery and Primary School, Owode, Ogun State, Funke Ajayi, was full of complaints over how most parents have been owing their children’s school fees in her school since 2020. She told Saturday Sun that some have been owing her as much as N100,000 for the whole year since such parents lack the capacity to pay. Some have still owe fees for past examinations, she said.
“Most of them come to my house to beg me to allow their children to stay for another term, while promising to pay at the end of the term. I have been obliging them, but they eventually fail to pay,” she said.
Ajayi said if she continues to listen to them, she won’t be able to pay her teachers, maintain the school property, and even take care of her family. She said she then decided to drive the children home.
“Until they bring their school fees, I told them not to come back to school,” she said.
Even as the reporter engaged the school owner, a parent walked in and asked to be allowed to pay all the debt that she had been owing previously. According to her, her husband lost his job and there has been no means for them to make a living. She lamented that things had been very tough for the family and that for some time, paying their children’s school fees had become totally impossible. But she said a family just showed up and would be helping with the children’s school fees henceforth.