• A look at the new way of making money in private schools
FROM ALOYSIUS ATTAH, ONITSHA
It was originally conceived as an academic seasonal programme for schools to take stock of their activities for the year, reward outstanding students who excelled in their academics as well as motivate others for a healthy academic competition in the next session. But beyond the fanfare, the razzmatazz that often characterise such ceremonies lie exploitation, profiteering and outright rip-off in some private schools in Onitsha, Anambra State.
With the second term holiday now over and the third term academic session starting, before you know it, invitation cards would begin to fly about, inviting you to come, witness the graduation of the XYZ school, which may likely feature other sideshows like the launching of the school bus, school computer centre etc.
You must have attended such graduation in the past and marveled at the excellent performance of the students. How a six-year-old pupil could stand up to recite pages of address, extempore, without looking at any paper or reading from a screen!
Don’t be fooled because it is the case of the more you look, the less you see. Those ‘out-of-this-world’ performances are mostly stage-managed, an outcome of several months of daily cramming and practice geared towards wowing the invited guests into thinking that the school is so superb as to make one withdraw one’s children from their former school and enroll them in the graduating one.
But beyond such enticement, the schools’ task is to drain your pocket so much that by the time the wool is taken off your eyes, you would have gone home from the graduation ground with an empty pocket having exhausted all you had on ‘spraying’ the pupils and appreciating their ‘wonderful’ performances. A closer look at those ‘wonder-performing’ kids on the graduation day would reveal that most of them are just academically average students.
THE MODUS OPERANDI
Findings by Education Review in different private schools located in Onitsha, Anambra State, reveal that graduation have become a conduit pipe through which most private school proprietors drain the purse of parents, friends and well-wishers. In fact, it has become a money-spinning venture that school owners always look forward to at the close of each academic year.
At the end, they smile to banks while parents of school pupils live to ever dread such moments. To worsen the matter, the first term featuring fresh registration and buying of new textbooks take greater chunks of parents’ earnings. But while they groan as a result of the increased financial burdens, the school owners change cars, buy new plots of land and expand the school buildings among other achievements.
Talking about graduation, preparations for the ceremony kicks off in most private schools two weeks after the commencement of third term. But findings reveal that no real academic activities take place in almost all the private schools two weeks after resumption.
An insider who works as a bursar in one of the leading private schools in Omagba area of Onitsha captured the danger this poses to sound education this way:
“My brother, what we see here is a dangerous trend with serious consequences to the impartation of sound education into our children. What these people do is to abandon teaching in the third term and resort to serious coaching of the students on the activities they would be undertaking for the school during the graduation to convince the parents and guests on the graduation day that their school is the best.
“For a start, the most beautiful girl and handsome boy from any of the classes are chosen to act as the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’, respectively. Once selected, the major preoccupation of the two, starting from the third week, becomes how to act as Igwe and Lolo on the graduation day.
Academic exercise is pushed to the backburner this time and whether they receive sound teaching in class is another story because all that is expected of them thenceforth by the proprietor is to learn the poise and mannerisms of royalty that they are expected to exhibit on the D-day. To make matters worse, parents of the royal ‘couple’ are tasked with the provision of royal costumes for their wards; it doesn’t matter whether they are able to afford it or not.
The bulk of the number of students in the school would also be divided into different groups. The cultural dancers, actors and actresses, the debating group, those for march-past, calisthenics, the recitation group, the beauty contest group, quiz group, comedians, representatives of different professions, roundtable discussants among others.”
To lend credence to the anonymous bursar’s observations, Education Review discovered, in some private schools in Onitsha, that the daily practice of preparing for the graduation activities among the afore-mentioned groups takes off immediately after the first lesson of the day while other lessons are suspended indefinitely so that pupils can master their acts.
Secondly, all the students, at the beginning of the term, are taxed to pay graduation levies from which financial proceeds the school management would prepare for the ceremony. Those in the graduating classes like Nursery 3, Primary 6, JSS3 and SS3 are taxed extra amount for the printing and collection of their certificates on the graduation day.
THE CHARADE CALLED GRADUATION
As the day approaches, most school proprietors stop at nothing at ensuring the best outing on that day. To this end, many of them hire the best disk jockey (DJ) around with a good sound system for audio and music supplies. Another thing is to hire a skilful master of ceremony (MC) who possesses a good sense of humour.
The first show of the day is for pupils to do procession along major roads and streets leading to the school. Dressed in clean attires, and with a marching band in tow, the pupils march through the roads and streets to announce to all and sundry that the ceremony is about to start so that guests can start arriving. But it is at the venue of events that the real business of the day begins.
Investigation shows that many of the schools draft in at least 25 to 30 different programmes or activities for the day and each of them attracts cash appreciation in form of ‘spraying’ of money on the student-performers. Sometimes, some schools make it mandatory for parents of the performing students to ‘spray’ money on their children taking part in some of the activities while somebody, one of the teachers, is appointed to keep watchful eyes so as to detect defaulters.
Last year, a particular school in Awada area of Onitsha had, during its graduation, drawn up a 24-item programme in a bid to raise more money from the invited guests. After a short opening remark by the proprietress, ‘business’ started immediately with recitation of the letters of the alphabet/rhymes by the playgroups. Little children, some still in their diapers, were brought out, with microphone placed on their lips, to do the recitations and to pronounce words formed by stringing together letters of the English alphabet.
Their sterling performance was, as it were, followed by some rhetorical questions from the MC of the day, asking in Igbo language whether “anakudikwa aka ebe a?” (does anybody clap in this place?). While the guests were busy proving, with their deafening clapping, that they do, they were further urged to “rise up from your seat, step out and appreciate them because it is not easy o.” Following this remark, coupled with a rib-cracking joke, the guests began to troop out to cover the toddlers in an avalanche of naira notes.
The same process was repeated, over and over, following the pupils presentation of “Three Keys to Success, by Nursery 3,” “Ball Race by Nursery 2,” “Dressing to School by Nursery 1,” ‘Debate’ by the Press Club, “Radio” presentation by a Primary 1 pupil, calisthenics by the miming group, “Teaching” by Nursery 3, Ribbon Dance and Quiz by Nursery 3. Other education/entertainment items that led to more ‘naira rain’ include drama presentation by Primary 3, pupils roundtable discussion by Nursery 3, cultural dance by the cultural group, riddles and jokes, beauty contest, etiquette by Primary 2, Jesus and the Three Commonsense of Living by Primary 6.
The ‘fleezing’ business continued to Item 20 in which parents of the school were asked to launch the school almanac with some amount of money. This was followed by the cutting of the graduation cake, in which the MC, closely followed by the ‘auditor’ went, from seat to seat. to ask the guests to make some monetary donations, ‘no matter how little’, towards the cutting of the cake. The same scenario was repeated during the presentation of prizes, capping of graduating students and presentation of certificates.
It was at this point that one of the parents complained bitterly to the hearing of the reporter. “Do these people take us for fools?,” he asked. “They have turned us into cash cows. I paid graduation fee for my son and now they are demanding that we bring money again before we can collect his certificate.”
Investigation by Education Review revealed what appears to be a stiff competition exists among private school owners in Onitsha, given their bid to outshine one another. With about 85 percent of private schools in Onitsha being managed by women whose husbands are well-to-do businessmen, these women school managers often engage in show of superiority so that news can fly about after the ceremony that their own graduation was the best.
This unhealthy competition reportedly leads to some desperate ones among them using various means to take the shine out of their opponents’ graduation. A victim who owns a private school in Okpoko area of Onitsha confessed to Education Review that there had been reported cases of school proprietresses sending thugs to disrupt their fellow women’s graduation, out of sheer envy.
“But what happened to me was a case of my enemies sending rain to cause havoc on my own day.
“Though graduation ceremonies fall within the rainy season, before that day we listened to weather forecast on the radio, which assured us that Onitsha area would be sunny all through the afternoon on the Sunday we held our graduation. But you can’t believe what happened to me. In the thick of the ceremony, the sky suddenly turned black. Before we could put our acts together, a raging storm ensued blowing away the canopies.
Thereafter, chairs started flying about in the air. This was followed by thunderstorms and heavy rain that sent everybody scampering for safety. That was the end of the ceremony and that was how the huge sum of money we sunk into the preparation went down the drain. It was not until one month later that I learnt from a reliable source of how a fellow school proprietress paid a rainmaker to disrupt the ceremony.”
It’s a sign of collapse of education values says a consultant
Taking a view of the matter, an educationist, Dr. Johnson Emenike in a chat with Education Review argues that the turning of supposed graduation ceremonies into a moneymaking venture is a sign of collapse of sound education values in the education sector in Anambra State.
He said that not only are many of the private schools in the state not registered, they are also bent on milking some parents who see it as a sign of class to have their children and wards attend the schools. He added that the work of education supervisors should include the monitoring of all the activities that go on in schools, private and public.
But in a chat with the Director of Schools, Ministry of Education, Anambra State, Dr. Lazarus Okafor, he maintained that the ministry has been up-and-doing in ensuring that standards are not compromised in any form in schools in the state, private and public.
He added that it was to maintain high standard that made the ministry to close down many illegal schools in the state and assured that some illegal activities marking graduation in private schools in the state would also be looked into.