The confusion trailing the recent increase in the school fees of Federal Government Colleges is untidy. The National Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of the schools has kicked against the increase, which it said was from N20,000 to N70,000. The National President of the PTA, Dr. Gabriel Nnaji, described the increase as an untimely and insensitive “commercialization of education” in the country.
He further stressed that the increase, which was put at over 300 percent, is a negation of the principle that informed the establishment of the institutions, which is to make basic and secondary school education affordable and accessible to average Nigerians in all parts of the country. The association appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari and the members of the National Assembly to compel the Federal Ministry of Education to revert to the old fee regime.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, however, denied any knowledge of the increase in the school fees, while another top official in the Ministry admitted the hike, but argued that it was not up to the 300 per cent claimed by the PTA. The government should end this confusion by coming out with a definitive statement on the alleged increase in fees.
While the dust raised by the hike in the school fees is yet to settle, the Federal Government was reported to have also banned the collection of development levies by the PTAs of the colleges, which are also known as Unity Schools.
The measure, according to the government, is to alleviate the burden of parents and the students. The Deputy Director (Press and Public Relations) in the Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong, said that the ban was with immediate effect. The government also pointed out that no PTA of any Unity College would be allowed to initiate any development project in any of the institutions without the written authorisation of the Federal Ministry of Education.
Adamu was quoted as saying that the new measures were aimed at stopping the PTAs from imposing levies that were sometimes higher than the school fees charged by the Federal Government which established the schools. While expressing its appreciation of the support of the PTAs to the colleges, the government frowned at a situation in which the PTAs constitute themselves into a government within a government in the schools, at the expense of parents.
The discordant tunes trailing the fee hike at Unity schools epitomize the lack of coordination of efforts among the various stakeholders in the Ministry of Education. The nation recently witnessed a similar ugly experience in the university admission process, with conflicting statements emanating from different education agencies.
This development is quite unfortunate and we expect the government to come out with a final say on the school fees. It is surprising that the fees charged in government-owned institutions would be increased without the knowledge and input of the education minister. It is not just enough for the minister to say that he is not aware of the development. His ministry should state exactly what the former fees were and the amount that the students will now be required to pay. If the fees have truly been increased from N20,000 to N70,000, that would be unreasonably high and should be drastically reduced.
The government’s ban on PTA levies is welcome. But then, the government must accept that the PTAs became an alternate government in the schools because it refused to properly fund them. Many teachers in the schools are employed and paid by their local PTAs, while the associations also undertake big infrastructural projects in some schools to complement the efforts of the Federal Government. The implication of banning the PTAs from collection of levies is that the government should now employ the PTA teachers and meet its other obligations to the schools, which are currently being discharged by their PTAs. This is the only way it can stop the PTAs from running alternate governments and charging arbitrary levies in its schools.
Government should streamline all fees and other payments in Unity Schools. Even if school fees are to be increased, it must be reasonable. Let the government properly fund the schools and provide enough qualified teachers and non-teaching personnel. It is the duty of government to provide Nigerian children with qualitative education. This, however, should not be done through astronomical increases in school fees of public schools.