Here’s an example as to why education is not working in Nigeria and is unlikely to work anytime soon.
This story was widely reported in the papers yesterday. It’s a short news report so I shall reproduce it in full. The gist is around a press conference (I think) that was held where the Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Eniola Ajayi triumphantly declared that her ministry had closed down 131 brothels, sorry schools (I get confused easily these days) that were operating in the state illegally. Read on
The order which was given by the state Ministry of Education, affected both primary and secondary schools.
The directive followed the expiration of the six-month ultimatum given to their proprietors to regularise their operations and upgrade their facilities.
The Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Eniola Ajayi, who disclosed this to journalists in Ado Ekiti, said that owners of the affected schools had been warned severally to properly register them.
She said the schools were given a six months deadline to meet the standard set by the state government for the running of private schools.
Ajayi, however, said that the proprietors of the affected schools remained indifferent to the directive.
She reaffirmed the state government’s commitment on the provision of a conducive learning environment that will enhance the performance of students.
The Commissioner also declared that the government will not compromise the future of the children in the state under any circumstance.
Dr Ajayi advised proprietors who did not have the wherewithal to run a standard school to bow out of the venture gracefully, stressing that government would no longer allow sub-standard schools to function in the state.
She said that the minimum acceptable standard for schools in the state was the ability of the school to function from its permanent site after three years of operation.
Reeling out the conditions to be met for a standard school, the Commissioner stated that the permanent site at inception must consist of a minimum of three standard and well ventilated classrooms as well as an administrative block consisting of a minimum of two rooms and a store.
She added that the site must also occupy a piece of land of between two and three hectares of land for future expansion.
“Other facilities expected in a standard school included a functional library equipped with up- to -date books as well as qualified teachers,” she said.
In his reaction, Mr. Babatunde Abegunde, the chairman of the state chapter of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, pleaded with the government to rescind its decision on the matter for now.
He appealed that as a result of the downturn in the nation’s economy, the proprietors of the affected schools should be given another three months grace to enable them meet the prescribed standard.
I found this very fascinating as an insight to how people in government tend to think. What is remarkable about this story is what the Commissioner did not say at all.
In determining the suitability of a private school to continue operating, Dr Ajayi did not say anything about the quality of education the affected pupils were receiving. None at all. Can you see why money meant for education will always disappear between the budget and implementation? To those in government, a ‘good’ school is one that has good buildings. By extension, it is impossible to receive a decent education in one room ergo, every year money will be voted for the construction and renovation of classroom blocks and ‘ultra modern e-book libraries’.
And if after 3 years, the school has not managed to move to its ‘permanent site’, then it is a bad school and cannot possibly be legal. The woman was clearly in the mood for big talk and bluster even going as far as telling anyone who did not like it to ‘bow out of the venture gracefully’.
What if you want to remain a small school and want to focus on having say only 6 classes? Well you need to bow out of the venture gracefully because the Commissioner says you must have between 2 and 3 hectares for future expansion. It does not matter if you want to expand or not. But even if you do wish to expand, why do you need to have the 2 or 3 hectares today? Is it now a crime to start something small in Nigeria? Did harvard start on 3 hectares of land I wonder?
It is important to note that the only thing that makes these schools illegal is because the government has said so. Now, I dont want to draw a tedious link but bear in mind that once upon a time, apartheid was also legal in South Africa as obviously stupid as it was. This then begs the obvious question – is it all government schools that operate on 2 to 3 hectares and have a functional library ‘equipped’ with up to date books, not forgetting the qualified teachers? If this was the case, then there couldnt possibly be any demand from parents for private education.
As obvious as it seems, we cant forget that these illegal schools were fee charging. They were not free. But the government provided schools are free of charge. Yet the parents of these children have figured out that the free education on offer from the government is actually more expensive than the private ones. The anxiety over the poor quality on offer in state schools has led parents to seek out private alternatives and yet the government pursues them there as well. Mediocrity or nothing.
This is the nastiness of government in action fuelled by a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Only government has a right to (mis)educate its citizens and if anyone wants to try to solve the problem through the private sector, then a series of obstacles must be placed in the person’s way to frustrate. What is so illegal about educating people really?
This is the kind of foolishness that got Nigeria to where it is today. The belief that a piece of paper given to a school as a ‘licence’ to allow it to operate is what makes it a good school. This licence then becomes a source of power to the person issuing it and even a currency that can be traded for favours or just cash.
A few months ago I wrote about how a report into education in India showed that while the government of the state of Bihar in India was recording 350 schools in the state, the researchers found another 1,224 private schools meaning that according to the state 238,767 students did not exist at all. That is where the similarity with Ekiti ends because the Education minister in Bihar managed to show some humility and promised that the government was not going to harass those schools or force registration on them. In other words admitting that government had failed more than a quarter of a million children and the least it could do was not make life any harder for them.
Coming over to London, one of the policies introduced by the coalition government when it came to power in 2010 was the concept of ‘free schools’. These schools are quite popular in Scandinavia and are essentially state funded private schools. They can be set up by parents or interest groups and will receive state funding provided they can find a site (it could be an old church or library or even a warehouse not 3 hectares) and they can get a certain number of applications from students. They are also not allowed to charge fees.
An organisation called Redeemers Educational Services Limited (hint: the founders name is Funmi Gbadeyan) applied to open one of such schools in Newham and got provisional approval from the government i.e. it could open and receive funds provided it managed to fill 180 places for the first year. Now given that the school was being promoted by Nigerians, its possible that they overestimated the school’s appeal. You know we like to ‘dream big’. Nevertheless, guess how many applications they received? Click this link to find out. It goes without saying that the school has been scrapped and its preliminary approval withdrawn.
Understand this – this proposed school was going to be free of charge and funded by the government yet it could not find people who could be bothered to attend. Newham isnt exactly the richest part of London but it does say something that parents were not willing to leave the state schools to try out something new no matter how bad those state schools were. 79 free schools have so far started across the country meaning that they were able to fill their spaces so it does suggest there was something wrong with the Redeemers proposition that did not appeal to parents.
Contrast this with what is happening in Nigeria – from Ekiti to Makoko, parents are abandoning the free state schools and chancing their luck at fee paying private schools even with poor facilities or private after school lessons delivered by Camerounian teachers at N50 per day. State schools need to be exceedingly poor or non existent before people will be left with no choice but to pay for private education.
Is it so hard to figure out where the problem is and how to fix it?