With the effect of the current economic recession biting hard, many parents are finding it difficult sending their children back to school. WINIFRED OGBEBO and VICTOR OKEKE examine this.
This is not the best of times for parents with the holidays over and children returning to school at the height of the nation’s economic crisis which has left a sour taste in the mouth of many citizens.
Usually, parents carry out a flurry of activities at this time of the year to ensure their children and wards are well settled in, considering it’s the beginning of a new academic session. Trepidation, more often than not, sets in for those parents who go extra mile to ensure they meet the requirements needed for their wards’ stay in school.
From investigation, many students have not been able to return to schools due to the inability of their parents to pay the fees. Quite a number of Nigerian parents and students have continued to lament their unpreparedness about the new school year that just began and this they blame on the current economic situation in the country.
It is a tale of woes for many across the nation. For Rajeet Amarya (not real name), a single mother of two, fending for her two sons has not been easy. This is now compounded by the fact that the private schools she enrolled her sons aged 12 and 10 have increased their tuition fees, citing the economy as reason for that. Catering for her two children has also become a daunting task with her meager salary as a public servant.
The situation has compelled her to withdraw her children from their schools in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to another one in faraway Osun State where, according to her, the school fees are not as high as those of Abuja.
Another resident of the FCT, Madam Ruth Akwasa, a mother of three living at Apo Resettlement area of Abuja who is equally affected by the economic situation in the nation said it was as if she and her husband were taken unawares.
“When we visited their school last Monday, we found out everything has increased in cost just as the foodstuffs we buy in the market, with new fees, school uniforms, exercise books and textbooks to buy,” she said. What struck her the most, she explained, was the high cost of even the so called trivial school materials like pencils, exercise books and pens.
“A writing pen now goes for N30, ordinary 20 leaves exercise book is now N50 and pencils are N20 each,” she lamented, adding they might opt for low cost schools within their neighbourhood from next year if things continue the way they are as retaining their three kids in the same school is weighing heavily on their family budget.
She said, “Our main concern in changing their school is the quality of education offered in these low cost schools and the impact which changing to a new school will have on the kids.”
Mr George Jimoh who also lives in Abuja said he laughed out loudly when his son in secondary school came back from school demanding his fees as if he is ignorant of the economic recession in the country.
“For me, I will advise the schools to bring down their fees. Things are not easy for anybody. Even the school proprietors know about this,” he said. He pointed out that his younger child who is about to write the Junior Secondary School examination had been moved from his private school to government-owned Junior Secondary School, Apo owing to the high cost of registering for such an exam in a private school.
Many teachers in public schools, on their part, feel demoralised to resume school and continue their work, blaming the loss of enthusiasm on their backlog of unpaid salaries which they said had made it difficult for them to function properly.
Two teachers from Abia State who spoke to LEADERSHIP on phone said they had not been paid their salaries in the past five months. “How do they expect me to fuel my motorcycle, pay my own children’s fees, feed and take care of my own needs. As a teacher, I know how much time I spend on my school work, writing lesson notes, buying teaching aids when not provided and reading up my lesson materials. At the end, it seems all is in vain. This is not encouraging,” said one of them, Madam Mbakwe.
“The government seems to forget that the mental state of the teacher will definitely affect the level of his or her delivery in the classroom. When you come to school and remember you have not been paid for months, you feel like asking the children to go home. At times, you feel like transferring the aggression on them,” she added.
Another teacher who asked not to be named said she only goes to school whenever she feels motivated to do so. “To be honest, the situation has forced me to be skipping classes. Even our head teacher understands our plight. How can one be working and as the month ends, you don’t even know what will happen? All we keep hearing are rumours that the government may pay this month or that month,” she said.
A father, who is a practicing journalist equally lamented that even students of the Federal Government colleges are not spared of the hike in school fees. He said though government had halted the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) levy, many of the unity schools were still in the habit of levying their students.
According to him, the levy varies from school to school, with some of the unity schools collecting N5,000 while Queens College and Federal Girls College, Ijaniki, Lagos, charge as high as N14,000.
To checkmate the trend and ameliorate the plight of parents, some state governments have warned proprietors of private schools in their respective states against using the current economic recession as an excuse to deny children of the less privileged admission through hike in fees.
The Katsina State governor, Aminu Bello Masari urged the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), North West Zone to be innovative and prudent in the management of their institutions to ensure affordable school fees.
He said less than 20 percent of private schools in the state would have been closed down if the government applied strictly the rules and regulations guiding them.
The prayer of most parents today is that the nation quickly gets over the current economic recession so that they would be able to ‘balance’ and discharge their onerous responsibilities towards their children.