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Fading Glory Of Unity Schools



Recently, the Minister of Education, Alhaji Adamu Adamu, expressed government’s concerns over the dwindling enrolment of candidates for the National Common Entrance Examination, NCEE, for admission into Unity Schools. The federal government owns and operates a total of 104 secondary schools or colleges across the country, referred to as Unity Schools.

For this year’s admission, the National Common Entrance Examination is taking place today, Saturday, April 14. Adamu is worried that 71,294 candidates registered for this year’s examination as against 80,421 that sat for it in 2017.

Out of this year’s figure, Lagos led with 24,465 candidates, same as last year, followed by the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, with 7,699 and Rivers State with 4,810 candidates. Just like in the preceding years, enrolment figures this year remained miserable in the North with Zamfara bringing up the rear with 28 candidates, followed by Kebbi and Taraba with 50 and 95 candidates respectively.

The minister said that despite diminishing enrolment, the examination would go on as planned and urged state governments, parents, heads of schools and relevant interest groups to take steps to remedy the situation. As a stop-gap measure, the ministry left the registration portal open until yesterday, meaning that candidates who just elected to register yesterday, joined the examination train today.

We find it disappointing that the Education minister is just realising parents’ declining interest in the country’s Unity Schools. The figures for last year and this year pale in significance when compared with those for 2016 during which 89,231 candidates took the examination and 87,000 for 2015. While these figures outstrip the 25,000 cumulative carrying capacity of Unity Schools, we recognise that the lose of interest in NCEE by parents, especially in the North, may ensure a situation, in which, for instance, the 28 candidates that Zamfara State put forward would be assimilated, even when some of them flunked the examination, just to see that something was done to fill the state’s quota in the schools. On a general scale, the dwindling enrolment in NCEE across the country can only be a testament to the fading glory of Unity Schools.

These schools have failed to live up to the challenge in infrastructure and learning posed by private schools. We subscribe to the philosophy behind the establishment of Unity Schools but remind the authorities that in scholarship, the schools have become a travesty of the collector’s item they were conceived to be.

Apart from marked down fees, who would choose a federal government college for his child or ward, where in some cases, the students source water from wells, ponds and brooks over the many decent private colleges that abound in town? Last year’s incident in which Queen’s College, Lagos lost three of its students to illnesses contracted from a disease-infected source of water is still fresh in our mind.

Why would a parent bother with a unity school, after last year’s disgusting online story of school authorities’ connivance in the pimping of the teenage girls in one of the schools in a North Central State?

Who wants a unity school where decrepit residential halls, classrooms, toilets and laboratories give the child his or her first assurance that funds appropriated by government for projects can be embezzled and nothing would happen? How many of our Unity Schools have perimeter fences in the face of the dire security challenges in the country in which schools are often prime targets?

Why would parents want to continue to scramble for Unity Schools as was the case, where for years on end, no one reads or hears of pace-setting academic records? How would there be outstanding brilliance when merit is the least of the considerations in the admission process?

It is quite pathetic that the dent of quota system on the schools’ admission has persisted in spite of a 2014 Lagos High Court ruling that nullified, voided and declared the official discriminatory admission policy as a violation of the candidates’ fundamental rights to freedom from discrimination as guaranteed by Section 42(1) of 1999 Constitution.

We do not subscribe to the argument of those who canvass privatisation or public-private partnership in the ownership of Unity Schools as such presupposes that the philosophy and ideals for which the schools were conceived have become either irrelevant or less compelling.

Because of scarcity of resources, this newspaper is of the opinion that government can prune the number of schools on an equitable formula to zones; do a merger of the students and deploy the freed resources for a better running of the schools in terms of teaching and infrastructure.