On paper, a good number of state governments have policies that offer free education to their citizens from primary to secondary and some all the way to tertiary institutions.
Investigations by LEADERSHIP Sunday, however, reveal poorly funded public schools with dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate number of qualified teachers and, where teachers are available, the quality of teaching is substandard due to lack of commitment by the teachers.
And, according to data provided by the states themselves, a majority of the populace, more than two-thirds, are still dependent on public schools and the free education policies of the states as their most realistic means of getting an education, at least at the secondary level.
A number of states also do not have the required data on the number of students in public schools, the teacher to student ratio, and do not carry out regular audits of available classrooms, student dropouts and on-hand assessment of the quality of teaching.
It has also become a norm for Parent Teachers Associations to impose their own charges on students to fill funding gaps left by state governments. In some states, however, governors fiercely resist this practice, with the concern that PTA monies end up in private pockets.
In Enugu, there are no tuition fees in public primary and secondary schools in the state, but it was gathered that various levies are paid at both levels.
At the primary school level, pupils pay for various levies initiated by the PTAs. Also, students in secondary schools pay similar levies per session.
Our investigations revealed that the level of enrolment in both primary and secondary schools is very encouraging.
It was also gathered that most of the schools are over-populated because of the absence of tuition fees.
A parent, Mr Marcel Igbo, told our correspondent that he prefers public schools to private schools. He stated that the quality of education in public schools is higher because they have qualified teachers, adding that some of the private schools even employ people with secondary school certificates as teachers.
A student, Darlington Anuyua, said he personally refused to attend private school because some of them don’t understand what education is all about.
In Jigawa State, the number of private schools is not up to five percent, most of which are in the urban areas while public schools are mainly in the rural areas.
Even in the cities and urban areas, private schools are fewer than public schools.
Though the quality of education in the state public schools are a source of concern due to the shortage of teachers; however, the school enrolment has kept increasing in the state since the introduction of free education in the last 12 years, a policy sustained by successive state governments.
From 2015 to 2022, the state government budgeted over N445 billion for the education sector and a total of N331 billion was spent both for recurrent and capital expenditure.
Data of year 2022 shows the numbers of public schools: Pre-Primary and Primary Schools – 2,562, JSS -586, SSS – 287, for a total of 3,415, with a total enrolment of 1,436,327 students.
According to the secretary of a coalition of civil society groups, Jigawa Partners for Education Comrade Ayuba Muhammad Gwaram Sa’id, the free education policy has contributed immensely to the increase of student enrolment and retention, particularly the girl-child.
Ayuba said as Jigawa is a rural state, “we need such a policy to catch up. Under this policy the government is paying for our children’s NECO, FGC school fees and transportation. It also gives scholarships, and recently the scholarship was increased to cover not less than half of registration fees charged by universities and other higher institutions.”
“Without such a policy many children of less privileged families, particularly in rural communities, will remain out of school. To me, the policy is paying off. For example, over 1,000 graduates of public schools, mainly children of less privileged families, were sent to study medicine, nursing and other medical courses in different foreign countries.
“Many of them have graduated and are now serving in the state. Equally in other sectors like engineering, social science, arts and religious courses; this great human capital development is yielding everlasting results,” he stated
Comrade Ayuba added that the state government had put enough structures in the schools but the major challenge now is shortage of teachers.
He called on the government to address it without further delay.
According to a recent record released by the Katsina State Ministry of Education, “the state has 2,771 primary schools with pupil enrolment of 1,963,468 (1,004,698 males and 958,770 females), 251 Junior Secondary Schools and 245 Senior Secondary Schools with an enrolment of 300,125 (166,270 males and 133,855 females) and 198,773 (119,037 males and 79,736 females) respectively.
“There are also 18 Science, Technical and Vocational Secondary Schools and 13 Tertiary Institutions which include three Universities.”
But despite the outstanding record, some parents preferred private to public schools, especially those that can afford the fee.
LEADERSHIP Sunday observed that parents with low backgrounds or low-income earners are mostly the ones that patronise public schools.
Checks revealed that a lot of upils drop out of school due to poverty, a reason why the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in partnership with the state government set up conditional cash transfer programmes, among others, to support poor families and enhance enrolment.
Free education at secondary school level has been in operation since the creation of Osun State.
Since it has become a norm in the state, it has been difficult for successive governments to abolish it even in the face of a difficult economic situation in the state.
Public Schools accommodate about 70 percent of the secondary student population while privately owned fees-paying schools account for about 25 percent with about 5 percent attending mission fee-paying schools.
An educationist and proprietor of a private school in Osogbo who spoke on condition of anonymity said private schools flourish more during periods of incessant strikes by public school teachers.
He admitted that public schools have more qualified teachers compared to private schools but said teachers in private schools are more diligent and disciplined in service.
Kola Adeyeye whose children are in a public school expressed his preference of private schools, not for quality education but to boost his ego, adding that parents of public school students belong to the rank of economically disadvantaged people.
A student of Ikinyinwa/Iponda Community School, Tosin Opeymi expressed his preference for private schools due to their academic quality and discipline.
Despite the free education policy in Rivers State, most well-to-do residents of the state send their children to private primary and secondary schools while the public schools are attended by children of the poor, mostly civil servants and petty traders and artisans.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, a resident, Okura Melford, said educational standards in public schools are nothing to write home about despite the existing free education policy in the state.
“It is just that there is nothing the poor can do. That is why we keep sending our children to public schools. The standard is very poor. Imagine one teacher teaching four subjects in one school just because there are no teachers.
“Go to some of the primary schools, there are only two teachers; the headmaster or headmistress and one teacher. And these two people teach all the subjects in all the classes,” he said.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, a student of Government Secondary School, Borokiri, Port Harcourt, who pleaded for anonymity, said she would have preferred to be enrolled in a private school if her parents had the resources.
She said: “To tell you the truth, I like private schools because they teach what public schools don’t teach. My parents are just petty traders. How I wish they were rich enough to enroll me into any of the private schools.”
At a function recently, the Rivers State commissioner for education, Professor Chinedu Mmom, said the decision of the state government to sustain the free education policy for primary and secondary schools was borne out of its desire to provide quality basic education for children in the state.
Few days ago, the Rivers State Universal Basic Education Board (RSUBEB) announced the suspension of principals of two government-owned secondary schools over alleged collection of illegal fees.
RSUBEB chairman, Venerable Funeface Akah, who announced the suspension, said the action was with immediate effect.
Akah listed the schools as Community Secondary School, Rumaghaolu, and Community Secondary School, Okoronodu, all in Obio/Akpor local government area of the state
Akah directed all other principals and head teachers who had collected such illegal fees to refund parents immediately or face the consequences of their actions.
He also warned PTA officials and school-based management committees against charging and collecting monies without the authorisation of the board.
He stated that parents and guardians should not be put under pressure to pay any illegal fees.
Akah, however, urged parents to provide their children and wards with necessary school uniforms and sandals, while emphasising that UBE schools remain free across the state.
The Anambra State commissioner for education, Prof Ngozi Chuma-Udeh stated that the government was yet to compute the impact of the free education policy on the enrolment figure in the public schools, saying it was too early to determine the figure since the academic session had just started.
“The free education policy has just started. We can’t give any figure now about the students enrolment because whatever figure we shall give has to be generated from the field to make sure that such figure is based on facts, and, is verifiable. You know that this administration doesn’t tell lies”, Prof. Chuma-Udeh replied.
As part of the government’s deliberate efforts toward revitalising the public education sector in the state, Chioma Charles commended the free education policy of the state government and expressed hope that if quality teachers were recruited and infrastructure improved in public schools, she would withdraw her four children currently in Junior Secondary school in a private school and send them to the public school.
“My husband and I have been finding it difficult paying school fees for our children in the private schools because they do not teach them anything in the public schools”, she explained.
Ejiofo Okolo, a JSS1 student of Capital Secondary School, Awka, expressed happiness at the plans of the government to improve infrastructure in their school, saying that as a public school they lacked good classrooms unlike what his friends in private schools tell him about their own schools.
In Cross River State, there is nothing like free education for students in secondary school, although the state governor, Senator Bassey Edet Otu just made a statement last month in a media briefing with journalists in Càlabar that his administration was going to commence the payment of examination fee for students in public schools who are warming up to sit for 2023 Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination, SSCE.
In his reaction to the issue, the Cross River State Commissioner for Education Senator Stephen Adi Odey said, “Gov. Otu has not declared free education, the only thing is that tuition and SSCE examination will be free. A secular is already out and so we will begin implementation. We are determined to work.”
When asked to speak on the number of student enrolment in public (government schools) the commissioner said, “You know, we just came in not quite long. I just asked my people to get the number of enrolment and they are working on it.
“I believe before the end of next week the exact number would be given to me. That is when I would be equipped to speak on that issue.”