SPECIAL REPORT: Private school owners FIGHT over market share as pressure mounts to shutdown unregistered schools in Delta

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There’s a growing crisis between executive members of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) and owners of yet to be registered private schools in Delta state. Editor of Emeraldng.com, AUSTIN OYIBODE, took a holistic look at the need for private schools, the call for the closure of yet to be registered private schools and the government view on the crisis. Stakeholders in the sector were visited and their views carefully analysed.

The lamentation of owners of unregistered private schools in Delta

Mrs. Marian Mogbodu operates a private school in Asaba, Delta state. Though she has been operating the school for over four years, she is yet to register with the state ministry of basic and secondary education. In the school, she has five teachers with approximately 50 pupils. She started in 2014 and has paid salaries of N15,000 monthly for the past four years. Two of her five teachers have secondary school certificate while the three others have National Certificate in Education (NCE).

Situated in the heart of the state capital, the school, Glorious Children Nursery and Primary School, is making impact in the lives of the pupils. Mrs. Mogbodu’s school fee is N8000 and most parents are happy that their children are well taught. The parents’ happiness is based on the performance of the children at the end of year events usually organised by schools.

But having been in the business for over three years, she is expected to have gathered enough money for her registration and meet up with other requirements needed by the state ministry of basic and secondary education. However, this is not so, reason being, according to her, she is yet to keep enough money to buy land and build a structure that would meet the taste of the education inspectors.

This is coupled with the fact that many parents owe her so much money while some do not pay and if some children are driven home, their parents withdraw them to other schools. This has been her undoing, hence the inability to raise the money needed to foot the registration requirement by the education ministry.

Mrs. Agnes Ojo, another school owner in the city, has more tales to tell. Mrs. Ojo has also been in the system for four years, yet her school has not been registered. She told our reporter that there is much pressure on her from the education inspectors and especially members of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools NAPPS) who are mounting pressure on government to close down unregistered schools from the system.

Ojo told our reporter that the state ministry of education should exercise patience and give them time. She said she has acquired land but yet to develop the land. She told Emeraldng.com that she would be happy if the government could give them between three to five more years to develop her plot and grow her school, adding that probationary approval could be given that would allow them pay their dues while they develop their plots.

Mrs. Ojo was sitting on a wooden bench when she spoke with Emeraldng.com in front of her house. She was quite sober due to the fact that the little earning from the school is what she uses to take care of her family, train her children, one of whom has just completed the senior secondary school and is preparing to get into the university.

She said her school has seven teachers whom she pays between N15,000 and N20,000 monthly. According to her, most parents are owing her over N400,000 in the last term. She also said local government officials collect N20,000 from them yearly while health officials from the local government also collect N10,000 annually from them. All these are being done while the registration is still in process. Mrs. Ojo added that her school fee for nursery school is N6500 while primary is N7500.

Unregistered private schools must be shutdown – NAPPS insists they are stealing pupils

But leaders of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) would have none of this. They are insisting that the state ministry of education should shut down these schools and allow only the registered schools to function in the state. Oshimili south chairman of NAPPS, Austine Onodharo, told our reporter that the unregistered schools are constituting nuisance in the state.

He said every nook and cranny of Asaba is littered with schools in ramshackled and unconducive environment and they are being run by quacks and people who do not have degrees in education. He said there are some buildings where a flat is for school while the other is for tenants, describing it as an unfortunate development in the state.

Though he agrees that private schools are contributing in no small measure to the growth of education in Nigeria with a large chunk of employees both skilled and unskilled, he condemned the proliferation of the system with schools run as mere business centres. He said approved private schools have qualified teachers who are impacting requisite skills on pupils.

“If you look at the private school where you have the ratio of a teacher to 20 students, you can be sure the quality cannot be compared when you have a teacher that has to take care of 200 to 300 students in public schools. They are not the same. So, I can tell you that the private schools are doing so much in impacting quality education to students in the state and country,” he said.

Onodharo, who owns Born Great Group of Schools in Asaba, said for a person to set up a private school, the individual should have passion for education and must be a qualified education graduate. “A private school business is not an all comers affair. It’s not for the person selling tomatoes in the market which does not involve formal education. So, even if you, as a proprietor, do not have a degree in education, your headmistress or principal and your teachers should have a basic qualification.

“The minimum qualification for teaching by the National Council for Education is NCE. And in private schools, you discover that most of the NCE holders are recruited for the KG. Most of the private schools are employing graduates, B.Ed for primary to secondary. So, we have qualified teachers manning the schools.”

However, he said the ministry of basic education and the chief inspectors of education are not well equipped to monitor the schools in the state.  He said there are over 3000 unregistered schools in Oshimili south local government area of the state, noting that “Most of the unregistered schools are farm houses for some corrupt staff of the ministry of education. Registered schools do renewal of licenses but these unregistered schools do not pay any of such. Rather, they form association of unregistered schools and task themselves and settle some unscrupulous corrupt officials of the ministry of education who give them cover to exist.”

He said while there are over 3000 unregistered schools in the local government, there over 10,000 in the entire Delta state, adding: “There is a school in every nook and cranny of the state. Every church has a school operating in the auditorium. On Sunday, they do church service. Monday to Friday, they put their chairs. It’s very unfortunate.”

For him, the ministry of education is to blame for all the mess.  “Yes, the blame stops at the doorstep of the ministry of basic and secondary education. As we speak, we have done all that we could, we have issued communiqués, we have sent letters to different arms of government, the house of assembly committee on education, commissioner for information, informing them of the harm they are doing to the registered private schools in the state. We pay tax, the unregistered schools do not pay tax.

“All these unregistered schools charge N3000 for school fees, free uniform because they don’t pay tax. Now some of us who are registered and pay tax, we can’t even afford to pay the salaries of our staff. This academic session, some schools had zero admission. All these other schools that are not registered, they have taken over the whole place. So, it becomes imperative and necessary for government to move in at this point in time.”

Onodharo believes that the unregistered schools are stealing pupils from the registered ones. He says since they are not registered, they do not pay tax. “And because of that they charge fees that are ridiculous. They don’t employ qualified teachers. You see somebody taking school certificate to teach in secondary schools. And they pay next to nothing.” He is particularly worried that most parents do not care, saying as far as their children go to private schools they are okay.

For him, the only solution to the problem is shutting down the unregistered schools. He dismissed the employment given by the schools, insisting that their take home pay of N5000 cannot help pay the teacher’s transport, hence such a teacher cannot give the best to the children. He said a good pay for an NCE holder should be at least N20,000 while graduates should go home with at least N30,000 per month.

He told our reporter that before he started operating his school, he had secured his approval from the education authorities but most schools are springing up without approval and are stealing children from the registered schools. Hence, he said the only solution is for the state ministry of education to close down unregistered schools and shut them out of business, insisting that should the government fail to do so, members of his association in Oshimili north and south will stop paying taxes to the state government.

A parent’s viewpoint: These big schools are thieves, greedy and selfish

A parent, Ruth Eteng, told Emeraldng.com that the agitation of the NAPPS executives is uncalled for and amounts to selfishness and greed. She said parents should be free to take their children to the schools they wish, adding that if parents cannot afford the big schools, they should take their children to the ones they could afford the fees. “As a parent I take my child to the school I think I can afford the fees, as long as he is well taught I am fine and okay.

“Why should small private schools be shutdown, no, they should not be closed. The suggestion that small private schools should be closed for big ones to operate is an act of indiscretion of the highest order. They are asking us to keep our children at home and not send them to school since we cannot afford the school fees of the big schools.”

While she frowns at school owners who operate in ram shackled structures, she insists that enough time should be given to the schools to get the needed resources and get registered but to call for closure because they are not registered is not the solution to the education problem in Nigeria. She added that the small schools are contributing to growing education in Nigeria and even giving employment to the unemployed youths in the country.

She described members of NAPPS calling for the closure of small private schools as thieves, greedy and selfish people who do not want the progress of their fellow Nigerians. She noted: “If I have money I will take my child to the big schools but if I don’t have such I should take my child to the school I can afford. So, I don’t see why they should clamour for the small schools to be closed.”

Private schools are needed to run the education system – Education commissioner

Also, commissioner for basic and secondary education, Chiedu Ebie, does not support summary closure of unregistered private schools. For him, most schools start as unregistered when they commence. He listed the process to include acquiring land, raising the structure, equipping it, and admitting students before registration process commences. He said due process must be followed before schools are registered.

However, Ebie told Emeraldng.com that the ministry does not condone illegal schools in ramshackled buildings. Hence, he called for the NAPPS officials to show the ministry officials the illegal schools in the state. He said: “Like I told them, in a particular area, you know the illegal schools, point them to us and we will shut them down. Then they will no longer disturb them in their market share. That is their problem. Their problem is that they are taking their children from them.”

Nonetheless, he said private schools are needed to run the system alongside the state public schools, noting that government cannot do it alone. He insisted that “Whether you like it or not the standard in private schools seems to be higher than that of the public schools. So, private schools play a role in educating the citizens. So we are not going to rule them out and say we don’t need the private schools, we need them.

“They help us to bridge the gap. Even as it is today, we have 269 secondary schools and 1121 public primary schools in Delta. But it is still not enough even with the private schools we have. We need education, we need to take it to the doorstep of the people if not, people will be working 10km to school. The private schools help us to bridge that gap. But you must have some money to be able to afford their education. Unlike ours that is free education.”

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