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Free education policy: Good intention, teething problems in Kano

“I think the government should take the issue of free education seriously or else the educational system of public schools will experience a total collapse.…

“I think the government should take the issue of free education seriously or else the educational system of public schools will experience a total collapse. It either continues to provide the required instructional materials or should revert to the old system and allow parents to continue paying school fees to save the future of our children.”

A teacher in one of the secondary schools in Kano spoke to Daily Trust on the situation of public schools in the state since the declaration of free and compulsory education by the state government.

Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that there is an acute shortage of instructional materials in many public schools across Kano State as the government bars school authorities from charging school fees and other development levies pursuant to its free, compulsory basic education policy.

The policy was introduced in 2019 to provide access to basic and quality education to all children of school-going age irrespective of their backgrounds.

However, the introduction of the policy has stripped the school authorities of the ability to raise funds for the day-to-day running of the schools as they turn to depend solely on the tip-up funds from the state government for the running of the schools.

Budgetary allocation

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that of the N138.28bn revised budget of the state in 2020, education sector got the highest, i.e. N41.78bn signifying 30.22% of the budget.

Further review of the budget showed that the state budgeted N10 million for the purchase of teaching/learning equipment for special education schools; N75m for construction of 1,000 classrooms and N82.5m for the furnishing and supply of science equipment (both under the government’s COVID-19 responses).

Similarly, in the 2021 budget, the state government reiterated the provision of free and compulsory education at primary and secondary levels as one of its policy statements. The education sector is also expected to get N31.28bn of the total N177.93bn budget.

Notably, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) has budgeted N150 million for the purchase of teaching/learning aid equipment while the free and compulsory education programme itself is expected to gulp N241.16 million.

At the state’s senior secondary school management board, N1.69billion was budgeted for the free education programme while the school feeding programme is to gulp N2 billion.

Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented
Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented

Schools devising means to generate funds

However, our correspondents gathered that since the schools resumed in October last year from COVID-19-induced break, the monthly tip-up funds were not given to the schools which had already run out of basic instructional materials, in addition to the fact that even when they were given the funds, the school authorities find it difficult to manage it to satisfactorily meet the needs of the schools.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that most of the schools have now resorted to charging parents in a subtle way in order to raise funds for the running of the schools.

To keep the schools running, some of the principals buy instructional materials, including chalk, schemes of work and many other necessary tools out of their pocket.

Students are also frequently being asked to buy chalk because there is no provision from the state government for some of the schools.

Many students told Daily Trust on Sunday that their schools have now turned to playgrounds as they don’t always get the learning materials available for teachers.

Past free education policy also failed – Teacher

A former teacher, Abdullahi Adamu (not real name), said the first free education policy which was introduced in Kano towards the end of the second tenure of the former governor of Kano State, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, did not succeed and rather brought setbacks to the system.

He said the system suspended school fees and other sources that provide schools with money for their daily uses with an agreement that the government would provide enough resources for them. But the government could not stick to the promise as schools then battled with ways to generate money for day-to-day spending.

“Ganduje suspended the system in his first tenure and to the people’s surprise reintroduced it in the second. But, honestly, I wonder how this happened because they should have learnt a lesson from that; it is a setback to the educational system,” he said.

‘Girls’ schools worse hit’

Speaking about the situation in confidence to Daily Trust on Sunday, Balarabe Baba (not real name), a teacher from one of the girls’ secondary schools in the state, described the situation as worse in girls’ secondary schools because of the special needs of the female students.

He said prior to the abolition of school fees and other development levies, school authorities in the state used to buy sanitary wares for girls, which had proved helpful for students from poor backgrounds. But with the current situation, students have to provide almost everything including the chalk that is used for teaching.

He acknowledged that some schools are indirectly charging parents by asking for donation while registering their wards.

He claimed that the principals that had run their schools out of their pockets in hope that the state government will refund them are having issues as the government has refused to make the refund.

Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented
Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented

Schools didn’t get instructional materials since after COVID-19 break

A senior master in one of the secondary schools in the state, Ciroma Danladi (not real name), said since the resumption of schools after COVID-19-induced break, they had not receive the monthly allocations given to schools by the government.

He said teachers and principals are battling with the ways to source money for the instructional materials like chalk, dusters and even water and soap for cleaning toilets and other places.

According to him, they sometimes have to fine students for late coming or being absent to bring chalk, duster, broom, soap or any of the instructional materials as punishment.

“Some of the serious students gather money among themselves to buy chalk and keep in their classes for teachers to use during lessons. Sometimes we unnecessarily fine them for offences that can be ignored in order to get the materials. Honestly the problem is bringing serious setbacks to their studies,” Danladi said.

Inadequate teachers and overpopulation hit schools as a result

It was also gathered that the free education policy has also affected the availability of teachers in schools.

Many of the schools, it was gathered, can no longer afford to pay the stipends given to voluntary teachers, who support the government-employed teachers in their work, as many schools lack adequate teachers to cater for the population of classes.

“The free education policy has made the schools overpopulated with students as parents are sending students anyhow. Before, in our school, we used to have about 10 volunteer teachers who supported the only six government teachers in our school. But now, we hardly have one volunteer teacher because we don’t have money to give them stipends of N3000 to N5000 and the only government teachers cannot afford to handle the classes. Consequently, instead of getting eight lessons daily, they hardly get three,” Danladi said.

Another teacher, Danliti Isah (not real name), said the population of students in his present place of assignment has doubled due to the fact that many parents have embraced the government’s free education policy.

This, according to him, is not a helping matter for them (parents) and the teachers since there is no conducive environment for teaching and learning.

Government should reverse decisions… nowhere education is free – former teacher

Malam Adamu, a former teacher, called on the government to find ways of reversing the decision not because it can’t handle the situation, but due to the high population in schools and the economic situations.

He said it is not shameful if the government reverses any of its decision upon realising that it is not the solution to its citizens, adding that “education in Kano is witnessing a serious setback which signals a serious problem in future.”

He added that the government can direct schools to charge very low or regulate the amounts to be charged by the schools.

“Government should allow schools to collect PTA levies to make it easier for them and reduce the burdens on the government. Secondly, nowhere in the world that education is free. Even in Saudi Arabia where many things are offered free, they have to pay for school fees. So the government should reverse this decision because the revenue is not yet stable not only in states but at the federal level too.

“Even though they get some support from NGOs, that is not enough and hardly reaches the schools. So I think the government should come to the rescue of the situation because the education system has gone down already. All the necessary materials are not there. How do you think science schools can survive without practicals? All these are threats to education,” he added.

Education expert weighs in

Malam Ahmad Yahaya, a lecturer at the Federal College of Education, Kano, opined that the process of teaching and learning requires three basic things without which there would be serious problems to the system.

“First, there has to be a conducive environment for teaching and learning; the teaching materials for the teachers and the learning materials for the students. Whenever these three things are lacking in the teaching and learning process, a problem has occurred.

“It is not a fault if the government declares education free, but based on what is happening presently, the system is giving a headache to education as I have gathered from many people. Instead of the government providing what the schools needed to ensure the availability of the above three things, it could not do that,” he said.

Malam Yahaya added that the moment the state government asked schools to suspend any charges from primary to secondary schools, it was supposed to bridge that gap by giving the money for running some basic things.

“But it couldn’t and that created a huge vacuum in the system. Like the money for running basic things such as toilet sensitising, detergents, medicines for emergency, repair of desks and tables, borehole, and other things, the schools are using the money they collect from pupils to do all these.

“Free education is not possible at this moment. Find time to go to schools like Day Science or any of the Science Board Schools. These are schools that people are trooping in to be admitted into but now turn to something else with dilapidated structures.

Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented
Some students of some of the government-owned schools where free education policy is being implemented

“A teacher told me that there are over 7,000 pupils in his schools; how do you manage them without money?

“There are basic learning and teaching materials that are needed, like the register, books, chalk, and so on. If the government issues these materials once, it won’t give until after three or four terms. Sometimes this chalk is difficult to get, since the government is not giving them enough. Also, schools like science and technical which require serious care are not given what it takes to run the schools smoothly. You will receive less than N70,000 per term.

“Sometimes they used PTA money for payment of voluntary teachers. The problem is that nowhere in the world do primary and secondary educations depend on voluntary teachers. So this problem has really demoralised the teachers and whenever teachers are having difficulty at home and the school, there will be serious problems.”

He recalled that a principal in one of the schools in the state once told him that they had been spending over N400,000 in a term, and the government hardly gave them N70,000 in a term.

“How do you expect seventy thousand to do what N400,000 is doing?” he asked.

“Model primary schools that collect only N500 as school fees looked like private then but now they are becoming like conventional primary schools without any care.

“So looking at what the government is doing, honestly education cannot be free. We are talking about the reality of the present situation.”

He called on the government to allow parents to participate and pay the little they have to improve the system. He also appealed to the government to review the education budget.

Government should permit the collection of PTA dues

Responding to the situation, the Chairman of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) in the state, Alhaji Sani Danha, said the schools performed better when there was no much responsibility on the government, adding that the free education policy also affected their performance at the association’s national level.

“All I can say is that we know the government introduced free and compulsory education, but whether schools are suffering or not, we don’t know. The only thing we can say is, the time we were collecting dues, we used to assist these schools with some part of it and you hardly see them complaining about little things. They used the PTA dues to buy a lot of things and if the government can allow us to continue with the collection our dues, the system will be better.

“It (the policy) also affects us in the national body of the PTA because we have to pay dues and if we don’t pay, they don’t allow us to access the national conference we normally hold and that too is affecting the state. So we urge the government to allow us to continue t collect the dues,” he pleaded.

No response from the government

Several efforts to get a reaction from the state government were not successful as the state Commissioner for Education, Muhammad Sunusi Kiru, did not respond to a text message sent by our reporter and his phone number could also not be connected.

When our reporter earlier called him, the commissioner said he was in Abuja and would only talk on the matter if he came back.

However, over a week after the initial contact, the commissioner continued to reject several calls from our reporter. He also has not replied to any of the three text messages sent to him on the matter as of the time of filing this report.

Similar efforts to get the reactions from the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the Kano Senior Secondary School Management Board (KSSSMB) were also unsuccessful.