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Parents’ preference boosts private school business in FCT

Private school proprietorship trend is on the rise in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on the heels of parents’ and guardians’ prefere...

Private school proprietorship trend is on the rise in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on the heels of parents’ and guardians’ preference for private schools.

Findings by Daily Trust show that the craving for private schools in the territory, is fuelled by assurances of security in private schools due to the current insecurity, incessant strike in the public school system, the lack of good infrastructure, teaching learning facilities, nonconductive learning environment, and as status symbol.

Some parents are also said to prefer the private schools for reasons of examination malpractices, with many schools said to be amenable paving ways for students to obtain unmerited good results.

Checks by Daily Trust indicate that scores of such schools dot different parts of the FCT in staggering proportions so much that they have outnumbered public schools.  Our correspondents who visited different parts of FCT report that the owners making brisk businesses, despite some anomalies in the system at the expense of gullible parents and guardians. 

According to available data in many states in the country, private primary and secondary schools outnumber public schools because they serve as a sanctuary for cutting corners occasioned by exams malpractices and other infractions.

There are at least 2,493 private schools in the six area councils of the FCT, compared to 831 public primary and secondary schools.

While some of the schools have been fully registered by relevant authorities after fulfilling requirements, many of them bribed their ways to remain afloat.

Most of those that do not qualify to serve as primary and secondary schools recruit unqualified teachers who serve as willing tools for awarding higher marks for children of parents that are willing to pay and in some instances write exams for the “pampered students” who graduate in “flying colours.”

A few years ago, the Education Secretariat of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) administration threatened to close down at least 556 private schools over their substandard status.

A nursery class of six pupils

School statistics

A breakdown of schools in the FCT shows that there are 613 public primary schools, 161 public junior secondary schools and 57 public senior secondary schools.

AMAC has the highest number of private schools with 1,251 on record compared to the 239 public schools; Abaji has 33 private schools compared to its 99 public schools; Bwari has 403 private schools with 124 public schools; Gwagwalada has 409 private schools compared to its 111 public schools; Kuje has 301 private schools and 137 public schools; while Kwali has 96 private schools and 121 public schools.

The figures show that only Abaji and Kwali area councils have more public schools than private schools.

 A source at the education secretariat of the FCTA said over 5,000 schools are operating in the territory, but only 3,324 are fully certified.

Findings by Daily Trust in Gwagwalada, Kuje, Bwari and some parts of Kwali area councils show that new private primary and secondary schools are on the increase. Some of the schools can be best described as mushrooms as, in some cases, owners just rent apartments and convert them to schools.

‘Most private schools for wrong reasons’

 According to experts, there are few public schools readily available near residential areas and in this era of insecurity, parents prefer to take their wards to schools close to their homes, irrespective of the quality.

Many of the schools are, however, not up to standard as they are characterised by the lack of qualified teachers, teaching facilities and a conducive environment for learning.

 In Kubwa area, private schools are not only in high numbers, but are on daily increase. Our reporter gathered that the government frowns at the proliferation of the schools but still collects taxes from them.

 It was also learnt that although students are not many in some of the schools, they are used as centres for the National Examination Commission (NECO) and the West African Examinations Council (WAEC); hence they usually come alive during registration and external examinations.

 The development, according to many, has also become a status symbol, such that one would be seen as poor if one’s wards are not attending a private school, no matter its standard.

Owing to the rising patronage, proprietors of such schools charge exorbitant amounts as fees.

Investigation across communities in Abuja revealed that such schools, which in some cases run only two or three classes, are witnessing more patronage from residents who wants to satisfy those sentiments.

Parents rarely pay attention to teachers’ qualification in such schools and the absence of necessary facilities such as playgrounds, laboratories for experiments, science equipment, among others.

Some experts also attribute the patronage for private schools to incessant strikes in public schools on one hand and the fallen standard in terms of provision of basic learning tools.

 Aminu Yusuf, a teacher in Bwari town, said most private schools have not been registered, adding that they always lobby supervisors to shield them from necessary sanctions.

Yusuf said the aim of establishing schools was to educate the society to be self-reliant and have a sustainable future, lamenting that private school owners these days are just out to maximise profit.

“I see them as more profitable ventures than centres of imparting knowledge,” he said. 

At the Kubwa Village area alone, Daily Trust Saturday counted 20 of such schools.

Mrs Gloria Osera, the proprietor of Building Creative Kids International School, said the school commenced operation in 2018. 

She also it was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, adding that she went to the Bwari Area Council to obtain a guideline at the cost of N35, 000 before starting the school.

She, however, confessed that she was yet to return the form which would enable supervisors to come to the school for inspection.

“We used the available two rooms here for pre-nursery, nursery one and nursery two sections, while on graduation, a pupil would be transferred to another school within the community to continue his/her education.

Daily Trust further learnt that such schools are not getting assistance from the government rather, they pay N100, 000 and above as annual income tax. 

Mrs Osera said they pay other charges like N10, 000 per term for fumigation, signboard, among others.

A resident of Kubwa, Nura Shuaibu, said he prefers to register his children in private schools instead of the ones run by the government because children get more attention in the former. He also said public schools are overpopulated.

Another resident, Esther Musa, said all her children obtained nursery education from private schools and are doing better than those in public schools, adding that on graduation, they would be registered into primary two in public schools due to the sound foundation they obtained.    

Mr Christian Orji, a resident of Gwagwalada Area Council, told our reporter that the government is to blame for the influx and patronage of private schools across the country, including the FCT. He recalled that private schools were not popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“In the past, many people used to go to public schools, but the situation is different these days. Many of those that are establishing private schools are products of public schools and they studied under scholarships.

“You have to blame the government because even though these schools (private) have no curriculum and the environments are not conducive, many people still go there because public schools have shown that they are not reliable,” Orji said.

He blamed government for the lack of supervision and evaluation of private schools and for not taking punitive actions against them.

“Ordinarily, there should be minimum standards to be met in both public and private schools in terms of physical structure, staffing, curricular and extra-curricular activities but this is not the case,” he said.

In the Zone 4 area of Phase III in Gwagwalada Area Council, Daily Trust Saturday came across Star International School, where one of the students told our reporter that they were not more than 20 in the whole school which operates primary and secondary sections.

When asked about the low number of students in the school, a teacher, who was the only staffer around, said they had just resumed from the midterm break, hence only a few people were in the school.

The teacher, who refused to give her name, said they had many students and could still admit more, adding that in the just-concluded NECO examinations, the school performed so well that many parents promised to bring their children.

Daily Trust gathered that the school is mainly used for WAEC/NECO examinations and many of the students were external candidates.

Mr Emmanuel who lives close to the area, said there are few permanent students in the school, but the operators keep it going because of what they get during SSCE examinations.

He added that during such exams, the place becomes a beehive of activities. A new school has also been established close to Star International.   We gathered that more are still coming on board.

Phlox Standard Montessori Schools is located along Passo Road in Gwagwalada.

The secretary of the school who gave her name as Miss Blessing, told our reporter that the institution was established about three months ago and they are still canvassing students.

“We are just starting. So, we don’t have many students yet. They are not many and our teachers are just three. But soon, we will have many students,” she said.

The situation is similar in most communities in Kuje, Abaji and Bwari, as some of the schools can only boast of two and four classrooms for nursery and primary schools.

Officials mum

Officials of the FCT Education Secretariat were not willing to speak on the issue when one of our reporters visited their office.

However, one of the senior officials who did not want his name mentioned, said their monitoring unit had been undertaking a regular inspection to rid the country’s capital of substandard schools.

He said several schools had been shut down for not operating according to the approved standard, adding that the clampdown was a continuous exercise.

“You know our people. If you go to a particular area today to carry out such exercise, before the week runs down, you may likely see another coming up. It is like that. But let me assure you that there will be no rest for them, especially in the outskirts. You can hardly see such schools at the city centre,’’ he said. 

We conduct schools approved by ministries – WAEC

When contacted to speak on the proliferation of private schools that are being used for exams malpractices, Head of Public Affairs of WAEC, Nigeria, Demianus Ojijeogu said it is the officials of the ministries of education in each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT Abuja that should speak on the matter.

He said WAEC did not use a school as an examination centre if it was not approved by the ministry of education in that state.

Ojijeogu said the responsibility of certifying the standard of such schools lay with the ministry of education.

“The process of recognizing schools as centres for WASSCE is initiated by the ministry of education in each state. Usually, a school will apply to the ministry for recognition as an examination centre,” she said.

He  said the officials of the ministry of education would go through a process of documentation for that school and if the appropriate documents had been submitted, the ministry would embark on an inspection of that school.

“They are to check the facilities, laboratories, libraries and the qualifications of the teaching and administration staff as well as the students’ enrolment among others. It is only when they are satisfied that the said school is then recommended to WAEC to be accepted as an examination centre,” he said.

Lack of facilities affects learning – Experts

Education experts have said the proliferation of private schools without sufficient facilities could lead to redundancy and low self-esteem among students. The education experts who spoke separately said adequate facilities are crucial to the development of the students.

An education expert, Ifeanyi James, said school without adequate facilities could limit the confidence of the children, “because the limitation of the environment is also going to create a limitation of inputs, resources, and facilities and eventually limitations of the students because you cannot give what you do not have.”

James, who has been in the education industry for 23 years and is based in Abuja, said students enrolled in such schools could graduate as half-baked, “A very grounded and certified schools will want to the pick up the best teachers, pay them well and put the children in a conducive academic-based environment but when you are using a three-bedroom flat that is more or less a lesson environment that is not outlined, structured for learning.”

He said there are more to owning a school than having uniforms for students adding that a school should have sporting facilities, “Even some of the certified schools do not have the sporting facilities. The sporting facilities should be introduced to children because it keeps them healthy physically and mentally. When these are not available, how do you expect the children to come out?”

He said among the dangers of having such schools are that the students might lack confidence, “if such a child should across another child from a well-developed school, you see low self-esteem coming into the life of the child. And when a child is already showing low self-esteem and not exuding confidence then that child is not expected to give the best. That means that there is going to be redundant because the productive asset in that child is not activated.”

He said such schools could also lack certified quality books that should be used to teach the children.

Another education expert, Henry Nwachia said such schools could be breeding grounds for examination malpractices due to the need for ‘more customers.’ He however added that exam malpractices are not peculiar to smaller as bigger schools could also engage in it.  

“The smaller schools may not have qualified teachers because they may not pay them well. They may be involved in exam malpractices because invigilators may not want to go there due to the distance but this is not exam malpractices is not only peculiar to smaller schools,” he said.

Hussein Yahaya, Baba Martins, Adam Umar, Chidimma C. Okeke & Taiwo Adeniyi

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