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Private school entrepreneurs hit goldmine in Abuja

The private schools in the city are of various categories. There is the high-class schools, whose claims are to give their students the education of…

The private schools in the city are of various categories. There is the high-class schools, whose claims are to give their students the education of the quality that is obtained anywhere in the developed world. There is also the middle class school, which claims to give the same quality as the high-class, but at a lesser price.

The marketing strategy for these schools is to convince parents that they can get the same standard as obtained in the Europe and America. Thus, there would be no need to send their wards to such distant lands in pursuit of knowledge when the same knowledge of comparable quality can be obtained right here at home, in Abuja. Though some of the schools boast of modern infrastructure and well-equipped laboratories and the qualified teaching staff to back their claims, the tuition fees they charge are often higher than in the UK and US, for instance.

Weekly Trust investigation at one of such schools in Jabi district of the FCT showed that as much as 18, 000 dollars (about 2.8 million naira) per session is charged for a pupil in the first year of the junior secondary school class. By the number of classroom blocks and the pupils that fill them to capacity, it was obvious that its proprietor must be having a nice time enjoying his investment.

This class of schools is numerous and are found across the Federal Capital. From the outside, you could feel their expensive nature, from the physical structures to the neat turnout of the pupils.

The second category of schools charges a comparatively paltry 600,000 naira and above. You get a sense here that, although costly, standards do not measure up to those in the first category.

Weekly Trust learnt that most clients of such expensive private schools are children of politicians, top civil servants, well-heeled business individuals and expatriates.

However, the investigation also revealed that a number of such schools are barely five years old and thus may not have built up structure and requisite reputation to run schools deemed to be ‘high grade’ institutions.

Investigations revealed that although some parents send their children to these schools based on the conviction that they match their social status; others say they do so because of the dearth of infrastructure and teaching facilities in public schools, the high cost of their choice notwithstanding.

According to Chief Eze Amunike, top businessman in Abuja, two of his four children are in one of the top schools.

`’Most of the well-equipped private schools that parade qualified teaching staff charge fees that are far above what is affordable by the ordinary Nigerian, but for people who can afford, I think some are worth it,” he said.

He gave high marks to the facilities and quality of teaching at the boarding school his children attend, adding that not more than four students shared a room with toilet and bathroom.

“Students eat as much as they want as they are usually allowed to serve themselves at meal times,” he said.

Giving reasons why he preferred to send his children to private schools, he pointed out that education is the best legacy a parent could give his child in order to empower them in contemporary society. He further said “where are the government schools? What is the standard? The public schools have failed in all standards, if you asked me.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Joseph Adewale, a master’s degree holder and father of four disagreed with some of the points. He said the major difference between some private and public schools in Abuja was that proprietors of some private schools usually present a facade of comfort for pupils or students by painting their school buildings nicely, whereas the quality of teaching they offer would be poor.

“They could provide a building that does not have broken louvers; perhaps the building does not have broken walls like what you see in public schools, but I can assure you that the quality of teachers you have in private schools is much below what you have in public schools; except that the environment looks better. They are not experienced; I mean both administrators and teachers in such schools. And I don’t think you have to send your children to school just because the school environment looks better. You send your children to school for them to be properly educated.

“In most of these private schools, they even force the teachers to dress well despite the poor salaries they are paid just to convey a good image to the parents. Private schools in Nigeria are mostly owned by people with commercial interests, period!’’ he continued.

Most of the school administrators approached for comment declined to make a statement. A couple of them offered to speak only if their names were not to be in print, and were turned down.

Investigations revealed that majority of the self-styled international schools in the Federal Capital Territory are owned by Nigerians, mostly serving or retired top public officers. They employ expatriate teaching staff and administrators for key positions and give the schools the veneer of international status, providing the attraction for the rich and powerful to send their wards to.

Some are of the opinion that Nigeria is a `capitalist’ country and since there is no sound regulatory instrument to monitor private school’ fees in the country, those who feel they can afford their services might as well patronize them.

Some of the schools charge a fee known as Capital Building Levy, which in public schools would have been illegal and condemned as extortion. Some of the more inquisitive parents have begun to question what the was rational for students to pay a levy so that an investor can expand his permanent structures when the student is not a shareholder in the project.

This trend is not restricted to the secondary schools alone, as private primary schools are cashing in on the boom and fast becoming a money-spinning enterprise for the owners of these schools. Most private primary schools also charge what to most Nigerians would term exorbitant fees for a child of just three years, claiming that they are building a solid foundation for him.

This gold rush of sorts has given rise to the growing concern by the Federal Capital Development Authority, whose officials have decided to commence routine checks on schools in Abuja, and have threatened to shut down all ‘illegal schools’ in the FCT.

Making good their threat, the FCT administration officials went round the schools for inspection and 310, some of which were operating below standard while others were deemed illegal.

A spokesman of the FCT Education secretariat, Mr. Abdullahi Musa, said “some of these schools were not duly registered. This is to say that the owners never even applied to have the schools properly registered in the first place. They just went ahead to open the school and started admitting innocent people. And in the cause of this routine check, we found out that most of these illegal schools charge high fees and at the same time are not meeting up with the minimum standards required.”

The FCT administration has started shutting down some of these schools even as some parents plead that the fees should also be looked into, so that some schools do not just take things into their hands by deciding to increase schools fees outrageously. Unless the authorities  get on top of this, Abuja will continue to be a goldmine for all comers, including cons and charlatans.

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