By Abiose Adelaja Adams
At the entrance of the admin block to the school is a poster carrying the words of the classical Greek philosopher, Socrates: ‘Education is the kindling of a flame and not the filling of a vessel.’
It was the first day of the new academic year at the Methodist Primary school, Ewu-Elepe, Ikorodu local government area of Lagos. Owoseni and his brother were visibly excited to resume at this school. Their mother exhaled the joy of relief as she, along with other parents, huddled around the table of the Head Mistress. In the small office, each child was given a handwritten sheet to write an entrance test. But Owoseni’s mother was busy, partly excited, and happy to attend to the various incoming registration issues.
“All I have spent now is just N12,000 for the two children. If it was private school, I will spend four times the amount,” she told this reporter, who was also registering a ward. “It is as if we are working to put all our savings in private schools. The increment every term is too much. Money for this; Money for that. But once I pay this one, that’s all.”
A self-satisfied, knowing smirk pasted on her face, the dark complexioned lady in her late thirties, revealed that Owoseni, who was enrolled in primary six, was charged N10,000. His five year old brother, enrolled in the nursery class, was charged N2000. The teachers call it processing fee. Beyond this, they were charged N500 each for cutlass. This is excluding money for exercise books, textbooks and sundry stationeries.
“We also paid N1500 for a set of uniform and N800 for building blocks,” she said.
Every new child pays for three blocks at the rate of N600, while an additional N200 is charged as ‘fee for the labourer’. Parents may bring three blocks and pay just the N200 for labourer.
One of the school’s primary six teachers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the school’s Parents Forum decided that the school should be fenced primarily for security reasons. Secondly, the school premise is often flooded and a portion of it has become a marsh, which makes it difficult to move freely around during rainy season.
“We want to build drainages so that the water flowing from the main road flows into the gutter and not directly into the premises. We have written to SUBEB. I personally have taken the pictures and sent to Channels Televsion I-Witness report. But nothing has been done about it,” he said.
By our rough estimate, enrolling a primary six pupil in a Lagos school – including sets of uniforms, text and notebooks and stationery – may cost between N15,000-N20,000. This figure is close to the school fees of some private schools in Lagos and it poses challenge of access to education for indigent parents and their wards.
How free is free education?
The Universal Basic Education Act mandates free and compulsory education for all Nigerian children for the first nine years of life – from pre-primary up to JSS 3. For this cause, the Federal Government has allocated two per cent of consolidated revenue fund from the annual budgetary allocation. The fund is meant to provide support –mainly grants – to States for the implementation of the UBE programme, mobilise private sector and community participation, infrastructural development (buildings, facilities, IT infrastructure, furniture, etc).
How free then is free education? Mr. Timothy Adewale of the Socio-Economic Right and Acountability Project (SERAP), responds: “What the Federal Government has done in providing education free and as a right is good, but parents are expected to also contribute. Although we know that there are certain families who may not be able to afford textbook,s even notebooks, but that is what the counterpart funding (such as DFID) is supposed to do; for the purpose of subsidizing education. But the challenge we are having is that the States are not accessing the money.”
Mr. Pius Osaghae, a former director at UBEC and presently the Chair of the Center for Research and Sustainable Capacity Development, said the State Universal Basic Education Board- SUBEB, are the main implementers in the State.
“But these funds remained largely un-accessed. For instance the FG has released up to N344,017,378,508.89 since 2005, till March 2017. A total sum of N285,762,101,443 has been disbursed to the 36 States and the FCT so far. Yet N56,744,722,935.07 remains un-accessed,” he said.
A visit to the Methodist School at Ikorodu shows that the SUBEB funds is indeed not evident. The field, of about 1000 meters wide and 500 meters long, is marshy due to flooding; almost a half of it is overgrown with tall herbaceous weeds. This poses health risks, as snakes and scorpion might hide therein to pose a threat to the children. Some of the pupils were seen wearing knee-length rain boots to wade through the marsh.
On the wall of the toilet is written, ‘The Presidency, MDGs 2014 Special Project.’ This inscription is now fading and the distance between the toilet and the block of classrooms is covered with weeds as tall as the height of an average three-year old. How do the pupils ease themselves then? This reporter saw cakes of feaces lining the passage way. And some boys were seen spraying their urine from their classrooms through the window. And that was on the opening day!
Then there were the classrooms, which are short of furniture.
According to www.ubeconline.com, the marching grant disbursed to Lagos State from 2005/2006 academic year up to March 31st 2017 is N8,240,394,632.28. This is meant to go round the 1,010 public primary schools in Lagos.
Reasons for inaccessibility of funds to states are being investigated, but bureaucratic bottlenecks and weak partnerships are obvious ones.
Despite this, the Head Mistress of the Methodist Primary School, a motherly professional in her early fifties, is committed to the academic excellence of pupils in her care.
“Even today, first day of resumption, they are going to study. I don’t joke with that. But you parents also need to monitor your kids,” she told the crowd of parents hovering around her table.
On her wall was a pink poster. The words, written in blue marker, chronicle the school performance in the last three statewide common entrance exam.
‘Out of 320 enrolled in 2015, only 38 failed, showing an 88 per cent success rate. In 2016, 386 registered, 26 failed: 93 per cent success; while in 2017, all the 361 passed: 100 per cent success. This speaks volumes.”
One wonders what the woman would do if funds that should have been made available to her actually got to her school.