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Education, Greed And Hidden Costs

Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe writes on the urgent need to fund basic education in Nigeria.

Some beneficiaries of the Openfees Project 3S with their field mentor, Lucy Lass / Photo credit: OpenFees
Some beneficiaries of the Openfees Project 3S with their field mentor, Lucy Lass / Photo credit: OpenFees

“Do you know about blow job?” That was the question 16-year-old Barakat a government secondary school student, faced in her quest for basic education in Nigeria.

She had been chased away from school because her parents had not paid her fees. On her way back home, with bitter tears running down her face, a man stopped her to ask what the matter was.

The man, old enough to be her father, promised to help her but there was a caveat: blow job was in the mix. That was how she was expected to earn her fees and return to school.

The story wasn’t any different for 17-year-old Promise. Due to her parents’ inability to pay her school fees, she couldn’t resume with her mates at the beginning of a new school term.

Rather, she had to find a menial job for N5, 000 a month to raise her fees.

Of course, it wasn’t long before a ‘saviour’ came her way. This ‘saviour’ would not only sort out all her school fees issues but would also take care of all her other needs.

However, she had to become his’ ‘pet’, whatever that means.

“He said I would be rubbing his back and that he would rub mine too”, Promise recounted as she bravely fought back tears.

But she wasn’t the only one fighting tears back in that Hall yesterday.

There was hardly any dry eye as we listened to her and four other girls, including Barakat, as they described the high walls they had to scale in order to acquire basic education in Nigeria.

The event was the Open Fees Educational Aid Foundation (OpenFees) Stakeholders’ Forum, with the theme: the cost of Basic Education in Nigeria.

The claim in some quarters that he used N190m to renovate and upgrade the school only proves what many us already know; that the day all Nigerian public officials are compelled to enrol their children in Nigerian public schools, the story will change

Promise, Barakat and 95 other pupils who were the beneficiaries of the Project 3S, an Open Fees schools fees intervention scheme, got a lucky break as the organization didn’t just sort out the school fees but also paid their WAEC and NECO fees.

At least for these 97 for whom Open Fees came, they’ve been able to complete their secondary education, including writing the required certificate examinations.

What about the rest? Who cares whether or not they receive even the most basic education?

The Nigerian government will tell you that basic education is free but the reality is different in the schools.

Let’s not even start on the quality of the resources the government has been willing to make available in the public schools over the year; an outrage, to say the least.

That also explains why I see Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s recent act of enrolling his six-year-old son, as a half full cup rather than half empty.

The claim in some quarters that he used N190m to renovate and upgrade the school only proves what many us already know; that the day all Nigerian public officials are compelled to enrol their children in Nigerian public schools, the story will change.

Just imagine how the governor would henceforth ensure that the school head and every other official of Capital School earn every kobo they will receive in wages.

Abubakar Al-Sadeeq el-Rufai may just be a six-year-old but his presence in that school shall not only impact positively on his immediate class, but on every other class and pupil in that school.

Now let this cascade down to the commissioners, aides, local council chairmen and councilors.

Just imagine if each government official in that state takes interest in just one public school and insists that it’s upgraded because their children would be attending those schools.

Same goes for the rest of us.

In the same country where many spent next to nothing to acquire solid education, we are unashamedly spending millions to buy education for our wards. Sometimes, the quality of what we get at the end hardly comes close to that which we had

Rather than pumping so much into the over-priced private schools we send our wards to, why not channel these resources towards upgrading our public schools and subsidising basic education for the poor?

It’s common sense. But the Nigerian brand of selfishness laced with enough dose of complacency will not allow us to be great.

The politicians steal funds meant for everyone, send their children to those over-priced private schools and in some cases, even own some of those institutions themselves, while the rest of us play catch up or, at best, look the other way.

We don’t really care as long as we can also make money, legitimately or otherwise, to be able to send our own wards to the same schools.

And so, overtime, we have turned quality education into an over-priced product, meant only for the rich, akin to those designer labels, far away from those without means.

In the same country where many spent next to nothing to acquire solid education, we are unashamedly spending millions to buy education for our wards. Sometimes, the quality of what we get at the end hardly comes close to that which we had.

Ask most Nigerian middle-class parents about their sorest points of financial pressure and you will see that it’s almost always about school fees.

They struggle endlessly, almost every day of their working lives just afford schools fees. By the time they’re through with it all nothing is left for a comfortable post-retirement life.

That also explains why many Nigerian parents end up living off their children in retirement because there is nothing left after the humongous schools fees have swallowed all they had toiled for in their active years.

So, they comfort themselves with this notion that paying school fees is an investment. Investment it may well be but is it in your life or in that of the child?

We will all soon wake up from this fever dream because this generation and the one coming after may care nothing about such sentiments.

Many of them have already shown that even before the evening is near.

But it would have made better sense to ensure that our public schools work for everyone; the rich, middle class and poor so we channel resources we are dumping on private school owners elsewhere.

No, we prefer to perch haughtily on the middle and high rungs of the ladder of the society feeling that we have all arrived.

After all, we can pay our rents/own our houses, eat well, afford healthcare and also pay the high-end school fees.

We also forget that for us to remain comfortably on our different levels, we need the lower rungs, holding and steadying our feet.

We will always need the bottom rungs and for them to be as effective as they’re designed to be, they must remain as strong.

But will greed and selfishness allow us appreciate this and act now before it’s too late?

The clock is ticking and events, will someday, come to our aid.

May it not be too late.

Gabriel Opuana, middle

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