‘Harsh economy, fees defaulters are threats to survival of private schools’

As primary and secondary schools open for a new session across the nation, AKINWALE ABOLUWADE writes that private schools are battling for survival in the face of the tough economic realities in the land as most parents now struggle to pay their children’s school fees.

 

Bojuwade Memorial Nursery and Primary School, Osogbo, was envisioned, nearly two decades ago, to offer qualitative education to pupils in the nursery and primary school sector. Sitting conspicuously at the heart of Osogbo, the Osun State capital along the popular Alekuwodo Road, the school was within the comfortable reach of parents and guardians living in the area. According to residents of the area, the private school provided an alternative for those who were unwilling to send their kids to the public schools in the neighborhood.

Today, however, all that is history as the school surprisingly shut down contrary to the dream of its founder. A member of the governing board of the school, Mrs Victoria Aboriseade, attributed the closure of the school to paucity of funds. The retired school teacher explained that it became difficult to run the school effectively at some point as a result of failure of most parents to pay the outstanding school fees of their children.

Bojuwade Memorial Nursery and Primary School is, however, not the only school that was consumed by the epidemic of irregular payment of fees by parents. Routine checks by Saturday Tribune confirmed that within the last three years, a few dozens of private schools had stopped operation in both the rural and urban parts of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and Osogbo. Experts in the education sector said that more private schools had folded up in recent times in the country as a result of the hailing economy.

When Saturday Tribune visited some schools to feel the pulse of the proprietors and school administrators, most of them confirmed that getting the parents to defray the outstanding school fees nowadays had not been easy. Most of the schools that were visited in Ibadan indicated that more than 20 percent of their students were yet to offset the school fees for the previous term. It was learnt that many schools find it difficult nowadays to meet their commitments as a result of cash crunch.

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The Principal, Saint Catherine, College, Ibadan, Mrs Janet Egbune, said that smaller private schools were worse hit by backlogs of unpaid school fees. She said: “Apart from God sustaining us, one of the ways by which schools were managed is through school fees. That is the next thing that keeps us going. The number of students you have in the school matters a lot but that is if the parents are paying up the fee. It is the number of students, multiplied by the school fees, that will determine the number of staff and the expenditures of the school. Here, we try to ensure that our expenditure is not more than our income.”

She expressed reservations about parents who try to outsmart school management by failing to pay their children’s outstanding school fees, saying that most of the parents in that category simply register their children in another school to start a new term. “We have some of our parents carting away outstanding school fees that run into millions of naira by not paying up. It happens to us, but we just try to manage things.

“Before we resume, we would have sent a message to parents that they should pay a part of the fees. Some of them would not be able to meet up with that but we still allow the students to attend classes.

Nowadays, some people pay monthly. We just try to follow the trend; from 25th of the month, we start to send text messages and start calling parents. But, sometimes we send students out when we don’t get response from parents.

“You know in the past, parents were not sending their children to private schools because government schools were up and doing. It was the lapses in government schools that led parents to start bringing their children to private schools despite their inability to meet up with payment of school fees. You will recall that in the past, majority of people were products of public schools unlike now when everyone jostle to send their children and wards to private schools. Even the poor man out there will like to send his child to a private school because the government schools are still not attractive,” she explained.

Mrs Egbune said that while there was nothing that they could do to defaulting students who left the school while they are in-between classes without paying their outstanding fees, the school usually withholds the certificates of defaulting students who had written their final examinations. “We usually wait patiently for students who owe in the final classes because they will still need us. For debtor-students who left the school while in-between classes, God help us. The problem is that most private schools are always eager to increase their enrollment. They take students on transfer without checking the records of students coming from other schools.”

private schools
Mrs Abosede Oladunjoye, a school head.

For the Vice Principal, Qiblah Preparatory School, Aleshinloye, Ibadan, Mr Rashid Musa, failure to pay outstanding school fees as well as heavy taxation by state governments are the monsters that are confronting private schools. Mr Musa, who noted that it is now a fad for parents to send their children to private schools, advised the parents to consider the financial implication of their decisions before registering them.

According to him, once there are private schools that charge lesser, there is no justification for parents to overburden themselves by taking their children to those that charge very high fees. “As parents, it is advised that we should not put our children in schools whose fees we cannot afford to pay. Parents that do so usually end up destabilising the education of their children.

“As far as our school is concerned, we have been trying to cope with the economic situation. What we do is that we try to review some of our policies in consideration of the reality of the moment. The status quo at Quiblah is that the school fees changes every two years. But, looking at the economy, we discovered that any attempt to increase the school fees at this time would lead to loss of students.

“We would not want to have a reduction in the number of students in the school, so we decided not to increase school fees. The amount has been left unchanged for three years now but we still ensure that the welfare of staff is adequately addressed despite the fact that school fees is fixed for the time being.

“The school fees being owed by students now run into millions of naira. Parents keep promising that they will pay but only a few of them are faithful. The management gave them the opportunity to pay at convenience. Some parents are trying to pay back but the rate at which they are paying is not encouraging.

“Also noteworthy is the fact that government is putting multiple taxation on proprietors and this is a huge burden. Government should encourage the investors for helping to reduce the rate of unemployment in the country but instead, they pull them down with series of taxes. Let government come up with a well-structured tax system,” he suggested.

The coordinator, Broadmind Group of Schools, Mrs. Tola Akinyosoye, lamented that smaller schools were folding up as a result of difficulty in generating revenue as well as a result of huge tax burden. Checks around Agbofieti and Ile Tuntun communities in the Ido area of Ido Local Government Area of Oyo State showed that no fewer than seven private schools have closed down.

Mrs Akinyosoye said some of the small private schools are dying while the big ones are struggling to survive under a tense atmosphere. She said: “To be honest with you, it has been very difficult because some parents are unable to pay their children’s school fees. At the end of the day, this affects the management of schools. It makes us cut down cost and this has chain effects. The pattern is that most times defaulting students leave the school at the end of the term without paying outstanding bills. The parents would give excuses such as, ‘we didn’t make sales or we were not paid at work’. That is the major problem being faced.

“We can understand the situation of things so we give them benefit of the doubt but I won’t deceive you, most of them always disappoint. Only a few of them keep their words. When you call to ask them to pay up, some of them would become emotional and would start raining curses on the caller. To assist private schools, government should legislate that citizens must present their school testimonials to their employers when trying to get a job. This would help us to recoup some of the debt that people owe. At least, we are also contributing to the growth of the economy.

The head of school, Saint Caroline Private School, Agbofieti, Ibadan, Mrs Abosede Oladunjoye, said although the school had a template that checks indebtedness by parents, the school was still being owed by a few parents. She said that some parents still send their children to private schools despite the palpable hardship in town due to their quest for quality education.

Oladunjoye said: “By our guiding principles at Saint Caroline Private School, we control our population because we regard what we do as a calling rather than as a money-making venture. We made our vision and mission known to our parents and they are co-operating. We don’t keep a large number of students and we encourage the parents to see the need to pay up for their children so that the vision would be achievable. We impart knowledge on the learners and we nurture them to greater future through quality all-round development.

“We must, however, put it straight that government should reduce the levies that they push to us as it put a lot of pressures on the schools. Private schools are big employers of labour and government should appreciate this and again, we are stakeholders in the growth of children who are proclaimed as the future of the country.”

Although it was learnt that the Commissioner for Education in Oyo State was unavailable during Saturday Tribune’s visit, a senior official of the Ministry who spoke anonymously, said private schools in the state had a healthy working relationship with the state government. He stated that it is the duty of government to ensure that approved standard are followed by public and private schools for optimal result.

“Now, it is the choice of parents to determine whether their children should attend public or private schools. One thing that is important is that the present administration in the state believes that all children of school age must be educated. To guide against excuses by parents who cannot bear the cost of their children’s education, the state government has declared that primary and secondary school education is free in the state.

“This implies that whether your children or wards attend public or private school is a matter of choice. Be that as it may, we cannot say that private investors should not participate in education. Inasmuch as no parent is being forced or compelled to take their children to private schools where they would be made to pay, there is no problem.”

She added that how the private schools recover students’ fees is not the business of government. According to her, it would be improper or out of place for government to meddle in how private schools collect school their fees.

However, she said that she was not in position to talk on the issue of multiple taxation explaiing that only the ministries whose responsibilities include revenue generation determine the charges to take. She advised the private school operators to present a clear position to government on how to harmonise the various levies being introduced by government agencies.

Meanwhile, stakeholders across the states of the federation have appealed to governments at various levels to harmonise the charges. In a recent opinion poll, parents and researchers expressed worries that  private schools spring up indiscriminately without complying with the standards.

While findings had shown that some top civil servants own some of the private schools in some states (especially in the South West), mushroom schools were said to be more in the South East and South South geo-political zones. In the middle belt and northern parts of the country, most private schools are being run in uncompleted buildings.

An official of the Federal Ministry of  Education said that the poor attention given to education by succeeding administrations in the land had been largely responsible for the rise in the establishment of private schools. He said: “It is sad that while most government schools are mere shadows of past glory, private schools are spreading at an alarming rate.

“Some of the schools offer quality education while majority of them are mere study centres that were created to defraud parents. Sending children to private schools has assumed a funny dimension this days. You begin to wonder if parents even know what they are doing at all by sending their children to such schools in the first place.  It is interesting that as some schools are there to take undue advantage on learners and their parents, some parents are also out to play a fast game of moving their children from one school to the other at the end of the term without paying up the school fees. This is fraud and should be discouraged.”

Mr Tela Adebisi, a parent and civil servant in Osun State, listed poor infrastructures and interruption of school programme as a result of  strike occasioned by delay in payment of workers in the state as the main reasons why parents prefer to send their children to private schools. He said: “Of course, you will note that until recently, workers’ strike was very common in Osun State as a result of delayed salaries. Civil servants find it difficult to pay school fees mainly because of poor and irregular salary, but they still prefer to send their children to private schools because they want the best for them.”

Mrs Sharon Ajeremi, a trader at Alesinloye market, Ibadan, said poor economy is the reason parents owe school fees. She, however, advised that those who cannot afford to send their children to private schools should register them in private schools because, “it is honourable to maintain one’s integrity by living up to expectation as parents. No parent should go beyond the limit in determining the choice of school that the child should attend. If you are not capable to send your child to a private school, don’t force yourself to do so because other parents are doing so.”

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