The Booming Private Schools In Nigeria

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OPINION
– Sunday Antai

It has been said repeatedly, and rightly so, that education makes the world go round. Education, no doubt, is a key driver of growth and development, anywhere. But it must be added that education has various branches or brands. In this piece, my focus is on the western variety of education. By that is meant, education in a formal setting as developed and propagated by the white man.

Western education in Nigeria has its roots in Christianity. The proof is that the first primary school in the country, Nursery of Infant Church, was established in Badagry, Lagos, in 1843, by the Methodist Mission. It was housed in the country’s first storey building in Badagry, and was later relocated to Topo, still in Badagry. Two years later, it was re-named, St. Thomas’ Anglican Nursery and Primary School (www.the 234project.com). The primary reason, some have contended, was to help the missionaries in their work of evangelism.

Education in Nigeria moved a notch further when on June 6, 1859, The Church Missionary Society found the first secondary (high) school, named CMS Grammar School, with only six students, all boarders, on Broad Street, Lagos. The first Principal was even a theologian, Babington Macaulay, who served there between 1859 and 1878, when he died (www.the 234project.com).

Though denominational flags and doctrinal flavours were varied, the missionaries, however, had a good mix of the same menu on their education table. In on one word, they took virtually the same content and color of education wherever they went spreading the gospel of Christ Jesus. They also took along hospitals, sponsoring most of the services from resources sent in from their home countries. Their fees or bills, as the case may be, were moderate, and many locales benefited from their superior offerings. Beyond that, there was a human touch to it with the clientele of the services treated with respect.

With the establishment of the University College, Ibadan, in 1959, western education in Nigeria went beyond mere writing, reading and adding, which up until then seemed to define education in Nigeria. That college would later become a full-fledged university, the first in the country. Several universities would soon follow, among them, Ahmadu Bello University; University of Nigeria, Nsukka; University of Ife, now known as Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife.

The coming of universities, all of them run by government, at that early era, elasticized admission spaces in those institutions. That also meant that education tourism throng to Europe and the Americas began to thin down. Complementing universities were, as still are, polytechnics, colleges of technology, and colleges of education. Lately, the country now has innovation institutions. In the package, speaking of today, have also come such specialized schools as universities of science and technology and universities of agriculture. There are, in addition, more primary and secondary schools across the country now than were the case decades ago.

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Currently, Nigeria’s educational architecture has four levels: nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary. To the fourth or quaternary level belong university, polytechnics, colleges of technology, colleges of education.

According to www.campusbiz.com.ng, there are 40 federal universities, 44 state universities and 68 private universities in Nigeria as at 2017.  It cited the Nigeria Universities Commission (NUC) as the source of its information. Thus, the aggregate number of universities in the country stands at 152. This number represents the officially recognized ones only.

Further analyses of the figures show that there are more private universities than federal and state ones severally, and that they represent 44.74% of the total number of that cadre of institutions in the country. There are several implications here. For one, it means that private universities have expanded the admission spaces for candidates into universities, created jobs for academic and non-academic staff; made room for more researches/innovations, as well promoted economic well-being for their respective host communities. Private non-university entities also have their advantages and contributions to society.

In spite of the foregoing advantages from private educational institutions, there have been concerns about the rationale for their exponential growth. Such concerns are multifarious. For instance, the high cost of education in these institutions suggests that they are more concerned about the mercantile derivatives from their ventures than educational contributions to society. Some private secondary schools charge as much as N500,000 per student per session. In fact, some charge higher. Universities are not any much different. Some of the institutions charge, depending on the courses of study, as much as N800,000 per student per academic year.

While the defence for such prohibitive charges may be that nobody is forced to send their wards to those institutions, it should be noted that such high fees fail to take cognizance of the low income levels of most Nigerians. To worsen matters, it is even said that the salaries paid by many of those institutions are not commensurate with the fees they charge. Their facilities, especially in some of the private universities, are so poor that one wonders why they take so much but offer so little in terms of academic content and delivery, by not engaging seasoned lecturers. There are even stories that during accreditation tours by the NUC to some of the universities, they resort to the underhand deal of hiring lecturers or laboratory items for the visiting teams, after which they revert to their backwaters.

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Another area of concern about the proliferation of private educational institutions, especially universities, is the quality of their products. It is alleged that many of the schools deliberately lower standards at the point of admission to be able to have students, whom they would not have if they were to deploy similar standards public schools apply. For instance, the latest (2017/2018 session) scandalous national Unified Matriculation Tertiary Examinations (UTME) cut-off point released by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) is said to have been influenced by private universities. If that is the case, why would they do that if not to be able to absorb as many below per candidate as possible? But neither JAMB nor the NUC can exculpate itself from this scandalous low plunge. How can a success percentage score per subject to gain admission into Nigerian universities be 30, polytechnics be 20? It is shocking and shameful!

While private educational institutions in the country have made serious contributions to national educational advancement, it is necessary that the NUC looks into how much of the expected standards are kept by them. That should include their adherence to approved curricula; the fees charged, services offered to students, and general learning facilities such as halls of residence, laboratories, and academic staff. The ones run by religious groups should be less mercantile than they seem to be the case now. Cases where they raise money from their members to set up schools only to turn round and fix fees way beyond what ordinary folks, many of whom made such contributions can afford, should not continue.

Antai is author and speaker and contributed this piece from Uyo, Nigeria.