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Friday, 3 June 2011

The Scandal of Private Education

I was having one of those moments whilst enjoying my half-term break, spending quality time with my family and reminiscing about my childhood days. I recollected time at my primary school, Pabod Model Primary school Port-Harcourt. I consider myself lucky to have been a recipient of state education at the time because it was a state school, yes, a state school! But it was a state school with high standards like many of its kind at that time something that sadly cannot be said of today's state run schools. Back then we had very good teachers who taught us very well, discipline was high and there was a healthy competititive edge about what we learned which helped bring the best out of each other. Above all, we enjoyed been at school which in itself was a motivation to do well. I strongly believe that my primary school laid a solid foundation to who I am today. I remember there was only one private primary school that I knew of at the time in Port Harcourt but we weren't far off in comparison to them in terms of standards but it is fair to say they were slightly better.

Since that time private education providers have multiplied in their hundreds and thousands but of what impact have they had on the quality of education in Nigeria? Let me first draw your attention to a recent news article on a National Newspaper about the Ondo State government's mission to close what the Commissioner for Education describes as sub-standard private schools. He disclosed that there are about 1800 private schools in the state and if you add that figure to the ones operating illegally the figure could rise to as much as 4000! This should be cheering news if all these so called private schools provide high quality education but worryingly they have become business centres setup by people who have no business in education and some have being turned into centres for exam malpractice. This problem is not peculiar to Ondo State because I can guarantee you the problem is widespread in other parts of the country.

But how did we get here in the first place? In any civilised society schools are established by law and in my understanding you need a licence to establish one which can only be issued if the would-be proprietors meet certain stringent requirements. It seems to me the process of obtaining a licence to set up a private school in Nigeria has been abused by those entrusted with the responsibilty.  This can only be possible by compromising the process which has been allowed to run riot for years with impunity. The other possible reason why we have this huge problem on our hands is the lack of a better alternative. State funded schools have been allowed to fail and not fit for purpose which has led many parents to seek better education for their children privately. This no doubt has fuelled the need and surge in private schools but in doing so has played into the hands of opportunists who have only helped in making a bad situation worse.

If we are serious as a country to provide quality education then governments at all levels need to improve standards of its schools. This should cover adequate infrastructure, appropriate teaching and learning resources and highly trained manpower. This needs to be done simultaneously by introducing a policy of re-licensing all privately run schools to ensure only those fit to provide high quality education to our children are left to operate ~ it is scandalous that a state in Nigeria can somehow have about 4000 private schools operating legally/illegally whilst a developed nation like the United Kingdom has only about 2500 well run independent schools. These schools should also be subject to periodic inspections to ensure they are operating within the highest possible standards. An independent agency separate from the education ministries and education authorities at all levels should be established to undertake this reform that is badly needed if our education system is to compete with the rest of the world.

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