By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
There are good schools, but many of the private schools are jokes. Petty traders who left pure-water businesses have opened schools. They are restless for profit. The school curricula are shiny without substance. School inspectors are either absent or have sold themselves for plates of porridge.
At every point, parents are skimmed. They pay exorbitant fees for schools with flashy names and yet pay for inter-house sports. They pay for Christmas carols and pay for end-of-year gatherings. Someday they will pay for a chieftaincy title for the school proprietor.
Marketers run these schools. They introduce one funny idea copied from a village in India and make parents pay. UC maths. Then there are lousy diction CDs downloaded from the internet. You are made to buy them sometimes. But the teachers don’t know that they have to polish their ‘kabukabu’ English or those CDs would leave no impact on the children.
A teacher once tried to teach my child creative writing. I read the piece she wrote and burst into laughter. I didn’t mean to mock her before her pupil. My child kept that piece. Two years later, she told me she looked at it again and found herself laughing.
These schools. They all want to take the children to Dubai and France.
Fortunately, COVID saved many parents this year. Poor children. Once they are told there would be an excursion to London or Dubai, they become sleepless. Why would schools organize trips to foreign lands because the teachers want all expenses paid holidays as guides?
A friend said he graduated once but his daughter has graduated more than five times and she is still in primary school. The preparations for these garish graduations start in the middle of the second term. They eat up half of the time and give nothing but false confidence to the children. Children are distracted with funny themes and all kinds of costumes and celebrations that span the entire year.
In my days, we attended schools with 30 in a class and about 120 in a form. On prize giving days, a prize meant something. In a particular school I know there are 7-8 pupils in a class and less than 20 in one form, today. There are five prizes for each course. Nearly all students get prizes. Parents brandish these democratized awards on social media and receive accolades for having bright children. Inculcating in children a new culture —the wateriness of awards and honors.
A clinic set up health-checks for pupils. The school beat the fee down to one thousand naira. The cost would be borne by parents. It said it didn’t want a heavy burden on parents. I knew the clinic. When the parents got the bill, the school had inflated the cost of the health-check to 3000 per child. Just like that.
But it isn’t only the schools. The teachers tell me they have seen hell on earth. Parents now dote their children morbidly. It’s so bad that in loving these children, they make the children the lords of their families. So sometimes, they have to run to these schools to scold and disgrace teachers who have found the nerve to discipline their children.
What that has done is set up a vicious cycle. The schools worship mothers. Mothers worship their children. The schools want to stay in the competition. So the schools become worshippers of the children. And the worshipped children, sometimes, are left to rot.
Because these schools are businesses, all kinds of corners are cut. The schools manipulate the PTA’s through the cronies of the school proprietors. The PTA’s when blindfolded, begin to spend money as if Florence Nightingale owned the schools. Parents who refuse to submit to this chicanery are branded stingy. And teachers make a point of elevating the status of the children of co-operative parents to VIP.
Many of the schools collect huge fees and pay the teachers peanuts. If the public knew how much some of these teachers are paid and how much they spend on transport fares there would be an inquest. What that has left is instability. The rate of turnover of teachers in these schools is alarming. Desperate and hungry, a teacher can move through three schools in one term, receiving only two thousand naira salary increases for every move. We attended schools where the teachers were with us from the beginning till the end.
Many of the big schools are established centers for exam malpractices. The schools want to remain in the top league. They have filled their classrooms with indolent children of the rich. But they want five-star WAEC and London GCE results. So what do they do? They infiltrate the system. Sometimes their teachers are the exam invigilators. Model answers are shared with the students in exam halls, supervised by the schools. Sometimes, coaching is done while the exams are on.
We must resurrect and fortify public schools. We can’t let them go extinct. Governments must find public-private partnerships to keep them. The private schools now owned by all comers must be strictly regulated. Unfortunately where corruption lives, proper regulation cannot exist.
There are many good schools around. But most of our schools need deliverance.