Once A Booming Business

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Mrs. Felicia Eze, 45, is a graduate of Business Administration from the prestigious University of Illorin, Kwara state. She equally read Social Studies from the Osun state College of education, Illesa, Osun state. She is a proud and successful entrepreneur who owns a prestigious primary and secondary school with  boarding facilities situated in Abeokuta, Ogun state. She told this reporter that school business is a lucrative and flourishing business if the right facilities are put in place.

According to her, school business is one lucrative business in Nigeria almost everybody wants to go into. She confided in this reporter that she gives her staff  living wages and salaries because only about  60 percent  of her staff are actually educationally qualified to be considered as teaching staff, a reason she says she pays peanuts.

Curiously, parents pay substantially for their children’s tuition fee in Eze’s school . This is aside from boarding facility fees,  sales of textbooks, workbooks,  food items like snacks and other edibles. Thus,  Mrs. Eze smiles  to the bank on a  regular basis until the recent closure of schools necessitated by the covid-19 pandemic..

Despite the fact that owners of private schools smile to the bank, many private schools are in a very deteriorating and declining  state. Thus investigation revealed that standard of education in Nigeria has been a major concern to a lot of stakeholders for many years now. Amongst private and public schools, the magazine reporter discovered that inadequate funding, poor and inadequate infrastructure,  policy implementation, frequent closure of schools, lack of  qualified teaching staff, examination malpractice and corruption are some of the commonly cited reasons responsible for the unfortunate situation across all the states in Nigeria.

For many Nigerian  parents the closure of schools in  March  until the recent plan to re-open schools for final year students in August, is one thing many school proprietors have been lobbying top government officials for. This is because the closure of schools has interrupted the flow of money into the bank accounts of many educational institutions.

Worse hit by the closure are  private schools and their  owners. For instance, Eze says she  no longer smile regularly to the bank.  Other private school proprietors who spoke to the magazine equally expressed their frustrations and lack of funds to give staff little stipend pending school resumption.

Before the Covid 19 pandemic, the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria,  TRCN,  an agency of the Federal Ministry of Education of Nigeria that was established by the TRCN Decree N0. 31 of 1993 now TRCN Act CAP T3 of 2004 has come with new reforms that if implemented, it will further make school proprietors to spend more on teacher’s salaries and reduce their smile to the bank.  Though the major mandates of TRCN are the regulation and control of the Teaching Profession at all levels of the Nigerian Education system, both in the public and private sectors, when implemented only professional teachers with the requisite qualification and training will be allowed to teach in any educational institution.

Apart from that, TRCN will among other statutory functions regulate and control the teaching profession in all aspects. It is equally to open and maintain a register of qualified teachers. TRCN is also empowered to prosecute unqualified teachers found to be illegally performing the job of teachers which is in contravention of section 17(2) of the TRCN Act.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) recently declared its intention to begin, by mid-February 2019, the enforcement of the policy on mandatory Professional Qualifying Examination (PQE) for teachers in the country. This was disclosed by the Registrar of the Council, Prof Josiah Ajiboye, at a meeting in Abuja with State Coordinators and Technical Committee on Instruments for monitoring the disengagement of unqualified teachers in the country. The magazine reporter gathered that but for the lockdown that necessitated the closure of educational institutions, TRCN, would have by now come hard on schools.

Stakeholders who spoke to this reporter noted that the whole policy is to rid the nation’s education sector especially basic and secondary schools of quacks and unprofessional teachers. This much was confirmed by the TRCN boss  when he explained that the monitoring exercise was not in any way to retrench anybody but to ensure that only teachers registered with the council are allowed to practice.

This policy has now forced school owners to employ only staff with National Certificate of Education which considerably qualifies them to be regarded as Teaching staff or individuals who  read Education related courses in the Universities. The implication of this is that private school proprietors now have to raise the standard of salary knowing that their staff are all qualified for the job description.

What this means for private school owners like Eze is that, she has to lay off the under qualified and lowly paid composition of her total teaching staff population or help them upgrade to becoming qualified teachers and pay them in accordance with the payment structure of the TRCN which happens to be far more than what she used to pay in time past.

Asides the challenge of paying more in terms of salaries to teachers with respect to their various qualifications, the Covid 19 pandemic that has  caused a stir on the globe  has forced schools  to shut down all their operations with respect to compliance with the precautionary measures put in place to avoid the spread of the pandemic across the country. In order for students not to stop learning, on-line classes were introduced by various educational institutions. Thus, students across the country were encouraged to go into online platforms so as to enable them receive teachings from their teachers.

This is one thing almost all the private school owners that this reporter spoke to, never prepared for because  they did not foresee a time when a pandemic such as this would cause a stir as magnanimous as this across the globe.

In Lagos, Ibadan, Benin,  Asaba, Portharcourt, Abuja and many major cities, the introduction of online teaching did not go down well with most parents especially as it required them buying phones that can be used for such purposes. Moreover, the online lesson comes with additional cost for most private schools operators. Thus most parents who spoke to this reporter insist on paying the tuition fees for their children to cover the term and online lessons instead of asking them to pay addition money for on-line teachings. One of the parents who simply identified himself as Odewale, who spoke to the magazine reporter described the development as totally  outrageous..

Other parents across the country shared the same sentiments with Mr. Odewale with some blatantly refusing to pay a dime towards the on-line teachings. This development has made many private school owners unable to pay teachers for the on-line teachings.

Investigation by this magazine revealed that with the refusal of parents to pay for online lessons and TRCN policy  coupled with the Covid 19 pandemic, private school owners are now  going through a hellish period.

Speaking to a Private school owner who refused to disclose his identity, he said “It’s being a very challenging period for us, my family solely depends on the proceeds from the school operations but now we find it hard to eat well owing to schools being shut down and before now it wasn’t that better in comparison to last year because the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria policy stipulates that only qualified personnel are to be part of every school’s teaching staff. Having to pay a qualified teacher is not a small matter and our school is not that big”

Meanwhile, as at the time of going to press, the Federal government has agreed to  reopen schools. But educational stakeholders say the stringent conditions and guidelines  may force some schools to close down their operations. According to the document “Guidelines for schools and learning facilities reopening after COVID-19 pandemic closure”, released by the Federal government, each school is required to erect a temporary isolation space and adequately equipped clinics before reopening.

They are also expected to establish a referral system, including protocols and procedures if students, teachers, administrators and other education personnel become unwell while in school. Apart from that, the Federal Government in the document, mandated any state wishing to reopen schools to hold adequate consultations  with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the parents. Furthermore, the guidelines also require school proprietors to construct additional structures and employ more teachers to ensure that they accommodate their pupils by adhering to the two-metre spacing system in classrooms.

Proprietors of schools have also been asked to seek grants to procure soap and buckets, ensure regular safe water supply, ensure constant supply of learning and instructional materials and pay salaries on time.

The Federal Ministry of Education had presented to the National Assembly, a detailed proposal on its plan to reopen schools across the country. According  to the ministry, reopening of schools demands that sufficient provisions, including infrastructure, equipment and expertise, be available in the schools as stipulated in the guidelines.

The guidelines, it said, were to ensure maximum possible safety and protection against COVlD-19 infection, and effective response if anyone exhibits symptoms associated with COVID-19 Infection. According to the document “It is equally crucial that consultations are held and communication exchanged with parents, teachers, learners and communities to understand and address common concerns.”

To observe safe distancing in schools and other learning facilities, the document stipulates that students are to stay two meters apart according to the NCDC’s physical distancing policy. The ministry, however, recognized potential cases to be exempted. It said, “However, there are exceptions where the two-meters rule cannot be reasonably applied and other risk mitigation strategies may be adopted.

“Examples include early years, younger primary school children and those with additional needs. “In these circumstances, risk assessments must be undertaken with the best interests of the learners, teachers and other education personnel in mind.

According to the document a staggered unconventional attendance is to be adopted where students may arrive and depart at different times to avoid overcrowding, adding that schools might reopen gradually, starting with particular grade levels, on this note the government also proposed “platooning” where classes may be divided into morning and afternoon shifts and “decreased interaction where students may remain in one location’ with teachers coming to them, and the use of school facilities to ensure compliance with the NCDC guidelines, and development and dissemination of safe school reopening checklist to assist appropriate evidence-based decisions to reopen schools.

Other conditions enumerated include “disinfection and fumigation of facilities, including hostel accommodation, with particular attention given to those used as temporary isolation and treatment centres and for other purposes during the pandemic. “Sensitise, train and build capacity of teachers, administrators and other education personnel to effectively use and comply with the School COVID-19 Referral System and protocols for safe distancing and hygiene in schools. How things will play out remain to be seen.

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