NOTHING would change about the way we do things until there are sanctions for officials who fail in their duties. The absence of accountability for positions they occupy secures officials from the implications of their decisions.
A case in point is the detached ease with which the Federal Capital Territory Administration announced closure of 716 schools in the Federal Capital Territory for not meeting standards of its education authority.
The closure was administered in the way the military used to announce its decisions with a ring of finality that placed our servants — those who are paid to look after our affairs — as our masters. They have decided and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Ordinarily, the closure of schools that fall below standards should be applauded for the prospects it holds in sanitising the decay in the education system. Yet there must be ways of doing these things without jeopardising the future of those whose interest the decision should protect.
Is it enough for FCT to close these schools which would be re-opened soon without meeting the touted standards? How were they established? Who approved them?
FCT authorities shut the schools as if they had no responsibility in their existence. The newspaper advertisement that closed them distanced the FCT from the illegality their operations were supposed to have constituted.
“This is to inform the general public that the Hon. Minister of the FCT has approved for immediate closure the underlisted schools for failure to meet minimum requirements for the establishment and operation of private schools in the FCT.
The affected schools are to forthwith cease to operate as schools or risk prosecution,” the FCT advertisement read.
It continued: “All affected schools should note that they have the right to apply for re-opening after meeting all conditions for the establishment and operation of private schools in the FCT as contained in the guidelines and the payment of the re-opening fee of N250,000. It should also be noted that application for re-opening should be addressed to the Hon. Minister of the FCT only after a minimum six months of closure.”
Nobody seems concerned about the fate of pupils of these schools. The assumption is that parents in FCT should know approved schools. What then does the government do? Which schools would absorb pupils this decision would throw to the streets? What happens to the fees their parents paid? Where were FCT authorities when 716 unapproved schools sprouted?
FCT, like most government agencies, claims to act for the people, but its actions end up hurting the same people. How would the people know approved schools public agencies like FCT hoard information or provide them belatedly?
Why would FCT make this decision in the middle of the term? Why was it not made during the long vacation? An earlier decision would have saved parents and pupils the inconveniences of a decision that fails to serve the public interest. FCT expects the fate of these pupils to hang on the balance for six months without any damage to their future? Does FCT realise the decision affects human beings?
The advertisement that Mr. R. E. Umana, a Director in the Department of Policy and Implementation of FCT’s Education Secretariat signed said two categories of schools are affected. Of the 716 schools, 372 are older schools, while another 344 are new schools which FCT says have only six months to rectify the conditions of their establishment or they will be shut.
FCT is not through yet. The advertisement warned: “The general public is also informed that this list is not exhaustive as the accreditation exercise is still on going. Subsequent names of defaulting schools will be published in due course.” This means today’s approved schools may be in the unapproved list in the next few months, throwing more people to the streets — some of these pupils could be victims of the earlier closure.
One can only imagine the confusion the information that more schools will be shut can create. FCT does not seem to be bothered, the law must be followed.
We share concerns about the poor quality of education which flows from some factors. Among them are the low supervision education authorities have maintained over the years, to the point that unapproved schools litter the landscape, operating unfettered.
These illegal schools operate with the connivance of education officials, some of who are willing to be compromised to allow the schools to carry on below established standards.
Emphases on standards for private schools make it seem as if public schools can pass any scrutiny. There should be standards too for public schools which still provide education for the majority of our children.
FCT has embarked on a worthy cause wrongly. It would have to re-open those schools while enforcing the law in a way that would minimise the hurt on pupils. The beginning of the new academic year would be the best time to apply final sanctions like the one it is pursuing.
The main conditions for shutting down schools hastily should be problems with safety and where teaching standards are below guidelines. To apply this final hammer, FCT should be in a position to make provisions for absorption of affected pupils in approved schools.
Proliferation of unapproved schools stems from failure of FCT’s supervision, compromise of its officials or both. In both instances, FCT and its officials are responsible for the anomaly it is trying to address.
Any move to improve the standards of schools in FCT — and anywhere for that matter — cannot be rooted in the pretence that unapproved schools do not operate with a veneer of government clearance.
FCT has a duty to also fish out and sanction its officials who provided cover for illegal schools over the years. It would be a remarkable step in ensuring that unapproved schools do not exist, at least in the embarrassing numbers they current do.