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By Ebele Orakpo

Nigeria’s Education sector has been in the news for as long as one can remember, albeit for the wrong reasons; mostly strike actions by different unions in the university system due to the Federal Government’s failure to fulfil the agreements reached with the unions. Of course, in the midst of all these, the students, their parents and learning itself, suffer. 

Many people believe that the quality of education in public schools is on the decline and, they blame the low fees paid in such schools. They say the low fees can never get the students quality education like their counterparts in private schools.

The solution, they say, is an increment in school fees because they agree with the saying that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys and like local parlance goes: Better soup, na money kill am which means that no good thing comes cheap.

In other words, no one should expect quality education in public schools if fees continue to be abysmally low. But another group disagrees, saying that having expensive clothes does not guarantee good dress sense, it goes beyond that, they argue.

Meanwhile, the government’s sing-song over the years has been a lack of funds to meet the demands of ASUU. ASUU is angry because the same government complaining about lack of funds has not stopped paying political office holders their huge salaries and accommodating their lifestyle while denying education, the bedrock of any society, its dues.

In this report, Saturday Vanguard sought the views of experts on the issue of high school fees and quality of learning.

Range of fees in federal, state and private universities

According to Saturday Vanguard findings, some private primary and secondary schools in Abuja and Lagos pay higher than federal, state and some private universities. Some pay between N550,000 and N1.5 million per term. State universities, on the other hand, pay between N70,000-N430,000 depending on the course and whether the student is an indigene or non-indigene, while fees for fresh students in federal universities range from N44,000 to N106,000 depending on the course. (Note that federal universities are tuition-free for Nigerians.) Fees in private universities range from N248,000 to N3m per session depending on the course, year and school.

Quality of learning: Public Vs Private school

While some believe that public schools offer a higher quality of education, some disagree, saying that private schools offer higher quality and others say they both offer the same quality of education. 

A parent, Mr Sunday Amos who has two children in public schools and two in private schools said the only advantage private universities have over public varsities is the duration of courses. “As per the quality of learning, they are the same in most cases. The truth is some of the lecturers in public universities teach in private universities on a part-time basis.”

Mr. Aliyu Abubakar, a parent with a son in a private university said he chose the university because though the fees are high, he was sure of his son graduating at the appropriate time. “A four-year course is a four-year course in a private university unlike in public schools where one is never sure of when he will graduate. Students spend extra years because of one crisis or the other and parents end up spending more in the long run apart from the students’ lives being disrupted,” he said.

According to Dr. (Mrs.) Binta Iliyasu, one of the reasons the children were sent to a federal university was quality of lecturers apart from the affordable fees.

Mrs. Ngozi Ndaji, another parent, said she can never send her children to a private university because “admission into many private universities is for anyone who can afford the high fees whether they are qualified or not.”

However, a graduate of Communication and Multimedia Studies from the American University of Nigeria, AUN, Mr. Ebuka Ukoh Williams, said private universities offer higher quality of education based on his experience. “I left the federal university I was attending in my third year because learning in class for me, was not what education is supposed to be all about. It was like things were dropped in my head and I was expected to pour them out in an exam hall. The fact is that consumption is good but any consumption that does not underscore production is nuisance.

“In AUN, we are made to understand that how successful you are is not in being the king of the jungle but in how well you are able to live and society is grateful that you exist because you are making meaningful contributions.”

Last year, a video went viral in which a father was almost in tears as he flipped through his three-year-old daughter’s books to see what she was being taught in a school where he pays over N450,000 per session.

High fees versus quality education

Prof. Cyril Otoikhian, a professor of Genetics at the Novena University, Ogume, Delta State, believes that high school fees do not translate to high-quality education. He disagrees completely saying: “High fees can never determine standard; it is the system that does. How can any reasonable person say that fees paid in public schools cannot give them quality education? That is far from the truth.

How much did these same people pay in their day and how will they compare the standard of education then and now? The issue is clear; the government is not responsive to the yearnings of the public; they don’t care about the people.

“Did governments in the past not run free education and people got better training in terms of quality of teaching and research? So I stand to disagree completely. It is not the fees students pay in public schools that must determine the standard of what they get,” he stated. 

In his contribution, Prof. Louis Egwari, Director, Research & Training, QSM Training & Consulting Ltd, Lagos agrees that quality education requires capital investment, but doesn’t believe that increasing school fees will do the magic. “ASUU agitation is all about adequate funding in its diverse ramifications by the Federal Government (for federal schools) and State Government (for state schools) for effective teaching and learning, quality and ground-breaking research that will translate to industrial and economic growth and advancement in addition to societal harmony and wellbeing of the people.

This is in addition to adequate infrastructural development and provision in these schools that create the ambience for quality learning. Obviously, these require capital investment into the educational system. What percentage of this huge investment will you get from increasing school fees?” he asked.

In her reaction, the President of the American University of Nigeria, Yola, Dr. Margee Ensign said that AUN students get value for money. She said: “AUN students receive the same quality education obtainable in universities in the US, Europe and other advanced countries. Our education is a technology-intensive academic and co-curricular experience built on a tradition of service learning, critical thinking and problem-solving pedagogy; one that inculcates research, innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership skills. Our industry-ready graduates are grounded in life-skills, resourcefulness, discipline and ethics. Through agreements with partner institutions, AUN students can study abroad in over 28 universities paying AUN fees (not the fees of the host university).

We provide our own electricity, water, high-speed Internet and high-alert security on a 24-hour basis. Our lecturers are global and many have rich business and research experience.”

Mr. Amed Demirhan, General Manager/Director, Barzani National Memorial & Project Co-Director, Digitalizing the Kurdish Heritage Institute, Kurdistan, in his reaction noted that in as much as funding is very important, the quality of education really depends on several factors including quality of teacher, quality of learning resources, parents’ involvement and administration of education. “The quality of teachers is the most important for motivating students both for studying in class and outside of the class.

 Naturally, more money is always important but limited resources should not be an excuse for ineffective use of human capital. I know many people who grew up in very disadvantaged environments and are more successful than people who were well off.

Most teachers are very idealistic people, the community and school administrators have to show them their sincere appreciation for their idealism and good work.”

The Registrar/CEO, Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN, Prof. Josiah Ajiboye agrees with Demirhan noting that teacher quality determines education quality.

“The quality of teachers determines the quality of education and that is why it is important that the best brains be drafted into the teaching profession.

We know in some nations where they have quality education, their teachers are always treated excellently well. The same cannot be said of Nigeria. We need quality teachers to drive quality education. That is very paramount. The teacher is the only permanent factor in the teaching-learning context and that is why the role of the teacher is very important,” he said.

Dr. Taofeek Akinola of the University of Ibadan said there is a need to increase tuition in public universities. “We must be frank with ourselves, we need to at least triple the tuition paid at federal universities from the present N26,000/N50,000 per year to about N80,000/N150,000. Truth is, over 60% of newly admitted undergraduates attended private secondary schools with tuition averaging N120,000 per year. As such, more than half of the parents can pay N100,000 per annum.”

Way out for indigent students

On the way forward, Dr Ensign said that world-class education is not cheap and so “AUN offers Nigerian parents the very best at 1/5 of what they would pay in the US. We are taking care of the poor through full scholarships. AUN understands such an investment may require outside financial support so our Financial Aid Program is designed to assist qualified but indigent students to attend AUN.

We use our own funds for many full scholarships every year,” she said, adding that “every student enrolled at the AUN is on the scholarship of the Founder, former VP Atiku Abubakar. The actual fees they pay for tuition, depending on the credit hours and course of study is much less than the estimate of N10 million it costs to provide them with the world-class education we offer here,” she stated.

For Prof. Bayo Lawal, of the Faculty of Education, University of Ilorin, the most important thing is proper funding. “It is not just about fees but proper funding. The cost of university education should be shared EQUITABLY among critical stakeholders, including sponsors, government and industry. Funding should not only be adequate but also properly utilised and monitored,” he said.

Prof. Otoikhian said the way out is for government to stand up to its responsibilities and standardize the educational system so that poor parents who cannot afford the private school fees can send their wards to government-owned schools. “Generally, I must say that the government has lost control of our educational system and must as a matter of urgency, declare a state of emergency on the education sector before it degenerates further.

“Students in higher institutions no more spend weeks in schools and barely know anything before they graduate. The government holds the key to educational development. We either get it right or we wait to bear the consequences later,” he stated.

“The burden of funding public education falls on the proprietor and education is a component of federal and state government budgets; and if this is adequately addressed in the budgetary allocation, then the question of charging fees in public schools should not arise. I remember the days of subsidies for feeding, hostel accommodation and bursaries. What has happened to all these palliatives? he asked, regretting that scholarships have been politicized.

 ”The solution to high fees in private schools is for government to quickly and frankly answer to ASUU demands. Once this is done and confidence returns to public universities, all sectors will sit up and be innovative in sourcing funds to run their institution. The phrase here is ‘trust and commitment.’ Once this is in place, quality education is assured,” said Egwari.

 Demirhan said universities should avail themselves of the ”abundant learning resources, thanks to open access learning resources and the Internet. Also, there must be efficient administration to make sure all components of education are coordinated and cooperate with each other for the success of students.

“In public schools in Kurdistan, education is free with some exceptions. Students receive some stipends but it is very little. In the USA, students receive student loan but it doesn’t cover everything.  Therefore, many students work part-time in different places, while studying.”

On his part, Dr Akinola suggested that doubling of Tertiary Education Tax, increasing fees in federal universities, raising the education budget, tripling lecturers’ pay, and creating loans for indigent students will go a long way in solving the problem.

Conclusion

As Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer, philosopher and abolitionist said: ”Shallow men believe in luck or in circumstance.

Strong men believe in cause and effect,” and Dale Carnegie, American writer and lecturer stated in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: “By becoming interested in the cause, we are less likely to dislike the effect,” it is left for all the stakeholders in the Education sector to get involved and do whatever it will take, to salvage what is left of Nigeria’s education system or sit idly by and watch the most important sector of the economy go to hell in a handbasket.

Indeed, the fastest way to destroy a nation is to destroy its education sector. Is Nigeria not doing so now?

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.