By Abiose Adelaja-Adams, Lagos

The Department for International Development, DFID, the British development and aid organisation, has announced an initiative to upgrade the standard and quality of education offered in low cost private schools in the Lagos State.

This is in a bid to improve the quality of life of about 1.5 million boys and girls from low income households who are enrolled in the schools across the state.

The team lead of the initiative, Developing Effective Private Education in Nigeria, DEEPEN,  Stephen Bayley, said on Wednesday in Lagos that it is important to improve quality in these private schools as they have become the main education provider, with 18,000 private schools, compared to only 1,600 public schools in the state.

“By improving the quality, we are saving these children from life-long poverty. These schools are springing up every day, with an annual growth rate of 1,500 schools per annum. And that is where parents send their children to because of proximity and they feel they are better educated,” Bayley observed.

The United Nations Children Education Fund, UNICEF, recently said that about 10.5 million Nigerian children are out of school. The implication of this is multiple social burden such as Illiteracy, crime, early marriage, unemployment and terrorism.

“There are 18,000 private schools in Lagos and 5 million parents and these schools are fraught with several challenges. DEEPEN hopes to improve education in low cost private schools especially those serving low income households, bringing to the fore the challenges these schools experience in order to improve quality,” Bayley said at the media workshop flagging off the programme.

Among the challenges facing the schools, Bayley said, are high, exorbitant school fees, lack of government approvals, poor regulatory framework, poor financial support to these schools from financial institution, poor rules and standards on the part of government for instance, heavy taxation and strenuous approval processes; high teacher training services, weak academic leaders and poor quality assurance for school improvement.

Media practitioners at the workshop on various fronts agreed that the government had long neglected public schools and ignored the proliferation of private schools, but are however waking up to the reality that the low cost private schools have taken over the education system.

“Education is on the concurrent list so the three tiers of government have not really paid enough attention to the springing up of private schools. Government abuses them calling them mushroom schools, but these low cost private schools are providing better quality than the public schools,” said Kofoworola Bello Osagie, education correspondent of The Nations newspaper.

“What they need is just technical support to improve their standards and address wrong practices in the school, so this is coming at a good time,” she added.

Defining low cost private schools, Bayley said these are those that charge N1,000-25,000 per term and are mostly unapproved by government.

Other classification include medium income schools which are those whose fees range from N25,000-N50,000. They are also not government approved. Schools that charge from N50,000 and above are referred to as high income schools and they are the government approved schools.

The five-year initiative will be executed in conjunction with the Wole Soyinka Center For Investigative Journalism and promises to work through the media to create awareness on burning issues so that parents, stakeholders, government policymakers, can begin to make demands, thus forcing the standards up.

The programme coordinator of the center, Motunrayo Alaka, had this to say: “The media has so much power in bringing about a change and that is why we are engaging the media to help them generate dedicated articles/reports, education programmes contents on radio, capacity building, for the overall goal of promoting quality private education in Lagos.”