By Mojeed Alabi

The United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) enlist journalists, through a four-day training, in the effort to ensure affordable, yet quality education in the Centre of Excellence, reports

Education, which is the bedrock of national development, is regarded as key to the achievement of the much touted Lagos mega city project. With an estimated population of 17 million and an average growth rate of 600,000 per annum, occupying a total area of 356,861 hectares, out of which 75,755 is wetland, Lagos State is regarded as Africa’s second fastest growing city that ranks seventh globally.

The world’s population review by experts says the state’s contribution to Nigeria’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) now stands at 25 per cent, with a huge potential for improvement.

However, according to development experts, achieving the much desired transformation of Lagos cannot be possible without restructuring its education system.

This is because the current system has been found to be deficient, ineffective and grossly inadequate for its growing population. This assertion does not foreclose the efforts of successive governments and collaborations with stakeholders including foreign partners to invest in the state’s education sector.

The efforts have only left much to be desired. Lagos State has an estimated population of about three million school-age children, with a total of 1,678 public primary, secondary and technical schools accommodating only about 1.1 million pupils.

Meanwhile, the quality of education offered in these schools is not entirely trusted by many parents as most low-income and middle-income earners still look away from the direction of these tuition-free public schools.

They prefer to patronise the very many unapproved private schools dotting every nook and cranny of the state. Some of the identified challenges yet to be resolved by government in these public schools include overpopulation, poor infrastructure, poor inspection and non-availability in some instances.

Thus as a long-term partner of Lagos State Government via its Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), which commenced in 2008, the United Kingdom, through the Department for International Development (DFID), has settled for a new way to develop Lagos education.

A comprehensive research conducted by the agency has shown public preference for the private education in the state owing largely to several factors but not limited to; proximity to homes, affordability, ‘quality,’ and reduced teacher-pupil ratios.

There is also the status factor as those who enrol their wards in public schools are usually looked down upon. All these have combined to lead to the proliferation of both legal and illegal private schools in the state.

The statistics, according to the research, shows that Lagos State has about 18,000 private pre-primary, primary and secondary schools providing education to about 1.5 million pupils compared to the 1,678 state-owned schools catering for about 1.1 million pupils. However, the research categorises these private schools into three based on the fees payable annually by parents.

Those that charge between N1,000 and N25,000 are regarded as low-cost; N25,001 and N50,000 as mediumcost, and N50,001 and above are high-cost schools. These low-cost schools, most of which are located in places regarded as slums or densely populated communities, apart from facing the challenges of poor infrastructure, unqualified staff, insecurity, among several others, the research says they are mostly unapproved.

As a result, the quality of education offered by them cannot be readily determined. Yet, a large population of school enrolment in the state resides in them.

The schools have remained poor, according to the research, because of unfriendly recognition systems by government, heavy or illegal taxation, inaccessible and low credibility, poor access to financial services, ineffective systems of fee collection, high rate of default on fees by parents and weak financial management skills, among others.

While DFID believes government must continue its massive investment in public education, it also holds the view that neglecting these private schools without support and control is at the peril of the state.

Therefore, the urge to provide avenue for the needed support, control and better management of these schools informed the UK agency’s sponsorship of another intervention, which is tagged: Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN). As part of activities to kick off this intervention, the programme’s team leadership in partnership with the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) held a fourday intensive workshop for journalists cutting across the print, electronic and online platforms

. The workshop, the team’s Deputy Leader, Stephen Bayley, said was in recognition of the power of the media to sing the songs for the necessary intervention and support for the private schools into the ears of the appropriate authorities, including individual philanthropists, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), civil societies, financial institutions and government.

According to him, the initiative will run till 2018 when the outcome is expected to include the facilitation of a better learning condition and teaching practices in Lagos’ private schools, “especially among schools serving poor children, as a result of more investment, better management and improved pedagogy and innovation”. He said: “DEEPEN seeks to improve the quality of education in private schools, especially those serving children from low-income households.

“We shall be working with stakeholders including government, proprietors, parents, civil societies and media houses to ensure a more favourable regulatory environment for private schools, better information for stakeholders on private education, access to quality and affordable school improvement services, increased access to financial products and services for parents and schools, among others.”

The facilitators at the workshop included veteran journalists such as the founder of Diamond Awards for Media Excellence (DAME), Mr Lanre Idowu; foundation member of The News Magazine, Mr Gbile Oshadipe; The Nation Newspapers’ Online Editor, Mr Lekan Otufodunrin and Channels Television ace broadcaster, Mrs. Bimbo Oloyede, among others.

Idowu advised the participants to be committed to their jobs. He said living by the ethics of the profession would make them excel. The WSCIJ Coordinator, Motunrayo Alaka, was hopeful that the intervention would achieve the desired result, particularly with the involvement of journalists. She said it would be dangerous to leave the education of more than 1.4 million kids in the hands of non-professionals, warning that the end result might be more catastrophic.