Sunday Magazine

Education: Between expensive private and dying public schools

For a number of parents, giving their children the best education is not just an expression of love but a means of securing a promising future. In this piece, LADESOPE LADELOKUN, examines the rot in the education sector and why very expensive schools may not be the answer


For many, the role a proper education in personal, social and professional growth cannot be overemphasised.


But, like Nigerian singer, Habib Okikiola Badmus, popularly known as Portable, there are those who strongly hold the belief that one can be a darling of the goddess of wealth without a degree; that a great number of degree holders still languish in poverty’s dark cell despite the chains of degrees they parade.

Portable, who said he dropped out of school, had in a track deemed offensive by a number of netizens, said many with university degrees are pitiable pictures of misery on Nigerian roads, while those with no known form of education build houses and buy cars.  “This life no balance,” he concluded. But stakeholders have raised concerns about what they consider the underfunding of public schools and the ballooning cost of educating children in private schools, sparking debates about the appropriateness of high school fees and the place of a proper education.


Emblazoned on the wall of a classroom in a Lagos school (name withheld) is “If education is expensive, try ignorance.” In justifying why education must be expensive, the principal (name withheld) of the said school told Sunday Telegraph that “a state of the art laboratory, library and conducive learning environment and the quality of the personnel to do the job cannot come cheap to give the results we crave.”


“Every good teacher knows the impact and importance of education,” a secondary school teacher, Mr. Temitope Ajayi, told Sunday Telegraph. “Education is not just about learning reading, writing and arithmetic at school. It is about acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to become a better person and contribute positively to the growth of the society. It can awaken joy, curiosity and a deep desire to solve problems and help others.


“It is true that you can land a good job or make good money without a degree, but we also live in a world that values education, which opens up more doors. Your dream job may not require a degree, but you close a lot of doors when you don’t get a proper education.” In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, Muyiwa Komolafe (not real name),17, told how, despite millions sunk into payment of school fees, tens of thousands of naira had to be set aside for prepared answers(“expo”) during his school leaving certificate examination. “I was assisted. I won’t lie.


But you have to be brilliant to make good use of prepared answers. Like I said “expos” work better for those that know what they are doing. If you are solving a problem in mathematics, for instance, a misapplication of the plus sign can make nonsense of a very long calculation by the giver of the prepared answers but because the receiver is not smart, they just copy everything as received and they fail.


For ‘expo’, we paid N40,000 WAEC exam fees instead of N15,000. For good grades, Komolafe said, students were asked to pay higher than the usual examination fees. According to him, parents of his peers were not oblivious of the plan to bribe for good grades. He explained that even when his father was not comfortable with the plan after paying millions in school fees, he had to get involved because he didn’t want to rock the boat.


Speaking on how he got his share of prepared answers, Komolafe said: “We had a WhatsApp group that was mainly created for the purpose. If we had an examination at 9:00 am, for instance, we would expect the answers to start trickling in just some minutes after 9:00 am.


The theory part of our questions are solved by our teachers. Sometimes, we were given just 20 minutes to cheat by the external invigilator, after which we would be told to submit. But there was a particular time the external invigilators denied us freedom. I heard from the conversation of the teachers that the principal ought to have given them what they demanded since the difference between what he offered and what they demanded was not much.”

Huge school fees not enough?

Despite what is deemed a humongous school fees paid by patrons of expensive private schools in Nigeria, only two privateowned universities appeared in the top 10 category of the 2021 ranking by Webometrics. In the said ranking, the University of Ibadan was ranked the number one university in Nigeria.

Also, Covenant University, and Obafemi  Awolowo University were ranked second and third respectively by Webometrics in its 2021 rating. The analysis also showed that no Nigerian university was among the top 1,000 in the world.


Though ranked first in Nigeria, University of Ibadan was rated 1,196 in the world. Privately- owned Covenant University, which is second in Nigeria emerged 1,314 in the world; and OAU, third in Nigeria, but 1,503 in global ranking.

The University of Nigeria and the University of Lagos emerged fourth and fifth in Nigeria. Below are Nigerian universities in the top 10 category, according to Webometrics

  1. University of Ibadan

  2. Covenant University Ota

  3. Obafemi Awolowo University

  4. University of Nigeria, Nsukka

  5. University of Lagos

  6. University of Port Harcourt

  7. Ahmadu Bello University

  8. Federal University of Technology, Akure

  9. Landmark University

  10. Federal University of Technology, Minna

Why government appointees’ children shouldn’t study overseas

Lamenting Nigeria’s fallen education standards, President of Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASUU) Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said that the education system in the country was fast deteriorating and falling from global standards.


Osodeke made the disclosure while addressing newsmen on the sidelines of a meeting of the Central Working Committee of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) comprising all Presidents and General Secretaries of all its affiliate unions in 2021.


Osodeke said at least, N1.6 trillion was spent by Nigerians every year as school fees to schools outside the country. He expressed displeasure that such a huge amount would help address majority of the crisis in the Nigerian University System (NUS) that has continued to spark industrial disharmony.

“Let’s work on the system in such a way that if it works, our universities can compete with any other universities in the world in terms of staff and students. When you go to other universities, even in Benin Republic, you have multiple people from different countries at the university with multiple ideas but in Nigeria, we have refused to even look at the states; we have 90 per cent of staff from the state and that’s the problem we’re having.


“No foreign student is coming in here. So, many of our Nigerian students are moving abroad. A report earlier this year by the Central Bank stated that Nigerians spent N1.6 trillion every year to pay school fees outside. That money could revamp this system if we allow it to work. So, those are the major reasons why we are on strike.”


Also, Osodeke had called on the National Assembly to initiate a law making it mandatory for public office holders to send their children to public schools. At a meeting reconvened at the instance of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, the union commended Ngige for sending his children to public schools in the country. “I think you are the only minister whose children are in the country.


We see others standing by their children outside the country during graduation. But we saw you standing by one of your children who graduated in Lagos proudly. “We hope all others will emulate you and that government will make it mandatory that if you accept government appointment, your children must attend universities in the country.


“The National Assembly must formulate a law that if you take an appointment, your children must study here. If you know that your children cannot be here, don’t take government appointment.”

Not just a place for paper qualification

Speaking with Sunday Telegraph, an educationist, Dr Tijani Ayeni, opined that education should not just be seen as a means of getting a piece of paper and a qualification, adding that it should be a way to figure out what path to pursue. “Schools should have been teaching kids about the importance of finance at a younger age, which is a shame on them and a bad mark on the education system.


Education will make you learn this fast. Whether it’s learning to budget for your meals, paying rent for your apartment, or figuring out loans and tuition payments, higher education is going to quickly make you appreciate learning to do your finances. It’s a skill you’ll carry for the rest of your life, and once you learn through a crash course in college.


“Joining clubs, attending panels, trying different courses, and meeting new people are all things that can help you build a more concrete understanding of what you value in yourself, what you value in others, and what you’re looking for in life.


A school shouldn’t just be used as a way to get a piece of paper and a qualification. It should be a way to figure out what path in life you want to pursue, and that is hard to get in many instances,” he explained.

Under developing public schools


Speaking on what he described as the sorry state of a great number of public schools across Nigeria, a university lecturer, Dr Babatope Ogunniyi, said the reason expensive private schools flourish can be traced to the failure of successive governments to adequately fund and manage public schools well. “You will see that it’s a business entity.


The goal of the proprietor is profit-making. But in other countries, they don’t see it that way. It is the failure of government to put public schools where they belong that has really made private institutions flourish. And I want to tell you that a good number of parents and senior citizens attended missionary schools. And a missionary school is a public school, whether you are traditional worshipper or Muslim or Christian, you go to the same school. “I must add that they provided basic infrastructure.


And that is where the government is failing today. You go to some public schools today, you see dilapidated buildings, open roofs and a host of others. Apart from these things, they learn the same thing. They have the same curriculum. And the final goal is the same exams they go for. If you have an enterprise and you want to make money , you have to get the things the public schools don’t have. When we were in secondary school, all we needed were provided, even books.


“Things are not the same again. That’s why you will see that private schools are booming, not that they have a superior standard. In public universities, for instance, there is a baseline that must be crossed. A public university may refuse to offer admission to a student that scores below 200. The same student could score 150 and they would get admitted in a private school.”

Education can be free

Commenting, a History lecturer at the Osun State University, Dr Temitope Fagunwa, believed education can be free despite the argument in some quarters that it is not feasible. Fagunwa said the society stands the risk of bearing consequences of when quality and affordable education is not affordable. “Education doesn’t have to be expensive to be proper. Education is phenomenal to growth. We cannot have a better society without having a strong education sector.

Those saying, “If education is expensive” are saying it out of ignorance because education itself is a prerequisite to any development. If this society is populated by an army of ignorant persons and uneducated individuals, this society has to bear the consequences. “And if majority of Nigerians are educated, it will be to the advantage of the society.

So, the point essentially is that education has got to be free. In a saner society, that is what is supposed to be. You cannot have progression without a qualitative education sector.


“For those telling us education cannot be free, they are ignorant of history of the country itself because at different phases in the earliest period of the post-colonial era, we had situations where to some recognisable  extent, education was free.” Reacting to the argument that the post colonial era had less people going to school when compared to now, he said: “The resources that abound in the country today are not the resources available then.


At this particular point in time, the Nigerian government is exploring newer means of generating income. The country’s GDP is clearly becoming more fundamental than it was in the ’60s. That’s the reality some persons are not telling us. And that is why it is possible for ministers across the country to have the capacity to buy N100million worth of presidential forms. The point I’m making is that we have more money than we had in the ’60s. So, the Nigerian government has the capacity to declare a free and quality education across board.”


Scandals that mock proper education


Recently, a 10-year-old pupil of Chrisland School at VGC, Lagos State was said to have been gang-raped by her classmates during their trip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. But contrary to the claim of the mother in a viral video, a number of netizens hold the view that the 10-year-old was not raped, suggesting that the said girl in the video was not having a forced sexual intercourse.

The state government shut down the school, saying the matter was being investigated by the Ministry of Education; Office of Education Quality Assurance; Ministry of Youth and Social Development; Ministry of Justice, and the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Agency.

The school was later reopened. Earler, Dowen College had been in the news over the death of a Junior Secondary School 2 student, Sylvester Oromoni, who was allegedly bullied in the school by some students. On 28 November 2021, 11-year-old Sylvester (Jr) succumbed to injuries sustained at the boarding school.

There were various accounts on the cause of his death. He was said to have told his parents before he died that senior students bullied him in an attempt to initiate him into cultism but the school claimed he sustained injuries while playing football.


Also, Deeper Life Secondary School located in Oyu, Akwa Ibom State, was also in the news when a parent, identified as Mrs Deborah Okezie, alleged that some senior students sexually abused her son when the school authorities relocated him from his dormitory to another dormitory filled with senior students. The parent alleged that the students removed her son’s boxers and forced hands into his anus.


Systemic collapse

“In a private university, for instance, you have a class of about 30 and you have 20 people graduating with a First Class. Before you graduate with a First Class in a public school, you must have gone through the fire.

So, in a way, they encourage parents to patronise them. Since it’s a leveller, it doesn’t matter whether you attend a public or private school as long as you get a good result,”

Dr Ogunniyi said. According to Fagunwa, the rot in the education sector cannot be divorced from corruption in the ministries of education across the country and regulatory bodies. “What is happening in this country is essentially a systemic collapse. Therefore, you cannot discuss the existence of bribery and corruption in schools without making reference to how backward the ministries of education in Nigeria are. You must understand that all ministries play complicit roles towards those tendencies.


They cannot come out to say they don’t have an idea or they are not benefiting from this rot. They are clearly doing so. “But we are interested in the root cause-the activities of the ministries that allow these things to happen under their watch. Look at the NUC. This is a commission that is faced with several corruption allegations. Nobody is talking about that. For example, they approve universities that can best be described as secondary schools, particularly the private ones.


They do this with the mindset of collecting kickbacks. And that is why we have ‘mushroom’ universities in the country today. How is it possible that in a 21st century university, you have just three lecturers in a department?”

What to do

Speaking on the importance of a proper education, a counsellor, Tokunbo Fatoki, said it’s not a job that can be left to the school alone. According to him, everyone has a role to play.


“Giving a child a proper education cannot be left to schools alone. The parents also have a huge role to play. Schools and parents need to collaborate to see that we train children that fear God.

When schools and parents play their roles well, I can tell you, we won’t have problems. Children need to be monitored closely to ensure they don’t go astray. We need to nurture them in order to rest well when they are fully grown.”




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