Sunday Magazine

School closure: Private school’s teachers quitting for trade, other vocation

• As struggling schools may go bankrupt

• I won’t go back to teaching after lockdown –Mrs. Grace

• ‘Parents approach school’s management for refund of WASSCE fee’

• Exam cancellation may force students to neighbouring countries –NAPPS

 

The prolonged closure of schools in Nigeria due to the Covid-19 pandemic is currently forcing a number of private schools’ teachers to seek other jobs as the majority of them, especially those in small and struggling schools, have not been paid salaries in the last three months. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports that while some of them are embracing trade, others are quitting for other vocations

The COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost, a public health challenge. Many countries rightly decided to shut down schools, colleges and universities in order to curtail its spread.

 

The challenge crystallises the dilemma policymakers are facing between closing schools to reducing contact and saving lives and keeping them open, allowing workers to work and maintaining the economy.

 

The severe short-term disruption is felt by many families around the world. Schooling is not only a massive shock to parents’ productivity, but also to children’s social life and learning.

 

Sunday Telegraph learnt that teaching is moving online, on an untested and unprecedented scale and student’s assessments also with a lot of trial and error and uncertainty for everyone. Importantly, it was learnt that these interruptions will not just be a short-term issue, but can also have long-term consequences for the affected victims and are likely to increase inequality.

 

Thus, teachers are at the head and heart of the educational enterprise. Many developing countries have worked hard to build a qualified and motivated teaching force, but Covid-19 is putting paid to the teaching profession in Nigeria currently.

 

At the same time, many have suffered setbacks due to conflicts, natural disasters, or long-term governance problems.

 

According to the World Bank’s report, coronavirus may present explicit risks to the teaching force which will soon stress the government.

 

The World Bank noted that some teachers may move from their posts to their hometowns or seek other work if school closures are prolonged, which is the current wave in the country where private school teachers are quitting teaching and embracing other jobs.

For example, it stated, Sierra Leone and Liberia faced considerable logistical challenges in repositioning teachers after conflicts in the early 2000s and again after the Ebola crisis a decade later.

 

The World Bank noted that the governments can take steps now to maintain and protect the teaching force by ensuring teachers continue to be paid and positioned self for a rapid school reopening once clearance is given.

 

It insisted that the government can make health and safety upgrades to schools, improving sanitation facilities and guidance on issues like handwashing and health education.

 

“To make up for lost time, the government and schools can replace traditional long holidays with an extra school session,” it recommended.

 

“Governments might even experiment with more permanent changes to the traditional school calendar, balancing local community rhythms with a schedule of teaching and learning that optimise students’ and teachers’ time together,” the World Bank added.

 

However, a number of private teachers, who spoke to Sunday Telegraph on this trying time of prolonged closure of the schools in Nigeria without salary said they will not be going back to teaching profession after the lockdown as they are already searching for other jobs.

 

While some of them are still searching for a new vocation, others have found and started smiling to the bank. Mrs. Grace Ofili, one of the teachers in the privately owned schools, said she will not be going back to the profession, saying that she has not received a penny from any person for the last three months.

 

“I can’t continue with this. Even my friend and I have started looking for jobs.

 

And I bet you that many private schools in this country will not get up again. My school is one of them that can’t make it again except the government intervenes. “If not for two parents whose children I teach in private lessons, I don’t know how I would have survived this period?

 

My husband is a transporter and their line of business was closed down yet the children’s rate of consumption has increased inconsiderably. “Government owned school teachers might not be with us in this problem because the government still pays them.

 

And I will tell you that the government school teachers won’t be enough to take care of these students if the private schools teachers decide to take to other jobs.” For Sola Solanke, going back to school is no longer interests him as he has joined his neighbour in Sharwama making business.

 

He stated that the business is lucrative as many Festac families cannot do without sharwarma in a day, saying that he will only teach private lessons if any parents want him to take their wards in the morning while he goes to his sharwarma business in the evening.

 

“I make my teaching salary twice before the end of the month and so there is no need for me to go back to teach in any private school again. I used to teach primary four class,” he added.

 

For the same reason of nonpayment of salary since April, 2020, Nursery 1 teacher of one of the private schools at Ojo, Mrs. Egbuna Matilda, joined the foodstuffs business at Iyana oba Market, Lagos.

 

She weighed the options before her and decided it was time to make the move as nature (Covid-19 pandemic) has brought the opportunity for her to take the bull by the horn.

 

“I make money in the trade but the most important aspect of it is that I feed my family with even the foodstuff I purchase for resale. I don’t go to spend my money in any food stuff market again except for the things I can’t get from my stock,” she enthused.

 

She continued: “Teaching was good and decent but I cannot eat or keep my family going with these qualities. If I should wait for the schools to reopen, which I do not know when, it becomes foolishness on my part, especially when nobody pays me any dime.

 

“I started the business in May, given that was the only business that a lot of preference was given to. I knew I wasn’t going to be disturbed, so I gave it a trial and it’s working for me. So, I don’t think I will return to my place of work as a teacher on the resumption of classes.”

 

Also, Mrs. Blessing Asuquo, who lives and teaches in one of the private schools in Fagba, has bidded good bye to teaching profession, as she has joined crayfish, dried fish and stockfish business.

 

She packages her products and supplies to customers’ homes, saying that it is 8 the best and fastest way for her to sell her wares to decent customers.

 

She believes that by packing her product in a more hygienic way, many household who are conscious of coronavirus infection would find her products most appealing than going to the open market where people take turns to touch the crayfish, dried and stock fishes, thereby, increasing the risk of 8infection.

 

“I’m fairly okay with this, though every business has its trying times. But I think I am better off with this.

 

With time, I will find another thing to add to it to increase my scope. I am the boss of my own,” she laughed.

 

On the other hand, the United Nations  recently reported that 166 countries closed schools and universities in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

 

Accordingly, it stated that one and a half billion children and young people are affected, representing 87 percent of the enrolled population.

 

It noted that with few exceptions, schools are now closed countrywide across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, putting additional stress on education systems in developing countries, many of which are struggling to provide quality education for all.

 

Also, Christian Thomas, the World Bank adviser to the education global practice wonders what considerations do disruption on this scale raise, saying “are there ways to mitigate the effects of protracted school closures?”

 

He corroborated that the most education systems in low- and middle-income countries were grossly underfinanced even before the pandemic and wonders how the school closure will affect the education system and students.

 

Learning Generation’s report estimated that spending on education in low- and middle-income countries must more than double between 2015 and 2030, from approximately $1.25 trillion per year to nearly $3 trillion.

 

It noted that countries that depend heavily on trade, tourism, or commodity exports may be at especially high risk right now, as raising domestic resources will be difficult.

 

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), two-fifths of low-income countries are at risk of, or in, debt distress, saying that many other lower-income countries have acquired significant debt in recent years, making them especially vulnerable to economic shocks.

 

It noted that in poorer countries, education finance depends much more heavily on the households than it does in wealthier countries, stating that private expenditure accounts for 38 percent of spending on education in low- and middle-income countries versus 19 percent in high-income countries.

 

“Poor families make extraordinary efforts to support their children in school. If a coronavirus-induced recession leads to loss of jobs and income, consideration must be given to protecting poor families—shielding them from the potentially tragic dilemma of choosing between school or work, health care, and even food for children,” it stated.

 

In his opinion, Olabisi Deji-Folutile said to help school owners, the government could consider working out some palliatives for registered schools to ease the burden of keeping schools running without students during this period.

 

This may not be an easy option for government, according to him, as the government is paying its teachers for doing nothing as it were, but doing this is in the overall interest of the nation.

 

He said: “Private school owners have also tried to offer online classes to their pupils as well. But, in many cases, parents are being asked to pay for this service.

 

This has resulted in a dilemma. “Parents want to know what they are paying for. If schools are not starting the third term, what would children be learning online?

 

And if parents pay for online teaching, would that take care of third term school fees?

 

“The logical thing, therefore, in this circumstance, is for the government to engage in meaningful discussions with private education providers on how to ease the burden that could be imposed on them by prolonged school closure.

 

“This is important because school owners are also entrepreneurs, who may go bankrupt without reliefs from the government.

 

Already, nothing much is happening at the tertiary level in terms of online teaching  “We can’t afford to dismiss these private school operators.

 

They have been formidable partners with the government over the years in meeting the educational needs of Nigerians. Let’s take universities as an example. “Nigeria currently has 43 federal universities, 52 state universities and 79 private universities.

 

At the secondary school level, data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows that there were 967,847 public secondary schools in Nigeria in 2017 and 279, 204 private schools in the same year.

 

“We know that the number of private schools is likely to be higher than this because many of them are not registered. We may argue that the owners are in business but they are also helping the government to widen access to education. “Government should also remember that these schools have bills to pay. How do you pay teachers for doing nothing?

 

And if these schools decide not to pay, it is likely to become a problem for the larger society. Besides, most of their workers are Nigerians, so the government should be interested in their plight.”

 

Recently, the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) appealed to the Federal Government that private schools were ready to resume with strict adherence to the safety protocols as rolled out by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

 

It also called on the government to reconsider its stand on the suspension of the 2020 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSSCE). National President of the association, Mr. Yomi Otubela, made the plea at a virtual news conference in Lagos, saying that schools had been shut down across the federation as a result of the coronavirus (COVID- 19) pandemic.

 

Otubela said reconsideration of the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE) organised by the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) and the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) by the National Examination Council (NECO), was to ensure emotional wellbeing of the already traumatised students.

 

He said: “To avoid emotional trauma, the SS3 students will be subjected to as a result of the cancellation of the WASSCE, we advise the government to engage the services of clinical psychologists.

 

“This is to evaluate the state of minds of these students, whenever they are ready to sit for these examinations, due to mental trauma that will arise as a result of the suspension.

 

“We are talking about the rigorous preparations put in by the students and knowing fully well, that their counterparts in other countries will write the examinations.”

 

According to him, there is a need to avoid a situation where Nigerian students would be forced to seek an alternative way of writing these examinations, by approaching neighbouring countries such as Ghana. “It will not be good for the image of the country.

 

As a result of a prolonged closure, the majority of students may likely lose interest in education and embrace social vices inimical to their wellbeing and public safety as well,” he said.

 

Otubela said after announcement of the suspension of the examinations, parents of students in private schools had started approaching management of schools to demand refund of the fees paid for their children’s WASSCE.

 

Sunday Telegraph learnt that winning the long game will require great effort on the part of governments to protect and prioritise education spending within their budgets; international donors to prioritise financing for education; and creative thinking by all on expanding social support programmes.

 

 

 

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