The Governor of Rivers state, Nyesom Wike, ruffled feathers in the education sector of the state last Friday when he announced the cancellation of operational approval given to all private schools in the state.
Addressing a meeting attended by all proprietors of private primary and secondary schools in the state held at the Government House, Port Harcourt, the governor directed that all such institutions to seek fresh approval within two weeks.
He said, “All the schools must apply for operational approval within the next two weeks. We will set up committees that will recommend the approval of schools. All the schools in the state must be up to the required standard.”
The governor gave the assurance that his second term would be committed to improving the right standards in the education sector for the good of Rivers people.
“The governor’s office will review all the approval of schools. All the existing approvals by the Ministry of Education have been cancelled. For this process, there will be no room for bribery and corruption,” he said.
By that decision, Wike has grabbed the bull by the horns and taken the right step in the right direction. The craze to establishe private primary and secondary schools caught on in the late 70s when the standard of public schools began to decline and the government gave the private sector the licence to step in. Consequently, a class consciousness crept into the fissure. Public schools were seen as destinations for children of the poor and middle class members of the society, while the private schools represented signposts for the kids of the rich.
Curiously, the so-called rich parents were themselves products of public primary and secondary schools. And because of the high demand for quality education, many people were attracted to the sector. Private homes, garages and roadside shops began to spring up as schools… most of them approval but parents enrolled their kids because they represented a class.
As time went by, makeshift structures emerged on every available space across the country. All the necessary requirements needed to establish a school were ignored. Most of them had no space for recreation, no toilet facilities and parents did not care a hoot about the safety of their children.
It is public knowledge that most of the private schools are established as commercial ventures. In order to maximise profits, the proprietors/proprietresses of such schools engage unqualified teachers and pay them peanuts as stipends. The parents attach little or no importance to the quality of teaching offered by the teachers, so long it is a private school.
Apart from the schools that did not pass through normal process, many approved schools are run at the whims and caprices of their owners who know next to nothing about what they have ventured into. Their credentials are simply the wherewithal to set up schools.
The relevant government agencies have not helped matters either. After giving approval for those have met the criteria to establish the schools, they do not perform the required roles as monitors and regulators of the activities that go on therein. No periodical inspections are carried out on the schools to ensure that set standards are met.
One would have thought that the standards of private schools would be so high that their pupils and students would not be subjected to punishing assignments after the school hours. They give them home work and task their parents to key into it.
Some parents also prefer the private primary schools because they want their kids to be on the fast lane to the next level. They pride themselves in their children escaping the full course and entering secondary schools at premature age. They see it as a hallmark of brilliance, oblivious of the fact that they are hauling the poor kids into a level nature has not prepared them for. It is one of the main reasons why some of these on the fast-lane kids enter into post-secondary institutions unprepared and ending up as disasters because they are too young and naive to cope with the complex environmental challenges.
We commend Governor Wike for his courage in sanitising the sub-sector. However, as a former minister of state for education, we wonder why it took him so long to act.
The situation in Rivers state is a replication of what obtains in all parts of the country. We urge other states of the federation to emulate the Rivers’ example. The primary and secondary education is the super structure upon which the nation’s socio-economic development is built. It should not be left at the disposal of businessmen and women who manage it as commercial enterprise with profits as the ultimate motive.
Government at all levels should pay adequate attention to public schools by raising the standard of teaching and learning in order to make them more attractive.
The Rwandan government has shown that this is doable. Presently, most private primary and secondary schools in that country are shutting down because the bar has been raised in the public schools.