Investigation: How teachers force children out of school

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Nigeria is estimated to have the highest number of out-of-school children globally, with over 10.5 million children out of school. Majority of the children live in rural areas and teachers in primary and secondary schools contribute highly in forcing children out-of-school, KELECHUKWU IRUOMA, in this investigation, unravels the illegal acts of teachers in Ajegunle, Lagos state.

By Kelechukwu Iruoma

On a cool Monday Morning at a slum environment, popular called Ajeromi, in Ajegunle, Lagos State, Peter Adekanbi, an 11-year old boy who had concluded his primary school education in a public school in Ajegunle and supposed to have been enrolled into a public secondary school to further his education was running helter-skelter playing football.

He was not alone.

There were six other children ranging from 7-12 years who were playing the football with Adekanbi. There were also numerous children ranging from 6-15 years seen in the community who were not at school then. While their mates were in different schools learning, they were playing in their various homes.

Adekanbi was so engrossed in the football he was playing. When he was called and asked why he was not in school but playing football on a Monday morning, he said “I have not paid the N1, 500 registration fees the principal of Alakoto Junior Secondary School asked my mummy to pay.”

From R-L: Peter Adekanbi denied of education having failed to pay the fees & Mrs. Comfort Ogar

“My mummy said she did not have the money to pay the registration fee the school asked us to pay and that is why I am at home. We are at the middle of first term and I do not think I will go to school this term again or even next term because my mummy does not have money,” Adekanbi said as he hurried back to join others who stopped playing the football as he was being questioned.

Adekanbi’s case is one of thousands in Ajegunle, who lamented that teachers in public primary and secondary schools deprive them of education, as a result of the inability to pay the fees and other levies ranging from security and cleaning they were asked to pay.

Parents in the area who felt the need to send their children to school as a result of moral persuasion by concerned Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs and individuals, noted that teachers’ attitude of collecting money from them in form of sundry levies forced them to withdraw their children from schools, thereby forcing the children out of school.

A mother in her late 30s, who simply identified herself as Iya Aminat revealed that she went to Wowo Nursery and Primary School at Ajeromi-Ifelodun to enrol three of her children but could not.

“I went to Wowo and the Head Mistress demanded money. The child I wanted to put there was to be enrolled in primary one but the teacher said it is N3, 000. Another of my children was to be enrolled in a nursery class, but the teacher asked me to pay N2, 000 before the child can start school.

“When I explained to them that it should not be expensive, that it should be free, they said no. I now took them home since I could not afford to pay. I then took them to Apapa. At a school in Apapa, they collected N500 for one of my children to be enrolled in a nursery class. Apapa is very far from here (Ajegunle). Sometimes, if there is no money for transport, they will stay at home and will not go to school for days, sometimes weeks,” she said.

Iya Aminat, who lives in a structure built with planks with her husband and children runs a hand-to-mouth tailoring work in the same one room structure which they stay, saying that if nothing is done to the issue, many parents would end up not sending their children to school, adding that there were already numerous children in the area who have stopped going to school.

What is generally known as Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) has now been changed to Parent Fund (PF) and Parent Forum (PF) in Alakoto Junior Secondary School and other schools at Tolu Complex in Ajegunle.

Parents now organize meetings alone and provide funds in order to assist schools in rendering quality education to their children.

“PTA that is well known is now PF. The parents now come together and hold meetings. The teachers said that any problem they have in the school, the parents contribute to fund it. Alakoto is N1, 500 per term; they will now use the money to fund the teachers government is also paying.

“Most parents have not paid and it is a big problem. They asked the children who have not paid to come out and the teachers did not want to teach because they have not been paid by the parents. There are about 500 students in the school, only two students passed in the last Junior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (JSSCE).”

“The children offer about 13 subjects; I was at the last meeting. The Vice Principal said they have only three teachers and the parents need to provide teachers. But government is supposed to do that. We were asked to pay N1, 500 per term as school fees so that the teachers can be paid”, said Mrs. Comfort Ogar, whose daughter attends Alakoto School.

This reporter gathered that some retired teachers were brought back by the school without the knowledge of the state government. Children are, however, compelled to pay N1, 500 in Alakoto and N2, 500 in other schools in the area. Students who fail to pay as at when due are forced to leave the schools.

Ogar said, “Teachers are lacking in schools in Ajegunle and students are being affected academically. Since government is not employing, they have to bring back retired teachers. They had to call the parents.

It is the parents that now pay salaries of teachers instead of the government. There is nothing free in government schools. They tell you free education. I do not see anything free because my daughter just resumed JSS1 and I know what came out from my pocket.”

When I visited Alakoto Junior Secondary School, the school Principal did not deny the fact that they lacked teachers in the schools, but denied that they charge parents to pay school fees.

Further investigations, however, revealed that teachers in the remote area of Ajegunle charge parents to pay some amount of money in order to admit their children into the schools and also pay some amounts of money per term. Some of the teachers also do not care if parents have the money to pay or not. They only admit students whose parents pay the fees demanded and abandon others.

Dressed like an indigent person, with bushy and unkempt hair, this reporter went to schools, purporting to register my junior siblings in the schools to find out if they would be charged.

At Olodi Nursery and Primary School, I asked the gate keeper whom I wanted to see and he directed me to the office of the principal. “Good morning Sir.

Please I want to register two of my siblings in your school and I have come to know the requirements; one in Primary two and the other in Nursery one” I said to the Head Master who seemed to be in his late 50s.

He said, “N2, 500 is registration fee, both for nursery and primary school pupils and there is no negotiation. You will sew the uniform yourself, buy badge for N100,” he said. “This is a public school and I am not supposed to pay any charge.

It is supposed to be free,” I replied. He stated that there is no negotiation; if I was not ready to pay, I should leave.

I agreed to pay the fee but the Head Master could not issue a receipt to me for verification. He said they do not issue receipts and when asked why they don’t, he said they don’t just issue receipts. I left!

At Wowo Nursery and Primary School, the story was the same. The Head Mistress said, “Primary one is N2, 000 and Nursery is N1, 000 for registration. It is just a token; when you pay this term you will not pay anything till a new session begins.

At the point of entrance is what we pay. Sportswear is N1, 500, badge is N200 and cap is N300. Sports levy N1, 000. Soak away is N500. Uniform is sold for N1000.” The HM also failed to issue a receipt after an attempt to pay the fees.

At Local Authority Primary School 2, AmukokoThe Head Mistress said, “Registration is N1, 000 for nursery and primary. We employ people taking care of the toilet. Part time, every student in nursery and primary is expected to pay the sum of N200 each month.”

They have two cleaners. If 500 pupils each pays N200, it comes to N100, 000 per month, while each cleaner is paid less than N15, 000. The rest of the money goes to the Head Mistress. It shows that teachers make a whole lot of money from parents who pay them, besides the money directed to be paid for registration. She said they do not also give receipts. If the payment were legal, they should have been able to issue receipts.

The Head Mistress of Ajeromi Public Primary School in order to convince me to pay the money said that the form which is being used to register students can only be obtained at Lagos State Secretariat in Alausa or at banks, adding that, because of the stress, they collect the money and purchase the forms themselves.

“N1, 500 is the registration form for both Nursery and Primary. We go to Alausa to purchase the forms or you pay the money in the bank. Because of the stress, that is why we collect the money here and obtain the form for them and fill the necessary things.”

I requested for the account number so that I could go to the bank to pay in order to get the form. She stated that she does not have the account number.

She persuaded me to pay the money instead of going to the bank or Alausa. At this point, I decided to disclose my identity to her as a journalist. She confessed and started begging that registration is free and that they are just collecting the money so that they themselves can survive. That is how the teachers have been robbing parents of money and forcing numerous children who cannot afford the payments out of school.

The founder of a Non-Governmental Organization in the area, Dreams from the Slum Initiative, Mr. Omoyele Isaac, who grew up in Ajegunle and established the initiative to take out-of-school children in Ajegunle back to school has also been fighting teachers in the community to stop them from collecting unnecessary fees from parents.

“Lagos State government made public school education free. Teachers collect money ranging from N1, 500 to N3, 000 from parents and there are thousands of them who do not have anything to eat. We threatened the teachers couple of times. Yet, nothing happened. It is a big barrier and that is why most of the children do not go to school,” Omoyele said.

He said that he wrote a letter to the Education Secretary, Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area, Mr. Aboluwodi Ademofe, requesting out-of-school children be taken back to schools without monetary restrictions, among other requests.

Parts of what are contained in the letter dated Friday September 11, 2015 and signed by Mr. Omoyele read: “As part of our mission to ensure every child has access to quality basic education, reduce the number of children that are out of school by adopting them back to school and facilitating access to psychological support for children and youth with special needs, we humbly request for approval from your office for the following:

  1. Approval to get back to school supplies I.e books, bags and water bottle to Wowo Primary School Children.
  2. Give access to us to send poor out-of-school children to school without monetary restrictions.”

The letter which was made available to this reporter was, however, acknowledged to have been received by the Education Secretary and the requests tabled have not been replied and approved as at the time of publishing this investigation.

“It was as a result of actions not being taken that the teachers continue charging parents. The Education Secretary since then has always prevented us from seeing him. His personal assistant gives us excuses whenever we go to his office to see him. If he refuses to approve the letter, then he could be the one telling teachers to charge parents for fees,” he said.

The Lagos state government operates a compulsory free primary and secondary school education system and no school or teacher is mandated to charge parents to pay school and registration fees.

This is according to the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mrs. Abosede Adelaja, who was interviewed in the course of the investigation. Free education is part of the functions of every government, to provide education to all citizens of the state, as a way of eradicating illiteracy.

As Section 18 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states: “18. (1) Government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. (2) Government shall promote science and technology (3) Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy; and to this end, Government shall as and when practicable provide- (a) Free, compulsory and universal primary education (b) Free University education; and
(c) Free adult literacy programme.”

The compulsory, free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act was passed into law in 2004 and represents every government’s strategy to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all children in the country.

Adelaja said, “There is what we call zero tolerance for illegal collection in our schools and all schools have been warned. I am surprised to hear such. Series of meetings have been held to let the school authorities know that illegal collection is not allowed in our public schools.

Parents are not required to pay a dime. If you look at the registration handbill and posters, it was clearly written that registration is free.

“I don’t see why someone who will read that and will be required to pay and still go and pay. In fact, we are giving out numbers that in case such things happen, parents should feel free to call us.

If they charge you and you pay, you are also a collaborator, because it has been clearly written. I do not see why people will pay. Because if unscrupulous elements request for such money, I expect such people who are supporters of quality education in Lagos state, should call on the authorities to take action.”

As regards the lack of teachers in the schools, Adelaja said that the state government just employed 1, 300 teachers for primary schools and 1, 000 for secondary schools.

“We provide cleaners and security in public primary and secondary schools. Parents are not supposed to pay a dime. There is shortage of them but this government is trying to provide all. It is zero tolerance. You cannot rule out unscrupulous elements whom when they are discovered are seriously dealt with according to the rules and regulations in Nigeria.”

Nigeria has over 10.5 million out of school children, according to the Chief of Sokoto Field Office of United Nations Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Mohammed Mohideen, making Nigeria the country that has the highest number of out-of-school children globally. Majority of the victims are children who live in rural areas.

As United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, puts it, “Nigeria has some of the worst education indicators globally.’ Its primary net-enrolment ratio fell from 61% in 1999 to 58% in 2010.

Equally alarming, the number of out-of-school children increased from 7.4m in 1999 to 10.5m in 2010” (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2013).

The late American philosopher, Allan Bloom, once described education as the movement from darkness to light! Millions of children are still in darkness in Nigeria and teachers contribute to this problem.

Until the illegal act is stopped, Peter Adekanbi and millions of children in Nigeria will never see the light. “I love education and I want to go back to school. I know that with education, I can go a long way”, Adekanbi said.

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