It has been said, that a nation develops in relation to its achievements in education, primarily, as education serves as a strong agent of change.
However, experience over the years has shown that public schools have reportedly been poorly managed and funded, with the attendant low morale of teachers. Thus, as part of the support for growth and development in education, the government’s policy reforms have encouraged increase in private investment in education.
Private schools have contributed immensely to the development of education in the country. However, as private endeavours, some owners of private schools often pay little attention to policies and rules governing the operations of the sector.
In the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), this has presented a major challenge as the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) strives to manage massive increase in the territory’s population and the corresponding expansion in school enrolments. This increase has stretched the Education Secretariat under the FCTA, which is tasked with delivering Standard Education needed for sustainable development within the FCT.
The FCT has in the past been commended for its efforts in the support of literacy and education in general. Part of this commendation comes from its scrutiny on pre-primary/primary and secondary education. Worldwide, these foundation years are regarded as crucial and have strong attendance rates as the basis for literacy and enlightenment for people.
In recognising the importance of primary education, Nigeria has placed a premium on it by making primary education the focus or basis of educational policies. In 2013, The FCT Secretary for Education, Alhaji Kabir Usman, had reportedly announced that whilst the Secretariat had accredited 384 schools at the time, over 150 substandard private schools operating illegally in the territory would be shutdown. He had explained that the Department of Quality Assurance (DQA then known as the Department of Policy and Implementation – DPI) of the secretariat which supervises the operations of private schools, had observed that the identified schools were operating below the minimum requirements. These schools fell into the pre-primary/primary and secondary categories. With the rapid growth in private schools, this thorough examination of the private ownership and operations within the FCT, has proven useful in spotting existing deficiencies and certified optimal standards because the expectation for both public and private ownership and operation in education, is about guaranteeing one standard. For the Education secretariat, this means working in line with the aims and objectives of Education, as detailed in the National Policy on Education and the Education Act 16 of 1985.
In the FCT, to support school owners to access relevant information, the DQA developed in 2004 and revised it in 2013, a handbook, which details expected procedures on the Establishment and Operations of Educational Institutions within the FCT. This handbook, which is accessible to intending school proprietors for N5000, is available, from the office of the DQA, and is signed off as being approved by the FCT Executive committee and the Minister of the FCT.
So, with a working handbook in place, the question begs, why does the Department now have to consider the possible closure of 150 schools? In an interview, the Director of the DQA – Mr. Ayuba Didam, told Leadership Friday that he made it clear that under the procedure for the establishment of schools in the FCT, the first task for an intending proprietor was to obtain the Guidelines. It is an improvement on the previous edition, to provide current information on the procedure for establishment, inspection and accreditation of both public and private schools in the FCT. Intending school owners have access to a step-by-step guide on what to have and what to do should they wish to proceed. However, Didam explained that “you’ll find that some people bypass the guidelines, raise structures and then protest to what they consider our undue scrutiny”.
On a visit to one of the schools, which was in direct contravention of Section 5.0, 5.5 ( which was its location in a residential building, within a dedicated residential estate), the proprietress went on to exclaim that this was not a business entered into for profit, but for a passion to educate, and give children the solid foundation they would require to excel in life. When asked if she understood that the school was located in a residential building which contravened the guidelines of the FCT and thus would have limited growth opportunities, the proprietress stated that for now it met the needs and convenience of the parents it served, adding that in the future, they would procure suitable land to meet the expectations of the FCT Administration. She further explained that obtaining land wasn’t an easy feat, that it wasn’t her desire to disregard the guidelines. She told Leadership Friday that FCT inspectors had visited and the school passed in other areas of assessment.
This scenario highlights the challenge of managing private schools within the FCT and this might also be as a consequence of the purpose for which owners have set them up – to provide stop-gap to fill the required needs. Didam, however, explained that whilst he is not ignorant of land acquisition issues, he explained that this was not a factor for short-changing the policy. “Private schools needed to operate within the right location, with the right facilities, especially with enough room for recreation. It’s one standard, as you see that government schools also operate the same way”, he said.
He continued: “Having private schools located in either private homes or make-shift buildings that do not have the capacity for future possible expansion is unacceptable. These cramped spaces make it impossible to provide sporting/playground facilities, library, and restrooms, etc. all of which are essential to the learning phase. Private school entrepreneurs have been guaranteed full cooperation from the DQA if they ensure full compliance as wholly outlined in the Guidelines.”
An educational consultant, Dr Timi Hyacinth, who is currently managing a new private Crèche, Nursery and Primary school in Lokogoma District of the FCT, told Leadership Friday, that the support and development of education was the goal. She commended the FCTA on its set procedures, stating that she believed it was in the interest of all to ensure a commitment to quality assurance in educational institutions. She explained that these processes are essential in achieving education goals and excellent practices. The DQA has to ensure that private schools, beginning from establishment through operation to certification should conform to the law, which will in turn contribute towards realising their primary objectives of quality education.
Dr. Hyacinth further noted, that the institution she represented was purpose built and driven and as such, the owner’s intent was to build a school of the best standard. Since dealing with the DQA, she said she has not had any problems.
The head, public relations of the Education Secretariat of the FCTA, Mr Anthony Ogunleye, told Leadership Friday that “In carrying out teaching and learning, location and facilities are central; some of these private schools may not be able to afford facilities/equipment necessary, to the disadvantage of a balanced curriculum as required by the country’s educational system.”
He cited as example, a school which he said they had to shut down last year, because they had been operating from a plaza. The school, which was a church initiative, according to him, had been located on the second floor amidst other businesses above and below it. He said it was clear this was an unsuitable location, but the church hadn’t thought about accreditation status and went ahead to send their wards to a plaza to study. He stressed that parents and guardians needed to ask questions of whether or not the school they intend to send their ward to is accredited. Ogunleye assured that there were measures which the DQA could, and would implement to ensure that parents and guardians had access to the required information.