Parents, proprietors battle tuition fee headache as schools reopen
Primary and secondary schools resume from this week for the 2019/2020 academic session. The fees in many public schools are fixed. So, the managers have less headache. However, private schools’ proprietors struggle to recover arrears of fees from parents, some of who owed from last session. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE reports.
We actually have very flexible payment plan. We don’t stick to pay before resumption. I have had occasion where one man’s debt accrued to almost N500, 000 because he barely paid for the education of his boys throughout. We let them stay because the children were very brilliant. They are now in the university and doing very well. Parents that have up to two or three children, we ask them to pay for only two. Even the fees I have listed, some parents come to renegotiate it.
The 2019/2020 academic session begins in some states today for pupils in primary and secondary schools after a vacation that lasted about eight weeks. In Lagos, Jigawa, and Delta states, the pupils will resume for a fresh session today; while in Ogun, Kano, Enugu, Kaduna, Anambra and others, school resumes next week. Many private school owners have done renovations to welcome old and new pupils back to a better learning environment. They would depend on prompt payment of fees to recover the money spent on the makeover. However, with the economic downturn, prompt payment remains in the realm of a wish for many school owners. Some proprietors, who spoke with The Nation, said less than 50 per cent of their parents had paid in full ahead of resumption. Others expect full or part payment to be completed in the first two weeks or before midterm in six weeks. Administrator of Grace Schools, Gbagada, Mrs. Iyiola Edun, said defaulting or inconsistence in school fee payment started being a problem almost a decade ago. She said in an interview that many schools, including hers, have had to become flexible to allow payment in instalments. This trend of not being able to pay school fees on time has been on now for close to 10 years because of the economic downturn. Some pay by instalment, some pay outright. But we always insist that all fees have to be in before the children resume. Some have been paying before resumption, but mostly new parents. A lot will pay when school resumes. others prefer to pay for the whole year. But we give at most up to half-term before we stop the children from coming to school, she said. Mrs. Edun said that quite not a few parents default on fees payment at the school – though she refused to say how much the school charges for nursery and primary education at Grace Children’s School; and secondary education at Grace High School. However, a school search website, schoolscompass.com.ng, puts the fee range per term at N301, 000 – N500, 000 for Grace Children’s School. Chairman of Mind Builders School, Ikeja, Mr. Bosun Falore, said only 25 per cent of parents in his school had paid in full before resumption. The school runs three primary schools located in Omole Phase 1 Estate, Omole Phase 2 Estate, and the Central Business District (CBD), Agidingbi, which also houses its secondary school, Mind Builders High School. Tuition fees for Nursery pupils N80,070, excluding books, uniforms and other costs; primary pupils pay between N107,000 and N122,000; while secondary pupils pay N160,000 (for junior secondary) and N190,000 (for senior secondary school). He said: In spite of our policy of 100 per cent payment of fees due before resumption date, only about 25 per cent of our parents have complied. This is capable of putting strain on our liquidity position as so much has been spent to renovate the premises and improve some infrastructure, pay for uniforms in advance among other expenses. We are hoping that most of the 75 per cent will pay within the first week of resumption or they will come up with a request concession which we can consider for only our old parents. Falore claimed that the wards of some parents, who still owed last session’s fees, would not be allowed in school should they come in. He said the directive worked as five of the 11 parents with outstanding fees paid up. Mr. Emmanuel Orji, proprietor of Rock Ford Schools, Ikorodu, said with his school serving low income earners, he and other low-cost schools are forced to be flexible. Orji, who is the national president of the Association for Formidable Educational Development (AFED), the umbrella group for over 6,000 low-cost private schools in Lagos, said less than two per cent of parents in his school had paid fees ahead of resumption. Orji said nursery pupils in his school pay N15,000 per term, primary pay between N16,000 and N17,000, while secondary school pupils pay N22,000 (for JSS) and N25,000 for (SSS). The AFED boss said he cannot afford to insist on 100 per cent pre-payment so as not to drive parents away. To cover renovation costs, he said many AFED schools depend on loans from Microfinance and commercial banks. The school has been painted, renovated. We get loans from EDFIN (an American bank that came to Nigeria solely because of AFED to advance loans to education), Axiom Micro Finance Bank to beautify the school. Sterling Bank, Ecobank also give loans – even Polaris has joined. EDFIN and Axiom give us loans with interest of 2.4 to four per cent monthly, while Sterling, Ecobank and Polaris give us at 18-25 per cent per annum, he said. Despite charging low fees, Orji said parents default on payment. He also said parents with more than two children pay only for two, while some others even negotiate for lower fees than charged by the schools. We actually have very flexible payment plan. We don’t stick to pay before resumption. I have had occasion where one man’s debt accrued to almost N500, 000 because he barely paid for the education of his boys throughout. We let them stay because the children were very brilliant. They are now in the university and doing very well. Parents that have up to two or three children, we ask them to pay for only two. Even the fees I have listed, some parents come to renegotiate it. You see those meant to pay N15, 000 end up paying N10, 000. But we tell them not to tell anybody we reduced the fees for them. We tell parents to pay within the first two weeks of resumption. But it has never worked. By mid-term, they must have paid 50 per cent. After mid-term, we drive the children because if you don’t drive them you won’t be able to repay the loans you took,” he said. Orji said that some AFED schools charge as low as N3, 000 and N5, 000 per term, yet parents default on fees. Founder of Concerned Parents and Educators Network, a Facebook group, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, said her group raised over N900, 000 to pay fees of notorious defaulters in such low-cost schools serving the very poor in the society this term. Mrs. Ogunde announced the fee drive on the group of over 100,000 members on August 27 with the target of raising enough funds to pay for the fees of 300 children. As at yesterday, she said the group have raised over N939, 689, which it plans to disburse to 30 schools. At the moment, on our school fees drive for low income schools, we have N939, 689. We are dealing with those schools that charge N5, 000 and below. That amount is already able to pay for almost 80 kids. From the beginning of this week, we want to do 10 poor children per school, which is 30 schools. We are working with AFED to come up with the list. We will visit the schools to verify they are really low-income schools. We will be the ones to make the payment. We want to ensure the pupils selected are those who habitually fail to pay. We will invite the parents too so they know the fees have been paid, she said. Mrs. Ogunde, who also runs an education branding and training firm, Edumark, said many parents in schools charging higher fee bands were also struggling to pay. She said: If you move into even a slightly higher fee category, you will also notice the problem. Not too many parents can afford to pay all fees at a go. Except for young parents with one child, many others have to pay for two or three children. A lot of schools are also introducing the gradual payment methods, a lot of them are showing special consideration for parents. If they do not, some children will be unable to resume. With many private schools facing hardship getting parents to pay fees, Mrs. Edun accused the government of insensitivity to their plight because of the many taxes and levies schools have to pay. We pay a lot of bills – Federal Government will take, Lagos State will take their own – all sorts of bills. They see the schools as money-making places forgetting that we have high expenses. We produce our light ourselves. Every five days, we have to pay N500, 000 for diesel to run generators. The government forgets we receive nine months of payment spread across 12 months. For one school bus, you need 15 documentations. For parents to park outside our school, we are paying government over N300, 000. If we don’t pay, they tow the vehicles. If you have 10 school buses, you will pay radio/TV license on each one. You also pay Emission License on each bus. The government audits our account. One civil servant came and asked why we paid so much to buy pepper one particular year and asked if we paid withholding tax for the pepper. Civil servants are the problem. In a good country, they give private educators a subvention because we are doing a social service that ought to have been done by the government, she lamented. On their part, some parents said they had found a way around raising fees of their wards. For Mrs. Stella Oduwaiye (not real names), it is ajo (local thrift saving scheme) to the rescue. For me, I know how September has always been. So I saved and collected my ajo (contibution) in August, which is just enough to pay part and the balance is structured. For my fresher just entering secondary school, Uber returns are diverted. Most schools allow structured payment with initial deposit of 50 per cent. As a teacher in one of the leading schools in Nigeria, some of these parents also owe school fees. For some, it is the economy, for some, follow follow, she said. Another parent stated that her children’s school allows parents to pay on installments bits. Regardless, she said some still owe. A parent, who does not wish to be named, said she is able to pay based on the structure laid by the school. She also said her family was investing in insurance to pay for university education of her two children. I have two kids in separate schools. One school you must pay fees before first day of resumption so the school fees have been paid. School two has a more flexible payment which is pay half at resumption and the balance at resumption of half-term. We also have the school fees plan with an Insurance company but it is for university education, she said.