Reviving low-cost schools in Nigeria for national growth
DEEPEN intervention in Lagos was premised on the fact that the state has one of the largest private education markets in the world, going by the growing population. With more than one million children enrolled in over 18,000 private schools across Lagos, the private sector is seen as a major player in the state’s education scene.
Before now, low cost private schools in Nigeria were treated as social pariahs by various state governments. They did not have a say in the country’s education scene neither could they find their bearing but with the intervention of Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN), a programme funded by United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for International Development (DFID), now the narrative has changed and they are now a force to reckon with.
The United Kingdom’s (UK) Department for International Development (DFID) did not give grants to operators of low-cost private schools in Nigeria, neither did they give them loans. But through a well thought-out programme dubbed Developing Effective Private Education Nigeria (DEEPEN), operators of low-income schools were trained, empowered and exposed to best practices in the country’s education sector. Today, they can walk with their shoulders high and sit side-by-side with government to discuss progress of the sector. Prior to the intervention of DFID through DEEPEN programme in Lagos, low income private schools were often seen as blight on government’s plan to revamp teaching and learning. While majority of them are illegally sited and unapproved, some of them operate in an unhealthy environment, shanties, uncompleted and makeshift buildings. They collect as low as N50 per day on pay-as-you-go basis, or N2000 to N18, 000 per term, depending on location and number of teachers. They are mostly found in underserved communities where public schools are absent. Many times, large numbers of pupils are lumped in classrooms, which causes many to doubt if learning is actually taking place in such schools. But one thing that unites them is that they all have a vision to provide teaching and learning to the Nigerian child, against all odds. This is exactly what DEEPEN programme was about. DEEPEN is an initiative funded by the UK’s DFID and managed by Cambridge Education, a member of the Mott McDonald Group. With Lagos as its primary focus, the already concluded-programme adopted a “Making Markets Work for the Poor (M4P)” approach to improve the learning outcomes of children in private schools serving low-income families. The five-year educational programme launched in September 2013, ended last month (August 2018). Responses from beneficiaries indicate that the narratives of low-income schools in Lagos State have changed for good. DEEPEN intervention in Lagos was premised on the fact that the state has one of the largest private education markets in the world, going by the growing population. With more than one million children enrolled in over 18,000 private schools across Lagos, the private sector is seen as a major player in the state’s education scene. The team facilitated a more enabling environment for private schools and a more effective market for them to offer an increased quality of education. DEEPEN Team leader, Gboyega Ilusanya, who spoke at the recently held Southwest regional stakeholders summit in Abeokuta, organised to discuss the lessons learnt said the five-year services were delivered through four priority areas. The team, he said firstly tackled the formal regulatory framework and informal cultural practices that undermined the private education sector in Nigeria. They also addressed lack of reliable information available to parents, schools and policy makers for making decision about education; addressed the inaccessibility of financial services and products to meet the needs of schools and parents; and also exposed the low-cost schools to affordable and effective services that enabled them improved their methods and teaching practices. The overall aim of the project was to create a vibrant and dynamic market for private education especially in low-cost schools across Lagos, with a view to having a better learning conditions and teaching practices in private schools. They also made government to see the operators of low-cost schools as partners and challenged it to create an enabling environment that will make their business to thrive. Their argument was that if low-income schools are assisted and empowered, they have the capacity to influence economic and human capital development. Owners of the low-cost schools under the aegis of Association for Formidable Education (AFED) as well as their members were trained and exposed to best practices by DEEPEN team. They were taught on how to attract huge investment into their business; have a better management, improved pedagogy and innovation in their affairs. The DEEPEN team also brought in service providers to assist the low-income schools managers in rebranding their operations. In the overall improved learning outcomes for children attending private schools are expected as a result of the intervention. Gboyega said, if government can encourage low-cost schools especially by reducing the burden of approval and taxation, they will make a greater contribution to the economic and social prosperity of the population, increasing income and tax revenues for the state.” He recalled how the participation of the private sector saved for Lagos State government the sum of N377bn from 2010 to 2015, adding that savings from private schools will increase over the next 10 years. “Private schools will provide increasing savings to government even if enrolment rates remain at the current level. With a population growth rate of 3.2 per cent, and increasing demand for education as the Lagos State economy grows, the minimum estimated saving to government from private provision of education over the next 10 years would be N958 billion. If investment levels were sufficient to deliver reasonable quality education, the projected saving to government would then be N1, 648 billion,” he said. Testimonies from the beneficiaries of the programme who were present at the Southwest regional stakeholders summit in Abeokuta, show a great improvement in the activities of the low-cost schools. They now attend conferences, seminars, and even participate in state’s competitions, including the state’s placement examination for entrance into secondary school. They also interact with the banks for financial arrangements. The success of the intervention, according to stakeholders is a proof that funding may not be the biggest challenge in the country’s education system after all, but creatively looking inward and making the best use of the available resources as well as building human capacity could give the sector a midas touch. The Abeokuta meeting was attended by Ogun State Commissioner for Education, Mrs Modupe Mujota; its Kwara State counterpart, Mrs Bilkisu Oniyangi; Commissioners for Budget and Planning in Osun and Kwara states, Dr Olalekan Yinusa and Mr Odewale Wasiu, as well as permanent secretaries and other representatives from Oyo, Ekiti and Ondo states. Executive members of AFED were also present, including the immediate-past President of the association, Mrs Esther Ifejola Dada. In her remarks, Dada recalled their journey with the states government and how the UK government came to their rescue. Dada thanked God that DEEPEN intervention programme has given them a voice and made them a significant partner with the state government. “They saw potentials in low-cost schools unlike Nigerian government, they helped us to nurture and develop it. Today we are better informed.” “DEEPEN enlightened and exposed us to useful information that helped us in our operations. They did not give us grants or loans but they empowered us. DEEPEN made Lagos state government to see and understand what we are doing. Before now, government referred to us as mushroom schools. They harassed our members and chased us about, closing down some of the schools until DEEPEN’s intervention. DEEPEN saved us from government’s incessant harassment; it brought in service providers to help and train us in all the fields of education, investment plan, how to access loan, when to save and when not to. They taught us how to do it well, not harassing us. Indeed DEEPEN has helped in exposing us to recent trends in the sector. They moved us from stagnant water to a flowing stream. They did not give us loan; just training and capacity building and that helped us to restrategise AFED. They showed us the way and how to go about it, they gave us a million ideas in which we will continue to prosper in our business.” She continued, “DEEPEN realised that if we do not take care of the teeming Nigerian children and youths particularly those in the grassroots areas it will be a blast for the nation in the future. They made government to see the reality of what we are doing, today Lagos State government invites us for stakeholders meeting and we all sit side by side with government. It was not so in the past. Government then never gave us a listening ear. But today all that has changed.” Dada said even in the area of levies and multiple taxation where most of their members fall prey to predators from local government, “DEEPEN came to our rescue and educated us on what is expected of us as far as taxation is concerned. After paying for registration and approval, local government will also come and bring their multiple taxes to our members. It was UK government that intervened and today we have our peace and we know better. No more exploitation. Donor agency valued us more than our government.”