Ask any middle class Nigerian, the first answer they give when discussing child care cost is school fees. School fees are skyrocketing from early childhood care, primary school to secondary school. Public primary school education is free in most states where parents pay little or nothing. Although entry age into public primary school is 6 years, parents are left to themselves before that age to make preparations for early childhood care.
That the Nigerian public education school system is broken is no news. There are many challenges: not enough schools to go round, overcrowded classrooms, low supply of school inputs such as textbooks, libraries, and laboratories. All of these then translate into low quality education. What is gaining traction is that majority of parents who want good quality education turn to the private sector albeit at a very high cost. In Lagos state for example, there are more private schools than public schools. A World Bank research puts Lagos state as the largest private school market in the world. In a particular local government area, the private sector is the leading provider of education in both primary and secondary schools. The research further states that a whopping 91 percent of pre-primary, primary and secondary schools were provided by the private sector with most of them being operated as private businesses. This is the same scenario in most states in Nigeria.
Private schools in themselves are not bad as they exist all over the world. However, they must not become the first choice of quality schooling for the average parent. The problem is that, as businesses, private schools are at liberty to set school fees and any other fees associated with schooling. How do parents finance this high cost of education? What is the impact of this trend on socioeconomic development in terms of equality where the rich go to quality private schools while the poor are left with the choice of going to so called low fee private schools where the quality is questionable. Education is a Public Good because when a child is educated and contributes meaningfully to the society, not only the parents benefit but the entire society. That is why responsible governments all over the world make education free, from early childhood until the end of secondary school. This way, parents have no excuse not to send their children to school and the government ensures that every child, no matter their socio-economic background, gets the opportunity to unlock their potential and be productive citizens. The United Nations recognises this importance and that is why the Sustainable Development Goal 4b targets free equitable and quality and equitable primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes. In Nigeria, does this mean that only the wealthy should have access to quality education?
It seems this situation has come to be accepted as the norm: there are many Non-governmental organisations paying the school fees of indigent students and there is even a United Kingdom sponsored programme dedicated to improving the quality of low fee private primary schools in Lagos state. In a nutshell, programmes are springing up everywhere to improve the number and quality of private schools. The government is gradually on its way to getting off the responsibility of providing quality education to its citizens. Education should not be part of those sectors where private businesses have to step in because of the failures of government. It shouldn’t go the way of the telecommunication sector where private companies have now become the major, if not only providers. The burden of educating citizens should rest on the shoulders of both the parents and government where they work in tandem. The government really needs to step-up either by providing enough quality schools to meet the increasing demand or develop ways to ensure that the financial burden of education does not rest solely on parents.