From 'Unity' To 'Privilege' Schools


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From 'Unity' to 'Privilege' Schools



Kunle Sanyaolu



culled from GUARDIAN, October 7, 2006


Going by Feelers from government, Federal government colleges, otherwise known as Unity schools in the country, may be phased out. Point of correction, they may be privatized. But then, if this happens, can the schools retain their nomenclature as federal government college? Highly unlikely, the issues will become clearer in the weeks, perhaps months ahead. At the moment, there are 102, such institution scattered all over the country. They account for 120,718 secondary students out of 6.4 million such students countrywide.


The number is indeed paltry the, considering the 6.4 million is itself conservative. If the country has only 6.4 million secondary school students population, that is because several millions other children with the potential of being in the schools are not there, for one reason or another. It is fairly clear however that by the time the unity schools are privatized, they will lose their 'unity' quality in the sense that the schools will not be representative of the diverse culture, population ethnicity and classes of Nigerians. They will be 'unity' only in the fact that their students are privileged, coming as it were from very rich parents. No one should be under any illusion that Federal government colleges or by whatever name they are called, under a private sector management, will be accessible to both rich and poor parents as is presently the case. By the way, government should still clarity if the proposed change will affect only the school's management or their entire ownership structure. I do not envisage any major difference in what the schools become, whether the change is of management or of ownership. It is not expected that under a private management, government will retain and keep paying their teachers and non-teaching staff in the schools. It is also not expected that the new managers will be required to simply administer the schools and cannot a regular income to government coffers after perhaps deducting their overheads and profits. The new managers, if they are going to be so-called will expect to be given a leeway in their running of the schools, in order to achieve a combination of educational excellence and optimum economy. Give and take, the only scenario that is conceivable is of a set of secondary schools built and nurtured by public resources for over four decades, and ultimately designed to cater for a highly selected few, privileged only by virtue of their huge financial standing.


In a way, education has become an elitist matter because over the years, the governments both at the federal and state levels have gradually abdicated their governmental responsibility to the private sector. Public sector funding of education has been grossly inadequate to meet the challenges of population, quality and the changing world. Highly placed government officials and public officers, particularly those with access to the treasury, send their children to expensive and glamorous primary and secondary schools. They similarly send them abroad far higher education or lately, into any of the numerous private universities that have been lately given approval to operate. These institution are not for the average Nigerians, most of whom are perceptually in the struggle to keep their lives afloat indeed, the nation is getting to grasp with the reality that education has become so uncreative a business that the country's topmost citizens including the president and the vice president, are said to own private colleges and universities, built and ran in a state of the art fashion. This development account for why governments, particularly in the present dispensation, have cared little about public education. It is also reflective of why officials are keen to divest government completely of public education and its finding. The reasons are clear, first, their own institution can make more economic waves because Nigerians, left with no choice, will tax and slave themselves to send their children to the schools. Secondly, and this is more sad, the new arrangement will leave more money at the disposal of government, not to spend on other public demand as usually insinuated by government officials, but to loot, embezzle and misappropriate purely for selfish end.


By opting to privatize the 102 Federal government colleges dotted all over the country, the Federal government has again adopted a quick, but lazyman's solution to a fundamental problem. It's the government did in other areas, the proposed solution not only admits failure on the part of government, it deliberately and wilfully turns a blind eye on the original reasons for setting up the colleges in the first place. By the singular act, the Obasanjo administration appears to be abdicating its responsibility as a government, to the people. It is a lame excuse that government officials have consistently mismanaged the school projects and therefore, the projects should be committed into private hands. There is no double that this government has predicated its policies on private sector drive, the general idea is that government should worry less about running outfits that could be better managed by non governmental people, while the authorities busy themselves with enacting broad framework to facilitate the success of the private endeavors. One thing we can give government, including the present Federal government, is its huge capacity to run a ground with projects conceived as sweet dreams, the realisation of which would make a great positive difference for Nigeria. But, just like in the other legs of government, reform one cannot but ask the question what is it for the average Nigerian?


Usually, this government is eager to rationalise that the pains of today will produce the gains of tomorrow. Consistently however, the lie has been put to this contention as officials either cannot account for huge public funds, or spend them frugally. Otherwise, education should not be a matter that government will wholly entrust to private hands in a developing country like Nigeria whose mainstream citizens are struggling to keep afloat of the poverty line. From reports, the minutes of education Dr. (Mrs.) Obiageli Ezekwesili had complained of the unwieldy nature of parastatals and agencies under her ministry. She was worried that about 85 percent of the allocated resources went to overheads, at the expense of capital investment. According to her: "the ministry spends an inordinate amount of time and resources on these schools that constitute only 30 percent of the secondary schools in the country. Out of 6.4 million secondary school students, only 120,718 are in the 102 unity schools. This number cannot on any account justify the disproportionate amount of staff and budget allocated to these schools. This has to be reversed."


One issue that will surface in government's proposal is the matter of who buys the schools, at what price and how is the buyer determined? Going by previous experiences when government officials use fronts to win contracts and to buy government houses and property, the fear is already expressed that the schools will ultimately find their way into the hands of some government official or officials. After the sale, we can expect a few scandalous revelations. We can admit that ordinarily, secondary education should not be concern of the federal government, under a federation. So far however, we do not runs true federation in the country. Besides, education at post primary and higher institutional levels. Is a matter for both federal and the states under the 1999 constitution. The Federal government should be seen to play its pant. Mrs. Ezekwesili ought to be talking about how government intends to curb waste and make education funding more cost effective in the unity schools. She should be expressing concern about the plunge in quality of education over the years, particularly under the present administration. The minister should be assessing how the unity schools have fared say in the less 30 or 40 years, and to examine whether government at all levels have been able to utilize the schools to raise standards of other schools and in the education sector. Somebody should be showing government's concern about its inability to achieve constitutional grails in section 18, to the effect that government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels, and that government shall as and when practicable, provide free compulsory and universal primary education, free secondary and free university education for all Nigerians. In my view, no one should be more qualified to canvass this desire than the Honorable minister of education.


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