The directive for fresh approval of all private schools in Rivers State is already generating mixed reactions from several quarters.
The governor, Barrister Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, had recently cancelled operational approval earlier given to all private schools in the state and directed that they seek fresh approval within two weeks.
Wike had emphasized the need to foster standard and quality in both teaching and learning. While the directives would possibly filter out private schools that appear to be operating below the required standard, what credit would likely go to schools that have established long records of quality and standard?
Recall that the governor had in 2016 taken a similar step to ensure that all private schools in the state were duly registered. One wonders how those in private schools truly benefit from government policy as several directives of government with regards to private schools border merely on registration formalities, approval permits, teachers’ qualifications and other related demands.
Has any government institution or ministry ever thought about how students in private schools could also benefit from state budget? Does being in a private school probably as a proprietor, a teacher or a student technically alienate one from public support?
If the provision made in section 18(1) of the 1999 constitution, which demands equality in educational opportunities, is also applicable to students in private schools, policy makers should, in addition to ensuring private schools are duly registered, think of possible ways of extending some benefits to children in those schools, especially those poor children who could not possibly be absorbed in public schools.
Currently, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). Accordingly, about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 years are not in school.
Partnering with proprietors of private schools to assist students from poor homes could reduce the number of street children who have failed to find a place in public schools, and avert the possibility of a crime-ridden society.
Since public schools alone cannot absorb the current population of children and teenagers, the government should subsidize fees of students whose parents do not directly benefit from the state and provide scholarship opportunities for out-of-school students.
Eradicating illiteracy among this population will discourage street trading among children; serve as a measure against insecurity in the state, and save them from becoming potential armed robbers, pipeline vandals, drug traffickers and illegal migrants.
Seemingly difficult as it might appear to be, the old practice of visiting private schools just to see if they are duly registered or if their records are intact, should be redefined in a way that promotes partnership and collaboration between the government and respective private school owners.
Many developing countries are already promoting public-private partnership to improve access to education for children who have difficulties in accessing public schools. In Rwanda, for instance, subsidies are made available to disadvantaged children in private schools. African countries like Ghana is said to be progressive in her public-private partnership on education.
Maintaining strict policy on private schools registration and approval permit is good, but building a lasting partnership and collaboration with them is better.
While government must ensure that private school teachers are competent at using proven teaching methodologies to deliver quality education, providing them with some form of annual incentives could foster a collective contribution towards educational reforms.
While proprietors of private schools, who have provided employment opportunities to a large number of graduates must be commended for their efforts, private school teachers’ prospects of retirement should also be considered by policy makers on education. Annual awards, scholarship opportunities, training and development programmes, etc. are also a few of the ways they can be assisted by the government.
To fully achieve free formal basic education and equality of educational opportunities for all, policy makers must rise to this current demand and extend some forms of incentives to children and teachers in private schools with a view to creating a learning environment where absolute serenity, equality and partnership prevail.
James is a freelance journalist