Proprietors of private schools in the country have been in the vanguard of the advocacy for the reopening of schools, which have remained shut for about four months now as part of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. The reason is not far-fetched. Although education is seen as a service and not as a business all over the world, the continued shutdown of schools equates to the complete shutdown of their means of livelihood. They depend on the fees they collect from pupils/students to survive. That is also the situation with teachers in the sub-sector who are only paid salaries when schools are in session unlike their counterparts in public schools. As a result, within the last four months, many of them have turned from being benefactors to dependents. Thus, the recent promise by the Federal Government to pay the outstanding salaries of private schools teachers to mitigate the hardship they suffer came as a big relief to the majority of them.
A class teacher at Dominican Nursery and Primary school, Oshodi, Lagos State, Juliet Nneji, told The Guardian that life has not been easy since the shut down of schools, adding that her saving grace was that she has a spouse that is not employed in the sub-sector.
“My last salary was paid in June 2020, which came as 60 per cent of the salary. It was majorly because we run an online class, which the pupils paid for that will end this July,” she said.
A teacher at Shababdeen Nursery and Primary School, Ilasamaja, who identified herself as Mrs. Aderibigbe, also said her husband has been sustaining her since the shut down of schools.
“My husband is working and he is feeding me, so I am fine. Most of us didn’t expect the schools lockdown to be this long. It is a disaster for the teachers because we thought it would not last for more than a month or two,” she said.
Love Omwa, a teacher in Crestview International School, Governor Road, Idimu, is also lucky to have people she could depend on.
“The last time I was paid was in April and since then I have been receiving assistance from friends and family. I think it is easier for me because I am a single lady. Supports come from friends or family. But I have male colleagues who have not been as fortunate.
“I haven’t been doing much since the lockdown except anticipating the re-opening of school so I can get back to work. However, I believe that I will benefit from the Federal Government’s gesture because my school remits taxes. So, I am expectant.”
Another teacher at Parent’s Pride Nursery and Primary school, Gowon Estate, Egbeda, Mrs. Maria Ekhator, said since the closure of schools in March, the owner of the school has been kind enough to pay her salary twice.
“I have therefore taken to my love for cooking. I have set up a small business where I cook and sell packaged meals to those who go to work and don’t have the time to cook. So far, it has been sustaining me,” she said.
Ruqoyya Sanusi, a teacher at An-Nur Nursery and Primary School also in Ilasamaja, said she has taken to private home coaching to survive.
Florence Adeyemi, a teacher at Hopeful Private School, Ejigbo, said: “With all the mouth I have to feed without salary since April, saying life has been tough may be an understatement; it has been almost unbearable. I had to resort to hawking wares on my head on the streets to feed my family and survive one day at a time.”
Speaking on the Federal Government’s promise to pay the salaries of private school teachers, Adeyemi noted that whether she would benefit depends on government’s integrity.
“Will this be one of those empty promises that our government makes which doesn’t see the light of day or the kind that certain schools, especially the big ones in sophisticated areas, will benefit from while the rest of us are left out? I don’t want to raise my hopes; I would rather wait to see how this unfolds,” she said.
Blessing Chukwuma, a teacher in Matmonique Nursery and Primary School, Liasu road, Idimu, also revealed that she was last paid half salary in April.
“The full salary itself is meagre let alone half salary. However, I appreciated the magnanimity of the school management when we got paid. But unfortunately, even that half salary has been stopped since the last payment in April. I have been trying to see if I could get private lesson offer to teach but I haven’t gotten any. Apparently, because of the pandemic, most parents don’t feel comfortable having their children come in contact with non-family members as a safety measure. So, I hope to benefit from the Federal Government’s gesture because it would aid my survival pending when the school lockdown is lifted,” she said.
Proprietress of Elibel Group of Schools, Ipaja, Mrs. Elizabeth Aremu, told The Guardian that private school teachers have been the most affected since the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
“As schools remain shut down, payment of salaries has become impossible. We solely depend on school fees to pay staff salaries. As a school owner, I think it will be great if the Federal Government will fulfill its promise to pay the salaries of private school teachers. This will bring a big relief to the teachers and their families and we can have peace of mind knowing that our teachers are being catered for.”
Aremu also said that her school was qualified for the government’s largesse, saying it is duly registered and approved by the Ministry of Education and have been remitting their taxes.
The proprietor of a private school in Oshodi area of the state, who pleaded anonymity, however expressed worries over the conditions attached to the largesse.
He said: “In a country where everything is difficult and expensive to get, you expect schools and teachers to pay taxes from the little money they earn. I am not saying paying of tax is wrong; in fact it is a must for every patriotic citizen but I don’t see this working. Not all private schools or teachers pay their taxes. Some private schools are not even registered not to talk of the teachers paying taxes.
“The government shouldn’t put this as a criteria before helping us out. If not that government deducts taxes from the salaries of public school teachers before paying them, do you think most of the teachers would pay? My school is registered. I just hope the government would fulfill its promise,” he said.
The story of private schools proprietors and teachers in other states of the federation is not different in any way. From Plateau to Ekiti, Anambra and Imo states, owners of private schools and their employees also recounted their woes. See the reports below.
FG’s Gesture Is Good News, Say Plateau School Owners, Teachers
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
In Plateau State, teachers in private schools have lamented the continued closure of schools, saying their means of livelihood has been cut off.
Mr. Pam David, a teacher with Faith Academy Private School in Jos, said the last salary he received was in March 2020.
“This July will make it four months without salaries. And to make things worse, I work there as a teacher with my wife and we have been working for over 10 years in the school.
“We go in the morning and close by 3.00pm. So, there was no time to carry out any private business. We have been depending solely on salaries. We are now living as beggars, depending on friends to survive. Life is very excruciating and painful. We can’t blame the school. We can’t get any loan. Their source of money is also from the school fees,” he said.
He described the Federal Government’s gesture to pay private school staff salaries as a mere political statement.
“Education is on the concurrent legislative list, as the federal, state, local governments and individuals can establish schools from primary to university levels.
“So, there is no accurate data at any level of government to determine who and who is to be paid. How will government make that payment?
“In Nigeria, 55 per cent of private schools from nursery to secondary schools operate without any government record. If the Federal Government has the will to pay, regardless of the absence of data, they may likely use the state and local governments, and at the end of the day, the money will end up in private pockets,” David explained.
To Proprietor of Toheed Private School, Jos, Alhaji Shehu Mukhtar, the Nigerian education sector has become the worst casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If all markets, airports, other social and religious activities are allowed to operate under this COVID-19 pandemic, I do not see why the Federal Government will refuse to open schools particularly to final year students in JSS III and SSS III to write their final examinations.
“My school has only 20 students to write WAEC, yet government decided that the academic session will be shut down for one year. The last time I paid my staff salaries was in February 2020. I don’t have any other source of money apart from the school fees to pay my teachers. I actually feel for them and their families. I have applied for loans from banks but couldn’t get any approval,” Mukhtar said.
He said the Federal Government’s gesture to pay the staff was good news. “But I see it as what can’t be translated into reality because if government uses association of private school owners to determine all schools in Nigeria for payments, it may be difficult to get the accurate figures because it will be politicised. If government also uses the state or local government, politics will come in,” he noted.
According to him, in Plateau State, in the past five years, the Ministry of Education has left no stone unturned in going round the state to close schools that were not registered.
“So, it is difficult for any school to operate without government registration. These schools are remitting their taxes to qualify for the largesse,” he added.
Ekiti Teachers, Proprietors Express Mixed Feelings Over Government’s Promise
From Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti
Teachers and the proprietors of private schools in Ekiti State have expressed skepticism over the Federal Government’s plan to pay the outstanding salaries of teachers in the sub-sector.
According to them, it was difficult to believe the government because of several failed promises of the past.
The teachers said the closure of schools has turned them to beggars because they had not been paid since February.
Moses Johnson, who teaches at St. Morning Star Model School in Ado Ekiti, welcomed government’s plan. He said that workers in private schools have been experiencing untold hardship since the closure of schools.
“To start with, I thank God for the gift of life. My last salary was in the month of April. My means of survival has been private coaching classes for some of my students whose parents are willing to pay some stipends.
“I will appreciate it if the Federal Government keeps to this payment plan. It will go a long way to benefit my colleagues and myself.
“The reopening of schools has become imperative if we must secure the future of the young children. I don’t believe that keeping children at home is the way forward,” he said.
For Adekunle Michael, a teacher at Harmony Nursery and Primary School, Oke Ureje, Ado Ekiti, the news of the plan to pay the outstanding salaries of private schools teachers came to him as a surprise.
“But if the government is serious, they can actually bail out citizens who are badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The last salary I received from my employer was paid in March. Schools should be reopened. Are we saying that if coronavirus refuses to go away till next year, we will remain like this? What is important is for government and school owners to provide safety equipment before schools are reopened,” he added.
The proprietor of Morning Star Model School, Ado Ekiti, Adelegan Gabriel, said most of his colleagues were also skeptical about the government’s promise because of the stringent condition attached to it.
“They actually attached some stringent conditions which can’t be met. They are asking for bank statements and many other things that can hardly be met. We don’t know how serious they are about it.
“Our school is fully registered. My tax clearance of this year is here with me. However, we did one registration with the Federal Government; we don’t know how genuine. But we are fully registered with the government of Ekiti State.
“It is one thing for government to make pronouncements and another thing to fulfill it. We will be happy if they pay them. Teachers in private schools have turned to beggars. Some of them were on the streets in Ibadan, Oyo State, protesting last week. Some of the staff have not received any salaries since February. There are families where both husband and wife are teaching in private schools,” he said.
Anambra Private School Owner Count Losses
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka
The proprietor of Hez-Dike Schools, Hezekiah Dike, has lamented the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector. He, however, expressed happiness with the precautionary measures the federal and state governments have taken to check the spread.
But he noted that the indefinite closure of schools would affect the future of the children and the academic programme in the country.
According to the educationist, he has not paid his staff for about four months. He called for government’s assistance, saying it would enable private school owners to settle their indebtedness.
“I am appealing to the government to assist private schools with funds in order to retain them until such a time when the government feels it is safe to reopen schools. After all, private school complement government in the area of provision of employment to the citizenry. It is biting hard and many teachers are frustrated. Yet we cannot sacrifice the health of children,” he said.
Dike said his school was registered and has been paying the requisite taxes to the appropriate authorities, adding that teachers in the school were qualified to benefit from the Federal Government’s gesture.
He urged the Federal Government to reopen schools, saying: “Private schools are handicapped because of schools shutdown. We at Hez-Dike established e-learning on our own, but parents/guardians are not willing to pay, their excuses being that schools are not open and children not attending their classes. It will get to a point where we will stop because teachers can no longer cope with the situation.
“I am in support of government’s measures to protect the lives of the school children. But it should reconsider the measures and allow schools too reopen with strict compliance and enforcement of guidelines,” he added.
Imo School Owners/Teachers: FG’s Gesture Unsustainable
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
Private schools owners and teachers in Imo State have welcomed the promise by the Federal Government to pay teachers of private institutions in the country as a way of cushioning the effects of the continued closure of schools on them. Some proprietors and teachers, however, doubted the sustainability of the programme.
A proprietor in Owerri, Geo Ijeoma, said: “I am in support of the policy by the Federal Government to intervene due to the continued closure of schools occasioned by the novel COVID-19 pandemic. I am only skeptical about it because the load will be heavy on the government and the question of sustainability comes in there. My institution pays the necessary fees to the government.”
Another proprietor, Mrs. Ngozi Igwe, commended the Federal Government, but expressed reservations about the gesture.
“Are we saying that the government will sincerely take over our responsibility? This sounds unbelievable! I want the schools to reopen when it is safe. But there are safety measures, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), such as provision of buckets of water for regular washing of hands and sanitizers; ensuring that there is physical/social distancing and wearing of facemasks, among others. Fumigation of schools is also to be done. If all these are in place with strict enforcement, schools can be reopened and we will generate money to pay ourselves while we deliver qualitative education to pupils and students,” she said.
A private school teacher, Amaka Tasie, said she was ready to receive her outstanding salaries from the government, but said she was tired of staying at home. She prayed that the pandemic comes to an end soon.
According to her, the policy to pay would be a big relief to the school owners.
“There is nobody who will not welcome such gesture. But we must bear in mind that there is no free lunch anywhere in the world. That is my apprehension. So, in as much as that is a good decision, I want us to gradually reopen schools so that pupils/students will pay their fees from which funds will be generated to pay us. This is more sustainable. I was paid last three months ago. It has not been easy. I have been engaged in trading activities to make ends meet,” she said.