By Onyema Ejiofor
In Nigeria today, there is no gain saying that the number of private schools is increasing by leaps and bounds. Regrettably, due to our poor record keeping and/or apparent neglect of statistics in our national development, our educational planners may not possibly state the number of private schools in the country today particularly the approved ones. The debate on which form of education, private or public, is better today in Nigeria comes up regularly in many contexts. This is particularly contentious when it is advocated in certain quarters that the government should provide some form of financial assistance in any capacity to private schools, as the public school establishment sees this as drawing away from their inadequate resources. This article is intended to provide some discussion on the merits of both approaches and also explain why there are proponents on both sides of Private School vs. Public School Debate.
1. QUALITY OF EDUCATION: This is a very serious concern and it has been one consideration that has generated very hot debates. On one side, many people consider moving their children to private schools due to the perception that the overall quality of education and their children’s chances of getting admission in good schools especially at university will be higher than that provided by public schools. For most part, Private Schools do provide high quality education (driven by other issues discussed below) than public schools do; but there are expectations. Based on an individual’s stand point, some Public Schools outperform Private Schools; so it’s important to look at the actual schools being considered to make sure one doesn’t assume incorrectly.
ISSUE OF FUNDING: Generally, Private Schools are funded through the tuition paid by parents or students and endowments from old students and parents of the student (PTA) as well as organizations (e.g. Religious organizations). The benefit of this is that often private schools have funds readily available at the disposal of their Management to put into the procurement of teaching materials, facilities and recruitment of employees in areas of need, but Public Schools are funded through government budgetary allocations. As a result, their budget is often tied to available funds into government coffers as well as other political and social considerations. In most cases, attention of the government is shifted mainly towards Public Schools in-urban cities especially the so-called Unity Schools set up by Federal Government and Model Schools of States Government which get more funds. Schools in rural areas do not usually get the same attention in terms of funding and infrastructural development. Consequently, many schools in our rural communities do not have the fund. They need to procure essential facilities and teaching materials. With funds coming to Public Schools varying from year to year, it is very difficult for them to plan for future years. This is perhaps one of the reasons why most Private Schools in Imo state still record high students/pupils enrolment despite free education OVERALL ASSESSMENT: – The benefits of Private Schools are pretty clear, and for parents that have the financial resources to send their children to Private Schools, it is usually a straightforward decision. Some view that as the biggest problem with Private Schools in that they are only available to the wealthy and therefore create a structure where the disadvantaged fall behind. In Nigeria, public schools are bedeviled with policies like catchment area and federal character where consideration for admission is not usually based on merit. Undue advantage is given to candidates from so called ”educationally disadvantaged states/zones” with low scores in entrance examinations as against those with higher scores from other states/zones. Again public schools which are presumed to be better funded like tertiary institutions and unity schools of Federal government, as well as model secondary schools created by states government usually record high number of candidates seeking admission into them far beyond their admission quotas. This has therefore given rise to certain terminologies like ”Merit list”; vacancies reserved for heads and board members, and other funny considerations. Allegations of corrupt practices where parents are compelled to part away with certain amounts of money before getting admission for their children into these Public Schools abound. Parents who feel that it is unnecessary and morally improper bribing anybody before their children who have met all the conditions for admission can be considered turn to any available Private Schools where such hurdles are not common. Attention of relevant authorities is therefore drawn here to these structural flaws identified which exist in our Public School system for immediate intervention to save the system from total collapse. Ultimately, these flaws are government’s responsibility to address; though it won’t be easy, but it is achievable with strong political will and meticulous planning.
By Onyema Ejiofor