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Economy Killing Education Sector – Agbeniga

Posted: Aug 30, 2016 at 4:35 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


Mrs. Roseline Agbeniga is an expert in education economy. She holds a masters’ degree in international economics and finance and is the proprietress of an international school in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. In this interview with DANIEL ABIA, she laments the negative impact of the forex policy on education, and called on President Mohammadu Buhari to organise an urgent stakeholders’ conference to discuss the problem of private schools in Nigeria. Excerpt

You established this school as a business venture, giving the economic situation in the country today, how has it fared so far?

Amavel International School started in October, 2014. This October will make it second year but third academic session. So far so good, it has been good. What we do here is not for the poor per se. It is for those who are above the average class. This is because of the level of school fees. The situation has not been as booming as it used to be in this present dispensation because of what is happening these days in the oil sector of the economy.

Our target audience is the people in the oil sector. The retrenchment that is going on there is also affecting us. A parent that has four kids in the school and is supposed to pay about N500,000 for the four kids and is no longer working in the oil sector, he finds it difficult to cope. And that becomes a problem. Our fee here is affordable. You have to pay about N208,000 to enroll in the high school while the termly fee is N120,000 per student for the secondary school. But in the nursery and primary school, each student pays about N105,000.


What is the economic importance of a private school in an equally challenging business environment like Port Harcourt?

One of such importance is that the education sector helps a lot to alleviate unemployment in society. In the private sector, we help so much in offering employment to young graduates who roam about the streets looking for jobs. We have engaged a handful of these people. We have also employed non-academic staff, who could not go further in their education. We are service providers. Teaching runs in my family. My passion to come into private school business was because the fees of some private schools were too high. That was what I discovered after my feasibility study. When you ask them why, they hide under the canopy that they run Cambridge curriculum. I wanted to prove a point. You can run Cambridge curriculum and still make your fees affordable for the parents who want Cambridge curriculum. Where we have our school here, we are the least in terms of fees among our equals and we are still offering them that same Cambridge curriculum. Some of the students we got here were those who had no moral background.

Some schools feel that because parents bring out N200,000 or N300,000 as fees, their children do not need to be punished when they do something morally wrong. Some schools came to bastardize the education sector. That is why some students can talk anyhow and behave anyhow. That fact that you pay high fees does not mean your child cannot be punished when he or she acts wrongly. We also believe in investing in people and when you invest in people, you can never run dry.

We believe that the students we are training now are the leaders of tomorrow. I will be happy tomorrow if I see a future governor who is an alma mater of Amavel International School. We have contributed a lot economically already.

What can the private schools do to add to the betterment of an economy that is in recession like that of our country apart from offering few employment opportunities to job seekers?

We have already done that. We know that the economy is tight. It is really bad.

The fact the economy is bad is not enough for us to increase our fees. We have also given parents the opportunity to make installment payment of school fees due to the hard time we are in. It is not as bloom as it used to be when parents who had five children would just come and pay their fees at once. For those whose jobs have been affected in the oil industry and could no longer afford the fees, we offer scholarships and in some cases we reduce their fees just to carry everybody along.

The biggest challenge we are facing right now is the payment of fees. Most times we record bad debts. I belong to the National Association of Private School Proprietress. This association is supposed to bring private schools together but this is not happening. If you know that somebody is in government school, you don’t have to move that person from one school to another without a transfer certificate. No school must accept you. But in the private school, you see people leaving from one school to another without the transfer certificate and the proprietress will not bother to ask whether the student completed her term. Sometimes they owe a lot of debt in the former school.

We need a licence to operate just like the private hospitals. Licence outside what the state government issues out. The challenge of private school is debt recovery. When we resume from the holidays, we intend to employ about five staff. In ward 20, which is this Abuloma alone, we have about 180 private schools. That means we employ at least 900 people. That in a way also add to the economy positively.


How does the present forex policy regime affect private school business in Port Harcourt?

It affects us a lot because most of our Cambridge books come in from Oxford, London. We use foreign uniform (Frenchos). We also use Zeco products. These are tailoring companies in London that specialise in making uniforms. Before now, we used to get Frentos uniform for N2,800 for a shirt. Because of the dollar rate, one shirt now is N4000. For a complete set of uniform, a child needs to pay N13,000 as against, may be N8000.

The forex has affected us even in the price of books too. One textbook for mathematics was N2500, but we are now getting it at N4300.

This will affect everything. Even those books that are not Cambridge books but are printed outside the country are also expensive because they are brought from outside. Macmillan and other books are printed in China. They are also expensive.

We spend a lot yearly to maintain standards. Most of the schools you see are in rented apartments. They pay rent. While in school, we need light. You know the problem of light in this country. We have to buy diesel to power the generator throughout the duration that the school is in session. Outside this, we pay taxes.

We pay PAYE tax, operational permit, economic development tax and many more are paid on yearly basis. We pay tax on the books we bring in form of VAT.

In the time of the former Governor Rotimi Amaechi, there was a time they wanted to close down private schools. But when they calculated the profit they made from private schools from tax alone, they backed down. Now we have government approvals. For rent alone here, we pay N4million.

The order of books in a day is more than one million naira. For this session, we ordered for books worth N1.5million. We pay tax of about N20,000 monthly. We pay property tax, N50,000 for the signboard out there. We pay health levies which is N20,000. We pay a lot.


How has government been assisting the private school sector in the state given the challenging economy?

 The state government does not assist us, yet we pay so much to government. Every year, I pay a renewal fee of N80,000 to the state government for the approval certificate given to the school. When the Ebola disease broke out, for instance, they gave the government schools hand sanitizers, infrared thermometers among other items. But government sold these things to us.

I rejected it. They distributed books to government schools and it was later that they asked us to get ours when the books were already bad in the warehouse where they were stored. Government should give us grants. I need a grant of N10million for upgrade.

I need a school bus. Government keeps threatening private schools that if you are not on a four-plot land, they will close down the school. In Odili Road, land goes for N20million.

We pay a salary of N2,5million monthly. Our classroom size if just for ten students.  Government must be realistic. Let them give us grant, we will cope. We need grant to buy land. Government should give us a waiver to buy land in an area where land is N20million per plot, they can give us at N10million. Threats by government account for why most private schools increase their fees. The only means they have is the parents. Go to banks, they will not give you grants maybe because you don’t have approval from government.


Is it right, therefore, to say that the present economy is breathing down hard on the education sector especially the private school system?

Is affecting us so badly. Our only sources are the parents. And when these parents do not have a means of livelihood, it becomes a big problem. When they lose their jobs or salaries are slashed, it becomes a big problem. If I have the opportunity to speak to our President, Mohammadu Buhari, I will plead with him to call for a stakeholders’ meeting where modalities would be discussed on how government could assist the private schools.

The inability of government to help the private schools makes them to shunt. And this is not good. We need grants and licensed teachers. If teachers are well paid, it will end bribery and corruption. Our career is not enviable. It must be made attractive to the children. The present economy is really killing the educational system in this country.