Peculiar Illness

There is a peculiar illness in the air. It is a seasonal ailment which rages during a particular time of the year, every year. If you are a parent with children at school, then you are at serious risk. In fact, most parents are either seriously afflicted, or have begun to feel its symptoms. And what are those symptoms? - A slight headache, which sometimes become a migraine, depending on the number of children the patient has in school. Patients also report light perspiration and on close observation, you will find a rise in their blood pressure and stress levels when they are shown a certain piece of paper from their wards' schools. You will also find patients moving frequently between the extremes of anxiety (when the school term suddenly begins) to irritation (when money issues are discussed around them). But by far the most obvious symptom is an allergic reaction to words like "school books", "uniforms" "provisions", etc. When symptoms persist, victims have a compulsive urge to reach for the nearest calculator (not an analgesic as you might expect) and feverishly pump away.

Do you recognize these symptoms! Are you a sufferer for this familiar malady? When the school session commences, it brings with it a parental ailment we shall simply call "the School fees flu" (SFF for' short). What are its causes, and what are its remedies?

SFF as you can see is a socio-economic condition, not a medical one. Usually, you can begin to work out a solution for most ailments once you know the cause. The most significant cause of this affliction is the failed public education system. Every parent naturally wants the best for their children. And believe it or not, there was a time when public schools offered better quality and more affordable education. But for most people these days, public schools are not an option. How much of an education can a child get when they sit on bare floors, in overcrowded classrooms, under leaking roofs, surrounded by broken walls which often collapse on them? What quality of education can a teacher offer when she has not been paid in the last three months and makes his/her living from the bits and pieces she hawks to her pupils?

Is it not ironic then that in Nigeria today, one of the fastest growing industries is the private school sector - from nursery to tertiary? What better testimony' to the death of the public school system than the fact that it is a mark of success for higher ranking public officials to have their children schooling abroad, and that the two highest political office holders own private universities? Since you will find this replicated at all other levels of the political hierarchy, it is unrealistic to expect that teachers would be well-treated' or that anyone will attend to the deterioration of the public school system when those who are paid to do so either have better alternatives or are the real, direct beneficiaries of the rot?

Parents are then left holding the short end of the stick, having to scrimp and save, deny themselves of other essentials, just to meet their termly obligations to the schools. Of course, in the environment of the-worst private - school-is-better-than-any- public school thus created, the private school proprietors smile to the banks. Indeed, private schools are now so easy to set up that one wonders if anybody really bothers about maintaining any standards. Why is it that nobody seems to realize the implications of the present disorganization in the public school system and its replacement with 'commercialized private schools’? In result, our “future leaders" are being molded by funny schools, with funny names, funny teachers, funny curricular, funny everything. Only the fees are not funny!

This is not to say that the private school system is unregulated. In fact, there are very sound regulations guiding the establishment and operation of school, but these are seldom enforced, so much so that a bunch of jokers somewhere in Lagos manage to run a secondary school within a block of flats which also provides accommodation for a beer parlor and a hospital!

So how do we solve this abysmal high-cost and low quality problem? A radical suggestion is that those who pretend to rule over us must also be compelled to have a taste of their own medicine. The public school system will probably be redeemed (as with health, transportation, etc) if public officials are compelled to have their own children attending this schools as well. We should examine this idea in detail at some other time.

Meanwhile, finding pragmatic solutions to the rot in the educational system presents a great challenge for the ordinary parent, especially those keen to give a well balanced education with serious Islamic content to their children - at decent cost. We suggest though, that it would be easier to find solutions once we come to understand better what the proper role of the school system is.

The fact is that most parents simply abandon the body and souls of their children to the schools. The higher the fees (they believe), the better the school. And with so-called "Muslim private schools" growing like rashes all over the place, many parents simply find the most expensive schools on which to abandon their responsibility. To the contrary, schools are meant only to assist parents in equipping their children with tools to face the challenges of the present life and more importantly, to prepare them for the hereafter. In essence, the responsibility of proper upbringing (which education should stimulate) is that of parents; the schools are only facilitators.

With this understanding, we can begin to limit the brunt of the flu. Other strategies (such as paying school fees in advance when there are excess funds, or putting a particular percentage of income in a dedicated account/investments for school fees) would merely make the pain more bearable. But the most fundamental remedy for the school fee flu would be a complete reorganization of priorities – and our thoughts.

This article was culled from the publications of Deen Communication Limited

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