Since schools resumed in many parts of the country this week, parents’ attention has shifted to how to pay fees. They are seeking understanding from schools. However, having been shut for about six months, schools are eager to recover their losses on time. KOFOWOROLA BELO-OSAGIE and DAMOLA KOLA-DARE report on policies they have adopted.

 

Primary and secondary schools, as well as some public and private institutions, resumed on Monday and parents have to bear the burden of paying fees. It is an obligation they perform thrice yearly. But this particular resumption is different, thanks to COVID-19.

The pandemic forced schools to close for about six months (March to September), crippling them financially. Many were hard put paying salaries, loans or rents on their properties while running online classes during the closure. It is, therefore, not surprising that school owners are not as accommodating as before COVID-19 in fees collections.  School owners and heads have informed parents to pay up or stay away.

 

Parents lament fee burden

A mother lamented the high bill she has to cough out for her son who is a student of Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo next month. The school sent out a letter last week informing parents that students have to show evidence of school fee payment or funds for payment at the gate before being admitted.

“Each time I think of the N702,000 I have to pay for this semester, my heart skips. I have to hustle to raise the money before my son resumes. I cannot face any other project for now,” she said.

When he saw N25,000 had been added to his child’s school fees for the new term, Mr. Abiola Taiwo (not real names) said he was heartbroken. He wondered how he would raise the funds in the face of pay cuts where he works and two older children to also pay fees for. “I will have to withdraw her from the school. I do not even know what the other school would ask us to pay. I cannot afford it,” he said shaking his head.

With his business not doing well, another parent, Mr. Lateef Ademola, is thinking of changing his children from a private to a public school.  Ademola told The Nation that despite the easing of the COVID-19 lock down, his generator sales and repairs business was yet to recover.

“I do not think I can cope. My children attend a private school. I will have to withdraw them and enrol them in a public school because my business has not been moving well since the coronavirus started.  Even after the lockdown was eased, things are still not back to normal,” he said.

Another parent, Mr. Sunday Taofeek, said his children’s school, which usually allows parents good time to pay fees, has changed. It has told parents who cannot meet its two-week grace to pay up not to bother sending their wards to school.

“My children’s school has said those parents who cannot pay in two weeks should not even bother bringing their children to school,” said the father of three.

Given that the pandemic affected many parents, a trader, Mrs. Taiwo Opaleke, urges schools to be lenient with parents this period because of the effects of the pandemic.

She said: “Private schools should try as much as possible to take it easy as they resume.We know the lockdown affected them. Be that as it may, they should soft-pedal when it comes to this term’s fees.  Most parents were affected by the lockdown. Jobs were lost. The situation affected everybody. And our children have to receive the best of education. They should consider parents.”

The issue of school fee increment and payment is so touchy that it was hotly debated on popular education group on Facebook, the Concerned Parents and Educators’ (CPE) network.  While parents were condemning hikes and seeking greater understanding from the schools, school owners justified the increment based on cost of materials and operations which have also gone up.

A parent, Duchess Lanre Oyinade, lamented fee increment, which she described as outrageous at a time parents are down financially.

“Both stationeries and school fees was increased in my kids school. We do not have choice than to pay for the increased learning materials because you have to buy from the school bookshop.  Honestly this is just too outrageous.  Everyone felt the impact of this pandemic not the schools owners alone.  I think the schools should take it easy on parents and be reasonable in their increases,” she said.

To further reduce the burden on the parents, another parent, Rita Owobu, who is based in Benin City, Edo State, advised schools to reduce books that pupils should buy to only English and Mathematics.

“I even recommend that for this term, the only textbooks that should be compulsory should be mathematics, English reader, verbal and quantitative textbooks. The others should be given to the teachers alone to teach and give the pupils and students homework. This is just to reduce cost and not to increase school fees.

 

Schools owners: No room for credit

 

A school owner in Kaduna, Shola Amonahini, said on CPE that parents have to understand school fees increment were the result of hike in electricity tariff

“Schools use electricity which has increased by 300 per cent. Plenty things have changed… Let’s be considerate. Though I didn’t increase my school fees, but let us ask ourselves, is it justified?”

Proprietor of Applewood British School in Maitama, Abuja, Mrs. Morenike St. Michael, said she has had to advise parents to be ready to change their wards to more affordable schools if necessary. With bills to pay, she said she could not afford to give too much allowance to parents

“We resumed on Monday, last week and it’s been an issue – people are coming to beg. And you can only take so much of begging. How long do you want to beg?  The best thing is to just go to a school that works for you – even if it is a public school.  You just have to support your child as much as possible. It would also force the government to pay attention,” she said.

To make it easier on her parents, Mrs. St. Michael said the school gave 10 per cent discount to parents and spread the payment of the rest over two instalments.

“We gave a 10 per cent discount first. They can pay 50 per cent now and let us know when they would pay the balance,’’ she said.

Mrs. St. Michael said parents and schools have to be rational about fees this period based on cost.  She also advised schools to only charge for necessities.

The proprietor said: “These are unusual times all over the world. The first thing anyone should consider now is cost of anything. ‘’Parents: ‘Can I afford these fees comfortably?’

“School: ‘Can you afford my fees as it stands right?’

“What every school should be looking at is how to reduce expenditure/expenses … and help parents do the same. Don’t sell them books they don’t need and don’t make unreasonable financial demands.

‘’Don’t try too hard to keep parents who can’t pay…let them go to schools they can afford. You will also gain some if you’re a good school focusing on good practice.”

Rather than stick to a school just because of prestige, Mrs. St. Michael said parents should avoid piling debts.

“As per parents, there is no shame in leaving a school you can no longer afford; owing fees takes your peace of mind and the self-esteem of your child. Don’t let any school coerce you into owing now or paying later…don’t lean on credit without stable income. Anyone in debt should negotiate repayment but not pile up more debts.  Do not die trying to catch up with your life,” she said.

Head of School, Soundhope Montessori School, Baruwa, Ipaja, Lagos, Mrs. Adesola Adediran, said fees had been reduced to help parents.

She said club fees and lesson fees had been deducted from what they would pay this term. She also said the school had started recovering last term’s fees.

“We have started recovering last term’s outstanding fees since we have reduced this term’s fees. Then the parents are not complaining as they have started paying. We have to receive our salary as and when due; so there is zero tolerance for late payment of school fees,” she noted.

For Mr. Charles Ijimileyin, the proprietor of Westown College, Ayobo, pupils owing second term fees should not come to school without paying.

He said: “I had told the pupils not to resume if they are not paying the outstanding fees owed. It is very important to pay up because it cannot be written off. Sadly, the government promised us palliatives but we have not seen anything.”

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