Modupe Adefeso-Olateju: Much ado about low-fee private schools in Nigeria (Y! Policy Hub)

by Modupe Adefeso-Olateju

Mo Adefeso (Y! Policy Hub)

 Not all unapproved schools are wholly illegal entities. Some are simply embroiled in the lengthy process of applying for state approval.

I recently visited an educational establishment in Lagos to conduct some research.  For ease of comprehension, I shall refer to this establishment as a school. I wanted to understand why parents were choosing to send their children to private schools of questionable quality when tuition-free public schools were available.

There was no outward sign to identify this establishment as a school save that uniformed children trooped in steadily from 7.30am till 8am and filed out at 2.30pm.  Aside from that, it could have been any other physical structure on the densely populated streets of Bariga.  As I entered through the gates at 8am, a few pupils and I had to rapidly sidestep a small but fast flowing stream of blood.  Obviously I was perplexed.  Could it be that I had stumbled upon an abattoir?  My curiosity got the better of me as I traced the source of the unsightly flow.  It’s source? a freshly slaughtered goat upon which loud prayers were being said by a robed man. I was later to learn that the ‘school’ (which by the way was a medium-sized room partitioned with plywood into 4 ‘classrooms’) actually shared an internal wall with a religious institution and that I had happened to visit on the weekly sacrifice day.  The school and the holy place were not the only occupants of the small storey building; individual tenants also resided in what had become in my mind a little incongruous community.  As the day progressed, I found it incredibly difficult to conduct my interview with the head teacher.  This was because on the other side of the thin wall, a loud deliverance session – complete with ringing bells – was ongoing.  We had to pause the discussion several times to enable the rather stubborn demons be exorcised.  It was obvious that the pupils were likewise unable to concentrate on their lessons.

Establishments like this abound across the country, most serving the urban poor.  A quick scan of recent dailies reveals that state governments across the country have launched a massive crackdown on such schools. According to media reports, the Commissioner for Education in Delta State earlier this month ordered the closure of 600 illegal schools spanning nursery, primary and secondary levels. Earlier In the year, 160 private schools were reportedly shut in Ogun State and in Kano State, preparations are apparently in place to seal the premises of over 2,000 unapproved private schools and colleges. Ekiti, Enugu, Sokoto, Abia and several other states have also taken similar action in the recent and not-so-recent past. The key reasons for the drastic cleansing?  Well, we are told that these schools are dangerous because they operate under the radar of the State, making it very difficult to quality assure them.  We are also told that they are exploitative of poorer ignorant families.

As a concerned citizen, I can fully appreciate the position of the state ministries of education and if I was a government official, would probably want to shut them down immediately too… save for one niggly reality: Parents continue to opt for these schools despite their knowledge that public schools (which in a state like Lagos are tuition-free) are available!  It is not that the parents who patronise these schools hate their children.  On the contrary, they love their children and value education, wanting their offspring to have better life chances than they had. In fact, as my data later revealed, these parents carefully consider schooling options and make rational decisions when they choose these low fee schools! It is therefore worth taking a closer look at these schools and the characteristics of their operation.

First some clarification: it must be understood that not all unapproved schools are wholly illegal entities. Some are simply embroiled in the lengthy process of applying for state approval. Most however, are simply unable to meet up with governmental regulation for private school establishment.  To offer some context, there is massive demand for low fee schools especially amongst socioeconomically disadvantaged urban families. Lagos is a case in point – the state is home to over 12,000 private schools, 63% of which exist in makeshift structures such as residential homes and religious institutions.  The vast majority of these institutions are neighbourhood ‘nursery-primary’ schools operated illegally by sole proprietors.  These schools are unlikely to receive approval in their current state. However, when the demand for school places is juxtaposed with the risk of operating an illegal school, many sole proprietors take their chances.

One might reasonably conclude that given the circumstances under which these grungy schools operate, their pupils are at serious disadvantage academically and otherwise.  The data however, presents some interesting and counter-intuitive evidence, some of which I shall be sharing in other articles to follow.

Stay tuned.


Modupe Adefeso-Olateju is an Education Policy Consultant, with expertise in public and private school effectiveness, and the design of Public-Private Partnerships in Education. She holds a PhD in Education and International Development from the Institute of Education, University of London. Modupe sits on the board of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council London, and is passionate about helping young people fulfil their academic and career potential.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (6)

  1. Waiting eagerly. Meanwhile, what hilarious description – still have tears in my eyes.

  2. *make*

  3. Poor children. The mushrooming of low-fee private schools stems from the mess our educational system has been in umpty-umpt years.

    I tell you, ‘abattoir cum private schools’ are preferred by some parents (placebo effect if you know what I mean). Re-branding our public schools will do a lot of good and creating awareness in the appropriate quarters will make some of these poor folks make informed decisions and makes them realise that the public school down the road is actually better than that low-fee private school.

    Longing to see those data.

    Nice piece Dr.Mo.

  4. Everytime demand outweighs valid supply, substandard alternatives will always spring up. A bit like the black market for essential commodities and rent controlled cities. The government lacks the capacity and resources to provide quality education for all the children, especially in Lagos where land is a premium. I suggest regulating these schools and and providing subsidies or grants to get the schools up to par.

    Good job Dr. Modupe

  5. Those little souls. They deserve so much better. The system has stayed broken for too long…it’s about time it got fixed. So proud of you Modupe. Keep doing what you are doing. Thank you 🙂

  6. Well done! Get those data out! Let’s see the evidence on some of these schools and debate if they really need to be shut asap!

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