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Troubling Times At Unity Colleges

These are very uncertain times across the 104 federal government colleges in the country. The Guardian weigh the pros and cons of government’s decision to ban the collection of development levies in these schools, and the sacking of Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) from the premises of the schools, as well as possible repercussions that may follow.

Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu
Education Minister, Malam Adamu Adamu

Stakeholders urge rethink over ban of PTA development levy

That most federal government colleges around the country are under-funded, understaffed, under-equipped, and have lost their status as centres of academic excellence, is not an understatement.

In fact, the situation in most of these schools, always leaves many wondering, how long it took for the schools to be so ravaged by lack of attention.

This glaring lack of maintenance in some of these colleges saw the gradual emergence of fairly strong Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) in most of them. They (PTAs) effectively became the “intervention agencies” that ended up slowing down the pace of rot in the schools.

In a good number of cases, they have erected multi-million naira projects, employed teaching staff in needy subject areas, subsidised feeding and generally contributed immensely to improving the quality of education offered in these schools.

But since the Federal Government abolished the payment of PTA development levies in these colleges, uncertainty has become the fate of several ongoing multi-million naira projects, executed in these schools in different parts of the country.

This explains why stakeholders are cautioning the Federal Government to tread carefully as far as the handling of the issue is concerned, in order for it not to end up being counter-productive.

In banning the collection of the development levies, the Federal Ministry of Education in a statement said the ban, which was aimed at alleviating the sufferings of parents, takes effect immediate.

The statement signed by deputy director, press, in the ministry, Bem Goong, also said that, “No PTA of any unity college is allowed to initiate any development project in any of the unity colleges without the express, or written authorisation of the Federal Ministry of Education.

“The new measures are aimed at arresting the shocking trend where development levies imposed on parents by PTAs are becoming higher than the school fees charged by government, which established the unity schools,” the ministry said.

The statement pointed out that the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has noted the excessive PTA levies in Kings College, Lagos, and Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC), Yaba, Lagos.

It added that in the two schools, fees charged for Senior Secondary School 1(SSS1) in the first term was ₦69, 400 while the PTA collection was ₦70, 000 at Kings and ₦74, 000 at Yaba.

“This brings the total paid by parents in these two schools to ₦139, 400 and ₦143, 400 respectively. With the reduction on development levies and ban on charges for new projects as well as pegging of the development levy to a maximum of ₦5, 000, parents of JSS1 pupils in these two schools will now pay ₦88, 000.”

The statement quoted the minister as saying, “I acknowledge the complementary roles played by parents and the support provided by the PTA to the colleges, but I will not allow the PTAs to constitute themselves into a government within a government at the level of unity schools, and at the expense of parents.”

The minister went on to express concern that PTAs in unity colleges had formed themselves into national associations, noting that running additional organisations, such as National Parents and Teachers Association of Federal Government Colleges (NAPTAFEGC), increased the burden on parents.

As the ban on the development levy continued to generate discourse, the ministry released a new schedule of fees the unity schools. This was followed by widespread uproar by some parents and stakeholders, who claimed that the government had increased fees in the schools from ₦25, 000 to about ₦70, 000 per term.

This development prompted the minister to deny any form of raise. He told reporters, “I am not aware that the school fees of unity schools have been increased… I am the Minister of Education and I am not aware.”

The drama was heightened when the permanent secretary in the ministry, Folashade Yemi-Esan, was quoted as saying, “You are aware of the realities in the country; it is important for the colleges to be able to maintain the students that are there and you must also be aware that these schools are tuition free,” she said.

Recently, a June 1st dated memo by Director of Basic and Secondary Education in the ministry, Anne Okonkwo, to all principals of unity schools, specified the approved fees for SS1 students totaling ₦65, 000.

It further stated that while the tuition fee is free, boarding students are to pay N15, 000 per term and ₦14, 000 per set for uniforms.

As all these went on, Adamu directed all Parents Teacher Association (PTA) officials to vacate all offices they hitherto operated in all 104 unity colleges across the country.

Goong, who revealed this to The Guardian said in some of these colleges, PTA had well-established offices, which they ran with the full compliment of administrative/operational staff members. This development he said, created an atmosphere where they (PTA) sort of operated like a parallel government in some of these schools, and in some worse case scenarios, pitted themselves frontally against school principals.

He added that from the pool of levies collected from the students, the PTA in some of these schools administered millions of naira, and some principals had to go cap in hand begging them for funds to carry out certain projects in the schools.

Goong stressed, “We are not disbanding PTA or saying no to their activities. All we are saying is no to institutionalising PTA in federal government colleges. They should not go and establish offices in schools and run like a government within a government. Instead, they should operate like boards of government parastatals and only go there, have their meetings in spaces provided for them by the school, carry out their discussions and thereafter handover whatever they have arrived at to the chief executives.”

Ban of development fees counter-productive, antithetical to growth

Shortly after the ban on development fees, the Parents Teachers Association of Federal Government Colleges in the South West, faulted the Federal Government’s cancellation of PTA development levy, saying this would lead to laying-off of about 1,000 teaching and non-teaching staff it employed to make up for shortage of staff in the schools.

A 1,200-bed space female hostel built by the PTA at the Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC), Yaba, Lagos.
A 1,200-bed space female hostel built by the PTA at the Federal Science and Technical College (FSTC), Yaba, Lagos.
Rising from an emergency meeting in Ibadan, the association appealed to the government to rescind its decision citing the meritorious efforts it has been making over the years, to sustain the engagement of teachers and improve on the performance of their students at the just concluded West African School Certificate Examination (WAEC).

The group at the meeting presided over by its zonal coordinator, Adebayo Olayide, and secretary, Ahmed Olutope, urged the government to have a rethink, saying the directive would be counter-productive and antithetical to the enviable standard of the schools if implemented.

“We do not support the recent increase in the school fees of unity schools as this will be at variance with the free education policy of the Federal Government. We are disturbed at the discordant tunes and utterances emanating from Federal Ministry of Education’s top hierarchy on the purported hike in school fees of unity schools.’

They explained that the money collected as PTA levy was used to engage and pay staff, both teaching and non-teaching, in addition to providing scholarships for indigent students.

“The levy is also used as intervention in the repair and replacement of existing infrastructural facilities,” they said.”

While appealing to the Minister of Education to have a “rethink on his position” with regards to the PTA development levy, the association warned that government’s insistence on its position would have adverse and debilitating effects on the voluntary and communal developmental efforts going on in the colleges in areas of academic performance and poor infrastructural development.

“We hereby state in clear terms than if the minister of education does not rescind his directive on the PTA development levy, the PTAs may be constrained to dispense with the PTAs staff on her payroll, stop ongoing PTA projects and provision of essential voluntary services valued at ₦1.5 billion as the PTA would not have the capacity to continue with those activities.”

Besides, the association added that about 500 students are benefiting from the PTA welfare scheme.

“Apart from the fact that the development levy is unanimously agreed upon by the PTA congress of each of the unity schools in the South West Zone; prompted by a letter of request from the school authorities for PTA’s assistance and justifying the need for the required facility; development projects in the schools across the zone are largely credited to this fee.”

Unity schools on the verge of collapse

For the PTA Chairman of Federal Government Girls College (FGGC), Sagamu, Ogun State, Deacon James Oyesola, the PTA funds almost 60 percent of activities in the college.

It is in the light of this that he believes that the schools may be in serious dilemma if the levy ban stands.

“Almost all the security staff and half of the population of teaching staff are paid by the PTA. We pay food subsidy of over ₦2m per term. I don’t know where they are (government) playing the game from, but government should weigh the implications of its decisions before taking them. Although to be fair with them, I think the area they are talking about is the school development levy, where some colleges collect as much as ₦70, 000. But the levy is a one-off fee for new students. That is the area of contention.

“But if government, is referring to the general PTA levy, then it is making a big mistake. That is why we are looking forward for a dialogue because where two elephants fight, the grasses will suffer. I have three girls in the college and cannot joke with them. So, government should not toy with the future of our kids with its decisions. We know the country is undergoing a trial period, but the fact remains that the PTA cannot afford to down tool, if we do, there will be crisis in the unity schools, there is no doubt about that.

Abandoned projects, sack of teaching, non-teaching staff looms

According to Oyesola, “In our school alone, we pay PTA staff over ₦1.3m per month. You can imagine what will happen if we cease to pay those staff. Eighty per cent of whatever PTA collects goes directly into the college for its advancement, staff welfare and wellbeing of the pupils.”

PTA Chairperson of Queens College (QC), Lagos, Mrs. Beatrice Akhetuamen, is on the same page with Oyesola, insisting that most of the workers would be dismissed if government insists on its decision.

“In QC alone, we spend almost ₦15m per term. In a month, we pay ₦3,935, 402. 33k to both teaching and non-teaching staff, and we have about 129 PTA staff. QC PTA has built two hostels for the college, and my administration also bought a Coaster bus, two Hiace buses. We met the PTA building at the ground floor and we went ahead to complete it.

“Unless government takes up its primary role in the education of the Nigerian child, unity colleges cannot survive without the PTA, except government drastically reduces the number of students in the colleges. Right now there is no cleaner or gardener that is paid by the FME in QC. We have 32 cooks, and if there is any cook at all that is being paid by the FME, they cannot be more than two.

“We intervene in various areas for the wellbeing of the pupils and progress of the college, and so we generate our workers in the college. Apart from other capital projects we evacuate the septic tanks of the college, fumigate the environment periodically and maintain the facilities.

“So, if government says development levies should not be paid, it is good for the parents, but our children will suffer for it. Do I enjoy paying? No! But the children will be mostly affected and quality of teaching and learning will drop drastically. With 44 teaching staff, we pay ₦1.785m monthly. The ₦5, 000 PTA levy as stipulated by government cannot pay salaries of teaching staff let alone non-teaching members of staff and other projects. Therefore, government should rethink its decision for the sake of the children. It is not about us, it is about the Nigerian child.”

An income and expenditure account of one of the unity colleges for the period of January to April 2016, obtained by The Guardian showed that the PTA of the school recorded an income of ₦17.9m in a term through its levy and expended ₦13.2m out of it.

A breakdown of the account shows that salaries for the term gulped ₦5.097m; subsidy on food and energy got ₦3m; intervention/project ₦1.094m; Inter-house sport donation ₦200, 000; administrative expenditure, ₦445, 200; e-portal ₦986, 500; prep supervision ₦2m; house mistress allowance ₦135, 000; fumigation of hostels ₦255, 000 and bank charges, ₦36, 165.

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