By TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA
WHEN during the first tenure of Governor Babatunde Fashola, the Lagos State government decided that only private schools that were registered with the essential infrastructural and learning facilities would be allowed to enroll students, many school owners were caught unawares.
Even the originators of the idea did not realize the dust it would generate until government took the battle to rid Lagos of unregistered and substandard private schools to their doors with a battle-ready taskforce led by the former Deputy Governor, Mrs. Sarah Sosan.
It was not until then that most proprietors woke up to the reality of a new regime in the education ministry. At every turn, she did not mince words about the seriousness of Fashola’s administration to clamp down on unregistered private schools.
“It is no longer business as usual. There is the required standard for setting up schools and they must meet up with that standard before commencing business,” she had said.
That was October 2007. Five years after, the state has seemingly lost the war to insouciance, as neighbourhoods in every part of Lagos are crowded with daycare centres, schools and coaching centres in areas that defy every sense of decency.
Interestingly, most proprietors who operate educational institutions are aware of the existing directive of the education ministry but have decided to throw the order to the winds.
At the time the war was in force, most proprietors had devised means of flouting the order; some of which include repainting the entire building and fence of the school to make it look like a residential building, with the removal of signboards that could reveal their status as schools.
But with the wane in enforcement and supervision of private schools by the education ministry, which was once in the care of the deputy governor’s office, there have been total disregard to meeting the required and essential standard for setting up and operating a school.
A school proprietor in Abaranje, Ikotun, who asked that the name of his school be left out, Mr. Solomon Olajire, said: “As you can see for yourself, this is a local neighbourhood and we are catering to the need of our people. We don’t have public schools and our children have to get up early and struggle with those going to their places of work before they can get to the nearest public school.
But what we have here is good enough for the children of this community to learn to read and write. If government insists it is not up to standard, then let them bring their standard public schools here and I will teach these children the same thing I am teaching them in this uncompleted building,” he said.
When The Guardian contacted the Ministry of Education, an official informed that government is only waging the war on another front. He said the administration is doggedly restructuring and renovating the existing 1,050 public nursery and primary schools, as well as the 315 junior secondary schools in the state.
“We are assiduously working very hard to make our public schools better equipped and attractive to the people of Lagos State. Already, we are providing free textbooks to the students. Many of them have been given free uniforms and the era of teaching pupils who are sitting on the floor have fast disappeared. Public schools are not only free, it also has conducive learning environment with qualified teachers.”
This notwithstanding, a seven-year old pupil of a dilapidated public primary school at Alapere, Kosofe local government area of Lagos, last year died after falling into an open pit in his school. The deceased, Lawal Buhari, was a primary one pupil at Irepodun Primary School, a stone’s throw from Oriola bus-stop at Alapere in Ketu.
Lawal had gone to ease himself after school closed but slipped and fell, his head downward into the pit toilet. It was gathered that about 30 minutes after the fall, other pupils who had gone to ease themselves saw Lawal’s still legs and alerted the school authorities. He was brought out dead, with human waste all over his body.
Lawal was one of the 60 students sharing an over crowded space that hosts two different classes. Pupils in Class C and Class D share the same classroom, the same blackboard, simply divided in the middle.