By Tajudeen Suleiman
Parents in the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, are increasingly being forced to bear the full burden of primary and junior secondary education as the Universal Basic Education Board, UBEB, which has responsibility for basic education in the territory is hamstrung by lack of funds.
Investigations by icirnigeria.org showed that many public primary and junior secondary schools in the FCT are increasingly relying on parents to take off some of the burden of making education accessible to every child.
The UBE Act 2004 says every government in Nigeria – federal, state and local – shall provide free, compulsory and universal basic education for every child of primary and junior secondary school age.
But education in many of the schools in the FCT is no longer free as parents are made to pay sundry charges for items such as text books, exercise books, chalks and report sheets.
At the LEA Primary School in Life Camp, a fresh intake pays N8,500 to cover uniforms, Parent Teachers Association, PTA, charges and others. The pupil will also have to buy English and Mathematics textbooks in addition to exercise books.
Final year pupils in the school are also made to pay N3,500 for statement of result, testimonial and certificate – items that are expected to be supplied by UBEB.
A teacher in the school who craved anonymity said UBEB has not supplied the materials to the school since last year, making it imperative to tax the pupils and their parents.
The situation is slightly different at the LEA Primary School, Bazango in Kubwa, where pupils are made to pay less for similar items. While the LEA Life camp charges N800 for report sheet, LEA Bazango charges only N100, although pupils have to buy their books.
In all the primary schools visited by our reporter, pupils are made to buy teaching aids such as cardboard papers and other materials.
It was also observed that many of the primary schools are overcrowded, with pupils numbering more than 50 in most classrooms in some cases.
At the LEA Primary School, Bazango, the Primary 6 arm has 103 pupils in one class, making it almost impossible for any teacher to give adequate attention to every pupil.
Even in junior secondary schools in the city centre, overcrowding is a common challenge faced by school authorities. At the Government Secondary School, Area 8, there are not less than 50 students in each classroom.
The UBE stipulation says students should not be more than 40 in a classroom, but there is no school in the city that has not violated this stipulation. The worst violators are schools located in high density areas like Nyanya, Deidei and Lugbe where it is common to see between 70-100 students in a class.
The internationally acceptable limit for primary schools is 30 pupils per class. That is the legal limit in the United Kingdom is 30, in the US it is about 23 and in Russia it is less than 20.
Even worse, the PTAs in FCT have also been responsible for providing classroom furniture in many schools to avoid situations where students sit on bare floors. Even in many schools in the city centre, it is a common sight to see four students sharing seats made for two.
Funding for UBE is principally from federal government grants with contribution of less than 2% of its Consolidated Revenue Fund, Federal Government guaranteed credits and local and international donor grants.
For states to benefit from federal grants, they must set aside 50% of cost of education projects as counterpart funding.
Many states, including the Federal Capital Territory, have defaulted in making counterpart funding available to be able to access the central government’s grants.
About N62.2 billion of federal funds are lying idle at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN. They represent unclaimed grants to 27 states, including the FCT, since 2011.
The FCT has over N1.8 billion of its fund since 2014 lying in the vaults of the CBN because it could not provide counterpart funding.
Last year, when Ban Ki – Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, UN, visited Abuja, FCT UBEB had to quickly equip some schools where he was billed to visit. One the schools was Government Secondary School in Area 10, in the heart of Abuja, where furniture and teaching aides, including computers and projectors, were brought in from outside before Ban Ki – Moon’s visit. The items were taken back after the visit.
Adamu Jato, Director of the FCT UBEB, declined to be interviewed on the issues, saying “We’re not allowed to speak to the press.”
But a senior management staff of the board who spoke on condition of anonymity explained that no school is allowed to charge pupils for anything under the UBE.
“But there are situations where a school can charge money if it needed materials and such materials are not provided by the board. But even then, the issue must be discussed at the PTA level and there must be an agreement showing that parents have agreed to pay for them,” he explained, adding that the contributions of parents is also important for the success of the UBE.
The source disclosed that the board had not received any funding since last year and asked how it could meet its obligations without adequate funding. On the issue of overcrowding in schools, he said the influx of people into the territory from all parts of the country, especially the insurgency-ravaged North east, was a major contributory factor.
Moreover, he said, under the UBE programme, no school is allowed to reject new intakes on account of space, adding that the board was doing its best to build more classrooms and expand existing ones.