Abia COVID-19

Before the teary video of my good friend Akindele Oluwaseun surfaced in the media, I have always been a witness to the tears of teachers of private schools. However, this video where in Mr Akindele made a passionate and highly emotional plea to Nigerians in general and proprietors of private schools in particular to as matter of urgency come to the aid of private school teachers, adds a fresh perspective to the danger that is the life of private school teachers in Nigeria.

As a young graduate, I traversed the teaching spectrum and I know firsthand how teachers of private schools survive. My friend, Akindele Oluwaseun henceforth “the teary one” for instance, runs an evening lesson where yours truly and many private school teachers take classes in the evenings for a small token to help expand the pockets.

If you are looking for a job without the smallest of security, look no further than private school teachers. The proprietors or the head teachers can wake up and decide to fire the teacher without as much as a week’s notice. This in addition to the very low pay that hardly comes as at when due. This is very hard to comprehend if one takes the exorbitant fees charged parents of these students into consideration.

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I remember my encounter with one principal vividly. I had started teaching in this school for all of one week when he told me that although my appointment says I will be paid a certain amount, the full amount will not reach me because I was new. Confused, I asked why he didn’t tell that to the proprietress when we were discussing the terms of my employment. He simply stood up, looked me squarely in the face and said “young man, it is either you are doing the job or not. There are so many people looking for work. I was not employed to answer questions from you”. I got the memo of course. Needless to say I left quietly without bordering to inform the school that I quit.

Because of the availability of cheap labour owing to an outrageously high rate of unemployment, school owners have practically turned teachers into slaves. For the peanuts most of them are paid, they are assigned an unbelievable number of classes to teach. That’s in addition to after school lessons that may or may not be paid extra for. In all of this, many teachers won’t be paid during normal holidays unless they turn up to take summer school. All these they do without any pension or health coverage!

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Last week, I had a chat with my friend about work and she told me of how her school which is owned by a church pays her only 30% of her salary but still expects her to buy data from it to attend online classes for her students. This is just a little from the bizarre operations of private schools.

Beyond COVID-19, the law establishing private schools must be strengthened to take into account the job security of the staff. Private schools can be compelled to match the public schools minimum wage while also instituting mandatory contributory pension as well as NHIS for their Staff. Anything short of this will continue to leave teachers as endengered species. Already, there’s an indication that private schools have a knack for hiring more quack teachers because they usually come cheap. There’s a prevalence of students who come to the university with glowing certificates, very polished spoken English but completely unprepared for the rigours of the university. They have been failed by their exorbitant-fees private schools whose penchant for packaging is becoming legendary.

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I know a school where the learning environment is so conducive and fine that all classes are air conditioned and parents are charged over 250k per child but they have teachers that are paid as low as 25k a month. How do you justify that? Or more correctly, which teacher worth his onions will settle for this outrageous aberration?

We must do something for teachers safe in the knowledge that if we continue to fail them, we may very well be folding our future. It is no secret that Nigerians prefer private schools to their public counterparts even though, being someone who has traversed both, I can assure you that public schools are well on the mend, at least in all the places I have been. But no matter, we must either take the plight of private school teachers seriously or watch as this noble profession is rubbished by money hungering school owners to the detriment of our children. Our choice.

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