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School fees and the great economic debate

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BDCs to get $50, 000 weekly as CBN increases sales benchmark

By Joseph Edgar . . . .

I was just going through the returns as rendered by Zenith Bank on how it utilized the forex allocated to it by the CBN and what has struck me is the fact that over 90% of the funds were utilized for the payment of School fees by Nigerians on behalf of their wards and children in schools offshore.

What first crossed my mind was to laugh at the dilemma these parents would be facing in procuring and sending these funds out especially on the back of the fact that I and a few million of us are not in the same position as to embark on such utopian but very enviable pursuits.

But on second thoughts I have decided to take a more introspective look at this matter. The country is bleeding, revenues are facing south and the CBN is at a quandary as to how to keep the value of the Naira especially in the face of the continued surge in the demand for the dollar as against its epileptic supply. The CBN like my village magician has been trying all sorts of policies both traditional and some really funny to keep its position while still meting this crazy demand by Nigerians who are still oblivious as to the situation we face presently.

Nigerians are still living lavishly despite all that is going on. We have become so used to the nihilistic lifestyle that we cannot begin to imagine life without the very average things that make it worth living. Things like international holidays in exotic locations, driving the very best and expensive cars, wining and dining in the choicest of restaurants and dressing like Hollywood elites on a daily basis while still sending our wards to the great halls of the royals abroad. This continues to fuel the demand for forex strangling it and keeping it from getting to the productive sectors which will ensure its regenerative impact.

We are in a consumerist hell and nothing screams this louder than the new trend of sending kids abroad for tertiary education and in some case secondary education. That this now represents a great drain on scarce resources can no longer be debated, hence the little whimpers that it should be stopped.

Some of my friends especially middle class ones who have to save, borrow and struggle to meet this demands are at the worse end of the stick. Even the big men who see these fees as a pittance are equally sweating because of the stress, they have to go through to get the forex and transfer.

So my question is very simple. If we go ahead and cancel it as being rumored by analysts, whose loss? Who will really suffer from this, will it be the privileged children who will be denied access to qualitative education and by extension depriving Nigeria from the efficiency of an army of well trained people. Will the bankers suffer due to the loss of income from fees charged on these transfers and who will gain from this.

The local schools? The economy? those of us who could not afford it in the first place and whose wives have been denigrating us as lesser beings who will now be snugging and laughing at the impending end of this trend. So will Nigeria be better off, will this now make us look at our local schools in a bid to building them along internationally recognized standards, would this make us have a policy of penetrative qualitative educational system that would also be exported like little Ghana. Only God can answer o.

Let me say something. My daughter Annette attends St. Saviors Ebutte Metta where the school fees oscillates between 200,000 and 400,000 depending on the mood of the school authorities. It was founded by the colonialists and is being run till date by a Trust Deed that was signed in the 20s by some long dead British explorer. Today it has a population of just 500. Can you imagine in a city of; 22million people. Here lies our disgrace as a people.

Because of its limited capacity, the law of demand and supply creeps in. School fees will always be vertical because it has to cover its growing running cost which includes fees for an ageing expatriate on the one side and a finite number of students on the other. This equally disenfranchises the majority who would have liked to access the qualitative British education being offered there. These 500children are being groomed along British curriculum and most as a matter of compulsion do British history and do exams leading to British schools, so as a parent you are conditioned to begin to work towards your fight with the CBN and become a forex analyst right from when your child enters nursery one.

You see as in this case, our problem is that of crass stupidity if I may be this vulgar. Or how else can you explain away a group of Nigerians running a school on a Trust Deed that was drawn up by dead colonialist when the total population in the country was about 6m at the time and now with 170m people we are facing a crises on our hands,

As the Vice President of the PTA, I had asked in one of my many rants why we can not expand into every state of the federation, open up ownership, bring in equity, blow up the school to over 10,000 student population with private capital or long term debt which would amongst others build further capacity and take care of the training and retraining of the teaching staff thereby creating more jobs, giving more Nigerian children access to qualitative education at an affordable rate. I lost the next election. I kid you not.

So you see where we have landed as a Country. We now import education as a very important commodity, we now spend so much of our disappearing Petro dollar to buy education for a tiny few, thereby exacerbating the societal divide in the country a new kind of class struggle emerging with employers of labour giving undue advantage to foreign degree as against those holding local qualification.

What can be done immediately. Simple and here I would like to stick out my neck as a parent whose teenage son is getting close to the point where he would be attending a tertiary institution. By the way, let me state here that he attends One of these so called highbrow schools and has never been taught Nigerian history, does not know state capitals and never heard of Murtala Muhammed. He is more conversant with Helen of Troy as if she came from his paternal homestead of Uyo. He understands the principles of Machiavelli the Italian philosopher and he is more at home with the works of William Shakespeare and Charle s Dickson than our own Wole Soyinka and Ken Saro Wiwa. To state the obvious, he is being prepared for Yale. He has attended a lot of preparatory classes and is today working on a portfolio of works (he is an Artiste) in African art for a possible scholarship. Before you scream, African Art, he has been told to take pictures of ‘derogatory’ African lifestyles for his work. So I find myself taking pictures of mud houses, masquerades, mud huts, street hawkers and beggars to make up a portfolio we hope will impress the masters at Yale. I dare not complain as his mum will chew me to bits and castrate me.

The solution is to impose a total and irrevocable ban on foreign tertiary education. This could be phased out over a five year period. This is aimed at not only helping to save the Naira, but also to assist us use this scarce resources to develop our local educational institution. Expanding existing ones, creating new ones, getting favourable tax and investment incentives to allow for more investments to go towards education. Government should privatize all federal institutions and allow private equity run them along the lines of standards and returns. The way it is done in America, with specific grants for gifted kids in areas that would push for immediate national development.

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The capital market should be made to play a veritable engine of growth, giving serious minded promoters a platform to raise long tenured capital via bonds or even equity to be directed at this sector. This would create massive employments both direct and indirect, generate revenues for firms who produce goods and services for the sector and also help boost earnings for the country since it can help reverse this outward trend and much more importantly save me the headache of preparing for an otherwise very gifted boy going to Yale where he may go and come back Americanised forgetting his roots.

This present situation has thrown up opportunities for us if only we can engage in a robust paradigm shift. We really do not need all these foreign education as empirical evidence has shown that locally bred scholars have competed very favourable against their ‘just came back’ colleagues. Did you all watch the Will Smith latest movie ‘Concussion’ which was a true life depiction of a Nigerian born scientist educated at the famed University of Nigeria Nsuka and who discovered the link between American Football and a debilitating disease that was killing retired footballers. That goes to show what we can do if we put our minds to it.

I know a lot of people will be looking at me now, the way the Pharisees looked at Jesus Christ but the truth is what I have just said or better still we do like the Atiku’s of these world and collaborate with these expatriates to build these schools here. States like Osun State that have run out of ideas on how they can pay themselves salaries can go into partnerships with these international bodies and provide Land as equity contribution for these schools to be located in their states. With this one resolve, they would be solving a myriad of problems while also generating revenue in the form of taxes and ramping up the local economy with the automatic resurgence of indirect support industry. As an illustration a huge American owned Secondary School with a student population of say 5,000 will attract, vendors for school uniforms, stationary, movie theaters, beverages, health facilities while also affecting infrastructure and housing for visitors and other such people. Why can’t we see all these or am I hallucinating?

No government of change will bring the desired change without we as a people making a collective resolve to take an introspective look at ourselves in a bid to take our lives much more seriously. I have ways said we do not have an economic problem, what we have is a lifestyle crises fostered on us by a pampered class of elites who are daily dragging us into the abyss of poverty and irrevocable poverty and underdevelopment.

I have said my bit even as I return to looking for African images of my people passing excreta on the bridge for his portfolio to Yale for that is what we have turned to, a country of clowns despite our huge potentials.

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