The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has come across the response of the Lagos State government to its condemnation of the N10,000 admission fee into model colleges/upgraded colleges in the State.
In an official State signed by Mr. Jide Lawal, the Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Ministry of Education and reported by Vanguard newspaper of Thursday 15 January 2015, the Lagos State government tried to defend this anti-poor admission fee.
According to the Ministry official, "we wish to state categorically that the payment is not a new thing as that as always been the practice for the past years. Hence, one begins to question the motive behind the objections".
Our response simply is that the fact that the cost of admission into model colleges/upgraded colleges in the State has always been high does not justify its acceptability. There are lot of unjust practices in our country, two of which are corruption and exploitation both of which are consequence of pro-rich neo-liberal capitalist policies, that have existed for many years and no reasonable Nigerian will admonish that we stop hoping for change.
All we in the ERC are trying to say is that public education can be truly free and affordable when such burdensome fees and charges are reversed. How can the Lagos State government claim it is implementing free education program when those who wish to progress into model colleges/upgraded colleges have to part with N10,000? Why is the administrative cost of external examinations at Junior Secondary School level that high and why can't government bear some of the cost so that working class and poor parents in Lagos can feel a little sense of relief? Even if the government is already bearing some cost, the fact that the fee is still as high as N10, 000 shows that government will have to bear some more.
For good measure, Mr. Jide Lawal added: "it is pertinent to point out that the fee cannot in any way bring hardships to parents as the screening tests into model colleges/upgraded colleges are for parents who wish to have their children and wards in boarding schools". This is an irresponsible and brazen statement to say the least. In a country whose minimum wage is not more than N18, 000 per month, an official justifying exploitative government policy in this way is most unfortunate.
Already on the basis of the on-going economic crisis occasioned by falling crude oil price and the recent devaluation of the Naira, value of the income every worker, both in formal and informal sectors, has been eroded. Therefore we disagree that the N10, 000 admission fee cannot bring hardship to parents. It can bring hardship and force parents to make tough choices including considering other schools even when the model colleges/upgraded colleges are their preferred choice for their children. Any policy that compels people to take such tough choices is unjust, anti-poor and unhelpful to the growth of a healthy, robust and quality education. And any policy that allows a child's future to be bartered on the basis of ability to afford an admission fee is inhuman and not fit for any society.
Are parents of children and wards in Lagos schools not civil servants, professionals and artisans who are already feeling the pangs of the economic crisis? We do hope that what the Lagos State Ministry of Education meant is not that the model colleges/upgraded colleges are reserved only for parents who can afford them. That is going be a form of discriminatory education policy and to that extent unlawful. Parents who wants their children and wards in boarding schools should not be hampered by the cost of admission especially when that is the only form of schooling that can meet their children's needs. Every child has the right to education, including attending a boarding school, without discrimination.
So once again, we demand the immediate reversal of the N10, 000 admission fee.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator National Secretary