For children in Ola Oluwa/Ope Ilu community, access to affordable, basic education meant an over one-kilometre journey, usually on foot, across busy highways and a rail line that straddles Lagos and Ogun states.
In 2003, the community which is situated along the Dalemo/Alakuko road in Ogun State decided to take a bold step: they successfully negotiated, with the authorities, for the establishment within the community an annexe of one of the government-owned primary schools.
But 15 years later, Zion Africa School Annexe has continued to struggle with basic amenities, a dearth of teachers, and staff remuneration.
“The government inspectors have been coming to the school and we have been asking when the government will come and make the school better and bring more teachers,” said the chairman of the Parents-Teachers Association who identified himself simply as Engineer Awe.
“They keep telling us the same thing they told us last year when they came, that until we finish the school and make it finer before government will come and open the school, take over from us, and bring more government teachers.”
But ‘finishing the school’ remains a tall order for a community where parents struggle to pay the ₦2,000 school fees per child.
Mr Awe said when the school was founded, it began in an uncompleted building volunteered by a community member, for use until he decides to continue construction.
“When he told us he would be continuing his building, we had to move out,” said Mr Awe, an octogenarian.
“That was when the community raised money to buy this small land for the school. We also helped them raise money to add to what is left of the school fees they pay after we must have paid the government to build the little thing you see here.”
Zion School Africa Annex provides education to, at least 100 pupils in Ope Ilu community. One of the biggest challenges for the school, however, has remained the dearth of teachers. While the local government provided only one teacher for the school, three others are employed and paid by the community.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that out of the ₦2,000 school fees by each pupil, ₦1,200 is remitted to the Education Board at the local government headquarters in Ifo, while the remaining ₦800 is for the remuneration of the three teachers employed by the community.
The highest paid teacher gets ₦12,000 monthly.
Victoria Obolo, the only government teacher in the school, told PREMIUM TIMES that due to the location of the school, it is difficult for government teachers to stay for a long time.
“And, also, they are always transferring us,” said Ms Obolo, who has served as the head teacher of the school for three years.
“At some point, the government had once brought two teachers to this school, an assistant headteacher and another teacher but for some time now it has only been one teacher.
“The person that was here before me spent like five years here and he was the only government teacher too.
Ms Obolo said the ₦1,200 per pupil the school remits to the local government every term is used to provide a register for the school as well as exam questions for the pupils at their end of term examination.
The poor remuneration means that the community is unable to afford certified teachers “with higher education” for the pupils, according to Mr Awe.
“We have little money left from the school fees and we still have to beg the community development association, Ola Oluwa community development association to help us with contributions to be able to pay teachers,” he said.
“So we thought of hiring students who just left secondary school. That way we can pay them between ₦6,000 – ₦10,000 naira per month. Since government has refused to take full responsibility for 15 years now and send more teachers, there is nothing we can do about it, we can only try our best as PTA.”
A teacher in the school, identified as Ms Jennifer, told PREMIUM TIMES she had been in the school for 10 years and her salary is ₦12,000, the highest she has ever earned.
“We are always asking them to increase our salary because we teach all the subjects for a class but they keep saying there is no money to do that and there is nothing we can do, we just have to keep pushing it.”
About five kilometres from the annexe stands the main Zion Africa School, located at Oju Irin in Ope-Ilu area of Alakuko, Ogun State, where three dilapidated blocks of classrooms sit in a large, unfenced compound.
The principal, identified as Mrs Ozueme, declined to say much, saying she needs a letter of authorisation from the Ministry of Education before she could speak.
“We are very much aware that we have an annexe in that area (Ola Oluwa community) because they get their materials ranging from registers to exam question papers. I don’t know how many pupils are there, you will have to ask them,” she said.
At the Education Board situated inside the Ifo local government secretariat, officials admitted the existence of the Zion Africa School Annex at Ola Oluwa but said it has not been officially recognised yet.
“We know that Zion Africa School at Ope-Ilu has an annexe but until the annexe attains government approval standards and government take over and make them a standalone school, we don’t know anything about them because as far as we are concerned, they don’t exist,” an official added, asking not to be named.
The official refused to say why they collect ₦1,200 per child every term from the school or where the money is going to.
‘Expensive’ school fees
Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals targets “Quality education” as the foundation to creating sustainable development.
“In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.”
But access to quality education does not come cheap.
In the Zion Africa School Annex in Ola Oluwa community where each pupil pays ₦2,000 per term to keep them in school, the parents struggle to meet the condition.
A cursory look at the school’s payment records by PREMIUM TIMES showed that nearly all the parents pay their children’s school fees in instalments of ₦100, ₦200, and ₦500.
Although the parents are allowed to pay in such instalments, Mayowa Ajubare’s three kids were forced to spend one academic year at home because she could not afford the fees.
“I couldn’t pay the school fees for one year and the school had to chase them away and I had no other option than to keep them at home,” said Mrs Ajubare, a widow.
“One of them is in Primary 6, another is in Primary 4 and the last born is in Primary 1. It was a kind neighbour, Mummy Tobi, that noticed that they were no longer going to school and asked me what the problem was.
“I told her everything and she went to the school and paid all the money and their current school fees, if not they would have stopped going to even that school.
Mrs Ajubare, who sells handmade purses and bags, said her children were attending private schools but they had to withdraw them when the fees became a burden for them.
And when she lost her husband in 2012, things got worse.
With the proceeds from her business, she takes care of her three kids, sister, and mother.
“After the death of my husband, paying the school fees at the annexe has not been easy at all,” she said.
“When I started taking my children to the school, the school fees was ₦800 but it kept increasing and now it is ₦2,000.
“Trying to pay their school fees after all these is not easy at all. Most of the purse I sell are bought for ₦150-₦200. Despite having my children hawk them every day after school, we barely make enough to survive on talk less of paying school fees.
“Sometimes they won’t even make one single sale despite everything.”