It was about 10am on a weekday and little Johnson (real name withheld) six, was still playing round his Ayobo neighbourhood in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. Some passersby, who knew his family, asked him why he was not at school. His short answer was the same: “My mummy did not give me #20.”
They understood perfectly what he meant and many of them just like the priest and Levite in Jesus’ illustration of the good Samaritan went their way. Like the Good Samaritan, a particular passerby volunteered the money to Johnson and sent him off to school. The #20 was not for sweet or biscuit. It represented Johnson’s school fee for that day.
That lad is a pupil of a Nursery and Primary school, a one room plywood and zinc ramshackle, which the owner popularly called “Big Aunty,” calls a school and where she lords over as proprietress.
Her enrollment figures 30 pupils, gathered from house-to-house in the neighbourhood over a period of three months. Her kind of school is referred to in Yoruba Language as Jelosimi, which connotes that the children are sent there “so that there will be peace at home.” She offers them cash-and-carry kind of education, and each morning of the school day, she stands at the door of her school and the pupils have to produce their #20 before they are allowed into the classes.
For poor lads like Johnson, whose parents cannot afford the #20 always, schooling is reduced to two or three times a week.
The owner of the aforementioned school who says she taught in a nursery school for six years, does not seem to care about that. She said she had learnt her lesson, that if she should collect #2,000 or #3,000 from the pupils per term as school fees, at the end of the day, many parents will not pay and there is nothing she can do to them. If you try to make big issue, they will take their children to another school.
She says that throughout her stay at the school where she taught for six years, she never earned more than #8,000 per month- an amount she says was paid erratically by the proprietress who she alleges, prefers to keep the bulk of the money generated in the school to herself.
Now, she says she makes an average of #500 per day, which amounts to about #11,000 per day, for the 22 or 23 weekdays in a month. She agrees that though she is a bit better off, the amount has not rescued her from penury.
“We are four in my family and the money doesn’t last me more than two weeks. We still depend almost entirely on my husband for everything in the family,” she adds.
With a monthly income of #11,000, “Big Aunty” is indeed better off than several other teachers who teach in many of the private, nursery, primary and secondary schools that litter Lagos.
In such schools, penury is the name of the game and the teachers earn unbelievable poor salaries.
In Lagos, many private schools teachers are in a deeper quagmire- earning peanuts as salaries. Some of them share their experiences with me.
A female teacher in a Primary/Secondary School in Ayobo, Ipaja, Lagos says, she teaches Primary Three pupils and earns #12,000 a month and that is because she has the National Certificate Examination (NCE). Those that do not have NCE earn between #7,000 and #8,000 a month. To some who have families, it is like a drop in the ocean. Some engage in petty trading at home to support their families.
Another female teacher in Iyana-Ipaja, Alimosho Local Government Area says she doesn’t have NCE so, she earns #9,000 a month. Those who have NCE earn between #12,000 and #15,000 a month depending on years of experience in teaching. It is only the headmistress of the primary section that earns #35,000 a month and she has spent 10 years as a teacher.
Some of those who teach in the secondary section that have B.sc degrees earn between #20,000 and #25,000 a month per month, while the principal of the secondary section earns #40,000 a month and he has equally over 10 years experience as a teacher.
Another teacher who craves for anonymity and also declined to mention the name of the private secondary school where he teaches in Alagbado, an outskirts of Lagos says, “It is for lack of something else to do that I am still teaching in that school where they pay me #20,000 per month though I have my degree in Biology.”
However, there are quite a few exceptions- schools where the teachers are well paid. I encountered public relation managers of some private schools in Ayobo, Iyana-Ipaja and Ikeja. They disclosed that they earn between #60,000 to over #80,000 per month as salaries.
One of the public relation managers says no teacher in his school earns less than #45,000 per month as basic salary not to talk of other incentives or allowances and that the principal of the school earns about #70,000 a month.
Such ‘highbrows’ schools can be counted on the tips of a finger as they constitute less than five per cent of the total number of Government approved schools in Lagos.
For the large percentage of the impoverished teachers, it should be noted that the income the school generates is what determines how much is allocated as salary. Schools where school fees are low are likely to generate low income. The person whose school fee is #5,000 or less per term, you can’t expect him to pay #20,000 or #30,000 as salary per month. Where he is going to get it from?
Again, teachers working in schools where peanuts are paid as salaries are not forced. That person collecting #5,000 or #7,000, is better off than sitting down at home. For the time being, that is the best he can get. The government cannot employ everybody.
Many of such schools where peanuts are paid are not members of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS). Even among schools that belong to NAPPS, they cannot legislate what they pay the teachers. This is because the schools have different facilities and infrastructure and are in different locations. It is just like telling landlords to regiment rent in Lagos State. As far as we are in a market economy, supply and demands dictates. If you and I leave the university today and you are opportune to get a job in Chevron for example and I get a job in the public service, we cannot earn the same thing even though we are both employed.
Again, do you even know whether these schools are breaking even? It costs so much to run a school. It is like a factory because water must run and you burn diesel for energy. Most schools are barely struggling to break even.
I sympathize with private school teachers who are earning peanuts as salaries. Unlike public school teachers that are members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), the private schools teachers are not unionized, so who will fight for them? The owners of schools just do whatever they like with them and if they are not satisfied they can leave.
If they leave today, they are ready to replace them with fresh unemployed graduates, who they will even pay less and make him or her teach three or four subjects including those outside their area of competence.
I wish some nongovernmental organizations will look into their case and save them from greedy proprietors and proprietresses. Honestly, they are wallowing in abject poverty!