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• School resumption nightmare grips FCT parents, wards

From Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja

Panic has gripped parents and guardians in Abuja as their wards prepare to go back to school. are in panic mode. They are struggling to sort out hiked school fees and other costly “back-to-school” materials needed for their wards.

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Parents and guardians are expected to replace almost everything for their wards as it is a new academic year. These include books, other learning materials and uniforms. Their prices have tripled but incomes are static.

Their trauma does not end there. While on holidays, many schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially private institutions, ruined the fun of the long vacation for parents with scary text messages of a remarkable hike in tuition fees and other levies. The SMS came with a caveat that students must show up on resumption day with evidence of payment.

In many instances, students in transition classes (JS3 and SS3) are paying double of what others cough out because of the external examinations. To save cost, some parents are considering withdrawing their wards in SS3 from school and getting them teachers to coach them at home, since passing the West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) is the target not transition to a new class.

Dotun Olamide, a contractor, told Daily Sun that his eldest son (out of three boys) would not be resuming in September as an SS3 student.

“There is no way I’m paying N235,000 in a private school for an SS3 student. It’s too much. It’s not happening. He wants to write WAEC and go to the university and not to earn a degree in secondary school.

“I don’t understand how fees jumped from N110,000 go N235,000. PTA levy, books and transportation are not included. He will stay at home and I’ll get a lesson teacher. We will enroll him for WAEC when that time comes.”

Ameh Ibrahim, a civil servant residing in Bwari said he has been lost in thoughts since he was told that his children’s resumption date was close.

The father of five lamented that since the removal of subsidy, it has been like he was no longer working as his take home pay has been reduced to nothing. He said hiked transportation gulps about 90 per cent of his income.

He said: “It has been very difficult and demanding to send the children back to school this session because things are very tough for us, especially since the removal of fuel subsidy.

“Since the day I was reminded of the resumption, I have been sick and lost in thought. The little salary I am collecting is almost consumed by transportation. Now, the children have to resume into new classes. I have not been able to sleep, thinking of what is involved.

I know it is monetary illness because my brain has not rested, calculating how and where to get money. Once  I start this kind of calculation, the next thing is sickness.

“We have two children in secondary, two in primary schools and the last one is supposed to join them but the way things are, he would have to wait till January. As it is a new academic year, almost all their things need to be replaced, even some of the uniforms. But where will I get this money from? I tried borrowing but who has?

“I went to the market to shop for some of their materials that are not sold in their schools. The prices were so high. I went to check on fairly used ones but to my greatest surprise, they were even higher.

“I just had to buy the ones I could afford for now. We have not even talked about books and school fees, which are done in the school. I am still calculating how to go about those ones. I have been unnecessarily angry these days, all because of how to get money to send them back to school”.

Another parent, Susan Jones, a businesswoman in Wuse market said she had been calculating, recalculating and recalibrating her priorities to see ways to cut back on expenses and save some money for her children, all to no avail.

“We were crying that we are tired of having these children at home and that school should resume.

“Now, schools are about to  resume and we are considering keeping them at home because no money for their fees and other matters. Everybody is running up and down. Most parents have been forced to  become economists. In my house, we didn’t send them for summer lessons because we thought we would save that one but in the end we had nothing because the prices of things had increased and sucked up all the funds.

“We have three children in primary school and two in secondary school. We have decided to get bicycles for the ones in secondary school because it was not easy last term because of the hike in transportation fare. Some days they got to school very late because they had to trek.

“We were initially considering changing their schools. But with the prices of things, we decided to forget that because new students pay higher and they must buy uniforms, books and so on. They’re non-negotiable”

Joice Paul, another parent living in Kubwa lamented: “In the past, I used to prepare the kids’ materials long before resumption. But this session is a different thing altogether because nothing is on ground.

“ I don’t have anything on ground for now. They didn’t attend summer lessons because there  was no money. Most of their things need to be changed but they will have to manage them like that.

“The main thing burdening me is their mobility. Their school has increased the school bus fare from N45 to N75,000. Where will I get that one from? I am very tired. Mine are just two children, yet I’m folding it extremely hard to cope. I have been imagining what those with four and above kids are going through”.

Kelechukwu Nkem, a civil servant bared his mind: “I know it is not easy but we need to put in more effort. I have paid their fees but for the books, I will collect from the school on credit. Every other thing like school bags and sandals will be on hold until things get better.”

John Osake, a businessman, said: “School expenditure is always my priority. I have settled everything. The only pressing need now is mobility. I am planning on getting them bicycles but my girls have refused, saying their friends will laugh at them. I don’t think I will be able to take care of N10,000  weekly just for their transport. It may kill me.”

Chidinma Atola from Jabi said: “I have settled my ward’s tuition during the break. Though it was not easy, but I have done it because it was my priority. I started buying his school things like sandals, bags and others from the day schools went on break. So, I have more than enough now. And I wasn’t stressed.”

Some traders who deal in school bags, sandals, lunch boxes and books decried poor patronage due to economic hardship. A bookshop dealer in Wuse Market,  Obiora Dan, said the patronage has been very poor compared to other years: “Sales during promotion terms were always very high. But this year, the bad economy and schools selling the same materials have impacted on the business.”

An educationalist and mother of three, Magdalene Uchendu, said schools are like ghost towns as parents are not coming to sort out school fees and books ahead of resumption like it used to be: “Even the summer lessons witnessed very poor attendance as most parents complained of economic hardship.

“It has not been easy at all. By this time in other years, you would be seeing parents coming to pay and others making inquiries.  But this year everywhere is dry.

“But, thanks to my mother-in-law who paid everything for my children. If not for her, by now I should have been running up and down and treating migraine.”