By Labaran Yusuf
During this crisis period, whereas teachers in government-owned schools are guaranteed salaries, the same cannot be said of teachers in private schools – whose salaries are paid from revenue generated from fees paid by students. This has resulted in a dilemma.
James NwanoyePublished 9 hours ago on July 20, 2020By Labaran Yusuf Empty School due to Coronavirus lockdown
Neglected by the government, stripped of their earnings and abandoned by the society, private school teachers, amidst the raging coronavirus pandemic, are facing an existential threat.
It’s been almost four months since schools across the nation were closed over fears of Covid-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has so far infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. The pandemic has also crippled the global economy, paralyzed businesses, and pushed many into unemployment.
Expectedly, private schools, like other businesses, were affected financially as a result of lockdown measures and school closures imposed by the government in order to curb the spread of the virus.
Ironically, during this crisis period, whereas teachers in government-owned schools are guaranteed salaries, the same cannot be said of teachers in private schools – whose salaries are paid from revenue generated from fees paid by students. This has resulted in a dilemma.
While some private schools initially tried to pay their staff salaries, even though sometimes slashed by large percentages, before their sources of revenue dried up, others have not been able to pay since March when schools were closed. This means that the hundreds of thousands of teachers and other non-teaching staff employed by private-owned schools and their families are finding it difficult to survive during these unprecedented and challenging times.
“We are really finding it difficult during this crisis. Even the meager stipends we use to receive before the pandemic as salaries have stopped. Although I am well-off as I have other sources of income, I feel the pain of my colleagues who have nothing to do except teach. They’re really finding it difficult to survive. Some couldn’t even feed their families during the lockdown period. It’s that terrible. I pray that we should never witness such a crisis ever again,” lamented Maryam Sulaiman Muhammad, a class teacher at Majema Comprehensive School, Jos.
But even before the coronavirus pandemic, the teaching profession has been one of the toughest in the country. Despite the lack of facilities and unethical working conditions they’re subjected to, teachers tirelessly impart knowledge and moral values on Nigeria’s next generation. They train students with leadership qualities and much-needed skills. They strive to perform these herculean tasks with utmost devotion.
However, most times, teachers are not only underpaid, they’re owed for months without payment and could be fired if they try to fight for their rights. There was even this joke in town that you only venture into the teaching profession in Nigeria when you have nothing doing.
The pandemic seems to have only exacerbated the plight of these important nation builders.
Apart from teachers, school owners too have also been hit hard by the pandemic. According to one school administrator in Jos who requested anonymity, the pandemic has immensely disrupted academic activities, tampered with school budget plans and affected school sources of revenue, and also made it impossible for schools to pay their staff, monthly rent and utility bills.
While calling on the government to reopen schools as soon as practicable, she pleaded with the government to provide relief packages and soft loans while also exempting schools from paying taxes for a year to keep them afloat. “Because without these, many schools wouldn’t be able to pay their staff salaries and repay their accrued debts. This will mean a lot of schools will go out of business, ” the Jos-based administrator added.
Mrs. Halima Tijjani, Proprietor/Director of learning, Rightpath International School Dutse, also shares this sentiment. While lamenting on how schools are struggling to pay their staff salaries, she observed parents too are greatly affected financially by the pandemic and thus some genuinely couldn’t pay their wards’ school fees. She described the plight of her staff as a “pitiful situation” and promised to see what the school management can do to pay them something ahead of the upcoming Sallah celebrations.
In the view of one concerned citizen, Mohammed Habib Jemal, parents need to come to the aid of teachers.
“I can’t imagine what private school teachers are going through, seeing that their only source of income has been blocked. I hereby urge everyone, especially parents who have their wards in such schools to reach out to these teachers,” the Jos resident pleaded.
He added that nothing is insignificant or small in this economic turmoil we are all facing.
With no end in sight of the coronavirus pandemic and no clear resumption date for schools, the government and other relevant stakeholders including donor agencies, NGOs, and parents need to support private schools to stay afloat in these trying times before they’re forced out of business which a significant number of Nigerians depend on. Because as Mrs. Tijjani, the Dutse-based proprietor noted, “A school isn’t just about teachers, there are cleaners, janitors and caregivers all hoping that schools will resume soon so that their lives may return to normal.”
Labaran Yusuf, freelance writer and researcher, writes in from Jos, Plateau State