FOREIGN TRIPS: MONEY-SPINNER FOR SCHOOLS
Gone are the days when parents seized the opportunity of long vacations to introduce their children to their roots. In those days, it was almost always the norm that once schools closed between June and September, parents would take their children to their home towns or villages, during which the growing kids had the opportunity to know their grandparents and other relations they might not have met before.
Things have changed, however, as the 'tradition' has been overtaken by 'modern' ways of raising children, especially among the rich.
Such is the trend that private schools have included in the school programmes, excursions abroad. Most of these schools — especially the high-fee-paying ones in places like Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lekki, Ikeja, Gbagada, all in Lagos; Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Enugu, Port-Harcourt, and other parts of the country — now use it as a form of money making and competitive instruments amongst themselves.
For some schools, it is an advertising instrument, as many parents are easily carried away by the claims that their children's school make regular trips abroad. Yet, it has become a veritable tool for schools to raise funds. Based on our correspondent's investigation, a pupil pays N500,000 and even more per trip, depending on the school and the destination.
In some schools, excursions outside the country is organised every term; which means that a parent may have to fork out N1.5m per session on holiday travels alone, excluding school fees, developmental fees and the so-called miscellaneous charges. For instance, a school in Ikorodu, Lagos, charged â‚¬2,500 (N492,500) per child for holiday trip to France in July.
Most people polled by our correspondent could not understand why any parent would spend so much on a child's vacation trip, considering the harsh economic reality that stares the average Nigerian in the face.
In his opinion, the principal, Stars International College, Ikorodu, Lagos, Mr. Sola Ayeomoni, said, 'excursion is educational;' adding that there is nothing wrong in schools taking their pupils for overseas excursions. He, however, condemned the profits that some schools allegedly make from such trips.
'Education has gone beyond national boundary,' Ayeomoni said. 'Globally, it is believed that pupils must see what is happening outside their borders because it enriches their experience. Though the Internet has made the world a global village, sight-seeing is important. Pupils can easily discuss or relate with what they see. Excursion is part of education. It demonstrates in practical terms the reality of what the children have been taught in the classroom. Also, it exposes pupils to experiences that will help their academic pursuit.
'But what I quarrel with is the exorbitant fees that schools charge per pupil. These days, schools seem to organise excursions for profit, which I question,' he said.
Talking about profit motive, a parent complained that he got to know of the rip-off that schools visit on parents when his child was billed N20,000 (about $134) as visa fee to Ghana, a neighbouring West African country. Since Ghana is signatory to the ECOWAS protocol that allows for freedom of goods and people within the Sub-Saharan African region, a Nigerian with his green passport does not need a visa to enter Ghana.
Reacting to the issue, a worker at Chrisland Schools, Mr. Solomon, said trips abroad for children should be for educational purposes. He said, 'Our school organises excursions abroad because it is an international school. The excursion is mainly for educational summits, where pupils interact with pupils from other countries in order to gain more knowledge, and classes are organised for them over there. But parents don't have to engage in it if they don't have the means. We don't force anybody.'
As far as the chairman of Landmark College, Ikorodu, Lagos, Mr. Isiaka Oyebamiji is concerned, the essence of summer trips is to distinguish high-class schools from the regular ones.
'The programme is far more than being a competitive instrument. Every school wants to go international by travelling abroad, irrespective of what its programmes are. Summer trips should be seen as a programme to enrich pupils and should not be used as a competitive instrument. In our school, we organise trips abroad and within Nigeria. This time, some of our pupils are being taken on a trip to France. It is not as if they will go just for sight-seeing, but there are international programmes being organised for them, during which they also visit some places and take notes. Also, some parents encourage it because they believe that it is easier for schools to get visa for their children.'
Speaking in the same vein, the Executive Director, Zinnia College, Ikeja, Lagos, Mrs. Titilola Ismail, said travelling is educational, though she agreed that it also depends on the parents' financial ability.
Our correspondent discovered that while some schools are passionate about going to countries such as Europe, United States of America, Canada and the United Kingdom, there are some schools that prefer to take their pupils to West African countries such as Togo, Ghana, or Benin Republic, which costs about N70,000 or a little bit more.
Said Ismail, 'We take our pupils to francophone countries, believing that French is the second foreign language in Nigeria. So, we try to improve our pupils' knowledge of French by taking them to Togo. This, we do during the school term so that they will participate in class activities alongside other pupils over there. It is an annual program, but this year, we had to cancel it because only a few parents paid for their children's trip. Others said they could not afford the cost of the trip.'
Meanwhile, watchers of the education sector have said that the long vacation is not just about travelling. Rather, they said, pupils should do a bit of academic activities (summer schools) during the long vacation; while others say vocational activities are more vital.
Oyebamiji of the Landmark is of the view that children should not engage in rigorous academic activities during the holiday.
'During the holiday, if you engage children in rigorous academic activities, you are overstretching them. It is not as if they won't read at all, but it won't be like the normal school activities. We can simply call it summer programme because if we say it is summer coaching, that means it is totalling academic. So, when you call it summer programme, it means there will be a bit of academics and some other social activities that will enrich pupils.'
Ismail said, 'Summer schools should be where pupils are engaged in vocational activities. That is why we have academic activities for two days, while the other days are used for relaxation activities. Everything is not about academics. The summer school is also used to help take care of the kids when the parents are at work.'
A parent, Mrs. Oluwakemi Oke, said, ' vacation should be a period when children stay close to their parents and travel together if there is opportunity for that. But then, working parents do not hesitate to enrol their children in summer schools because they serve as a safe place for kids to be.'
However, a lecturer at the Department of Guidance and Counselling, University of Ibadan, Dr. Soji Aremu, said sending children to school during holiday is alien to our culture.
'In the past, parents looked forward to the period when children would be on holiday so that they could travel together or help in the farm. But the introduction of summer school came as a result of many factors, which include the inability of schools to cover the syllabus before the end of the term. Therefore, children are asked to attend summer school. This idea is sold to parents through organising various programmes that schools cannot do during normal school term.
'My advice is that children should not be overstretched with too much of academic activities. Give them relaxation programmes; otherwise, they become too loaded and confused. There should be a time to refresh the memory. If at all children want to go for summer school, let them learn something different. They could learn one thing or the other, ranging from sporting to vocational activities, which would be an added advantage,' he said.
A Senior Secondary School Two pupil, Master Kolade Oseni, said though children should be engaged in one programme or the other in order to expand the scope of their knowledge, they should not be forced to do too much of academic activities during holidays.
'Though it is a long vacation, I still believe pupils need to relax and engage in light activities. It is not necessary to engage them in academic work. The senior pupils can enrol for or engage in vocational and relaxation programmes,' he said.