As inflation catches up with earnings, paying school fees for one child can seem like a staggering feat. For parents with more than one child in school, that feat can seem near-impossible. How do they do it? To answer this question, we spoke to a number of Nigerian parents.
These were their enlightening (and, sometimes, sobering) responses.
Yetunde* copes with the weight school fees with a savings account she created — in her child’s name — strictly for education. “I deliberately put out a percentage of my salary in his account every month,” she said. She fears the fees, which are about ₦225,000 per annum, will only increase as her toddler grows. “He’s a year and eight months old, and we’re paying so much for kindergarten. What happens when he gets to primary school?”
2. Extra jobs
In cases where savings alone can’t help, parents are forced to take on extra jobs to keep up with school fees. 50-year-old Awosika*, a civil servant who has worked with the government for over 27 years, said her salary has never been up to ₦130,000. “I have two children in the university, and paying their fees forced me to become an entrepreneur.” Although her children are in federal universities, Mrs. Awosika said the fees still take a toll on her salary. She supplements her income by selling wrappers, household items and other accessories at her office.
When combining savings and extra jobs don’t work out, a popular option Nigerian households adopt is short-term loans. Zaria*, whose husband is currently unemployed, said she took the full responsibility of paying for their daughters’ school fees. The fees, which cost about ₦150,000, are a challenge for Zaria. She works two jobs and runs a catering business to support her family. “When the fees overwhelm me, I take a short-term loan from my friends,” she said. “The scariest part is how quickly the bills come up. I just paid school fees and now the term is almost over.”
Many parents, especially mothers, have found themselves depending on a traditional support system called “contribution.” This system involves several individuals taking turns contributing a certain amount of money for one member. Each month, a different member takes the lump sum.
Amina*, a widow with a daughter who just started secondary school, said she contributes ₦10,000 every month within her group of five. “When it’s my turn, I get ₦40,000. I use this money to buy books and uniforms for my daughter; the rest, I put back into my trade.” The group has two other widows, she said, and the money helps all of them take care of their families and keep their kids in school.
5. Short-term investments
The quest for a decent education has led many Nigerian parents to engage in questionable investments. Mr. Ayomide, a businessman with two children in the university and one in secondary school, said he has been duped several times while trying to invest.
“Parenthood can drive you to desperation,” he said. “You don’t want your children staying home because there’s no school fees, so you do whatever you can to raise the money.” Mr. Ayomide, who only does short term investments because of how short the school cycle is, said, “I pay school fees every three to four months, so I invest in businesses that can quickly give me returns.”
He recently invested in a poultry farm, hoping the sales from the holidays will take care of the upcoming fees.
When our parents took the money visitors gave us as kids, they were on to something. Financial gifts from family and friends can be a vital tool for taking care of school fees. Uduak* quit her job at a bank and is now a housewife with three kids. She says her siblings living abroad occasionally send monetary gifts. These gifts came in handy when her husband couldn’t complete fees for their firstborn.
“I remember him being so distraught,” she said. “He had ₦184,000 and the fees were ₦210,000. I quickly changed the $100 bill my brother sent to me and gave the money to him.” The situation has left her wary. “I cannot imagine anything happening to my husband because I can’t raise my kids on the generosity of their uncles.”
When parents can’t meet the educational demands of their children, organisations like Meadow Hall Foundation step in. With their ‘Sponsor a Child’ project, they have raised almost ₦3 million to help send kids to school and feed them during lunch breaks.
Chiby, a representative of the foundation, told us that tuition is ₦1,000 per term, yet, some parents struggle to pay. “It dawned on me that Nigerians are suffering. We complain every day about the prices of foodstuff and the rate of inflation, but we don’t realise that life has become so much harder for low-income earners,” he said.
With donations from partners, private donors and followers from Twitter, the project has been able to keep 92 children in school.