Building collapse: Ministry to increase monitoring of private schools

The Lagos State Ministry of Education has said that, following the collapse of a three-storey school building at the Ita-Faaji area of Lagos, which left at least four pupils dead last Thursday, it will publish the list of government-approved private schools on its website.

The Deputy Director of Public Affairs in the ministry, Mr Segun Ogundeji, in an interview with our correspondent on Thursday, said the school had not undergone a name search, which is the basic registration process that would have triggered an inspection of the premises and exposed the faults.

Ogundeji lamented that, despite being aware of the threat posed by the building to the lives of the pupils of Odan Nursery and Primary School, the residents of the area had failed to alert the government.

He said, “In the first place one is not supposed to be operating a school within a residential building. Some of those who do such a thing escape the radar of the monitoring team, but if we had the buy-in of the public and stakeholders to say to us, ‘contrary to your directive, a school is operating in a residential building’ we would have been able to avert this.

“To make matters worse, the building was marked for demolition, like many other buildings around it, yet parents still enrolled children there. Neighbours saw that it was a threat to the lives of vulnerable children and nobody alerted the government. Operating a school in a penthouse, having children as little as three-year- old climb three flights of stairs to their classrooms every day and parents did not see that as dehumanising enough to report to the government?

“There is nowhere under the sun where the government can be everywhere. That is why we are always soliciting the cooperation of the public. When you see something and when you see that someone is flouting the law, let us know.”

He also said the ministry would intensify efforts aimed at fishing out illegal schools in the state.

Ogundeji said, “Going forward, the state monitoring team will move around to ensure that such schools are not operational. Notwithstanding, we have more to do and we will rise to the occasion. Every day we discover that more people are trying to evade us and we put that into consideration, while carrying out our checks.

“There is a list of approved private schools. There are at least 5,000 schools on the list. Parents do not have to go to Alausa to know the list of approved schools. It behoves on them to ask the school if they are approved by government and if they are processing it, there should be documents to show for it. If people are buying land and they verify it, what does it take to verify the status of the school you want to enroll your child in? Nonetheless, in addition the ministry may have to put up a list of approved private schools on its website so that parents can access it.”

In addition to disowning the proprietor of the school, the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools called on the Office of the Education Quality Assurance in the state to institute a task force that would work with stakeholders to put an end to the existence of ‘mushroom schools’.

The association’s general secretary, Mr Lukman Alaka-Yusuf, in an interview, suggested ways to identify illegal schools.

He said, “The government should have taken the bull by the horns. If the government is serious about schools that are operating under such conditions, they should have identified such schools and worked in collaboration with private school associations to give them a time limit to meet the stipulated standard. The building was marked for demolition more than two years ago, but they failed to demolish it. If they had done so, the school would not have been operating there.

“There are many ‘mushroom’ schools in Lagos without certification and they turn ordinary lesson centres into schools. Many schools are operating in shanty structures. Some attach themselves to churches and mosques. As an association, we cannot say that a school should not operate. If we go and tell them to close down their schools, do you think it will augur well?

“The government should set up a control system that will involve stakeholders, NAPPS and other associations; have us identify the schools in our areas that do not belong to any association and then clamp down on them. If they are under any association, they will serve as control mechanism to ensure certain standards exist amongst members.”

Calling for a task force to be set up to rid Lagos State of illegal schools, Alaka-Yusuf said, “Can somebody come on the road and say that he wants to be a vulcaniser without joining their association? Even pepper sellers have their control mechanism, but it is not like that in education.  They have a task force from the local government council, which goes with them to monitor their members. There should be a task force, which must work with associations to see that every school, even if It is ramshackle, belongs to a group or association, so that the association can be held responsible if things go wrong. In Lagos, there are 16 other private school associations that the government could have worked with to ensure this tragedy didn’t occur.”

A Civil Engineer, Eze Ugomah, advised parents seeking to enroll their children in schools to ascertain the integrity of the school building by carrying out a visual inspection and looking out for deep cracks that seem to originate from the foundation of the building.

He said, “If the foundation is fine, it is most likely that you won’t see cracks. However, there are different types of cracks. Some are just  on the surface and may be caused by improper plastering or by the high plasticity of the sand used in plastering the building. In that case, you may see cracks on the wall, but the building is actually fine.

“However, the reputation of the school can be a sign. Interview the management and assess them. Ensure the building has an architectural drawing. In fact, it has reached the stage where schools should be required to display the structural design of their buildings, as it is extremely important in knowing the structural integrity of a building.

“People can cut corners. So the best you can do is to be enlightened, demand the drawings and be sure these drawings are stamped by professionals. The stamp means it was checked and verified by a professional. A drawing without a stamp could have been done by anyone and it may not be completely accurate.”

He added that the measures were not too much, if they would save the life of a child.

“If you can’t ask for a plan, then look up the contractors. Naturally, it shouldn’t be a parent’s job, but since the regulatory bodies are not doing their job, would you now give up on your child’s safety?

“Nigerians need to become more enlightened. If parents don’t have access to the drawing, they should demand to know the contractors. It is your right to know the history of the building. If anyone says it is too tedious, remind him that losing a child or a loved one is much more agonising.

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