Saturday, November 28, 2015 1:33 pm
By Funsho Arogundade.
In mid-September, 70 kids from low-income families living in the elitist corridor of Lekki, Lagos, began a new life. These kids are the first set of pupils on admission at the Lekki Peninsula Affordable Schools, LPAS, a chain of low cost primary and nursery schools founded by Bunmi Oyinsan, popular author and social entrepreneur. The affordable school located in the serene Osapa area of Lekki and first of a chain, has been established to extend high quality education to low income families at the lowest cost on a large scale.
According to Oyinsan, the school is a low cost private school chain designed to have facilities and infrastructure that are safe, clean, decent and conducive to learning. It has an all-inclusive fee structure and flexible payment system for families that can only afford monthly or weekly payment. The fee, about N20,000, covers tuition, workbooks, uniforms, sportswear, examinations, extracurricular activities and extra lessons where necessary.
Provisions were also made to ensure that pupils complete their schooling even in the event of death or permanent disability of the breadwinner of their family. “Our schools have been designed based on our understanding of the needs of the market, combined with a deep respect and responsibility towards all our stakeholders who include the children, parents, teachers and the community,” Oyinsan told TheNEWS.
Prior to the coming of Lekki Peninsula Affordable Schools, Oyinsan, alongside her husband, Soji, a film producer/director, has been running a highly successful Lekki Peninsula College, one of the oldest secondary schools in the Lekki area. The school originally came out of the necessity to provide much needed help for displaced students from Maroko who were preparing for external and internal examinations.
As a result of the success recorded within a few months of its establishment and the yearning of the people in the locality for an affordable private secondary school, the extra-mural classes later transformed into a full-fledged co-educational private secondary school in 1999. Just as their secondary school was a product of necessity, same with the affordable nursery and primary school with the foundation for its coming laid about four years ago.
“Around 2011 and 2012, we realised that we continued to have a lot of remedial work for most pupils when they joined our Junior Secondary School. What they should have done in the elementary schools, we mostly took them through them again. Then the idea to now start the primary school now came up,” Oyinsan said.
But there was a challenge: Funding. The Oyinsans didn’t want to make the same mistake they made with secondary school where they were forced to introduce fees up to a level where they thought it’s not comfortable enough for the kind of people they set out to serve. To them, the low level of funding in the past and present has resulted in very poor educational infrastructure and inadequately equipped classrooms and schools. And they went out researching and looking for how low cost schools are run in other places like India, Bangladesh and Kenya.
“In most parts of Asia as well as places like Ghana and Kenya here in Africa, the low cost school chain model is already in operation and training hundreds of thousands of pupils. We look into models from these countries and tweaked them to suit Nigerian educational system. Luckily, we got support from Pearson Affordable Learning Fund based in the United Kingdom and Village Capital based in the United States,” she disclosed.
With its first school now operational, Oyinsan said the chain is set to open up more schools with the hope of reaching 1,000 pupils by 2016. She noted that private schools initially started in Nigeria for the middle class and the elite; however, there has been a growing number of private schools which target the poor in low income communities where the fees often compete with levies and other costs of government schools which are supposed to be free.
“Some of these private schools were set up to provide service where there are no public schools but such schools struggle with access to capital and are often unable to provide safe and clean environment necessary for learning. It is apparent that government cannot do everything, at least not in the near future. As such, private intervention is necessary in order to reduce the number of out of school children,” said Oyinsan.
Aside her experience in the non-profit sector where she worked with women and young people in Nigeria, Oyinsan holds a Ph.D in Women Studies with research interest in the area of black women films. She is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA. She has published three novels – ‘Silhouette’ (1991), ‘Halima’ (2000) and ‘Three Women’ (2006). She also authored the biographical work on late the Dr. Abimbola Silva, Nigeria’s first female medical doctor and mother of star actress, Joke Silva.
Her first novel, Silhouette, was adapted for a 26-episode serial on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, and entitled Dreams. She has also demonstrated her skill and interest in script writing and film production with such works as Owuro Lojo, Golden Cage, We the People and Aditulaye-Toyosi.