The forex crisis rocking businesses and other establishments may have taken its toll on the education sector with the refusal of some elitist private schools to renew contracts with their expatriate teachers.
Findings by our correspondent show that these schools could no longer cope with unfriendly exchange rates, which have inflated the salaries and other entitlements of the teachers.
Some school owners in Abuja and Lagos, who spoke with our correspondent on Thursday, said the development was simply a survival decision to keep operating cost at a tolerable level.Nowadays, the difficulty in getting forex to pay for goods and services, coupled with the high exchange rate, has caused a series of reactions, including retrenchments, salary cuts and other cost-cutting measures across all sectors of the nation’s economy.
The development, which is the fallout of the depreciating value of the naira to the dollar, has equally forced school owners to rethink the constitution of their staff strength with a view to reducing operating cost.
Findings, indeed, show that many schools can no longer cope with the cost of paying salaries and maintaining staff quarters, cooks and car pools for their expatriate teachers.
According to an Abuja-based school owner, Mrs. Funke Abdullahi, she had to let her two expatriate teachers go because of what she called “some obvious reasons.”
Ibrahim, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said the “hard times” had offered more opportunities to explore the Nigerian teachers.
The educationist explained, “I had to let the two Britons in my school go for obvious reasons. I also want to give Nigerian teachers a chance. It was becoming too difficult to meet the financial needs of the two expatriates. They were with me for three years but with the economic realities on the ground, I had no choice but to let them go.”
A director of a highbrow school in Lekki, Lagos, said her school principal, an American, would not be resuming next term. The educationist, who craved anonymity, said the school would be having a Nigerian replacement when the new session begins in September.
She added, “It was actually a discussion and the proprietor reasoned that he would no longer be able to cope with the trappings of having an expatriate principal. Feeding the pupils, running the school, buying diesel and other things do not come easy anymore. So, we have to do whatever we can to reduce cost.”
However, the proprietress of another Abuja-based school said she was not having any financial challenge paying her expatriate staff. While admitting that the employment of expatriate staff is a ‘marketing issue’, she said she was not finding it difficult to pay her staff.
“In fact, I just renewed another two-year contract. He is a Briton and the head of school. He has been with us for two years and we had an agreement that I would use the CBN exchange rate to pay him. So, whatever the exchange rate is, that is what I use. The schools who have problem are those who pay in dollars,’’ she said.
When contacted, the Public Relations Officer, Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr. Ekpedeme King, said he could not immediately confirm if there was indeed a reduction in the number of contracts signed with expatriate teachers.
He said, “You will have to give me some days. It is like asking you how many science students are there in a state. Essentially, what happens is that these expatriate teachers have to register first with the National Planning Commission before getting residence and work permits from us. This is necessary for both private and government schools. However, the expatriate quotas depend on the need of a school. It is not fixed.”
An educationist, Mrs. Yinka Ogunde, who said the development was not limited to the education sector, added that businesses across sectors were reviewing their operational costs in order to stay afloat.
She said, “It is a case of business survival and it cannot be business as usual. About a year ago, schools were paying $3,000, an amount less than a million naira. Now, the sum is about N1.5m. School fees are not increasing commensurately and every organisation is now having a lot of re-examination about operating costs.
“The way we are doing business in the country is changing. Schools have been growing their capacity before the forex crisis, perhaps, to have competent workforce, especially in the administrative cadre. But there are other trends. Very competent Nigerians are also returning to the country. These are educationists, who have worked in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They are transferring such knowledge and I tell you the education sector and the nation’s economy will be all the better for it.”
However, the Director, TLS, Ikoyi, Lagos, Mrs. Bunmi Egbeyemi, sees the major constraint with expatriate teachers from another perspective. According to her, clash of culture, more than anything else, is making her to think twice in terms of recruiting foreign teachers.
For her, Nigerian teachers can also do as much as their foreign counterparts if they receive adequate training.
She noted, “I think it is a class thing and I know that many parents like the idea. It also helps to increase school population. I used to have an expatriate teacher but I had to let her go. For me, the problem is that they do not understand our culture. But you also know that the naira nowadays cannot give you what it used to give in the past. What we do now is to expose our teachers to leadership programmes and skills. We also make sure that our teachers have UK certification.”