Time was when Federal Government Colleges (FGC) also known as Unity Schools, were the wish of every parent as far as secondary education is concerned, but the parlous state of the once famous institutions of first choice has watered down the desires.
For years now, parents have continued to wonder why government has failed to provide the basic facilities needed for a 21st century boarding school,
While many parents are appalled with the precarious situation, government on its part is wondering why parents are apparently loosing interest in patronising unity schools going by the enrolment of candidates for the National Common Entrance Examination (NCCE).
Just last weekend, the National Examinations Council (NECO), postponed the 2019 NCEE into unity colleges to Saturday, April 27. The reasons for the postponement are not far fetched. The goal was to enable states with low registration of candidates to register more pupils. This however, implies that the figures recorded so far for 2019 was below government's expectations.
Recalled that this government owned institutions were established to promote unity and national integration, among other objectives. With the present situation, many are calling for stoppage of the colleges, since government lacks the capacity to sustain the vision of the founding fathers.
An official from the Lagos office of NECO explained, "The examination was postponed to allow certain states meet up with their registration. You know that every state is supposed to have state quota. But it was observed that some states did not fill their quota and federal ministry of education deem it necessary to give them more time to register and meet with their quota."
Last year, Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, directed that access to the portal for registration of NCEE be left open until a day before the examination to allow interested candidates register.
In 2015, according to NECO, 86,365 candidates registered for the examination; in 2017, the body reported enrolment of 78,378; in 2018 it registered over 80,000 candidates; while 2019 exercise, which was extended to April 27, 2019, has a record of 70,720 candidates.
However, reports making the rounds have it that the Federal Government has reduced school bills and other payments for students in its unity schools, to increase parents desire to enrol their wards.
According to the report, the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Sonny Echono, told journalists at a press conference in Abuja "We received several complaints of parents not being able to pay the fees for reason that it is high. The government critically looked at their complaints and decided to slash the cost of the tuition to allow increased participation."
An official of the ministry said the fees were reviewed downward from over N70, 000 to N65, 000.
Some parents while reacting to the report stated that slashing the school fees would instead of attracting more parents dissuade them from enrolling their kids as issue of quality across all strata of the school has been compromised.
For most parents, the challenges confronting unity colleges range from poor funding to decrepit infrastructure, poor welfare of pupils, inadequate teachers and poor supervision, among others.
According to a parent, whose child is at FGC, Ijanikin, "the problem of unity schools is not just about fees. Apart from the initial fees at the entry level, their termly charges are moderate and affordable. I have never seen parents complaining about the fees. Most complaints have to do with poor infrastructure, quality of feeding and general welfare of the pupils.
"These are some of the things irritating most parents. Each time, I visit my child and hear his complaints about the school generally as it affects their well-being, it depresses me. But when I put two and two together, I end up encouraging and educating her on personal hygiene, whilst believing that pocket money will be sufficient."
Another parent, whose child is at FGGC, Sagamu, lamented that the water crisis currently rocking the college is adversely affecting her daughter and other kids at the college.
"From time immemorial, you cannot compare boarding school with day schooling. But issues like lack of potable water, small and low quality of food is giving most parents concern. For over two months now, the students have been dealing with water crisis and the school management is yet to address this very important issue, despite all entreaties from parents.
"These are some of the issues causing parents to have a rethink about unity colleges. In as much as we have great confidence in their academics, I put it to you that any child that lacks basic welfare will hardly do well academically. On the other hand, I have a feeling that the N15, 000 boarding fees is not enough to feed these children flamboyantly. No water, no light at FGGC, Sagamu.
Another parent who simply identified himself as only Mr. Giwa said, "From my observation, in the last five years or so, values in unity colleges has reduced drastically. Values in terms of academics, pupils' welfare, feeding and the environment; you can imagine that for months now at FGGC Sagamu, there is no light and water in that school. I am talking about a school that harbours only girls. A boy child can relatively cope without water, but not a girl-child.
"The PTA of the college is not helping matters either. The girls are complaining of going to school without bathing, going about at night in search of water in darkness. Somebody that wants to hurt these girls can easily hide somewhere and hurt them. It is only God that is saving the students of FGGC Sagamu as we speak. The PTA said the N5000 levy is not enough to complement the school and the pupils' needs.
A parent whose child is at Queens College, Lagos, highlighted that moral training, academic excellence, habitable and enabling environment, as well as up-to-date learning facilities, which unity colleges were previously known for have all faded.