Education anxiety is profitable

A British woman here in Lagos has just started a school that offers as its USP  a guarantee that ‘your kids won’t need a tutor’.  It sort of made me laugh and also reflect on the education culture here in Lagos where this could actually be a successful USP for a new school.

Schools are easy to start in Nigeria.  Where corrupt, ineffective government meets undersupply of decent education, there’s a sweet spot to start a profitable school.  Firstly, little competition with subsidised state schools.  These are inadequate in both availability and standards. Even domestic staff send their children to private schools where they can afford to. Secondly, little in the way of inspectors breathing down your neck. Thirdly, many schools here have waiting lists over a year long.  At every level,  there just are not enough schools and parents are always looking for something better.

Triple Package author Amy Chua describes Nigeria as one of the most successful ethnic groups in terms of education, hard work and prestige oriented success. I can testify to that somewhat as my father in law grew up in a very remote village and somehow (while also working as a houseboy) made his way to Harvard. He is now the king of that village.

So back to this school that guarantees your kids won’t need a tutor.  It has to be understood in the context of Nigeria’s woefully underfunded universities.  Nigerians want to leave and study abroad at superior institutions and then get lucrative jobs, so the parents are very anxious about and prioritise academics plus they want to see a return on the money they’ve already paid. Even in schools costing 20 thousand dollars a year – it’s not uncommon for children finish school and come home to a few hours of private tuition costing up to 10 thousand Naira (£40) a night to ensure they are up to international standards.

This is from the age of 4 by the way.

It’s a reminder to me of everything that’s wrong with education here.  I find such a guarantee to be highly suspect.  Surely no child aged 4 ‘needs’ a tutor.  This is all relative to the parents’ mindset.  Then on what basis can you guarantee an outcome?  I’ve never heard of this before. such a claim suggests that your guarantee is going to be prioritised above the child’s needs.

Perhaps I am being too harsh and she means benignly that each child will simply have the attention and support they need to stay with the class. Education is any man’s game and most people go into it from the well meaning motivation of wanting to provide something better.  Unfortunately lot of those starting schools do so with gimmicks or cheap imitations of antiquated British models. Often white skin and an English accent are all that are needed to convince parents of their credentials. Unfortunately that’s indeed sometimes the best guarantee that people know what they are doing here.

But then why pander to education anxiety?  And at the end of the day,  anxious parents are still going to hire tutors.  They can’t help it. They want more, better, faster, higher.  It’s a competition and they are going to win whatever it takes. A more successful peer group for their child will only heighten their anxiety.   Only therapy can fix that, by the way, not a guarantee.

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