By Esther Taiwo
As lockdown persists over the increase of the spread of Corona Virus, all academic institutions have remained shut thereby forcing many of them to resort into e-Learning.
Some parents of students of Caleb University located in Imota, Lagos, have rejected fees charged by the institution amidst the coronavirus pandemic as over 100 of them have written several complaint letters to the school management to draw their attention to the irregularities going on in the school.
One of them, Olaoluwa Ogundemi, a parent to a 100 level Accounting student at the university, told journalists that the school mandated parents to make full payment for the session, despite that the school moved from physical learning to e-learning as a result of the pandemic.
“This issue started in March, some of us live abroad and we have been trying to get a hold of the school after they said they would start online lectures.
“Not only did they charge full school fees, but they also charged services which were not provided such as accommodation, internet, library, hospital, and others.”
In a letter sent to Caleb University by some concerned parents, issues pertaining to the welfare of students and rights of the parents were highlighted.
The letter, signed by 121 parents, was made available to journalists and the following concerns were raised:
– Demand for payment of full tuition fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Payment for hostel accommodation and other services that were not being provided as a result of COVID-19.
– Commencement of learning through an “ineffective and abysmal online learning portal
without due consideration of the internet network connectivity, bandwidth capacity, and more importantly the cost of data for already financially subdued parents.”
– Migration of students to the online platform without conversations with parents and guardians.
– The university making decisions on a “Parent Forum” which comprises less than 7% (250 out of over 40 parent’s population) of the University.
– Charging parents and guardians N20,000 per session for a parent forum which 90 percent of the parents are not part of it.
Mr Ogundemi said when he contacted the Vice-Chancellor, Nosa Owens-Ibie, on the issues and how parents can be added to the Parents’ Forum on Whatsapp, the school claimed the group was full as WhatsApp can only take about 250 participants
“The school has over 4,000 students, that there are about 4,000 parents. If the school is claiming the group is full and they can no longer admit parents, which means less than 10 percent of parents are on the platform, part of which are staff who have children there.”
Several parents who spoke about the issue explained how the school came up with the fees without any consultation with the parents whatsoever.
Femi Ojikutu, a guardian of a student at the University said the school failed to carry parents along on decisions made about the students and “imposed decisions made by a fraction of parents on the larger parents.”
Mr Ojikutu added that the school has no official channel of communicating developments directly to parents, but rather through the students.
Another parent of a 200 level student at the university, Mr Emmanuel Aderemi, also added that the school denied students access to the online learning platform except they pay N200,000 upfront.
Mr Aderemi said this was without consideration to the economic hardship many parents are experiencing as a result of COVID-19.
“We even pleaded with the management to allow students have access to learning pending the time parents will make payment. We told them they can withhold exam results of students who failed to pay afterward, but they should allow all students have access to learning and not miss out.”
Mr Aderemi added that the school made online prayer/fellowship compulsory during the lockdown, despite that students were in their respective homes and should be free to practice the religion of their parents.
The parents said they wrote to the school through their lawyer, but rather than responding to their complaints, the school, through its solicitor asked for the names of all the parents involved before it can give any response.
Reacting to the allegations made by parents, the spokesperson of Caleb University, Elvis Otobo sent a statement which contained the response of the university.
“Caleb University emerged one of the selected institutions to commence e-learning without interrupting its academic calendar and has successfully conducted academic, training and other regular activities on the University’s online platform, with student enrolment on the e-learning platform moving from 8% on April 20 to almost 100% by the beginning of July 2020,” the statement noted.
“The institution early in the semester granted all students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels and lecturers, free access to various e-library resources, to enhance, research, learning, and teaching experience and capacity.
“Numerous other social, political, and spiritual activities, are also going on virtually. The Student Representatives Council (SRC) elections are ongoing, with students currently campaigning to solicit votes for various positions. Activities will culminate in manifesto presentation and the inauguration of the new executive, virtually,” the statement partly reads.
The statement also said the school in an effort to keep up with godly character started an ‘optional online prayer meeting’ which holds once a month.
On the position of the University on other complaints by the parents, Otobo said the school has no further response.
“This is the management’s current response, we hope this will be useful,” he responded.
Meanwhile, Femi Falana, the principal partner of Falana & Falana’s Chambers, the solicitor for Caleb University said universities in Nigeria “accept tuition and other fees at the commencement of the session and even when the school is closed down, no refund is made.”
Mr Falana said there is a recognised parent body in the university through which all complaints can be lodged to the school and “the school cannot recognise any other parent’s body.”
“If you don’t like people on that (parent) platform, you throw them out democratically. They said they briefed a lawyer and the lawyer wrote to the school, we wrote to the lawyer that as a lawyer you can’t act for parents whose identities are not disclosed.
“Not when I’m involved can anyone victimise students. If these parents are genuine parents and they want to defend their children, it is something they should take up,” he said.
When asked about the challenges posed by the limit to the number of parents that can be admitted on the parents’ forum, Mr Falana said every school has rules and regulations guiding it.
“Again the way it is done, if they want an all-comers forum, every parent must be there, no problem, but if the body is run in a representative capacity, you are now asking for a change that we want every parent to be on the forum, I can’t see the school opposing that.”
“But for now, there is a channel of communication, if you don’t like the forum, then, tell the school that the forum is not representing us. If you love your children, you should be ready to stand by them,” he further said.