free school that sustains itself? Here’s how you can start one, tomorrow!

free school that sustains itself? Here’s how you can start one, tomorrow!

Salma is a hardworking girl who has just finished

secondary school. She sat two exit examinations

(NECO and WAEC). However, when the results

came out, her failure was a touch excessive – she

flunked all the papers.

Now she has become a statistic. She numbers

among 91.5 percent of students from her state

who failed the West African Examinations Council

exams that year. This means that she’s not going

to a university or a polytechnic or a college of

education. Like many girls who share her

misfortune, she has no future. She could only

hope for a good husband to knock on her door –

however, even those are in short supply.

Except that Salma is different or to put it

precisely, the school she attended sits on a

different model. Facilitated by the course

contents and her school, Salma started doing

business when she was in school. She is business

savvy too. Out of many businesses the school

operated for the students, Salma particularly

liked the dried fruit business. It’s easy; market

is available and has very little investment – of US


Want to start a free school? Want the school to

run itself even though it’s free? Teach a Man to

Fish, a nonprofit based in the UK has an answer.

Read on.

The problem

Our children are getting so little out of primary

and secondary education and the government has

so little money to do anything meaningful,

pushing many of us who are concerned to search

for alternatives. The result being that, we may

have to rethink the entire education model in

Nigeria. So far, what’s clear is that using WAEC,

NECO, JAMB, etc; as the ultimate goals of

successful secondary education to measure the

placement of students into tertiary institutions

is no longer sustainable, nor desirable.

In one of my columns of April 2013, ‘Becoming

algebra ninjas: Why Arewa may not fail ‘O’ level

math again,” I shared some depressing statistics:

“Only 20 percent passed the November/December

2010 West African Senior School Certificate

Examination (WASSCE). That is, only 20.04

percent of the candidates obtained credit in

English language, Mathematics and at least three

other subjects. We’ve been recording a consistent

pattern of mass failure in WASSCE for at least

five years. In 2008, only 23.54 percent of

candidates who sat the same examination passed.

In 2009, it was 21.96 percent. The May/June

version of the same examination is not better by

much. In 2012, the head of WAEC in Nigeria, Mr.

Uwadiae, announced that 38.81 percent out of

the 1.67 million candidates who sat for the

examination scored credits in at least five

subjects, including English language and

Mathematics; an increase of about eight percent

from 2011.

“When it was reported in the news that only 17

out of the 18,000 secondary school students who

sat for WASSCE and NECO in Gombe State passed,

many thought the 17 was a typographical error,”

Uwadiae stated.

“Obviously it wasn’t, because other states in

Nigeria share similar disturbing statistics and

the governments don’t seem to know exactly how

to remedy the problem. Last year, out of

frustration, the Kwara State government slashed

its grant for the payment of the National

Examination Council (NECO) senior secondary

examination from N80 to N13 million; this,

according to the commissioner for education and

human capital development, Raji Mohammed, was

on account of the mass failure of Kwara State

students in the final year mock examinations –

of the 33,000 students who were to benefit from

the grant, only 3,100 passed the mock

examination set by the state government,” he


What to do?

Teach a Man to Fish came as an answer to

unsustainability of schools in developing

countries. But we could stretch its model as an

answer to unemployability of our secondary school

graduates; in doing this, we also have the

opportunity of giving confidence to our students

that there is life after failing WASSCE.

How can a school be self-sufficient?

“The obvious answer would be to charge students

fees; yet there is plenty of evid ence to suggest

that this serves to exclude those from poorer

backgrounds,” Teach a Man to Fish writes in its

brochure. “So what’s the alternative? A model

that builds on the work already carried out in

vocational schools. What are needed are schools

that focus on ensuring their own financial

sustainability, and in doing so increase the

capacity of the education system – extending the

benefits of an education to an ever greater

number of students.”

The organisation pushes for a model where the

school opens a number of businesses for the

students while also integrating entrepreneurship

contents into the curriculum. The students learn

from the regular classes while also participating

in the practical aspects of entrepreneurship.

Most of the businesses require very low capital to

start and since most are agriculture-based

products, have ready market.

I see our schools running their vegetable

gardens, dried fruit, brick making and solar

stove businesses. Other simple businesses include

fruit juice production, community cold store and

so forth.

Beyond secondary schools

It appears Teach a Man to Fish focuses on

secondary schools, but Professor Mustapha

Zubairu and I are writing an academic conference

paper which seeks to extend the model to other

institutions. I’m reasonably confident any school

can adopt this model – from Islamiyya to driving


Where to go from here

The organisation has a rich website,, where you can

download all the documents you need – documents

such as how to organise your school to how to

write a business plan.

Beyond government

It’s hoped that diligent and patriotic individuals

would run with this idea and not wait for

government’s intervention. We already have

community-run extra classes which prepare

students for different examinations, some of

them already free. I know of an Abuja-based

patriot who travels to Yola in Adamawa State to

organise such programmes. Why can’t we adopt

this model to ensure the sustainability of such

arrangements and skill acquisition of the