Picking the Right Pre-School and Nursery School

Hello Mums and Dads! My toddler turned 2 recently, so we decided it was time for some schooling. It’s usually recommended children start schooling from 2-2.5 years. They should have gotten all the necessary vaccines by then, though they’ll still bring home basic infections. That’s expected and helps them build their immunity. So this is a short guide to how to pick a preschool or nursery school in Nigeria.

In looking for a good pre-school, I had to ask the following questions:

1. How much are schools in my area?
Google a list of schools around you, ask friends too. Try to make sure the school is no more than 20-30 minutes away from your home or your office (it isn’t nice to have sleepy toddlers getting on schoolbuses or jumping keke at 6 a.m, they need their sleep). You’ll notice that most schools tend to have a similar range when it comes to schoolfees. Having the same range doesn’t mean the schools are all the same quality, though.

Please be careful, if a school is unusually cheap for the area and is not subsidised (The Catholic schools still get some sort of subsidy), ask yourself “Why?” before rushing to drop your child off, calculating how you will spend the balance of the allocated money for schoolfees, to slay for #asoebibella. C’mon people, we’re grown-ups now, gotta make grown-up decisions.

2. Are the schools willing to let me visit all areas during my enquiries?
If the answer is No, walk away. A good preschool or Nursery should allow you visit. There should be no hiding anything.

3. Who is the Proprietor, what are his/her qualifications?
“Pastor, Deaconness or Bishop (Mrs)” is not a qualification for running a good school. You should be able to find something online about the Head of your school, or when you speak to the Proprietor, ask questions. What are her qualifications to run a school? Not just “I realised this is a profitable business”. Even if she hasn’t done educational courses, she should have some training on Adminstration. Big tip: having a foreign accent of any sort DOES NOT mean that person is super-qualified to run a School, all it means is that that person may have travelled.

4. Who are your teachers? Any teaching assistants or Class nannies?
I walked into a school and immediately knew it was not for us: the staff looked and sounded like they were badly paid and poorly trained. See, it is EXHAUSTING to spend time with children, so anyone who cares them has to be compensated decently so they do their best and don’t take out their frustrations on our children or ignore danger signs because their salary is N30,000, they work in Ajah but live in Okokomaiko and they’re desperate for any sort of work. No bueno.

Study the teachers, are they happy to be there? Do they walk past you without acknowledging you (they shouldn’t, you are a stranger, greeting you can also be used to ask a follow-up question like “may I help you, where are you going to?”). And teachers paid well should not be afraid of Admin staff, no assistant Head whatever you should be able to take your child out of class without his/her teacher asking why.

Also, feel free to ask about the teaching qualifications of the teachers. Our school has a EYFS specialist, some other schools we found were paying for their staff’s training in Children’s Education, Sexual Abuse prevention and Disability Awareness. Those are good signs of a well-run school. They may not be able to handle extreme cases but good schools want their teachers to at least recognise a child who needs help.

5. What’s the maximum number of children per class and how many teachers in it?
It shouldn’t be bigger than 20. Preschool should be maximum 7 students to 1 teacher. Yup. If you have 1 teacher to 35 young kids, that teacher will not be able to effectively work with each child. That’s why you sometimes see a pile of homework on a child: teacher can’t cover the coursework so they send it to you, Mum and Dad (also, Nigerians feel plenty homework=value for money).

Now, because class size is so small, schools with small classroom sizes have to turn kids away (which means, expensive schoolfees, a waitlist, interviews for your child to ace before acceptance into school, referrals by connected individuals etc). Yes, it happens and I know at least 5 top pre-schools and Primary schools that have these tough requirements, our first choice school had a waitlist, once classes are full, they take no extra students. Quality is better than Quantity.

Nursery school in Nigeria
Picking a good preschool and Nursery
6. What’s the layout of the school and your child’s classroom?
One of the nicest schools I saw, had child-sized everything and I mean EVERYTHING. Even the toilets and the sinks were child-sized. So the kids didn’t need too much assistance having to use the loo. Which fosters Independence (yay!). All the decent schools had play space outdoors. Your child needs space to run and run as fast as they can, Physical Activity is great for kids.
Also ask if there is CCTV and where it covers. Not only did our school have it, they can let parents review the child’s interactions in class via CCTV.
7. What curriculum does the school run?
I have seen precisely one Montessori school done well, the rest get montessori toys and don’t seem to know anything else about the system. So before you carry your child there, check. A lot of schools will tell you they run a mix of British curriculum and Montessori. I get confused when I see a school says they run Nigerian, British curriculum, Montessori, French curriculum, etc all at the same time. Still check, you’ll notice when you glance around their classrooms what they deploy the most.
classroom for preschool
Classroom, copyright Pinterest
8. Do they have a school nurse and sickbay on hand?
This is a MUST. Don’t negotiate this. I saw a school, the Proprietor sounded glib until she mentioned there was no school nurse but she could take sick children to the clinic a street away. We dey Nigeria, a truck and a taxi can hit each other, decide to fight in the middle of the road and block it. Precious minutes lost in an emergency, because of Naija factor.
A school nurse present will monitor temperatures, coughs and colds and know if it is serious enough to call Mum/Dad to come get their child.

8. How does Security work in school?
Can anyone just stroll in and pick a pikin for themselves? Are you giving your child to the security to take to class (wrong) or are you handing the child over to a teacher (right). Do they have a routine for pickup (keycard, buzz into school, parent has to register whomever is going to do the pickup, be it Grandma or the new help). A friend had to call his wife to identify him before they allowed him pick up their child. That’s actually good!

These may look like a lot of questions but are very simple and easy to ascertain. And no, you’re not being extra for trying to select the best (to your ability) for your toddler/pre-schooler/primary schoolchild. It doesn’t matter where you are (Abuja, Enugu, Kaduna, Lagos, Port Harcourt etc), they should have basic standards.

Hope this helps o. One last thing, don’t be blown away by pretty surroundings with toys and playslides in a yard with fake grass. It’s very easy to buy that, a good school is what is going on inside than on the outside. Just like a good person 😉

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