Nigeria, El-Rufai and the teachers
Governor Nasir El-Rufai deserves understanding, even sympathy, no doubt. But the decision by his government in Kaduna State to sack more than 21,000 primary school teachers who failed competency test, informed by righteous outrage as that may be, is hasty and should be reviewed. Already, the action has provoked the pupils to go on street protests in some local government areas, and the state branches of both the National Union of Teachers (NUT), and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) have held protest rallies as well as warned of further mass action against the government unless it rescinds the decision. ‘‘If the Kaduna State Government refuses to recall the teachers after the expiration of the two weeks’ ultimatum, all the workers will commence an industrial action that will shut down every activity in the state’’ threatened the NLC state chairman Ango Adamu.
Now that El-Rufai has thrown out such a large number, where is he going to get sufficiently competent hands to replace them? And even if they are readily available, he will have to attract them from their current employment with better terms of engagement. Can Kaduna State offer such conditions of service?
Of course, the argument stands that since no one can give what he does not have, an incompetent teacher can only impart inaccurate, even dangerously wrong knowledge to the students. In the increasingly knowledge-based economy of the global village wherein quality education is the key, the long-lasting consequence of an incompetent teaching workforce on an education system is arguably worse than the outright non-availability of teachers. There are good reasons primary level education is crucial to the success of other levels of education. The National Policy on Education (NPE) enunciates a six-point objective that primary education must aim to achieve. This include inculcating permanent literacy, numeracy, and the ability to communicate effectively, laying a sound basis for scientific, critical, and reflective thinking, and teaching the child to develop life manipulative skills, and instilling patriotism, fairness, understanding, and national unity.
El-Rufai is rightly outraged, therefore, that most of the teachers in the critical level of the primary school system are intellectually unfit for the job. If the educational foundation is weak, little can be acquired of intellectual value at the higher levels of study. But it does not make sense to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There must be, indeed, more appropriate and effective ways to redress the problem, severe as it may seem. As the pupils reportedly suggested, among other reasons, the teachers should be retrained to meet standards. Continued teacher education should be a sine-qua-non component of an education system that is designed and implemented to achieve what it ought to.
Indeed, it is a national policy, according to the National Policy on Education, 2013 that speaks elaborately on the issue. Section 5(b) recognises ‘the pivotal role of quality teachers in the provision of quality education at all levels [therefore], teacher education shall continue to be emphasized in educational planning and development.’ According to the NPE, ‘teachers shall be regularly exposed to innovations in the profession, [and] ‘in-service training shall be an integral part of continuing teacher education …’ Mr. El-Rufai should consider and implement these measures.
That so many of the state’s teachers failed competency test may be attributed in part to a failure of governance that, obviously, el-Rufai inherited but failed to address –until now and in a rather rash manner. The inevitable question is how was the recruitment and testing process so poorly managed or in this corruption-ridden environment, compromised, to result in the presence of so many unfit personnel in the system? el-Rufai may need to go beyond sacking of the teachers and do a shakeup of personnel, process, and procedures in the sector. In any case, if, as a policy, the teachers were continually trained and tested, it is simply inconceivable that 21,780 incompetent hands would remain in the system. They would have been over time, weeded out and replaced.
There is something to say too for a wrong attitude of many in the teaching profession. Many have no business in the profession but are there only because they found no alternative work. For such persons, the job is neither a calling nor a vocation; it is mere work to fill time and earn an income. Teaching is not a profession that should accommodate such people. This category of shortsighted teachers do not make the personal, extra, effort to upgrade themselves in order not only to do their work better, but to enhance their own competitive and marketable advantages.
The problem of incompetent and inadequate teaching workforce affects not only Kaduna State but all other states in the country. In Nigeria, teachers at every level of education are the most disrespected of the professionals; and at the primary and secondary education levels, they are, in many states the most poorly paid as well as the last to be paid. And just about anyone with no other choice of course or work is consigned to the education sector. This situation contrasts completely with progressive and advancing countries of the world where as a national policy, only the best are allowed into the teaching profession and they are some of the best paid workers. There is a proven correlation between quality education and national development and social progress. Finland, South Korea, Japan are good examples in this respect.
The cause of most of the problems that afflict the education sector lies squarely on the low consideration given to public education by people who govern Nigeria. Consider, for example, that most federal and state annual budgets apportion single digit percentage to the sector in the face of the widely known UNESCO recommendation that up to 26 per cent be allocated. The proposed 2018 budget is also a confirmation: a miserable 7.04 per cent (N605.8 billion) of the N8. 6 trillion total budget.
This is even lower than the 7.4 per cent in 2017. It is the tragedy of Nigeria that there is neither appreciation nor respect for education by its rulers. Until those who control the powers to allocate resources, formulate policies, and implement them, the education system may continue to suffer incompetent teachers, mediocre students and a general national failure in all areas.
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