Teachers’ empowerment: Beyond lip service
World Teachers Day is celebrated annually worldwide to bring together governments, multi- and bilateral organisations, NGOs, private sector, teachers and experts in the field of teaching. Held annually on October 5 since 1994, World Teachers Day commemorates the anniversary of the signing of the 1966 UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. In commemoration of this year’s World Teachers Day, governments across the country once again, and characteristically so, waxed lyrical about the need to empower teachers with the requisite tools and trainings. Leading the pack in this annual ritual of smooth talking is the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu who while relating to the theme of this year’s World Teachers Day, Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers, said teachers deserved to be appreciated for their role in nation building. Irrespective of any sector, whether formal or informal, everything depends on teachers, he said.
The truth, however, is that there is really nothing new about all that was said about the value and status of teachers in the course of this year’s Teachers Day celebration. They are all stale stuffs. Sadly, nothing has been done to actually bring about a fundamental change in the teaching profession as well as the status of teachers. If we are to move beyond the annual rite of merely uttering niceties about teachers, we swiftly need to soberly reflect on the status of Nigerian teachers and the conditions under which they work. To this end, all stakeholders need to place priorities on major issues facing the teaching profession and how they can be urgently addressed. Considering the overall relevance of teachers to nation building, much still needs to be done to uplift the profession. It is an open secret that nowadays every child wants to be something else but teacher which is a sad reality on current the low esteem of the profession.
Now that the euphoria surrounding the World Teachers Day event is over, it is pertinent to properly address matter concerning education in the country. For any nation to attain lofty heights, close attention must be paid to the teaching profession. Teachers hold the key to the future since they help to mould future leaders. They don’t just teach, they nurture the younger ones to mature, to understand the world and to understand themselves.
Hence, every investment in teachers is a worthy one. According to 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousefzai: One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world. A society that refuses to empower teachers will only be promoting ignorance. Ultimately, the price that a nation might have to pay for encouraging ignorance almost often exceed what it needs to do to uphold education. This is why every nation of the world must fully come to term with the need to further enhance the competence of teachers at all levels. It is in doing this that the critical issue of nation building, especially in Third World countries, could be effectively tackled. In other words, building in a nation without first building teachers would basically amount to chasing shadow.
Therefore, beyond the pomp and pageantry of this year’s World Teachers Day, all stakeholders in the education sector need to reflect on the state of teachers and education. This is the time to go beyond paying lip services to capacity building for teachers. Concerted efforts should be made by appropriate authorities to improve the working conditions of teachers. We need to do everything to restore the dignity of the teaching profession. The private schools, in particular, must stop the dehumanisation of teachers. Some of them pay peanuts to teachers as salaries. Perhaps, more hurting is the fact that some teachers even work without any clear cut terms of engagement with their employees.
A nation that toils with the well being of its teachers inadvertently puts her future in serious jeopardy. Without putting in place the proper machinery to improve the working condition of teachers, all efforts to bring about the realisation of the national mass literacy project would simply go down the drain. Consequently, the successful execution of the mass literacy project could only be made possible with the active participation of a well motivated, properly trained and competent teaching force. Appropriate governmental and non-governmental organisations, therefore, need to intensify efforts towards developing the competence of teachers across the country.
Undoubtedly, the destiny of every nation is shaped, reinforced and actualised in the classrooms. The quality of lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, politicians, administrators and other professionals that a country has is determined by the worth of what transpires in the classroom. According to Confucius: To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; and to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right. Since a well nurtured teaching force lies at the heart of every societal progress, to get our hearts right, we need to get our teachers right.
It is, however, important that teachers do not desecrate the integrity and dignity of the teaching profession by getting involved in indescribable acts that could easily dent the image of the profession. Globally, teaching is regarded as a noble profession. Ours must not be an exception. A nation could cope with half baked engineers or lawyers. But, no nation desirous of making meaningful progress could survive with mediocre teachers.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos.
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