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Salary-starved teachers prone to exam leakage, academic fraud, says Okebukola

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Peter Okebukola

A Professor of Science and Computer Education, Lagos State University, and the Chairman of Council, Crawford University, Peter Okebukola is worried that the callous act of owing teachers their salaries would surely spell doom for education in a short while, if not addressed. Okebukola, who is also a former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), told ENO-ABASI SUNDAY that the country also runs the risk of losing its pride of place as having one of the best educational systems in Africa, which the UNESCO and other international agencies accord her.

Teachers are an integral part of a country’s workforce. At least 16 of the 36 states owe teachers salaries for upward of five months. What does this bode for education and indeed national development?
A quick point of correction. As at January 4, 2018, 22 states owe teachers at least three months’ salaries. Some state governors are now scurrying all over the media, glibly promising to pay up to November 2017 salaries.

It is clear that this wool over the eyes of people cannot stand since the sustainability of payment of outstanding salaries cannot be guaranteed.

Some have labelled such promises “fake news.” What this situation bodes for education and national development? I will give a one-word forecast- disaster! The logic goes like this: teachers are the fulcrum around which the wheel of education revolves and the lubricant in the spin machinery. If the fulcrum malfunctions and the machinery not well oiled, an education system collapse results.

Further, education is the core pillar of national development. Bring down this pillar and national development will grind, over time, to a screeching halt. The conclusion of the logic: without well-trained and well-motivated teachers, education and national development are imperilled.
 
It is important to contextualise the impact of the non-payment of teachers’ salaries on the aforementioned logic. Here, I fall back on the theory of motivation postulated in 1953 by Abraham Harold Maslow, whose potency has been tried and tested over the years.

Maslow sees human activities driven by needs, which are in a pyramidal hierarchy. At the bottom of the pyramid are our basic needs (for food, shelter, security) which must be satisfied before we progressively move to higher levels peaking to what he called self-actualisation.

Without salaries, our teachers are unable to satisfy their basic needs and hence cannot progress to levels of self-esteem and self-actualisation. They cannot feed themselves nor their families. They lose out on shelter as they cannot pay rents. They are demoralised, dejected and emotionally traumatised. We need spritely, well-paid and well-motivated teachers in the education system of Africa’s largest economy. Sadly, we are confronted with the opposite in many states of the federation.

Parents, teachers, students as well as government officials all engage in activities that entrench corruption in the education system. Would the situation have been any different if teachers were paid their salaries as at when due, or even well remunerated?
 I affirm that corruption in the education system will take a dip if teachers are well remunerated. I am not sure if corruption will come to zero if teachers earn the best salaries in the land and are not owed a day’s pay.

Let us take the link between corruption in education and the payment of teachers’ salaries. Teachers who are poorly paid or who have huge arrears of salaries to collect from their employers are prone to being compromised by parents to commit academic fraud in favour of children of such parents.

For filthy lucre (a few hundreds of naira), such salary-starved teachers will leak examination questions and in some reported instances, help children of the rich to write examinations! For a bag of rice at Christmas and other festive seasons, some hungry teachers have been known to change the grades of students whose parents have rendered such “favours”.

Swinging in another direction, with the school owing salaries, teachers will offer skeletal services in their school of primary assignment and moonlight to other locations, especially through private tutoring to earn a few naira here and a few naira there. If we pay teachers their due by way of respectable salaries as at when due, these tendencies will diminish.

As I stated earlier, the corruption in the education meter will not hit the zero mark even if teachers earn the same pay as the president. It will only reduce by a large percentage. The theory of insatiable appetite kicks in here. Increase in salary will only mellow the appetite for corruption for a little while, after which the new “jumbo” salary, will become like the old meagre pay. Thereafter, corruption sets in again, this time in a mutated, more virulent form.

The Nigerian society would appear to have been bitten by an incurable corruption ailment. So long as teachers are part of this society, the tendency to commit academic fraud will continue to linger.

Being owed earned, but unpaid salaries for months must surely impact workers’ output. In what specific way does this hurt the education system? 
A hungry man or woman is an angry and unproductive person. Unpaid salaries leave teachers and their dependants hungry, crashing their self-esteem. Such hungry, ill-motivated teachers hurt the education system by failing to deliver the curriculum effectively, compromising quality and standards. At the UNESCO and other international platforms, the Nigerian education system has been hailed as being among the best in Africa. This pride of place will be lost if we continue to owe teachers’ salaries.
 
What options are there for workers that are owed salaries for months, and how injurious are these options to the society in general?
The options to which teachers who are owed salaries resort are in five major areas. They shun attending school, rent “okada” motorcycles or use their personal cars as “kabukabu” to make daily income. Some take to farming. Some engage in running coaching classes for children of the rich. Sadly, some engage in armed robbery, kidnapping and “419” activities.

The injurious part is that when salaries are then paid and regularity returns to such payments, such teachers, having tasted the “forbidden” but sweet fruit of “okada” riding, running “kabukabu” and engagement in criminal activities will treat teaching as part-time and devote minimal time and attention to their teaching duties.

The multiplier effect of unpaid salaries and pensions are enormous, as the workers, their immediate families and dependants suffer. Does this not translate to an unhappy society, where life expectancy can be severely reduced and national development hampered?
You are absolutely right. As I stated earlier, the multiplier effect and negative impact are enormous including the ones you mentioned, that is, unhappy society, where life expectancy can be severely reduced and national development hampered.

One thing you missed out and I did not mention earlier is that this tragic situation is the hotbed for spawning hatred for teaching as a profession by children of teachers and others in the society. This portends a grave danger for the future of our country.  It will be a testimony to the failure of one generation of adults to believe in the future of the next.

How very sad unpaid salaries leave teachers and their dependants hungry, crashing their self-esteem.

Such hungry, ill-motivated teachers hurt the education system by failing to deliver the curriculum effectively, compromising quality and standards. At the UNESCO and other international circles, the Nigerian education system has been hailed as being among the best in Africa.

This pride of place will be lost if we continue to owe teachers’ salaries.


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