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As Nigerian teachers receive ‘heavenly’ rewards on earth

By Iyabo Lawal
15 November 2018   |   3:39 am
With grace, goodwill and gumption, the Nigerian Breweries Plc., – through the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award (MTOY)– is redefining teaching and learning in Nigerian schools as it splashes millions of naira on teachers as a reward for their dedication and professionalism, renewing teachers’ passion and zeal for one of mankind’s oldest professions, Head,…

Minister of State for Education, Prof Anthony Anwukah (left); Member of Jury, Maltina Teacher of the Year, Prof Mopelola Omoegun; Winner, Maltina Teacher of the Year, Olasunkanmi Opeifa; and Managing Director/CEO, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Jordi Borrut Bel; at the grand finale of the 2018 Maltina Teacher of the Year in Lagos

With grace, goodwill and gumption, the Nigerian Breweries Plc., – through the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award (MTOY)– is redefining teaching and learning in Nigerian schools as it splashes millions of naira on teachers as a reward for their dedication and professionalism, renewing teachers’ passion and zeal for one of mankind’s oldest professions, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL reports

Until last October, Olasunkanmi Opeifa – the current Maltina Teacher of the Year – must have felt being a teacher was “a thankless, arduous task”.

An inventive young teacher of English, 32-year-old Opeifa is a poster boy for young and old teachers in Nigeria, a country struggling with dearth of adequate and qualified teachers.

Today, Opeifa oozes with confidence – like that of a bank manager – courtesy of the Nigerian Breweries through its Maltina Teacher of the Year Award for 2018.

For the fourth time since its launch, the 2018 October edition of the award did not fail to deliver in terms of glitz and gifts with Nigerian teachers as the ultimate focus.

Qualified teachers are vital to quality education yet Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African countries face the largest teacher gap: it will need a total of 17 million primary and secondary school teachers by 2030.

According to Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Nigeria needs 400,000 teachers.

With a grim image often painted of Nigerian teachers as hungry, ill-motivated and harried, the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award is making a big difference.

A survey of 30 countries by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development showed that the US spends $809bn; Japan, $160bn; Germany, $154bn; Brazil, $146bn; France, $123bn; and the UK, $123bn each year on teachers – not so Nigeria. But, Nigerian Breweries has realised that for the country to become an industrial and intellectual hub of Africa, development of its human capital is essential.

In concert with that realisation, the company had, on October 11, 2018, at the Muson Centre, Lagos, assembled eminent Nigerians from all walks of life to celebrate outstanding teachers in the country using the annual Maltina Teacher of the Year Award, on the platform of the Nigerian Breweries Plc-Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund as the quest for the best teacher in secondary schools in Nigeria in 2018 came to a glorious end when Opeifa, a teacher from Government Day Secondary School, Karu in Abuja emerged as the 2018 Maltina Teacher of the Year.

For the feat, Opeifa was rewarded with N1 million in addition to N500, 000 he received as state champion from Abuja. He will also get N1m every year for the next five years and a block of six classrooms built at his school. 

The winner, an English language teacher, commended Nigerian Breweries for the gesture as he urged other organisations to follow suit.

“Today, I am very happy and proud that Nigerian Breweries has shown that teachers’ rewards are both in heaven and on earth. They’ve taken the profession to another level; something that’s been missing before now. Maltina has come to fill the gap,” he told The Guardian. “It’s a great initiative. Sincerely, I can say that it is a divine inspiration that has come to lift teachers’ status in Nigeria. I think teachers generally will be forever grateful to them – whether you win the award or not, people see you as a potential millionaire now.”

The visibly excited teacher, therefore, added: “You can pick the form and be the millionaire next minute.” On that night of blitz and brilliance, Opeifa was not the only shining light.

There was Olalekan Adeeko, a Computer Studies teacher from Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta, Ogun State, who emerged the first runner-up. There was also Samuel Popoola, a Physics teacher with Deeper Life High School; Akure in Ondo State clinched the second runner-up prize.

Apart from the reward of N500, 000 as “state champion”, the first and second runners-up got an additional N1m and N750, 000 respectively. In total, the award ceremony produced 26 “state champions” with each one of them receiving N500, 000.

As each collected their prize monies, the harrowing tale of penury, shame and waning passion for the teaching profession momentarily filled the otherwise grand ambience of the night. In the end, all the teachers’ faces were filled with joy and gratitude for Nigerian Breweries.

Since 1994, it has been the resolve of Nigerian Breweries – in line with its philosophy of “Winning with Nigeria” –, according to the company’s Managing Director, Jordi Borrut Bel, to play a more active role in the development of education in Nigeria when it established the “Nigerian Breweries – Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund” with a commencement capital of N100 million.

That resolve by 2015 resulted in the organisation’s intervention in education, which was expanded to include teachers when the Maltina Teacher of the Year initiative was launched.

The initiative, Bel pointed out, was launched because of the miserly treatment Nigerian teachers often get from the public and their employers, both public and private – leading many to conclude erroneously that a teacher’s elusive “reward is in heaven”.

Besides changing the face of teachers and teaching in the country, Nigerian Breweries’ Education Trust Fund has impacted more 25,000 pupils with at least 400 classrooms, 30 libraries and laboratories built in over 40 communities across Nigeria.

These interventions, Bel noted, at the award ceremonies, have become an integral part of “our sustainability agenda (which) have covered primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education”.

This selfless commitment to the society has not gone unnoticed by the federal government as the Minister of State for Education, Prof. Anthony Anwukah, affirmed that the story of the development of education in Nigeria will not be complete without Nigerian Breweries as he admitted that the organisation has been at the forefront of improving the sector by continually investing in educational infrastructure, encouraging teachers and students and the cycle as a whole .

Present at the grand occasion were dignitaries like Mrs. Yetunde Odetayi, Permanent Secretary, in the office of the Deputy Governor of Lagos; Boboye Oyeyemi, Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps; and Desmond Elliot, a member of Lagos State House of Assembly, among others.

According to a survey by the Global Teacher Status Index that examines attitudes to teachers around the world, teachers in China had the greatest respect from people in their country. It was the only country where people compared teachers most closely to doctors.

In Nigeria, entertainers, politicians and footballers are individuals many look up to despite findings of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) that 617 million children and adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics.

Reflecting on that, Opeifa explained, “All teachers in Nigeria, I have to say that we are doing a lot to produce successes and results in this country. The destiny of young children is in our hands. We should not look at whether we have enough facilities or not, everything we can do to make a success out of each child we should do. I know that one day we will be recognised for it.”

In countries like Finland, China, Japan, and South Korea, teaching is a prized profession. According to the OECD, teachers are treated like royalty in Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium.

Opeifa thinks with the continued support of the Nigerian Breweries Plc-sponsored Maltina Teacher of the Year Award, Nigerian teachers can turn the fortunes of the country around – he already fancies himself doing something from the prize money he received.

“I hope to have a school one day where those things that are missing in our educational sector can be well taken care of,” he explained to The Guardian.

“A lot of things have gone wrong. There’s a huge dichotomy between school’s curricula and our societal needs. What we are teaching most times is not in sync with reality. So, I hope to have a school in the next few years where we’ll look at the vital needs and fill the gaps properly.”

To Opeifa, Nigerian Breweries has added class to Nigerian teachers’ potential since the advent of the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award, noting that things can only get better for teachers who are inventive and passionate about their job. He said matter-of-factly, “If you rank it, I think teachers are in the middle class socially. However, in that middle class –when divided into three – teachers are the least economically. They are viewed as second class or third class. But now teachers are still not viewed as first class, they are still rated very low.”

With N1.5 million in his kitty, the winner of the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award will receive N1 million from Nigerian Breweries for the next five years. Since inception, the award programme has produced four grand winners: Rose Obi from Anambra State (2015), Imoh Essien from Akwa Ibom State (2016), Felix Ariguzo from Delta State (2017) and the current champion – Opeifa.

The 32-year-old, like the award organisers, is passionate about developing others. “I want to give back to the society. I hope to do better as I progress as a teacher. I want to have a form of readers’ club. It’ll be an NGO that can equip children with reading materials and then it will be like a club where secondary school students can come together to read, review books, and the best reviewer of the year or month win some prizes,” he said.

Opeifa, who has been teaching for 14 years, has always wanted to be a teacher. “I just loved reading and then when I read I would picture the way I understood it,” he recalled. “I was teaching other people, especially my age mates then. We used to have just one profession in that area which was teaching –and the only well-respected woman in the area was like a mentor to me.

“She taught so well. So with that, reading books and solving mathematics on my own and then picturing teaching others, I knew I would be a teacher. I have passion for the job. I love explaining things to people. This is my calling. It’s a childhood desire.”

But what does his teaching routine involve? He explained, “The reality of what I do in the classroom; I use gadgets – digital literacy in my own way. I use non-conventional methods in teaching my pupils like composing songs, sounds and formula.” About being the winner of the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award for 2018, Opeifa admitted, “I wasn’t really trained to fail. I’ve been emerging first since my primary school days. Anytime I emerged second, it’s ‘wahala’ (trouble) at home. So, the consciousness was there that you must just go there and make us proud.”

As the curtain dropped on the awards night, the race for the next Maltina Teacher of the Year Award 2019 has already begun in the minds of Nigerian teachers as they returned to their classrooms reinvigorated with more passion, motivation and reinvention, courtesy of Nigerian Breweries’ vision to impact positively on Nigeria through education – teaching and learning.

With shoulders high, Opeifa – the overall winner of this year’s award – and the other “state champions” raised their heads towards the heavens showing gratitude to the ‘heavenly’ gifts they all received from Nigerian Breweries.