‘What we need to revamp Nigeria’s educational system’
What, in your opinion, are reasons for declining standard of education in Nigeria?
The issues responsible for the decline are ‘legion.’
There are issues of lack of funding, lack of resources, lack of infrastructure and so on, but the neglect of teachers as far as I’m concerned is the most important factor.
If infrastructure and resources were to be provided but teachers still not empowered, it will yield very little results.
Research has it that teachers are the most important factor (not the only factor but most important) affecting students’ learning and are responsible for their academic achievement to a very large degree, therefore, issues concerning teachers need to be the starting point in understanding the reasons for the decline in our standards.
First, is the quality of the initial teacher training that prospective teachers receive in our colleges of education and universities – is it fit for purpose? Can it adequately prepare those student teachers for the 21st century school and classroom?
Secondly, beyond the initial teacher training is the lack of on-the-job training for teachers. Unlike some other professions, teachers are not mandated to attend continuous professional development programmes and conferences.
Who would take their baby to a doctor who has not trained in 30 years? Yet, there are children presently being taught by such teachers? This is extremely disconcerting.
Teachers need to keep updating, not only their subject knowledge but pedagogical skills as well.
Another important factor is lack of quality leadership in our schools.
The American author, pastor and leadership expert John Maxwell says everything rises and falls on leadership.
Teachers with experience are simply promoted to become heads with no thorough preparation for the position.
In the UK, for instance, a prospective head must have the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) or such relevant qualification. Technical skills cannot be equated with leadership skills.
What recommendations can you give the government to help improve educational system in Nigeria?
I would recommend that more specialised (education) universities be established.
Teachers will benefit much more from these specialised universities, as the pedagogical focus in these universities is stronger than in the regular universities, which seem to focus more on content knowledge.
The graduates (newly qualified teachers) from such specialised establishments should then go through an Induction year during which time they also receive a lot of mentoring from senior teachers as is done in professions like law and medicine.
This will expose them to practical day-to-day challenges and the joys of teaching.
I also recommend in addition that all teachers should be mandated to sit and pass professional skill tests in numeracy, literacy and ICT, leading to an award of a Qualified Teacher Status.
This status can be conferred by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and will help standardize and ensure a minimum level standard.
They must then follow up with mandatory continuous professional development trainings that will count towards re-certification.
You have addressed the issue of quality; how about equity based on the sustainable development goal?
I believe it is very important to create equal opportunities for all the children in our nation, and the 10.5 million plus school-aged children who are presently out of school should not be ignored.
However, due to limited funds, I realize that it might be wishful thinking to hope that the government will build more schools.
My suggestion, as a fast track measure, is to establish what I call ‘Core Centres’ where core subjects – English, Mathematics and ICT – can be taught.
Soft skills such as leadership, entrepreneurship and civic education can also be taught in these centres.
Structures such as churches, mosques, town halls and other buildings, which are largely underutilized, can be used during the day as core centres.
This idea is very easy to run with and can take off immediately at little cost. Meadow Hall Foundation, the non-profit arm of Meadow Hall Group is starting its own core centre in Ikorodu, Lagos.
Teachers for these centres (and for the public schools with teacher shortage) can be recruited from the responsible, smart members of society who are either unemployed or who want to serve their nation.
Such motivated and passionate individuals can be taken through rigorous fast track training and deployed to these centres. Also, youth corps members can be trained and co-opted into this programme.
Since the government cannot do it alone, in what areas can government partner with private entrepreneurs to improve quality of education in Nigeria?
Firstly, I feel the government should encourage private citizens who wish to start their own universities to focus on setting up education universities, rather than approving more ‘regular’ universities.
Secondly, government should get more involved in public private partnership (PPP) in the education sector. For example, in the UK, there are what they call Academies, an idea we can modify to suit our own society; government can partner with school owners and heads who have a track record of successfully running their own schools, to oversee a small number of public schools in their local government, in areas close to their schools.
Lastly, due to lack of funds as mentioned earlier, government-owned tertiary institutions can have an internal business arrangement with their co-operative societies to fund some capital projects, e.g. building hostels.
They can leverage on the huge co-operative societies and the funds available to them to build infrastructures, which the co-operative society would own and run for a number of years, for a profit, before handing over the infrastructure to the university.
These are some alternative solutions I believe can work in the absence of adequate funding, though the ultimate solution remains for the government to increase its budgetary allocation for education to 26 per cent as recommended by UNESCO.
Raising the standard of teachers is essential for quality education. Does Meadow Hall have initiatives or programmes to address this?
Yes, we have a number of initiatives and programmes we run, specifically under our Meadow Hall Foundation and Meadow Hall Consult, our educational training, consulting and advisory subsidiary.
Graduate Teacher Training Programme (GTTP): This is a three-month teacher training and development programme aimed at preparing young and passionate graduates for the classroom.
The programme is at no cost to the graduate trainees and there are job placement opportunities for graduates who are exceptional during the training.
School Adoption Programme (SAP): This is an initiative, which focuses on improving the standard of education in public schools.
Our pilot school is Ilasan Primary School, located in the Jakande area of Lekki, Lagos State.
We have implemented various developmental activities in an effort to improve students’ educational outcome
Free Teachers’ Professional Development Training: This training is a free opportunity for teachers (both in the public and private sectors) to get updated with the latest evidence-based strategies in education.
We recently organised a free training for teachers in Kaduna State.
Meadow Hall Foundation Education Convention: The convention is a platform that provides an opportunity for all educational stakeholders to gain fresh perspectives on pertinent educational issues.
Inspirational Educators’ Awards (INSEA): This is an annual award aimed at elevating the teaching profession and motivating school teachers and school leaders to continue to strive for excellence in their profession.
Educamp: This is an annual training programme targeted at all members of the educational sector within and beyond Nigeria.
It is a learning platform that brings together teachers, school owners and various educational stakeholders.
What is your general advice to teachers, school owners and government?
Let us all join hands to elevate the teaching profession. I will like to see teachers treated with more respect and appreciation.
Teachers make a lot of sacrifices but are hardly acknowledged. Teachers’ welfare and benefits should be looked into.
This is the only way we can begin to attract the young ones into the profession.
There is a shortage of teachers even right now, and I shudder to think of what the future holds if we do not start elevating the profession and making it more attractive.
To the teacher, I say be a thoroughbred professional and then hold your head high. Be proud to be a teacher. You are a Very Important Person (VIP), and we applaud all you do.
Could you share a bit about yourself and your interest in the education sector?
I wear many hats. A wife, mother, educationist and a nation builder (in that order of priority, by the way).
A lawyer by training, I was called to the Nigerian Bar over 30 years ago and practised for a good number of years; however, I found little fulfillment in law practice.
Something was definitely lacking – passion; and because there was no passion, I did not have any sense of fulfilment, nor interest in pursuing that career path.
Instead, 18 years ago, I decided to change career and follow my true passion, which is teaching, so I proceeded to get my qualifications in education to make me a full-fledged teacher.
As a lifelong learner, I am currently pursuing a Ph.D. programme at the University of Leicester in the UK. I am passionate about teachers and their professional development.
This is the aspect I love most about education and believe it to be my calling to be a teacher’s teacher (as opposed to teaching children, that is).
I thoroughly enjoy training, mentoring, coaching and leading teachers.
Teachers play an important role in shaping the minds of our children and often act ‘in loco parentis’, yet they are very often taken for granted.
Sadly, teachers are neglected by government, ignored by parents and school leaders do not always appreciate them; yet we hope all will be well with the education sector.
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