A case for better teacher education
The concern by the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Prof. Paulinus Okwelle, that fewer people study for the National Certificate of Education (NCE) qualification is worthy of serious consideration by both the government and the people of this country. But his suggestion that admission requirements be lowered to encourage more applicants is wrong. Okwelle is reported to suggest that, along with the required credits in the relevant subjects, a Pass in Mathematics for courses in the Arts and the Humanities, and a Pass in English Language for the Sciences, vocational and technical courses, be approved as minimum requirements.
He also urged the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to devise separate and realistic entry requirements for Colleges of Education than those required for degree courses. That is absolutely not acceptable, said automobile company executive Lee Iacocca: ‘In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.’ We cannot agree more.
There is also the suggestion to upgrade the curriculum of the colleges of education. Of course yes. As suggested by Dr. Siji Oladunjoye, curriculum should be regularly reviewed to meet the practical and market needs of the times and the environment. This purpose can certainly not be served by a lowering of admission criteria but indeed by upgrading them. To do otherwise, he suggested, correctly, implies a debasing of the profession. But the teaching profession so urgently needs upgrading in all ramifications.
If the role of the teacher in the education system is appropriately considered, valued, and appreciated, it is preposterous to admit the less than academically capable into the, we dare say, the exalted profession of teaching. Indeed, in other climes, only the best are hired as teachers at all levels of formal education. There is good reason for this sensible decision. As the American philosopher Henry Adams wisely said, ‘A teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops.’ This is to say that the quality and the fortune of society, now and in future, is substantially (if not completely) dependent upon the quality of education that its teachers impart on the citizens. Indeed, it is said, rightly, that teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. If so, every sane society treats teachers well and receives in return commensurate development of its human capital. Some Asian and Nordic countries are good examples of this.
A starting point is to emphasise most strongly that a nation is made great by the quality of its people, its human capital. As E.F. Schumacher would say, the issue is not about the viability of a nation but a viability of its people. There can be no argument, of course, that the quality of the educational system is the engine to this end. In turn, this is enabled by the quality of the teaching profession. Put simply, competent, contented, respected teachers are the cornerstone on which to build a great nation. How well does Nigeria treat its teachers?
It is embarrassing therefore that this issue comes up at all in a country that should lead the black world in the key factors of development and human progress. Alas, teachers education and teachers condition of service are only part of a comprehensive disdain for education by the managers of Nigeria’s affairs most noticeably in the miserable budgetary allocation to that critical sector.
Over the years, the teaching profession has increasingly become unattractive for such reasons as poor remuneration, poor facilities to work with, intolerably heavy workload, and disrespect for teachers. Many teachers would not want their children to follow them into the profession. Of course, teaching curriculum needs to be periodically reviewed and upgraded; so too teachers’ training, work facilities, welfare and job prospects.
The solution to making teaching attractive is multifaceted. First, the political leadership in Nigeria must even recognise that quality and relevant education is the bedrock of development and societal progress, and act accordingly. If the federal budgetary allocation to education since 1999 is an indication, there, is no evidence of this. Therefore, we emphatically recommend that the incoming administration needs a reset of priorities whereby education will be in the top three of funding. And this example should be relentlessly urged upon the other tiers of government.
Second, it is a truism that you cannot give what you do not have. The beginning of a good education system is the quality of the teachers. If the teaching profession is to impart quality and relevant modern education to its pupils and students, the practitioners should, nay must, be given all the resources to do so. If to whom much is given, much is expected, it is only reasonable to first provide the needed resources and then demand commensurate performance. The resources that teachers need include better pay and conditions of service. This will raise their financial empowerment, psychological confidence, and, in a Nigerian society where money is the new god, public respect.
Third, as Michael Avosetinyen of the Lagos State University of Education argues, teaching is the mother of all professions. If the aim is to produce the best students possible, it is not proper nor reasonable to lower entry requirements for colleges of education. On the other hand, we would suggest that the admission requirements should be raised, and incentives be offered to attract students with genuine interest. These incentives will include large subsidy on fees and other costs, a guaranteed employment on successful completion of the course, and even an opportunity to teach in other countries under the Technical Aid Corps of the Federal Government.
Fourth, the fast changes in the global environment demand that every person continually upgrades himself to cope, not the least those in the teaching profession. Teachers must be encouraged, using the carrot and stick approach, to engage in continued education both at their personal cost, and at the cost of their employers. The benefits are mutual. But essentially, as a determinant of the quality of education under its watch, every government worth its salt must take deep and consistent interest in the quality of the teaching profession, including, the total welfare of the practitioners. Educator Jacques Barzun said, teaching is not a lost art, only that the regard for it is a lost tradition. This should not be so.
In Nigeria, there is no excuse of lack of funds, No. We insist without equivocation that there is enough money to do the needful in the education sector. The United Nations Education for All (EFA) document recommends between 15 and 20 per cent budgetary allocation to education. Forthwith, Nigerian governments at all levels must, if in truth they seek the highest good of the country, muster the necessary political will to allocate at least 15 per cent of their respective budgets to education. The intellectual (and indeed other types of) health of society and the survival of the country in a relentlessly competitive world depends on the quality of its education generally, and specifically on its teachers.