Arduous task of reforming primary education
Primary education is the foundation for human capital development and national progress. After public primary and secondary schools had been deleted from the list of education service delivery avenues, after millions of school age children had been sabotaged by their governments, and long after teachers in those schools had been starved away into oblivion and well after the training of teachers had been undermined by bureaucrats and policy makers under the cover of curriculum reviews, the federal government of Nigeria, from 2018 has been struggling to reform the educational system. I hope the government is informed enough to reform what its agencies destroyed, wilfully or inadvertently. The consolation is that the task is under the leadership of a beneficiary of the relics of colonial education and the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbanjo. I envy his position, but not his task of reforming the education sector in Nigeria.
With bits of courage, the Federal government appears to be making moves. The Teachers Registration Council has been put in place and a Teachers Service Scale has also been drawn up just as the Federal Executive Council recently approved service limit of either 40 years or 65 years of age marks for a final service departure years for teachers. The government needs to carefully reflect on where we started and where we are and thereby develop a long lasting reform for the benefit of all.
If the task of the Vice President is World Bank and International Monetary Fund driven, we should braise up for issues. Every sector these institutions went has not come out well in this country. Formal west European and American styled education as it is came to modern day Nigeria with missionary activities in 1840s and was later consolidated by the colonial administration. The colonial administration needed to do so to meet the training needs of clerical and other administrative personnel. The critical schools are the primary and secondary schools. The primary school was and it is still the foundation.
As the foundation, everything at the primary schools level was directed at the pupil who needs to be moulded with respect to skills, values, personal discipline and acceptable behaviour in the larger community. These became elusive as teachers, embodiments of these values, became objects of ridicule and symbols of degradation and poverty. In the beginning, the teachers were loaded with good values and images of good life and behaviour in the community. For instance, the teacher is a well-dressed gentle man in well ironed shirt, trousers, a tie to match with well-polished stainless leather shoes enough serve as a mirror to onlookers. To illustrate the discipline of teachers with respect to resource management, it was said that teachers use ruler to measure yam to be boiled by their wives to ensure everyone has enough to eat but not to the point of waste!
Teachers of this calibre and of that time knew what and how to impart knowledge, skills, character and discipline. These set of teachers got the pupils how to reason and yet produce hand crafts such as baskets, brooms and ropes under their gleeful eyes and supervision. I can remember Mall Salifu Aruwa taught pupils how to make sculpture from scrap paper. Those were the Teachers.
The Native Authority or Local Education Authority Inspectors that came around were duty bound and up to their responsibilities enough to keep the teachers on their toes. Poor dressing, poorly developed lesson plans and unkempt environment and poor sanitation attracted varying degrees of penalties for teachers and headmasters. The teachers and inspectors were simply professional, dedicated and took pride in their work and call to duties. Actually, they trained to become teachers from early years of schooling. The trainers at the Teachers Training Collages ensured the production of qualified teachers. Then, there were no dedicated service scales, registration Council and elongated years of service. The teachers and inspectors were dignified members of the community and were simply doing what they enjoyed doing with little pay that had great value in the market. This crop of teachers disappeared over time.
Trouble started when teaching became the occupation of the degraded outcast. Teachers came to be regarded as lepers and teaching became some sort of leprosy. Professional teachers avoided teaching and escaped to other sectors in the public and private sectors. My very headmaster went into Customs Service; my arithmetic teacher became a banker not to talk of those who went on to further education to escape teaching. I can remember Samuel who came to me in the early 1980s to say he was going back to school, after a National Certificate of Education and National Youth Service, not to read education because the teaching of “air has weight” had become punitive. Sam went to a School of Basic Studies and jumped to the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences to become a Pharmacist. The turn of events in the schools and the drastic change in the circumstance of teaching did more harm to education than the curriculum that is taught. It opened ways for opportunists to invade teaching.
Teaching became the last choice employable and unemployable and to anyone available. The willing and unwilling, began to be recruited to teach in primary schools. Similar groups of people were recruited to teach in secondary schools. Ever since then and till today anything goes. The scourge of the highly choking unemployment among graduates of all schools and colleges including the universities has chased the uninterested to teaching profession at various levels. In most cases, the knowledge and skills competences of those recruited to teach in our schools and colleges are doubtful.
These crops of ‘teachers’ could neither teach what they don’t know nor could they impart good character and mould disciplined children. Teachers began to go late to schools in torn dresses and worn out sandals and slippers. Lessons’ plans are not made as even the head teacher does not know how such plans are made. With delayed and low value salaries, corrupted Inspectorate and lack of zeal to even teach, leisure and knitting became major aspects of teachers’ activities in schools. The nation then began to harvest pupils that cannot spell their own names and university graduates for whom Queen’s English is a taboo.
To be continued tomorrow
Yunusa is executive director, Socioeconomic and Environment Advocacy Centre, Zaria, Nigeria.