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Buhari and teachers’ reward on earth

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Muhammadu Buhari PHOTO: Twitter

The recent boost in the teacher’s welfare package has attracted wide acclaim. It is a heartwarming and welcome development. The teachers are elated, much as it is a call for more dedication to duty on their part. The teachers can celebrate after many years of hard work and commitment that seemed not to be recognized or adequately rewarded.

Coming after many years of prolonged debacle nurtured by the poor condition of service, the demand by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) for an upward review of their salary and retirement age was finally granted following the approval of a special salary scale and retirement age for teachers from 35 to 40 years or 60 to 65 years. By this gesture, the Buhari administration has put the matter to rest. 

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However, what is worth doing is worth doing well. It is worthwhile to give legal backing to the new salary and welfare package to ensure that it is the law and not thwarted by any incoming administration. Policy pronouncement alone is not enough for this very crucial matter. Policy summersault is commonplace in this clime. Besides, some state governments may not buy into the new deal on the grounds of our ill-defined federalism and the fact that education is on the concurrent legislative list, which permits state governments to make their own laws pertaining to teachers. 

Nevertheless, it is in the public interest for every state to adopt this welfare package that is out to enhance the teaching profession and promote education quality as a weapon of country and global competitiveness. This is so considering the appalling poor condition of teachers over the years, which has worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buhari, who was represented by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, announced the change in teachers’ salary scale and retirement age in Abuja at an event to mark the World Teachers’ Day the other day.

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The theme for the celebration: ‘Teachers: Leading in Crisis, Reimagining the Future,” reflects the resilience of teachers and school administrators globally amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

Buhari instructed the ministry to facilitate the implementation of the new salary scheme, saying it would encourage teachers to deliver better service. This is the crux of the matter, to have this package implemented without undue delay.

The National President of the Union, Dr. Nasir Idris had at a press conference in Abuja, as part of activities to mark the 2020 World Teachers’ Day (WTD) on October 5, called for the enhancement of teachers’ welfare package.

A lot has been said about the appalling state of education in the country. The problems cut across the entire gamut of education from primary through secondary to tertiary level. There is absolutely no commitment anywhere in the country to turn around the education of which teachers are a critical component. 

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The NUT’s demands on the occasion of this year’s World Teachers Day celebration are not new. The demand to increase the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years or 35-40 years of service and improvement of their welfare has been recurrent and has forced the teachers to embark on industrial actions.

At 65 years, one is not old to teach. Unlike before, there are improved public health conditions making people live longer. Even, university professors are retiring at 70. This does not foreclose giving chance to new blood in the system.

We need more experienced teachers in the system. Experience matters. They are the ones who understand the job and the ethics of the profession and are better placed to impart knowledge based on experience.

Nevertheless, the 65 years should not be sacrosanct. It should depend on performance. There should be a way of determining productive teachers who could retire at that age. A productivity template should, thus, be guiding the principle. While the productive ones should stay, those not hardworking should retire at 60.

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Meanwhile, teachers should be paid their salaries and entitlements. It is unfortunate that private school teachers, particularly, have suffered untold hardship in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown since last March because of non-payment of their salaries and other emoluments; a situation that calls for government intervention to relieve the hapless teachers.

The quality of education depends on the quality of teachers. Unfortunately, the system is not treating teachers well. Teachers are regarded as the dregs of society; people who have no need for the good things of life and so must manage life with crumbs thrown at them as salary when it comes. That is not acceptable.

Across most states, teachers are the last to receive a salary at the end of every month. Many states owe teachers several months of unpaid salaries and allowances. The retired ones are not paid their pension. They are pushed to become beggarly, unable to fend for their families. There is no more dignity for teachers; the dignity for which teachers were known in the past has been undermined by the system. 

In other climes, especially, in the developed economies, dignity and honour are attached to teachers. Teachers in those climes are proud to belong to the profession. The civilisation we have today actually started from teachers who taught everyone in society.

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If we must make progress, we have to return to the past when teachers were accorded dignity. The loss of dignity is at the root of the crisis. Unfortunately, quite often, people who have no value for knowledge are the ones planning for teachers. The basics that used to form the crux of the teaching profession have been eroded. 

Truth is that nothing will improve education in the country so long as teachers are not factored into the scheme. In the yore years, teachers constituted the intellectual elite in the society. They were the role models. Then later things changed as they were told to expect their reward in heaven. 

The way out is for government to pay special attention to teachers. It is ironic that at a time when unemployment is high, our schools still lack teachers because no one wants to be a teacher. Many persons answering teachers today are there for the job and not for the work.

Now that the government has come up with a new improved paradigm for teachers, it is hoped that things will change. Their new package in terms of remuneration and welfare would significantly improve a lot of teachers and attract the best brains as soon as the details are unveiled. Education should be made a core agenda of government at all levels.  

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