On minimum teaching qualification
THE proposal by the Federal Government to make a university degree the minimum qualification for teaching in schools would seem commendable but this idea on its own cannot arrest the sliding fortunes of the educational sector as demonstrated by pupils’ mass failure in examinations. It would only be useful when the government addresses the needs of teachers and confront the multifaceted challenges of education generally.
By that pronouncement, the government underscored the importance of teachers in the improvement of education in the country. But the nation needs a more encompassing approach to getting a solution to the crisis in the educational sector, which should go beyond merely sending teachers with degrees to teach in schools. This is because teaching is a profession that requires people who are properly trained. The growing unemployment and the mushrooming of schools in the country have created a situation where graduates who cannot find jobs in other sectors easily take to teaching. These are university degree holders no doubt, but because most of them are not professionally trained teachers, they hardly have a positive impact on their pupils.
Thus, the government should place emphasis on the training of teachers. The nation understood the importance of the professional training of teachers in the past and this was why many teacher training schools were set up. Over the years, the nation has moved from the level where primary school leavers were teachers to where those who taught had Grade 111 in the 1960s, Grade 11 in the 1970s, and the minimum of the National Certificate of Education (NCE) in the 1980s.
The teachers in the 1960s and 1970s never had university degrees but they were effective. Therefore, in addition to making teachers have a first degree, the government should put in place the kind of environment that made teachers effective in the past without university degrees. In the past, teachers were respected; they were seen as role models who were looked up to. And this was why they were effective in not only imparting knowledge but also positively moulding the character of their pupils. Years of neglect and ill-treatment of teachers have made society to deny them the respect they deserve. Now, in some states of the federation, teachers are being owed several months’ salaries. State governments pay other civil servants first, but not teachers.
Consequently, a further danger to the educational sector in this regard is that it is those who are neither professionally trained nor committed to teaching who end up becoming teachers as a last resort after failing to get jobs elsewhere.
However, this is not the case in many other countries of the world which understand the prime importance of education and teachers in the development of their societies. For instance in Finland, the teaching profession is highly respected. In fact, people compete to be engaged as teachers. During his visit to the Nigerian Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekarau, the Finnish Ambassador to Nigeria Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury lent credence to this. It was at this meeting that Shekarau articulated the Nigerian government’s proposal. According to the envoy, the competitiveness of the teaching profession as exemplified by the huge interest of many qualified people in Finland made the government to set a minimum of a master’s degree for teachers.
The experience of Nigeria’s neighbour, Ghana, could also prove useful. All teachers are categorised into professional and non-professional groups. The minimum teaching qualification for professional teachers in the basic school is a diploma in basic education. But the minimum teaching qualification of professional teachers for senior high school and technical/vocational institutions is a bachelor degree in education designed in the appropriate subject in addition to a postgraduate diploma in education.
If the Federal Government is sincere in restoring the dignity of teachers and making education the nation’s priority as Shekarau told the envoy, the Federal Government and the states should begin by taking the sincere step of paying teachers their well-deserved salaries. Then it should overhaul the curricula for the training of teachers and send the ones already in its employ on refresher courses like their counterparts in the civil service for them to be abreast of contemporary developments in their profession. For without fostering an enabling environment for teaching, the idea of making a first degree the minimum qualification of teachers would not salvage the nation’s education from the rot onto which it has almost fully sunk.
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