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Federal government and degree in education for teachers

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Recently, the Federal Government of Nigeria introduced some rather disturbing criteria for the employment of teachers and decided to restructure its educational system by mandating teachers to obtain a degree in Education. ‘Degree in Education, as appeared in the title of this article, means a degree obtained from the Education Faculty in higher institutions. Such Faculty has departments like Adult and Non-Formal Education, Educational Curriculum, Educational Management, etc.

The imposition of a Bachelor of Education degree on teachers has not only been seen as discrimination and unnecessary burden; but also as a policy that sounds a death knell to aspiring teachers and some that are already in the system. Although the policy, which was first launched years back has repeatedly fallen on deaf ears and met stiff resistance from ASUU until the Federal Government revisited it in 2020, taking the war to the doors of school heads.

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Four factors informed the policy: First is the number of incompetent school-leavers together with their unemployability; second is the high failure rate in public examinations; third is the need for standards and quality education; and fourth is the dramatic effort to scupper schools, especially private ones that have ratcheted up in Nigeria of late. What the fourth factor translates into is that the more stifling the criteria for employing teachers, the fewer the people that will be interested in the teaching profession; the higher the dearth of teachers, the more the decrease in the number of schools. But whether the government is trying to meet (western) standards or aspiring to keep pace with the fast-changing world or not, its policy is unnecessary.

The matter can be approached this way: From an educational-qualification viewpoint, sound secondary school teachers with first degrees from non-Education Departments had been known to impart positively to their pupils before the new law came. Teachers with first degrees abound, but some private schools tend to go for those with Master’s. This is normal, although a Master’s is way too competitive as to deny applicants of their chances. Such non-Education first degree holders, after four years of study in higher institutions, would have mastered the nitty-gritty of their subjects.

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The bar is raised a bit higher in most higher institutions such that a PhD degree remains a prerequisite for employment of lecturers except in a situation where graduates with first-class honours are being rewarded. Teaching methods in higher institutions and primary/secondary schools vary slightly. Lesson note and lesson plan are used by primary/secondary school teachers whilst lecturers rarely depend on these. It is important to emphasize that the lesson note and lesson plan used by the teachers are fashioned after the procedural steps recommended by the Education Faculty. The Education Departments are interested in issues like psychology of learning, classroom management, teaching practice, educational technology, teaching methods, comparative education, psychopedagogy, educational supervision and school inspection, guidance and counselling, etc.

From the foregoing, words like teaching, learning, classroom management and practice all give the notion of education and training process; in this case an education with a small ‘e’, which is a sister to that with a capital ‘E’. The latter i.e, Education, according to The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 9th edition, page 490, is ‘the subject of study that deals with how to teach’. The same dictionary defines it as ‘the institutions or people involved in teaching and training’. It is these ‘institutions’ (e.g. Adeyemi College of Education in Ondo State and Ignatius Ajuru University of Education in Rivers State) that the Federal Government is asking unqualified teachers to visit, implying that these so-called teachers do not know ‘how to teach’. It is these ‘people’ i.e. the Education pedagogists that the Federal Government wants teachers to learn from or, possibly take examinations administered by the TRCN, NTI.

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Whilst the Federal Government decision is well justified in the foregoing explanation, it does not in any way mean that teachers with no BEd do not know ‘how to teach’. Both categories of teachers are superior; in fact, teachers with a degree in English from the Arts or Humanities Faculty are more in demand than their Education counterparts, because they study those aspects of English grammar and phonetics not studied by the Education English teachers. The Arts or Humanities teachers manage the class tantalisingly well and know the psychological factors that underly their pupils/learners’ behaviour/performance.

The BEd teachers are equipped with a vast array of teaching styles/strategies or methodology. However, teaching styles or methodology do not always determine learner’s success; some factors are key players. An English Language teacher with a BEd may know all the teaching methodology yet fail to wean his pupils on the diet of acceptable or, Standard British English. In second/foreign language learning, for example both teachers must realise that no one approach or presentation technique, say GTM, Audio-Visual, Kinaesthetic, PPP, Task-Based Learning, Guided Discovery, TPR, Warmer/Lead-in, Test-Teach-Test, etc. is seen as the best. The use of methods or techniques is dictated by such factors as the class, learner’s ability, availability of teaching resources and the preparation of the teacher.

It should be reiterated that an English Language teacher with a BA possesses the skills needed by his pupils or learners: he has perfect communication skills; he is an excellent time manager; he incentivizes learners through tasks and activities to their real-life interests; he encourages learners to continue learning outside the classroom; he gives learners positive feedback and plaudits; he varies activities to take stock of the different learning styles in the class; he is adaptable, resilient, dispassionate and disciplined; through facial gestures, he restores order to the class; above all, he does not need a BEd in order to be adjudged competent except he is being jollied by his employer into getting one.

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To conclude this piece, I advise that within the Federal Government cabinet, the square pegs first have to be removed from the round holes. In time like this in Nigeria when people are staring hunger and inflation in the face and massive job losses have sent many to their untimely graves, this new law must be suspended. Much as I appreciate the Minister of Education for bringing his perspicacity and discretion to bear on the educational system of Nigeria, I maintain that a BEd is not necessary. The probability of a BEd teacher (even with all his pedagogical tools) transforming the dull-witted into geniuses is so vanishingly small that one reserves such task for God: the giver of intelligence. Asking teachers to sit the TRCN, NTI examinations also is ill-considered. It is one thing to hoover up degrees in Nigeria, it is another thing to get employed. The so-called TRCN examinations and the employment criteria should be left in the hands of school heads, especially private school proprietors who appreciate good teachers. In addition, using a first-class honours and upper second class as criteria for teachers’ employment must not be a fait accompli; a first class or upper second class is no longer a differentiator. Hordes of graduates get those grades on a silver platter nowadays. What really counts is the graduates’ readiness to impress their interviewers and classrooms enormously.
  
Sola wrote from Port Harcourt.

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