Nigeria’s teachers in the midst of pains
As the World Teachers Day holds today, the Nigerian governments at all levels must search for ways to urgently address the various challenges facing teachers in the country. For so many years, teachers have been encumbered by so many problems and the earlier those problems are accorded the attention they deserve the better for the nation. For there is no gainsaying that teachers’ overall performance and productivity are being adversely affected and at the moment, education in the country is simply better described as an endangered concept. Those at the corridors of power must realise that teaching is more of a psychological vocation and those involved must be in their best to perform well.
Even though so much emphasis on certificates nowadays, the hard fact is that certificates are purely secondary while real interest in the profession and passion for the job are what bring out the best in every teacher. Such noble qualities are however never achieved on a platter of gold and there is an urgent need for the Nigerian state to invest heavily in teachers if it intends to achieve its education goals.
As at now, apart from the fact that salaries paid to teachers in Nigeria are grossly inadequate and always in contention, many states still fail to live up to expectation even in the payment of the stipends to teachers. Many months in salary arrears are being owed and worse still there is virtually no hope about when such debts will be paid. How some state governments expect teachers to put in excellent discharge of their functions on hungry stomachs is difficult to understand. Whereas aside from the issue of salaries, all state governments also ought to put in place adequate welfare packages that can make teachers really happy and proud of their profession. This can be done by ensuring that teachers who have put in a number of years into teaching qualify automatically to own their own homes in addition to receiving keys to their own vehicles even if they have to pay for them through mortgage. With such provisions, teachers will be able to put their minds at rest and face the task before them squarely. But quite unfortunately, teachers in Nigeria are relegated to the background and no one appears to bother about their plight. Teachers face so much hard time and live an entire life full of struggles especially in states where salaries are not paid regularly. While many, especially those in the urban centres, face the problem of accommodation and most times are forced to live in the remotest part of the city where house rents are low, they however face the problem of transportation as they have to travel long distances to their schools and this somehow affects their general output.
It is true that teachers belong to a union, the Nigeria Union of Teachers that ought to champion their cause and articulate their troubles. However, most times these unions are manned by people who lack proper articulation and are completely bereft of ideas of how to go about fighting the cause of their teeming members. Again it is only those in the government’s employment that have the benefit of unionism while their private school counterparts are never allowed to belong to any union and they face the twin tragedy of ill-treatment by their employers, and utterly poor wages which are not even regular. Yet these are full-blooded Nigerians who had spent years burning the midnight oil now being treated like second-class citizens in their own land. A time has come for the government to come to the rescue of teachers of private schools by making pronouncements that can assuage their sufferings.
But rather than search for ways to address these nagging problems confronting teachers, successive governments shun real issues and concentrate all attention on rhetoric. All clamours are about professionalism even when nothing is being done to guarantee the qualities of those branded as such. It is a sad irony that due to government’s insistence on professionalism, teaching appointments are now open only to charlatans who possess education certificates. That is in spite of the fact that most of them are unable to express themselves in simple and correct English Language. So while the very knowledgeable graduates who can make a difference in the schools are shut out, the very poor ones are allowed to fill up all the schools’ vacancies! What is all the hues and cries about professionalism when our teacher training colleges and education departments of universities are still populated by candidates with the lowest grades? For the issue of professionalism to work, the stakes in the nation’s teacher training colleges and education departments of universities must be raised very high such that only the best can gain admission there. That done, the nation after a while will be able to parade the very best in its education sector, and then the issue of professionalism may suffice.
It is also when that is achieved that the so-called Teachers Registration Council which mandate as at now is difficult to ascertain will become more meaningful. For now, while the leadership of this phoney council is hell-bent on having all teachers in Nigeria within its fold, the other germane factor of quality of teachers is ignored. The import is that all manners of teachers have now come under the umbrella of TRC even when the genuineness of their certificates is in doubt. The sordid revelation about teachers’ performance in a simple aptitude test carried out in Kwara State some years back, and another mind-boggling finding in Edo State during the regime of Adams Oshiomhole, both of which were swept under the carpet because of politics, are clear indication that Nigeria needs a complete overhaul of its teacher-training processes. While argument about professionalism and that of the establishment of Teachers Registration Council may be said to be rational, the government must first of all put adequate measures in place to guarantee the quality of its teaching force. This done, the Teachers Registration Council can then be saddled with the responsibility of teachers’ recruitment for the entire country. By so doing, the nation will be able to beat its chest as to the high standard of its teachers.
• Oyewusi, a director of Education, lives in Lagos.
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