Promises of better days for teachers
Two promises of better days for teachers came recently from the executive and the legislative arms of the Federal Government. On the one hand, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu expressed plans to pay teachers more than other categories in its workforce for the reason that it may make the profession attractive to the best intellectual minds. That makes sense. On the other hand, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara promised a delegation from the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) that the retirement age of its members will be extended by legislation from 60 years to 65 years in order to retain experienced hands. Again, Dogara’s justification is quite sensible.
For at least, the past two decades, specifically beginning with the rule of the military, the teaching profession has been denigrated and teachers at all levels have suffered terrible indignities – financial, professional, psychological – at the hands of, especially, their public sector employers. The sad consequence over time is that no one with an alternative offer ever takes up teaching. Teachers are underpaid, overworked, and hardly ever receive their just entitlement as, and when due. The emotional and social respectability cost of these are invaluable to the human person, more so a teacher who, under normal circumstances, should be an embodiment of what is right and proper. Alas, the circumstances of the teaching profession in these parts are far from normal. But there is absolutely no justifiable reason for this. Can Nigeria not afford to pay and equip its teachers not merely well but very well? It surely can. Can this country not afford to retain its teachers until age 70? It surely can. When Nigeria was not as rich as it is today, its teachers were, within the context of the pay structure, well paid as well as much respected. Indeed, teachers were the intellectual elite of the community besides being the epitome of all that was progressive and modern-minded. Their advice was sought by community leaders.
Today, government, and many Nigerians are wont to complain about the quality of teachers. But peanuts are paid, only monkey service can be received. And in any case, it would be neither fair nor reasonable to expect teachers in this environment to rise above the prevalent systemic rot. Teachers are the fundament of education; only good teachers can make a nation’s educational structure and system strong, functional and effective. Besides, in the teaching-learning process, the method is as crucial as the content. A good teacher can make even a difficult content a joy to learn.
Countries with the best conditions of service for teachers attract high academic performers into the teaching cadre and only after rigorous assessment processes to ensure the applicant’s all-round suitability. Beyond the monthly pay, conducive teaching and learning environment, well equipped with the necessary aid and materials are never in short supply to aid effective impartation of knowledge and skills to students.
Adamu rightfully noted that teaching has become an ‘all comers affair.’ Of course, it can only be so in a country led by persons with either little education, or with much academic education but limited appreciation of the eternal value and desirableness of education, in its broadest meaning. Indeed, it can be argued that the sad state of affairs in this country is a direct effect of an ill-educated, small-minded leadership that in turn foist upon the citizens values utterly bereft of vision, focus, and direction.
There is good reason that teaching is termed ‘the noble profession’. It is the profession of professions, the one that enables every other profession. The head of a European country reportedly told – and rightly too- other professionals who asked to be paid like the teachers: ‘how can I compare you to those who taught you?’
Teaching is more than the impartation of knowledge; it is, in the words of the Roman statesman, a skill and an art. This is to say that the real and effective teacher is one with an aptitude, an interest, a love, for the job not only to earn a living, but also embrace the role as model for the students.
Countries that hire the best into the teaching profession reward them accordingly as well as construct excellent education systems to lead in global achievements. The 10 highest teachers-paying countries topped by Luxembourg with an entry salary of US$73,000, include Korea, Germany, United States, Japan, Canada and Sweden.
But money is not everything, which explains why some of the countries with the best education systems such as Singapore, United Kingdom, Russia, Finland, Israel, Brazil, and Argentina still do not pay the best to teachers. Furthermore, the top 10 finalists for the best teachers in the world Global Teacher Prize include Michael Wamaya in Kenya, Tracy Ann-Hall in Jamaica, and Boya Yang in China. Teaching excellence requires more than skill in and love of the job. Adequate funding for continuous training in up-to-date equipment and teaching methods, also enhance the competency and the effectiveness of a teacher.
Nigeria needs, most urgently, competency-based teacher education, a reward system that attracts the best minds into the teaching profession and well-rounded teachers who make learning an enjoyable experience for pupils and students. The promises by Adamu and Dogara are good expressions of intention. In an increasingly knowledge-driven world, these should be implemented with the utmost urgency in order to give this country a development-focused direction.