Teachers, teaching and the welfare strategy
One of the greatest desires of the federal and state governments in Nigeria is to have an education system that will be both efficient and effective in a way that produces a generally convincing excellent results. Since independence up till now, education in Nigeria has undergone some amazing changes some of which can be adjudged to be praiseworthy. But at the same time, it has also faced nagging challenges most of which leave a sour taste in the mouth. The reason why most of the aspirations of state governments to move education forward has somewhat proved difficult to achieve stares everyone in the face.
The teachers that are the real driving engines towards achieving all the lofty goals relating to education are the most ill-treated, most neglected and most looked down upon of all cadres of civil servants. And because of such poor disposition towards teachers, it is simply impossible to get the best from them and by extension, the zeal to achieve excellence remains a pipedream. Nothing will change until all tiers of government realize the importance of putting teachers in the right pedestal as important stakeholders in the quest for excellence in the education sector.
Most state governments are yet to come to terms with the realistic nature of teaching as a vocation. Most times, the greatest emphasis has always been on qualifications. In Nigeria in particular, there is always insistence of candidates with education qualifications as a criteria for employment. In recent times, there is also clamour by the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) for all teachers to obtain their license to practice. Yet, over the years, the quality of teachers has waned quite terribly, even with the so-called TRCN certificates. The greatest challenge has always been how to extract the best from teachers most of who themselves are bedeviled by various personal challenges of aptitude. This fact has been behind the utterly poor performances of students especially in external exams where years of cover ups are unmasked and the nation is confronted by the real truth.
There is therefore the need for Nigeria to overhaul completely its strategies of recruitment of teachers and come up with another strategy for achieving proper trainings of teachers, Training to ensure quality is however a tiny aspect of the whole equation. To get the very best requires much more than that. A teacher expected to be at his best in order to give same must be in a good frame of mind at all times. And to arrive at that, an assurance of a rosy future is sine qua non. Juicy conditions of service and practical welfare packages that guarantee a very bright future will draw the right calorie of people into the profession. Issue of welfare is far beyond that of salaries because no matter the amount of money paid to teachers, it may never address their most dreadful fears. For a government truly desirous of making a giant radical impact, no sacrifice should be seen as too much.
The most important needs of everyone are for housing, health, mobility and education of children. Any government that is able to invest massively in a way that takes care of all these in a very honest manner will certainly draw the best in terms of quality into its education sector. Such welfare provisions must however be earned, deserved and monitored. It means subjecting teachers to strict scrutiny that can easily expose those who do not belong for instant rejection and those with true passion and intellect for the profession to come on board. Such expositions should take place within the first three years of employment when recruited candidates will be on probation. The most effective quality yardstick is communication, and rigorous methods should be adopted to apply such criteria in recruitment.
Ask candidates their vision for education for the state and the county at large. Let them explain what they think is responsible for the low quality of education in the land and other such questions that will expose their communication skills. Any candidate who is able to cross such hurdle most successfully is good to go.
The next quality to scout out for is passion for the job, which is also as very important as having good communication skills. Responding to some of the questions suggested above may also expose how passionate each candidate is. Moreover, follow up promotions after employment should be based on performance and not just years of service. At this juncture, it needs to be emphasized that any government hoping to achieve all these must first of all jettison employment based on favoritism. If the truth must be told, it is such a sad trend that has held education by the jugular for many years, leaving education in the country at a standstill. Only the best and capable hands are good enough for the education sector and any state that is able to achieve that most convincingly can be rest assured of a great prospect.
It however does not end at mere getting the best personnel, there is still a vital aspect of having a workforce with the right frame of mind. To achieve this, the government should put in place accelerated welfare packages starting from teachers who have put in five years such that they are able to access practical loans to take care of rents and children education at a rate that is truly friendly and also mortgage plans for housing for all those who have put in at least ten years in service. Moreover, it is meaningless to promote a worker to the post of a director without ensuring that he has all the properties to make him truly comfortable and fulfilled.
In addition, all teachers and members of their families must have unrestricted access to medical attention totally bankrolled by the government. The government must also be concerned about the proximity of teachers to their places of primary assignments by ensuring that teachers live in the areas where their schools are located. This will guarantee promptness to work and relief from intense pressure faced by teachers who live very far away from their schools. Welfare package also includes reducing the general workload of teachers to a realistic minimum.
The current policy of having a single teacher to a subject in a whole school is counter productive if excellence is the true target. What ought to be is a situation where three teachers are posted to both the junior and senior schools for each core subjects and with such reduced allocation of classes, every teacher’s productivity can be measured as a criterion for promotion. With such accelerated welfare packages, there is bound to be a radical improvement in the sector and gradually, all the desirable goals will never remain difficult to achieve.
Oyewusi, the coordinator of Ethics Watch International wrote from Lagos.