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The teacher issue in Nigeria’s education crisis

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Abdul Kalam once remarked: “Teaching is a very noble profession that shapes the character, caliber, and future of an individual.” This is a sentiment that has become axiomatic in our understanding of teachers and the teaching profession. From Aristotle down to our contemporary age, philosophers and intellectuals hold the consensus opinion that the family remains the fundamental basic unit on which the human society is founded. I doubt that, given Kalam’s opinion, anyone would contest seeing the teacher as one of the defining elements of that society. For instance, it is very easy to see how the teaching profession serves as the very defining source of all the other professions in the society.

Gone were those days, I suspect, when the teachers were a definite part of the maturation of their students. The teachers, for most of us, played significant roles which, sometimes, our parents were jealous of. I owe much of my love for education and the reform of the education sector to my early admiration for a number of my teachers at different levels and most significantly, my celebrated aunt and one of the most outstanding professionals and virtuous teachers in Nigeria that I have ever known – the late Mrs. Aime Aina Olaopa (nee Williams). It is through her dedication and professionalism that I developed an abiding respect for teaching as a noble vocation.

Aime Olaopa was from Sierra Leone. She was married to my late uncle, Chief Alfred Adejumo Olaopa in the 50s. Both of them met as undergraduates at the Fourah Bay College. Aime Olaopa later taught mathematics at St. Anne’s School, Ibadan from the late 1950s to the 1980s before she retired. She later passed on in 1995 at 68. The many generations of her old students I had encountered—Mrs F. F. Ogunlade, former permanent secretary at the Oyo state Ministry of Education; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Minister of Finance, and many others—all have testimonies about her commitment and how she had greatly impacted their lives and worldviews.

Little wonder therefore that when I met my wife who is a trained teacher, it was not difficult for me to nurse the ambition of seeing her incarnate Aime Olaopa’s legendary qualities. My ambition for her picked up when she started as an education officer in Oyo state before transferring her service to the Federal Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, my wife’s eventual resentment and rebellion against a profession I believe she was born to project as a model of integrity, professionalism and dedication leaves a sore taste in my heart, even till now.

The bitterness is all the more bitter because I know her resentment is not for the teaching profession, but against the systemic dysfunction that keeps the truly born teachers out of the profession they were meant to uplift. But more than this, it reflects that the teaching profession is bled dry of all those who could have kept increasing its status as a profession for the noble-minded. The cooling of my wife’s passion for teaching speaks glaringly to not only the declining fortune of that profession. More fundamentally, we are confronted by the lamentable loss of a development variable that has remained unharnessed in Nigeria’s development thinking since independence.

My reflection today is further heightened by the bittersweet event of the retirement of my former classmate and boyhood friend, Bolaji Abiodun. LSF Keke, as we all know him, is retiring from the Lagos State Ministry of Education as an indefatigable Director. My friend and I had our little beginning together as young boys with many dreams and hopes. We later reconnected as classmates at the Higher School Certificate (HSC) class at Olivet Heights. LSF later went on to define his life around the teaching profession to which he gave all his life and commitment ending up as the celebrated principal of the Ransome Kuti Memorial Junior Secondary School, Lagos.

We can indeed commence our reflection about the teaching profession with the example of people like LSF, and the host of others who remained a sad reminder of the development pillar neglected by the Nigerian state in its efforts at nation building. Whether we know it or not, the teaching profession has since lost its glory. Unfortunate for us, however, and this is my argument, Nigeria’s predicament can only begin to be resolved if teaching as a profession is redeemed. Many developed nations across the world have come to this realization.

Today, for instance, we are daily informed about the education miracle that the Scandinavian countries are becoming. This is especially most true about Finland. The secret is that most of these nations recognize the fundamental place of human capital development in national development. And what better place to recondition the link between education and development than through the transformation of teaching as a development-defining profession?
To be continued tomorrow
Prof Olaopa is executive Vice-Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) Ibadan.


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