The Insight by Lateef Adewole
This week’s Wednesday, 5th of October, 2022, is another occasion of the globally recognised day, earmarked to celebrate a set of “unique” professionals: Teachers. It is the “World Teachers’ Day”. This is an annual event that the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) champions. This year’s theme is: “The Transformation of Education Begins With Teachers”.
Let me use this auspicious occasion to shout out to all my teachers, under whose tutelage I passed. Every single thing I have become or achieved can be attributed to these teachers who contributed in one way or another, at different stages of my life. Ordinarily, many do frame being a teacher in the formal arrangements where someone is engaged to teach another. Largely, that is the general definition.
However, teaching is beyond classrooms and four walls of a school. Teaching happens anywhere and everywhere, and the greatest teachers of all children are firstly their parents. They form the foundation upon which every other building block subsequent developments of a child is laid. Character formations, moral upbringing, discipline, traditional and formal education. So, our parents are our first teachers and they deserve to be celebrated.
It is from this basic unit of society; the family, that we transited to seeking formal or informal education, beyond our homes, whether in schools or other vocational training centres. The people who are responsible for providing us guidance in this respect are our teachers. They deserve to be celebrated. Congratulations to all our wonderful teachers, dead or alive. We celebrate you all. We appreciate your efforts. We adore you. As you all leave your own, to take care of others, may the Almighty God continue to take care of you and yours. May you reap the fruits of your labour, not only in heaven but also in this world.
I started by referring to teachers as “unique” professionals. Why did I say so? It is because, all other professionals; be they Engineers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and so on, were taught and trained by the teachers. That is why I call teachers; the divine recreators. They remould individual child to form what each aspires to be in life.
This day came to being in 1994, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed October 5 as the “World Teachers’ Day”. It was on this day in 1966 that a special intergovernmental meeting accepted the recommendation of UNESCO on the status of teachers. In that recommendation, the outlines of the obligations and rights of teachers were provided. It also addressed the issue of teachers’ continuous education, education related policy, recruitment and training for the teachers.
Who are teachers? These are people saddled with the responsibility of educating and preparing children to face the world. They instil discipline, inspire confidence, enhance courage, mentor them and serve as their role models, many times. Of what use is this day then? It is on such a day that teachers are recognised for their significant service to humanity and appreciated. They are evaluated for their roles and ways to enhance them to function effectively are devised.
It is a day to also think about their problems and resolve them. This brings to one’s attention again, the unfortunate lingering problem between the university teachers in Nigeria, under the auspices of The Academic Staff Union of the Universities (ASUU) and the Federal Government of Nigeria, which led to a prolonged strike action that has kept university students in these schools at home for over eight months. This is disheartening.
As the theme of this year’s Teachers’ Day suggests, to transform the educational sector, the importance of teachers cannot be overemphasised. Such change begins with the teachers. An unmotivated teacher is a burden on the system. What then constitutes motivation for them? As part of the demands of ASUU, the welfare of their members remains sacrosanct, apart from the need for the infrastructural upgrades requested
To start with, at recruitment point, it is important to engage quality, well-qualified and competent persons into the sector. A bad labourer quarrels with his tools. Someone who is unqualified is bound to get frustrated when high quality performances are demanded on them. They, in turn, transfer the aggression to their students. Such teachers will be unexcited to do their work of impacting knowledge. By the way, you cannot give what you don’t have. So, teaching profession should engage the best from among us.
No matter how qualified a person is, teaching is a special profession that requires special skills. These skills might not be taught in schools or not taught practically enough. The recruited teachers should be given additional practical trainings after recruitment. As we all know, many non-professional teachers are teaching in our schools. The minimum requirement should be to expose them to other basic training and orientation that the profession demands. This will definitely boost their confidence as they dive into the career.
There used to be a saying that the reward of teachers is in heaven. As enticing as such is, it is equally important that teachers get their rewards here on earth when still alive while they await the ones in heaven. Remuneration packages for teachers should be a priority to any government which hopes to get the best out of the teachers and consequently, quality education. But, is this so? No!
In a country like Nigeria, teachers are some of the worst-paid professionals. If a whole professor with over ten years in that cadre and possibly two to three decades in the teaching profession, still earns just about half a million naira per month, how much do we expect the teachers in our primary and secondary schools to earn? Take homes that cannot take them anywhere, not to talk of home. What level of productivity is expected from such poorly paid people?
This is in a country where political office holders pay themselves criminally outrageous “armed robber’s” salaries and other emoluments, both while in office and for years after leaving office, by virtue of occupying those seats for a period that could be as short as four or eight years. The state executive governors in Nigeria are the biggest culprits. Same people are responsible for primary and secondary education in Nigeria, and state higher institutions, but how have they managed them and the teachers therein? A senator “officially” earns over N15 million per month and N13.5 million for a member of the Federal House of Representatives. These are outside many other benefits, allowances and perks of office.
Apart from the salaries, the welfare of teachers should be given priority attention. In those days, schools used to have teachers’ quarters. These afforded teachers some level of comfort. Such an ambience enhanced the stability of their mind and person, improved their concentration with less distraction, greater dedication and commitment to their jobs. I know this because I had teachers in such quarters while in secondary school in the 80s. Now, all that is gone.
With the decadence that has befallen public school system and proliferation of private schools, teachers are now “O.Y.O” (On Your Own). They struggle to get accommodated within their meagre salaries, cost of which continues to skyrocket while their incomes remain stagnant. Landlords’ “wahala” and other associated troubles remain their bane. They struggle to put their own children in schools as well. They battle to feed and with other economic hardships like the rest of us. How can a disoriented person teach effectively and deliver quality education?
Within the schools, what are the available infrastructures to assist teachers to teach? The dearth of these infrastructures and the decrepit state that the available ones are, form part of the demands of ASUU that led to the strike action. We continously see videos of schools in the most horrifying conditions, at all levels and across the country. Students standing in waterlogged classrooms, classes with blown off roofs or collapsing ceilings or walls, children sitting on the floor, learning under the trees in the open, and so on, in many primary and secondary schools.
Even in our universities and other higher institutions, we see lecture halls jam-packed and filled to the brim, with many students staying outside the halls. Many sit on the floor. Laboratories are mere empty spaces without needed facilities. Workshops are without machines and equipment for training students. Let us not go into the calamitous state of the hostels in our public higher institutions. It is catastrophic. Goat barns are better than most of them. All these are conditions under which we want quality education to be received. Are we serious at all?
It is understandable that the attitude is also a concern to authorities. For the public school employees, including teachers, just like many of their counterparts in other public sectors, their attitude to work can be annoying and disgusting. One needs to visit many public schools to understand. Teachers engage in non-productive activities for better part of their time during school hours, abandoning the innocent children to their fate. The slogan is: “omo olomo ko le pa baba/mama oni mama” (someone else’s child should not kill another’s child’s father / mother). “Oga ta, oga o ta, owo alaaru a pe” (whether the merchandise is sold or not, the load carrier will demand for their pay). These are wrong notions and bad attitude.
In higher institutions, some lecturers are guilty of all kinds of infractions. From bribery to extortion, from corruption to sex for marks/grades. Many lecturers deliberately fail their students to force them to come and “sort” them. They demand for money from students, especially males before they can pass them while demand for sex-for-grade from female students. Many cases of such have been reported and such lecturers punished. Although, such cases that reached the punitive stage are very few considering the preponderance of such heinous acts being perpetrated all over our school campuses now. These need to be addressed.
Regular on-the-job trainings should be given to the teachers. This will help sharpen their skill sets and get up to date with modern teaching techniques which are continously evolving.
At intervals as well, they should be tested and subjected to continuous assessment / evaluation. This should form the basis of their reward system that will be seen as meritorious and fair, unlike the usual promotions that are often influenced by nepotism, favouritism, bribery and corruption.
Those who excel in their evaluations should be adequately rewarded with promotions and better remunerations. Those who fall behind should be encouraged and assisted to get better, once they are willing and ready to step up their games. Those who are disinterested should be weeded out of the system before the corrupt it. “Aguntan to ba b’aja rin, a j’egbe”(a lamb that associates with dog is bound to feast on feaces).
There is UNESCO budgetary recommendation for nations. It is advised that countries should devote as much as 15 to 20% of their annual budgets to education. How many countries do this, particularly in Africa and in Nigeria? How many states in Nigeria do same? The attitude of our political leaders to education is reflected in this. Despite knowing that education remains the fundamental building block of any society, most of them seem disinterested. When budgets are made yearly, as we will soon be seeing again, the place of education there is often insignificant. President Buhari just presented his last budget estimates for 2023 to the joint session of national assembly yesterday. Education should be less than 5% of the entire budget of 20.51 trillion naira or there about.
Most office holders would rather spend on mundane things. Buying cars, spending on many frivolities and so on. Defense has taken the chunk of annual budgets in the last ten years because of increasing insecurities, perpetrated by criminals. Unfortunately, it seems our leaders are not seeing the correlation between these insecurities and education. They are inversely related. “Omo ti a ko ko, ni yio gbe ile ti a ko ta” (a child we did not train will become a menace to us at later time). This is exactly what we are experiencing in Nigeria today. With formerly 13.5 million out of school children, now about 22 million, growing up without proper education, vocational training or skills, what do we expect them to become in future? Menace! This is the role of education, for which teachers are the drivers.
This is one discussion that cannot be exhausted in one piece like this. This is just to beam a searchlight on it and let it serve as a trigger for more elaborate brainstorming about the sector, as well as looking into the plight of the teachers, at a time they are celebrated like now.
I am using this opportunity to appeal to the warring factions in the ongoing ASUU strike. It is negatively impacting the lives of our children and students. The Federal Government should sit down with the lecturers to see to resolving the problems, instead of the strong-arm being used through court judgements, and the divide and-rule tactics they are deploying with the newly registered union; Congress of Nigerian University Academics (CONUA). They might backfire.
Same appeal to the striking lecturers. They need to review their position so far, retreat and re-strategise. He who fights and run, live to fight another day. Remaining recalcitrant and endlessly threatening fire and brimstone, might not end well. They have made their point with this over eight month-strike. They should be ready to give positively-driven dialogue a chance and be prepared to make compromises and sacrifices. They should not let their case become like that of tortoise and its in-law. For those who do not know the fokelore, it is a story for another day.
Once again, I celebrate our indefatigable teachers. You are our heroes and heroines. God bless you all.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.
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October 8, 2022.
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