This article was inspired by one of the few pieces of good news that have come out of Nigeria in the past couple of months. I agree that elevating this issue which I have stumbled upon in the papers a number of times may irritate some readers, but my sentiment is that anything attending to the welfare of teachers is one of the best things that can happen to a country.
Forgive my exaggeration, but I believe that the preponderance of this country’s misfortune stems from the recurrent lack of attention to bringing up children as responsible citizens. And to the best of my understanding, teachers play a very important role in the formation of every child.
People who really qualify to go by the nomenclature “teacher” do not just teach, they inspire their students to be the best possible. I guess this informed Greek Philosopher, Aristotle’s thought that: “those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those, the art of living well.” Any society that toys with the teaching profession is therefore throwing its future to the dogs.
Unless we prepare those who train our children well, I do not see how Nigeria intends to improve its health sector, maintain world class infrastructure, or prepare its future generation to compete in the global community. Didn’t legendary American President, Abraham Lincoln suggest that the philosophy of school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.
This is why my heart bleeds when I see those who govern Nigeria exhibit gorgeous buildings which they have just constructed as evidence of their commitment to improving the quality of education in the country.
To be sure, I do not have problems with erecting new school buildings of international standards, but I always wonder what happened to the structures under which I went to school. Currently, a lot these buildings are dilapidated due to our pathetic nonchalance to maintenance. I then wonder how long it would be before the fantastic facilities which the governing elite now glory in succumb to our penchant for neglect and go to rot in the ocean of waste that our country has become.
Before this country lost the sanity of its purity, teachers were respectable and teaching was at the apex of professions. Teachers were feared by students, respected by society and their commitment to national causees was unwavering.
As recent as the time that I went to school, those who wanted to be teachers were intentional about it. As we concluded primary education then, some of us went on to secondary schools while those who wanted to be teachers deliberately proceeded to teachers’ training colleges.
At the end of five years, those who went to secondary school gained the Secondary School Certificate (SCE) while those who went to teacher training colleges obtained the Grade II Certificate which only entitled them to teach in primary schools. Any product of a teacher’s college who desired to ply his trade in a secondary school proceeded to a college of education in pursuit of a National Certificate of Education (NCE) and thereafter attended a university for a Bachelors of Education degree. The nation then produced qualitative teachers, who received thorough education and knew their onion.
But the system did not rest at that. In spite of the thorough-bred nature of teachers, the educational policy also encouraged adequate supervision through an active inspectorate system which was feared by both teachers and their students. Teachers were not only empowered to deliver, they also had incentives, the profession was noble and noble and committed people practised it. But the reverse is the case today.
As the country began its descent into the absurd, the quality of the education of teachers and the people who ventured into teaching took a hit. Apparently because the nation lost its desire to take care of teachers, the profession no longer has the benefit of single-minded entrants. Those who had the quality and inclination to be teachers sought after other areas of endeavours while teaching went to those who could not make it at other things.
Of course at this point, teacher training colleges no longer existed and some state governments encouraged people who made as few as two credits in their school certificate examinations to proceed to colleges of education, obtain NCE certificate and proceed to teach pupils even in secondary schools!
Rather than be a source of inspiration to the students, teachers gradually became objects of national embarrassment. I recall an incident where a class teacher could not solve the problems she was supposed to take her pupils through. In 2013, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC), Mr. Jibrin Paiko also raised the alarm that more than half of the teachers in some Northern states could not read or write. So what manner of pupils are such teachers to produce?
So when I read about the Maltina Teacher of the Year Award, I was elated. The award which is instituted by the Nigeria Breweries- Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund aims for inspiring teachers to get better at their trade.
From my understanding, the award will produce winners in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Each of these 37 will get a reward of 500, 000 and then compete for the national award from which an overall winner will emerge. This winner will get to one million naira every year for five years. The plan, according to reports is that the teacher of the year would get cash for the first year while the sum of 1million would go into an investment plan every year for the next four years. This is to secure the future of the winner and ensure that he or she remains a teacher.
What I find most inspirational about this award is that the winner will be sponsored on a professional training abroad while the school from which the winner emerges will get a N25m grant for a capital project of their choice.
These are the kind of incentives that governments at all levels should prepare for teachers in Nigeria. For any significant improvement in the quality of public education, we must attend to the twin issues of the quality of the training of teachers and improvement in the welfare of those who choose to teach. The nation is already reaping the consequences of our mis-treatment of teachers.
Children put in the custody of incompetent or unhappy teachers cannot be adequately equipped for 21st century challenges. This is one of the reasons why the pastime of many Nigerian student is to pass exams at all cost thereby creating a state of unbridled criminality and exam malpractices which is now the hallmark of our educational system. This Buhari administration must lead a national campaign on this front.
For as long as the country insists that the reward of teachers must be in heaven, something which those who have passed through these teachers do not condone, this country will continue to have non-qualitative people in the profession and that portends grave danger to national survival.