Written By: Jubril Adisa, September 2020
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character, that is the goal of true education.Martin Luther King, Jr.
October 5 which is about a month from today, is World Teachers Day or International Teacher’s Day. The day relives the signing of the UNESCO/ILO Recommendations on the status of teachers. The document, updated in 1997, stipulates international standards for the teaching profession on many subject areas viz: initial and continuing training, recruitment, advancement and promotion, security of tenure, disciplinary issues, professional freedom, responsibilities and rights, conditions for effective teaching and learning and so on. A detailed appraisal of the Nigerian teaching profession against every stipulated standard is overdue. However, it is easy to observe that Nigerian teachers are neither the luckiest nor the happiest of their colleagues.
As desirable and profitable as a university education is, the bedrock of any individual’s or any society‘s success is its basic education – the primary and secondary years of schooling – encapsulated in our Universal Basic Education laws. While education in Nigerian is mostly believed to be a matter of infrastructure and curriculum; teacher welfare and training [vital elements of success] are given short shrift – treated cavalierly by politicians and policy makers. The problem goes all the way up to the universities and partly explains the eternal season of strikes.
Teachers ought to be treated with utmost respect and should be held up to the same standards as engineers and doctors and should be paid just as well as those professionals. It should also be just as rigorous to become a teacher. It is no more practicable or helpful to set the bar of entry into teaching as low as the National Certificate in Education (NCE) as stipulated by the National Policy on Education. There should be only one teacher-training institution, the university.
This is in effect a call to upgrade other teacher training institutions to universities of education where the curricula are designed to teach mastery of subjects and the art of teaching. Just as it’s done with courses like architecture where you have to get your master’s degree before proceeding to national service year, teachers in training should get a compulsory masters in teaching before being certified as teachers. The importance of adequate funding must also be underscored – it is no use upgrading an institution without the necessary financial backbone.
The National Policy on Education states also that: Teacher education shall continue to take cognizance of changes in methodology and in the curriculum. Teachers shall be regularly exposed to innovations in their profession. This is not the case! Public school teachers have it especially rough. To be a public school teacher is to become stagnant professionally. It is anybody’s guess how many state and federal government teachers can comfortable switch to digital modes of instruction.
Teachers can hardly be blamed for the no-tech environment that our schools still are in 2020. This is why the pupils have had nothing to do all through the lockdown. LCA makes apropos recommendations on digital education in its maiden policy brief. Emergency job creation schemes like the N-Power which converts the desperately unemployed to short-term teachers do not help the teaching profession nor do they help the students. Education should never be addressed with emergency or short-term answers. Such actions underscore how unimportant basic education in all its ramifications (teaching, curriculum, infrastructure, funding) are to the politician and policy maker. Imagine sending theatre arts and petrochemical engineering graduates to the hinterland on emergency medical missions because they are unemployed and we want to shore up the employment numbers!
Reverend King’s quote above refers to the function of education being to think intensively and critically. Let us think as parents: children spend just about the same time in school as they do at home in the first nine to twelve years of school. In many cases, the young ones respect their teachers’ instructions more than those of their parents. We ought, then to be concerned about the well-being, the moral rectitude and the intellectual capacity of those masters and guardians of our children’s intellectual destiny. That Nigerian graduates are not employable is not the problem or fault of the universities – it is a basic problem.
Students who cannot write letters or are eternally scared of arithmetic or have poor command of the language cannot easily fix those problems in the four years of university when they have had twelve years prior to get a solid footing – to learn how to think, how to act, how to study, etc. if a teacher is not well-trained she cannot deliver the goods, therefore every child that she ‘trains’ for one year or the length of time that they share is in danger of turning out as a ‘damaged good’ in some respects. This is why teacher-training is just as crucial as training a pharmacist or an accountant.
No house can stand without a foundation, nor a bridge without solid pillars. Basic education is the foundation or pillar of university education just as a complete education makes for a rounded citizen and a sane society. Teachers are the anchor on which educational development rests. Teachers dispense the curriculum and inculcate critical life skills in pupil’s at the most vulnerable and impressionable stages of their existence.
While infrastructure is necessary for conducive learning, it is now possible in the twenty-first century economy to get educational instruction outside conventional school settings with the rise of digital education. What is indispensable is the teacher. She must be properly armed. She is too critical to the development of the society to be poorly paid and poorly trained. The teacher is not an also-ran of society. The teacher is one of the most vital professionals of any economy.
It is time for state and federal ministries of education to implement relevant sections of the National Policy on Education (and please raise the bar of entry). State and Federal legislatures also have to create a new reality for teachers – why should public school primary and secondary teachers not earn as high as three hundred thousand naira monthly in 2020? To ensure that only sincere and talented teachers get into the system, entry into training institutions should be rigorous. Education will not improve if the teacher is not well-trained and well-paid.
Jubril Adisa is an alumnus of the prestigious University of Lagos with experience in the e-commerce industry and currently an entrepreneur with interests in Agribusiness and Media.
Jubril is passionate about local and international politics, education and health, subjects he writes about on Medium. He is the publicity handler of Lagos-based youth-focused NGO, Africa Bridge Initiative (ABI) and a Research & Policy Associate with Liberty Career Academy (LCA). He is an avid reader, loves country music, Afro-beat, and likes to see the world.