EDUCATING THE EDUCATOR:
UPGRADING TEACHERS’ SKILLS FOR DIGITAL EDUCATION IN NIGERIA
We are in the digital age and just as nations that did not evolve with the times in the past did not achieve prosperity, Nigeria’s chances of climbing out as a lower-middle-income economy to a firmly middle-income economy or even an upper-income economy lie in its ability to transform to a digital economy.
The economies of the US, the UK, Canada, the EU and the Asian behemoths are now being driven by technology companies using digital technology to simplify everything we do. At the heart of these inventions are schools – not because these technologies like Google, Facebook or the internet were born in the university or research institutions, but because schools are at the forefront of propagating the knowledge and possibilities of digital technology to the population.
Teachers – the minders of schools and students – are therefore central to ensuring that a country acquires the skills to function in the burgeoning digital age. We have, however, observed that Nigerian teachers are far behind the curve: they are not just behind their foreign colleagues, they are even behind the students that they teach – a situation that doesn’t bode well for the country.
In this brief, we advocate the need for policies to help in upskilling teachers, increased funding for education and a re-modelling of existing teacher training curriculum among others. These are necessary steps to set our education system up for a firm footing in this new era.
This is the twenty-first century and everything was going digital until COVID-19 hit and everything had to go digital. Health, finance, trading, agriculture, communication, gaming, entertainment, and every other field of human endeavor has been enhanced or is being enhanced by the very many possibilities that digital technology provides. Education is a vital core of this aspect of human development.
From audio and video lessons to assistive technology like JAWS (for the visually impaired), eBooks, audiobooks, to the emergence of social media platforms such as YouTube, which has billions of hours of content for every subject under the earth, information is now at the fingertips of any person who can afford a smartphone and internet connection. In the next two decades, it is possible that illiteracy would no longer mean the inability to read and write but a lack of digital skills.
Individuals who cannot send emails, do not have social media handles, cannot upload videos on YouTube or Twitch, and cannot collaborate [use Google docs or set up meetings via Skype or Zoom] would be considered unskilled and find it awkward, or completely impossible, to function in the workplace. Owning digital devices like tablets, smartphones, smartwatches are now an indispensable part of life and no longer a status symbol.
Thankfully, Nigeria is quite abreast of the trend: the country has one of the more sophisticated fintech environments in Africa, an internet-compliant banking system, and a robust social media space that is in tandem with our huge population. Internet service in Nigeria is also one of the cheapest on the continent .
Nigeria’s education sector, however, needs some serious catching up. For digital education, it is better to catch them young. Five- and six-year-olds in Europe, Asia, and America are already able to code and do other cool stuff with the guidance of instructors. This is also the case for Nigerian kids in expensive schools. They are gaining skills and leaving their peers behind – a reality that could create a technology caste system in the future. To avoid this, it becomes inevitable to upgrade the skills of all teachers for digital education and prepare the ground to ensure that new trainees also become digital-compliant.
A Shift in Perspectives
A RAND Corporation research on digital learning  estimated that technology skills have to be updated every three years in order to have continued relevance. Much more fundamental is the role-reversal pointed out in the study: educators’ role is now to guide the learner to access and evaluate information, rather than to be the sole source of information. They emphasize the analogy of educators as coaches as opposed to classical teaching, thus educators need to be familiar and comfortable with using new learning tools and technologies in their teaching.
A nation cannot grow beyond the quality of its teachers. Teachers are critical to the complete reinvention of our pedagogical process, and they are pivotal to the upgrade of Nigeria’s human capital. The peculiarity of education in the digital age does not only apply to reinventing and retooling the classroom and student experience, but also up-to-date capacity building for teachers.
Ironically, the teaching environment currently in Nigeria considers being digitally savvy to mean being able to operate a computer. We require a shift in thinking to accept it as a systematic and continuous process that is dependent on a string of backward and forward support systems that sees education as a learning experience other than the teacher-knows-it-all classical structure.
Gaps in Existing Government Policy
The National Policy on ICT in Education was approved by the federal government in April 2010 and subsequently reviewed in 2019. The policy aims at empowering teachers and trainers: to use technology to support all learning across the curriculum; and functioning as coaches, mentors, advocates and managers of information. The goal of the document is that teachers and trainers are transformed through technology, from authority-experts to facilitators guiding the students/learners to use technology to find answers. While laudable, the implementation of the policy has been fraught with challenges making results of ICT in the educational sector still below global standards.
Another policy gap that needs attention is in the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria Act. The council is vested with wide powers in determining who can train teachers, who can be called a teacher and what teachers should learn while being trained. Unfortunately, a number of the provisions of the Act are not in tandem with modern realities. For instance, the penalty for unregistered teachers practising and schools employing such is far from being a deterrent for compliance.
In the preceding sections, we discussed digital education, its importance to national development by preparing the youth for a fully digital world that is quickly unravelling in the first half of this century. Our thesis is that Nigerian teachers must tune-up their skills for this new world and lead the charge for a truly digital future for Nigeria. Without adequately skilled teachers, the workforce of the future would be illiterate by global standards and Nigeria’s economic development could be stagnated.
Below, we enumerate five recommendations for policymakers to consider:
1. Review Competencies & Upskill Existing Teachers
The first step in improving any system is to conduct a holistic review of the competencies required and currently existent in the teaching force. In more technical terms, a Skill Audit is essential. This critical exercise would expose digital skill gaps and guide the process of up-skilling. It also helps lay the foundation for documenting a revised and a COVID era compliant competency framework that reflects the desired digital skills and proficiency levels required of teachers in this highly digital age. An example is the harmonization of 21 digital competencies for teachers into 8 by the European Commission in 2019 . The successful completion of this would help policy makers develop robust programs targeted at closing the identified competency gaps through training over a period of time.
For instance, Hungary is running a 3 year program between 2017 and 2020 aimed at teaching digital competence to over 40,000 teachers within the period . This would not be possible without first ascertaining the existing gaps. Though the Lagos State Government through its Eko Excel Program is currently taking commendable steps in this regard, most states are yet to commence. A policy based exercise such as this should not be one-off but cyclical as global realities change. The NPower program of the Federal Government which has a component that trains tech-savvy young Nigerians can be remodeled to meet certain aspects of this need. This approach achieves two things, first is that it delivers much needed upskilling to teachers across the country as well as take advantage of the teeming unemployed population of the country which continues to increase and stands at 27.1% as at the 2nd quarter of 2020 .
2. Re-Model Teacher Training Curriculum
The ability to teach in a digital age to a digitally savvy student population requires a whole new skill set. While sometimes reactive & ongoing measures like re-skilling of existing teachers are important, a much more important policy measure would be to re-model the teacher training curriculum to address each of the identified digital competencies required to practice as a teacher. For instance, the harmonized curriculum for a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education as published by the TRCN which is commendable focuses more on computer appreciation basics. It should be remodelled to include all required learnings for understanding and imparting digital education, a curriculum that will be inclusive of best practice for the digital age education. Specifically, it should address topics such as developing digital learning content, digital learning delivery, and managing virtual classes among others. To ensure that students in our teacher training institutions fully grasp its importance, such courses should move from the realm of being a 2 credit course to a 3 credit course load with a 70-30 learning methodology ratio (70% for graded practical labs and 30% for theoretical concept learning).
By implication, these institutions must themselves receive digital upgrades that will allow them to deliver learning with digital tools as well as impart skills and knowledge for digital education. Passing such courses, therefore, becomes part of the minimum standards for entering the profession and staying in the profession. While the volatility of implementing this recommendation for existing teachers is acknowledged as seen in the Kaduna experiment, its criticality cannot be ignored.
3. Incentivize Digital Education for Teachers:
Improving teacher skill and motivation levels is a critical precondition for the achievement of better student learning. Digital learning is no different, the burden of acquiring digital skills cannot be left solely to the discretion of teachers and it will be just as impractical to design policies for student digital learning without first upskilling the educators. Teachers in Nigeria are poorly paid and often these salaries do not come regularly. A secondary school teacher with about four years of experience earns an average of ₦437,400/annum, just slightly above the yet to be implemented 30,000 minimum wage. There is legitimately barely any room for teachers to pursue more out-of-pocket education. The federal and state agencies responsible for education should underwrite the cost of this upskilling. In countries like the UK, Finland and Iceland, the government funds Continuing Professional Development (CPD) centres and all the teacher does is take the courses for free. A policy alternative would be to design an incentive program for teachers who attain certain digital competencies beyond operating a computer. A tax based system that refunds certain expenses through tax credits incurred by teachers for digital training can be considered.
4. Re-establish & Enforce Standardization of Teaching Profession:
The strength of any profession is in its ability to set and enforce standards for those who intend to operate within its sphere. Unfortunately, the teaching profession seems to be an all-comers affair or wrongly perceived as a profession for the jobless, this should not be the case. Different federal, state and professional agencies such as The Teachers Registration Council (TRCN), National Council on Education, National Union of Teachers are to take the lead in this regard. The Professional Standards for Nigerian Teachers as published by the TRCN though laudable is currently outdated and overdue for a review. The review should incorporate new digital competencies which a teacher across the 4 categorizations must have during certification & recertification.
Holders of PhD in Education or PhD in other field plus teaching qualification e.g. Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)Professional Diploma in Education (PDE); Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE)
Holders of Masters Degree in Education or Masters Degree in other fields plus a teaching qualification, e.g. PGDE, PDE, NCE
Holders of Bachelors Degree in Education or Bachelors Degree in other fields plus a teaching qualification, e.g. PGDE, PDE, NCE.
Holders of the Nigeria Certificate in Education which is the national minimum teaching qualification.
Table 1: Categorization of Nigerian Teachers
Source: Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (Professional Standards for Nigerian Teachers)
An updated professional’s standards code for teachers would achieve less without a strict enforcement mechanism. Currently, the TRCN Act makes it clear that it is a criminal offence for anyone to take up a teaching role without being registered by the TRCN , yet most schools, especially the privately run ones, flout this law with brazenness & impunity. The solution is to adopt an inter-agency approach for enforcement. State and federal government MDA’s responsible for accrediting schools should work with the TRCN and NUT in enforcing teacher & teaching standards. A wider implication of this standardization is the possible eradication of nepotism that has often guaranteed that the least qualified get the jobs.
5. Increased and Consistent Investment in Education
Pushing for increased funding of education appears to be stating the obvious but requires re-iteration. The priorities of every government are reflected in the area to which the bulk of their funds go. For Nigeria, the handwriting is clear on the wall and the results, open for all to see. The UNESCO benchmark for budgetary allocation to education is between 15% and 20% and Nigeria has never come close to these figures . The 2020 budget allocates less than 7%  to education but ironically, over 70% goes to recurrent expenditure. This begs the question of how Nigeria intends to position itself for the achievement of SDG 4 and galvanize innovation-led national development. Increased funding should be targeted at remuneration, infrastructure and training.
In terms of remuneration, it is public knowledge that teachers are one of the low paying professions in Nigeria as of date. This at default is a disincentive to bright minds who though having a passion to teach have the reality of their bills to contend with. Payment of employees and especially teachers’ salaries should be given utmost attention. The government should treat the payment of their employees’ salaries as a first-line charge item. Incentives increase performance – a substantial salary bump is a good initiative, especially for teachers. Furthermore, digital education demands an investment in infrastructure & training both at the teacher training institutions as well as the schools in which they teach. The government should commit to allocating a certain percentage of first, the national or state budget to education and a percentage of the education budget for enhancing infrastructure & training. Such policy commitments should be consistent and incremental.
If the next generation of Nigerians is to be globally competitive in the scheme of things, it is imperative that we teach kids the way of the future. However, to get the desired result at scale, those who teach these kids must themselves be conversant with the intricacies and subtleties of that future. They have to be able to teach with authority and guide the children for the future that is already established. While it would be easier to simply ensure that incoming teachers are properly skilled, it would leave a lot of existing teachers behind and set off heavy friction. A balancing act is more practical, educate the educator; train new teachers and retrain existing teachers.
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- Grand-Clement, S., Devaux, A., Belanger, J., and Manville, C. (2017) Digital learning: Education and skills in the digital age. RAND Corporation and Corsham Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.rand.org/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF369.html
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