By Salihu Bashir
“If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference, they are; the father, the mother and the teacher” A.P.J Abdul Kalam.
Like the saying goes, teachers are the builders of every nation. If a country gets its education sector right, there is hope for that country and vice versa. If the above statement is anything to go by, Nigeria as a country is very far from getting it right and will continue like this for a very long time.
One can say without any fear of contradiction that, the only time teaching job was loved and admired, the only time government paid good attention to teaching job was when the white man was still handling the job in this country.
People who were taught then by the white Indians, Cubans, Filipinos and Britons received the best education ever and some of them who are still alive are doing wonderfully well everywhere they find themselves.
But ever since the white man left and the teaching job was handed over to us, everything in that sector has continued to deteriorate on a daily basis with no hope whatsoever that it will get better someday.
A visit to either public primary or secondary school in any part of this country will surly leave one crying if one actually knows what it means to completely bastardize, neglect, abandon and make fun of a sector as important as education.
The UNESCO’s policy of pupil-teacher ratio is no longer in the education system of the country. A teacher in a public school who by UNESCO’s policy is not supposed to handle more than 30 pupils will be teaching a class of about 250 pupils. In one of the primary schools I visited, the teacher hardly has a space to stand in front of his pupils. In this case how would he pass knowledge and skills to them?
To say the truth, all these problems came into being as a result of government nonchalant attitude towards the education sector. In the 2018 budget, government only allocated 7% (N605.8 billion) to education as against the UNESCOS’s recommendation of at least 26%. If the government was serious and truly wants to see change in the education sector, it has to start from the budget.
The teaching profession which used to be the most envied profession in those days is today a profession that only a very few, if there is any, that want to go into it. This is largely because of the obvious maltreatment teachers are going through from the hand of government.
In almost all the states of the federation, basic education (primary schools) are left to be manned by local governments. Teachers’ salaries and remuneration is one of the worst if not the worst with some states owing teachers several months.
Many teachers’ salaries in primary schools is far below the minimum wage, and as we speak right now, only Kaduna and Kebbi states have implemented the federal government minimum wage. This is the reason why most of the teachers cannot rely solely on their salaries because of the inflation rate in the country.
Many teachers abstain from work to undertake other menial jobs, some are okada riders while others are security guards mostly at night all in desperate attempt to meet their families’ need. It’s ironic and even illogical to expect someone who is facing all the above problems to adequately convey education to the younger ones.
Corruption in the education sector is at its peak in the country. If there is any sector that is supposed to be completely free from corruption pandemic, it is the education sector because it is the sector that is vested with the responsibility of mentoring and giving focus to the younger generation, but today employment into the teaching service is not by merit.
Favoritism has taken over everything. There are certain states in this country where teaching jobs are priced, bargained, negotiated and bought as common commodities in the market.
As against the expectation that only brainy people who can truly impact knowledge should go into the teaching service, today it is only those with lower grades from colleges and universities that will consider going into teaching job.
A very clear indication is when Kaduna State government had to sack about twenty thousand primary school teachers because they could not pass primary four exam given to them as screening.
The sector is again bedeviled with workers who do not exist. Monthly salaries go into unknown pockets. I once interacted with a lady who some years back applied for a teaching job but could not secure the job,but to her surprise, after about seven years her name was seen alongside other names who are recognized teachers in the state and they were called for screening. When she rushed to the state’s ministry of education, she was told to have her mouth sealed and resume work immediately.
All these are happening while there are not enough staff in most of our primary and secondary schools. Most primary and secondary schools in the rural areas largely depend on PTA teachers.
The teachers’ lackadaisical attitudes is another thing that has been holding back our education sector, and this is due to poor supervising nature in the sector. Teachers in primary and secondary schools spend more time under the tree chatting and conversing with colleagues than in classrooms with pupils and end up not teaching what they are supposed to teach. In many cases both the teachers and their pupils arrive the school late and in this scenario, you wonder who is who.
As the world marks another international teachers’ day today, Nigerian government must as a matter of urgency fine-tune ways of revamping the education sector and making teaching job as lovely and conducive as possible.
To start with, government must declare a state of emergency in the education sector because everything about that sector is almost gone hopelessly. The government should upgrade the yearly budget of the education sector to at least match the 26% UNESCO recommendation.
With this, salaries and remunerations of teachers may be improved. Corruption and favoritism in the sector must be fought head-on before they bring down the sector completely. Government must do everything possible to make the teaching profession an envious one and also make sure that only qualified hands are absolved into the system.
Salihu Bashir wrote in from ABU Zaria