There is good sense in partnering with the British Council to build the capacity of teachers

In his 2016 budget presentation to the National Assembly last December, President Muhammadu Buhari announced his plan to “partner with state and local governments to recruit, train and deploy 500,000 unemployed graduates and NCE holders”. These graduate teachers, according to the president, “will be deployed to primary schools, thereby, enhancing the provision of basic education especially in our rural areas”.

While the idea is commendable, for it to work, the federal government should partner with the British Council which incidentally has already offered to help. In offering technical support to build the capacity of the teachers to be so recruited, the British Council said recently that it would be its contribution towards revamping the education sector in Nigeria. It is a gesture the federal government must take very seriously and may necessitate setting up a strong team that will liaise with the British Council so that the objective of the support can be met.

“We need to think through how we can work through the education system which is growing rapidly and training the 500, 000 teachers the government plans to hire,” said British Council’s chief executive, Claran Devane. ‘‘We have a lot of experience from other countries and we work with teachers who become trainers. In Europe and America, we have programmes with supporting class rooms and training methodology will be another input. With the number of young people joining the school system in Nigeria, whatever we can do to support the school system we will do”.

We believe the support of the British Council is invaluable because it is an area in which it has already done extensive field work. For instance, a recent survey carried out by the council revealed that most Nigerian Colleges of Education graduates since 2014 were yet to be employed as teachers. The principal investigator, Elaine Unterhalter of University College, London, stated this last week while presenting the report: “Teacher Education, Teachers Practice, Gender and Girls’ Schooling Outcomes: A Study in Five Nigerian States’’.

With support from the MacArthur Foundation, the states where the study was conducted, according to the British Council, are Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Lagos and Rivers. “Six months after completing their education studies, the vast majority of newly qualified teachers from the initial cohort reached in the follow up telephone survey were unemployed. A small minority of (16 per cent of sample reached) were working as teachers, while the largest proportion (30 per cent of the sample reached) are in Lagos,” said the report.

According to Unterhalter, the unemployed teachers highlighted some of the impediments for their inability to secure teaching jobs in the five states. “In all these groups, corruption was mentioned as a reason that teachers could not get employed. In addition, participants mentioned that jobs were allocated on the basis of who supported which political party, ethnicity, and state of origin,” she said, adding that the labour market for teachers is far from rational, and that aspects of politics, identity and affiliation play key roles in such employment.

The significance of the report at a time the federal government is planning to recruit 500,000 teachers is that there is already a big pool from where to draw the candidates to be trained. And to the extent that it is always better to recruit teachers among those who have interest in the profession rather than just people looking for jobs, we believe the British Council report should be of significant interest to the federal government. What remains is how to go about the process in such a manner that politics and other considerations will not destroy a good idea.

The British Council deserves commendation for the genuine interest it has shown in the education of Nigerian children and the support and assistance it has rendered over the years.