Teachers’ Day: Giving the Profession its Pride of Place

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In spite of the global acknowledgement of teachers for their roles in education delivery, which has made the teaching profession an indispensable one, teachers’ welfare is still an issue in some countries. As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark Teachers’ Day, some teachers told Funmi Ogundare and Peace Obi why it has become imperative to give them and the profession the deserved recognition

This year’s World Teachers’ Day marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendation concerning the status of teachers. It is also the first World Teachers’ Day (WTD) to be celebrated within the new Global Education 2030 Agenda adopted by the world community last year.

The theme of this year’s celebration, ‘Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status’ embodies the fundamental principles of the 50-year-old recommendation with an emphasis on the need to support teachers as reflected in the agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A specific education goal, SDG4, pledges to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The roadmap for the new agenda, the Education 2030 Framework for Action, highlights the fact that teachers are fundamental for equitable and quality education and as such must be “adequately trained, recruited and remunerated, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effective government.”

At the ceremony organised to commemorate the day in Nigeria, teachers described the theme as apt and timely, adding that it will be an opportunity for the government and other stakeholders in the sector to review the state of the teaching profession in the country for a better service delivery.

They argued that the age-long neglect, poor working condition and relegation of the profession have not only scared quality brains away from teaching, but have made the profession the last resort for people that cannot secure their desired jobs in other fields.

The National President, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mr. Michael Olukoya in his remarks noted that 50 years after the adoption of the International Labour Organisation/UNESCO recommendations by countries to ensure that teachers are accorded the status commensurate with the pivotal role they play in the advancement and education delivery, Nigeria is still far from realising it.

“We are faced with the stark reality that Nigerian teachers are still denied their rightful status and pride of place in the society. The teaching profession remains the most wanted, but least regarded and has continued to suffer societal disdain, neglect and degradation.”

Stressing that Nigerian teachers are at the receiving end of the economic downturn the country has found itself in, Olukoya said teachers are faced with myriads of problems such as non-payment of salaries, poor working condition, threat to their jobs as some state governments plan to hand over public schools to voluntary agencies, among others.

He called on the federal government to address the issue of discrimination between primary and secondary school teachers, saying, “the Federal Ministry of Education should endeavour to address the issue of discrimination in the terminal grade levels of graduate teachers in both primary and secondary schools across the federation by ensuring a uniform scheme of service for all teachers in the country.”

The Chairman, Lagos State Wing of the NUT, Mr. Adesegun Raheem, blamed the current state of the profession on the benchmark placed on it by the government. “When teaching was noble, everyone was ready to join the profession and that was when the teacher was next to the community head. But today, no parent would want his/her ward to go into a venture that is not economically viable.”

On how to attract and retain the best brains in the profession and have them give their best, he said teachers and the profession desire and deserve recognition, respect and appreciation.
“Teachers are at the bottom of the ladder in terms of professional appreciation. Our policy makers must inflate teachers’ public image and status through improved welfare packages to make them regain their lost paradise. No other profession touches every aspect of life the way teaching does. Teachers desire and deserve every recognition, every respect and appreciation because they are the black pot that produced the white pap.”

While calling on governments to review the harsh treatment meted out to teachers in various states, Raheem warned that “any nation that plays politics above the welfare of its teachers is preparing the ground for a romance with poverty, disease and illiteracy.”

The Lagos State Deputy Governor, Dr. Idiat Adebule said a nation or society cannot achieve meaningful development in education delivery without placing value on their teachers. She hinted that the state has remained committed to improving teachers’ welfare through personal development, training and promotion.

“All the reforms that have been implemented in the state are such that are meant to adequately give prominence to our teachers and appropriately reward them. In the state, more teachers are now being appointed as permanent secretaries/tutor general.

Adebule, who commended the teachers for their roles and contributions in the country’s education urged them to continue to conduct themselves in the most honourable way as teachers, parents and counsellors.

“Our students look up to us as role models. As a result, we must continue to maintain the ethics of the profession and discourage unethical and unhealthy practices such as examination malpractices, lateness to school, absenteeism, among others.”

The guest lecturer at the NUT, Lagos Wing’s WTD celebration, Mr. Olu Abiala, said the value of a country’s teacher is a direct reflection of the quality education delivery and urged the governments to invest more in education for better results.

He said the current lack of commitment and professional enthusiasm among Nigerian teachers is as a result of the “unfriendly and rewarding professional environment and the resultant effect are felt in the poor quality of graduates churned out yearly in every stage of the country’s education system.”

Charting a way forward, Abiala said government must invest in teacher training, provision of teaching and learning materials, conducive working environment, and motivate them with a globally competitive wage and emoluments.

The Head Teacher of TLS, Ikoyi, Ms. Busola Aina, said the day was set aside for teachers to be honoured, adding that this means teachers are involved in nation building and moulding lives. “Our impact is felt in the world and we have a relevant role in the society.”

She said the welfare of teachers goes beyond just remuneration, but ensuring efforts that will boost their confidence and self-worth. She called on government and school owners to look into their continuous development in the areas of training, provision of technology, exchange programmes, among others.

“Let them invest in them and when you see results, it will change the mindset of the society.”
She expressed concern that the annual budget for education in the country when compared to other sectors and other parts of the world is very small, adding that it changes people’s attitude to life.

“If government is more visible in playing its role, there will be a paradigm shift and everybody will be catch in on it.”

Aina urged teachers to value themselves first, saying, “it starts from them, you have to see yourselves as professionals, the self-esteem must come from you first, you must understand that you are unique in your field.”

The Primary Coordinator of the school, Mrs. Oluremi Adesokan, who said she has been teaching for the past 14 years, noted that the improvement in technology, training and support will make teachers perform optimally and that more parents would support their children.

She stressed that teaching should not be seen as an inferior profession because teachers are dealing with children that will find themselves in various sector of the economy. “Teachers’ salaries must be paid as and when due and must be at par with their colleagues in other sectors, they must also go for trainings that will help them to deliver their jobs well.”

The Director of the school, Mrs. Olubunmi Egbeyemi, said she is proud of the crop of teachers in her employ who have been exposed to training in their fields, adding that the only way a school can have outward looking teachers is to encourage them through training and introduction of technology.

She recalled the times when the teaching profession used to be looked down on because others in their category who worked in banks were well paid, saying that such attitude has reduced as a result of improvement in training and social media.

“The usual empowerment is very key, sometimes the teachers can work from home, there should be adequate power supply, payment of salaries for states that are still owing to boost the morale of the teachers. There is nothing like having a profession that you are fully committed to, that is why public schools to a large extent should be able to pay salaries on time. They could do better for the public schools so that attention is focused. You have situations where children who were not doing well before succeeded at the long run; it is because the teachers are committed to their success.”