Kaduna’s Brewing Row with Teachers

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John Shiklam writes on the brewing controversy between the Kaduna State Government and school teachers following plans by the government to sack over 20,000 of those said to have failed the primary four tests administered on them 

The Kaduna State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and the government are poised for a show down following plans by the latter to sack 21,780 teachers said to have failed an assessment test.

Worried by the declining standard of education in public schools, the government had on June 3, 2017, administered a competency test on the primary school teachers to flush out those who are not qualified to teach.

The test which was meant for primary four pupils was aimed at assessing competence in literacy and numeracy, through reading, writing and simple calculations.

The outcome of the test was shocking!

About 21,780 out of 33,000 teachers failed the test.

“We tested our 33,000 primary school teachers, we gave them primary four examinations and required they must get at least 75 per cent, but I am sad to announce that 66 per cent of them failed to get the requirements,” Governor Nasir el-Rufai had disclosed when he received a joint delegation of the World Bank and DFID at the Government House, Kaduna.

Details of the results showed that 11,591 teachers (33.9 per cent) scored 75 per cent and above while 5,766 of them (16.9 per cent) scored 70 and 74 per cent.

The result also indicated that 8,759 (26.1 per cent) of the teachers, scored 60-69 per cent while 8,047 (23.58 per cent) scored 0-59 per cent.

The government has vowed to sack those who failed the test. Already the recruitment of 25,000 primary school teachers had been approved to replace those to be sacked.

The Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) had advertised recruitment notices.

THISDAY learnt that a standardised test is to be adopted for the recruitment of the new teachers after which they would be trained before they take over the classrooms.

This has attracted mixed reactions with some people commending el-Rufai for tackling the issue of unqualified teachers head-on while others had criticised the decision to sack them, insisting on retraining them.

The state chapter of the NUT has however, vowed to resist any attempt to sack any of its  members under any guise.

At a news conference in Kaduna after an emergency executive council meeting, the state chairman of the union, Comrade Audu Amba, declared that the union will embark on indefinite strike action if any teacher is sacked.

Amba maintained that “the so called exam” that was given to the teachers was not a true test of their professional competence.

He argued that the proper way of testing the competence of teachers, is to visit them in schools and see how they deliver as it was the practice in those days when school supervisors paid unscheduled visits to assess teachers.

“We felt we should come together and tell the government that it should not take us 20 years backward with this system. If you take away 20,000 teachers, I can’t imagine where you will get good replacement for the teachers that have been teaching for donkey years.

“The so called exam that was given to our teachers was not a true test because you can only test a teacher when you go to his class and supervise what he does,” Amba said.

He alleged that the decision by government to sack the teachers was not part of what was agreed upon by the committee headed by Secretary to the State Government (SSG) which the NUT was represented.

“Today we have resolved that as state executive council, if by this very exam that was given to our teachers, which was not even what we all agreed in the committee headed by the SSG, any teacher being relieved of his or her appointment, the NUT and the entire teachers in the state may not guarantee industrial harmony with the Kaduna State Government,” he declared.

He maintained further that the NUT had informed the government through various communication channels that the Teachers Registration Council (TRC), is the only statutory body guided by law and has the mandate to test whether teachers are competent or not.

“But the government insisted that they have their own method of testing teachers.

“As leaders of this profession that want success, having agreed with government that there are some incompetent people in our midst, we supported government in trying to find a solution,” Amba said while calling for an amicable way of resolving the issues.

But reacting to the stance by the NUT, el-Rufai maintained that no amount of threat from NUT would stop the government from replacing the teachers who failed the test.

In a live interview with local radio stations in Kaduna, el-Rufai said anybody who has the interest of the education of the citizens of the state at heart, should be embarrassed by the failure of teachers who could not answer questions meant for primary four pupils.

The governor said rather than threaten to go on strike, the NUT should be embarrassed by the incompetence of its members.

“Everybody knows that we will not be deterred in doing what is right for the future of our children. The NUT thinks this is about politics, making a public show of opposing what they know to be right. Shouldn’t everybody be embarrassed by the test results?

“Where is the sense of shame? I hear some people say the pass mark for a primary four exam should be 60 per cent, the same people say the state government has no right to test the competence of its employees.

“There is no bigger evidence of the crisis in our society than that a union whose members failed a primary four examination thinks it can create problems over the issue rather than be a part of the solution.

“We are not people that bow to threats. We will respond appropriately. What will be the point of that strike? To force us to violate our oath of office and knowingly retain as teachers those that are not qualified? That will not happen,” the governor declared.

According to him, the process of recruiting teachers was politicised over time, as politicians and local government chairmen made the primary school sector to be a “dumping ground for their thugs.”

He noted that teachers were employed at local government level without adherence to standards, pointing out that in many instances, no examinations or interviews were conducted to assess the quality of those being employed.

“Political patronage, nepotism and corruption became the yardstick, thus giving unqualified persons a way in. Teaching jobs were given as patronage to those connected to politicians and bureaucrats,” he said.

According to him, the Kaduna State Executive Council had approved the recruitment of 25,000 primary school teachers, stressing that this time around, there would be standardised tests for those to be recruited.

“No unqualified person will scale through and we will vet certificates very closely and very often. The future of our children is so important that we will not take chances. We will be vigilant in ensuring that only good people teach in our public schools,” el-Rufai said.

The issue of unqualified people teaching in primary schools in the state started during the administration of late Patrick Yakowa when the same primary four test was administered to 1,599 primary school teachers in the state.

Of this number, 1,300 teachers were said to have failed the test. One of them was said to have scored 75 per cent, 250 scored between 50 to 75 per cent and 1,300 scored below 25 per cent.

The test was a follow-up to the sacking of 4,000 teachers who were discovered to have fake certificates in 2009.

Also in 2012, the then Chairman of the Kaduna State House of Assembly Committee on Education, Yunusa Mohammad revealed that of  the 38,000 teachers in the state, about 17,000 were not qualified as they had only SSCE, diplomas and other non-teaching qualifications.

The Yakowa administration was said to have given all unqualified teachers a grace of five years within which to acquire the requisite qualification for teaching, but somehow, the teachers did not take the ultimatum seriously.

Commenting on the issue, an educationist and former chairman of the State Universal Basic Education (SUBEB), Mr. Ishaya Akau, lamented that there are people in the teaching profession that are not qualified to teach.

“We were able to establish about 4,000 people with fake certificates (in 2009 when he was chairman of SUBEB under the Yakowa administration) and we flushed them out.

“But certainly there are many people in the teaching profession that are not even qualified. Don’t forget that the lowest teaching qualification in Nigeria is the National Certificate of Education (NCE) and there are many people in the teaching profession who do not have NCE. I think we should start from there,” he said.

Akau, a former provost of the state owned College of Education, Gidan-Waya, said every qualified teacher is supposed to be licensed by the Teachers’ Registration Council.

“So anybody who doesn’t have a license from the TRC should certainly not be in the teaching profession. I studied law, I have not gone to Law School, I have not been call to the bar, so I cannot practice law! It is supposed to be the same thing with the teaching profession. “Anybody who has not been licensed by TRC should not be found in our classrooms.

“If this is the criteria we have applied, I don’t think we should have problem from anybody,” he said.

He also blamed politicians, especially local government chairmen, education secretaries and councilors for employing people who are not qualified to teach.

“You see, the situation is so diffused. Chairmen of local governments, education secretaries and councilors have a hand in the employment of teachers. So a lot of things happened, all kinds of people were selected. A lot of people who were employed were employed on the basis of political patronage, to compensate those who campaigned for them.

“I remembered a specific local government which employed 900 teachers in one year, 70 per cent of them were not teachers. There were local governments that employed more than they required. There were many corrupt practices in terms of employment of teachers. We disciplined one or two people in some of the local governments, people who were taking money to recruit teachers,” he recalled.

Speaking further, Akau said the reform he wanted to introduce while serving as chairman of SUBEB, was to ensure that all recruitment of teachers would be controlled and monitored from the SUBEB headquarters in Kaduna.

“At the SUBEB headquarters, they should know what vacancies exist, the vacancies should be advertised and they should be publicly competed for by competent persons and no one who does not possess an NCE would be invited for the interview, but sadly, that did not happened,” he lamented.

He recalled that there was a local government chairman that sat down with his councilors and voted for who should be appointed education secretary without consideration for qualification, experience, suitability and whether he was a registered teacher.

“When we came in, we worked out the new system of appointing education secretaries, whereby the criteria for appointment and process were clearly spelt out and people will be selected on the basis of a test including an oral interview before recommendations are made on the best three candidates, one of which would be selected by the governor,” he said.

He stressed the need for stricter control as to who employs and procedures put in place for employment adhered to and enforced.

He however attributed the recruitment of unqualified teachers across the country to the deficit of qualified teachers.

He said, “a few weeks ago, the United Nations was talking about millions of teacher deficit in Africa. There is a serious shortage of licensed teachers to cope with the growing population of pupils in the schools.

“When I was a student at Government College, Keffi, the teacher – pupil ratio was 1 to 25. But now the teacher – pupil ratio is 1 to 40 which is not the best because pupils will not get the best attention from the teacher.

“Even at that it is not easy to get qualified teachers to be in all our classrooms, especially at that time. They have been carrying these people along for quite some time.

“Anybody trying to flush out people who should not be teachers, there should be no problem, but the methodology is what perhaps should be addressed.”

He maintained further that for every employment there are procedures on how you come in and how you go out.

“If you follow those procedures, I don’t think you have a problem. If the teachers are saying that procedures are not being followed, they have a right to go to court to establish whether government has followed the procedures or not.

“But as to whether there are unqualified teachers, honestly, there are! I am not going to go into the question of arguing about the exams they did and so forth, but I believe that there can be improvement,” he said.

He also cautioned against recruiting people who are products of colleges of education with low standard to avoid a situation where garbage is removed and replaced with garbage.

He emphasised that the issue of quality teachers must be addressed from the colleges of education that produce them.

He faulted the attitude of governments at all levels and the society towards the teaching profession which has made it less attractive for quality people.

“Hitherto, you find all types of people found their way to teachers colleges. You will appreciate the fact that very few people want to go to teachers colleges.

“I am saying this because it was difficult for us to get candidates to admit when I was the Provost of College of Education, Gidan Waya.

“Actually, colleges of education are a third choice. Unfortunately, when JAMB comes to do its cut off mark, they will tell you 180 for universities and 160 and sometimes 150 for colleges of education. They are telling us that we don’t really need quality people in colleges of education! We should look at these things from there. “Sometimes many of these people went to the college of education without English and Mathematics. A lot of times, those who could not get admission to universities or polytechnics, ended up in the colleges of education.

“The entrance qualification for entrance to colleges of education ought to be the best in a system that seeks to promote quality education in our schools. Sadly, that is not the case and you cannot expect to produce quality teachers when the standard is low.

“You can see that very few people want to choose teaching as a profession. Very few people are inspired to be teachers.

“Teachers have suffered, the teaching profession has suffered, when we were kids, the teacher was the number one man in the community. But he has been degraded and rubbished to the point that the community does not see him as the number one man again.

“When you don’t pay teachers for several months, how do you expect somebody who has not been paid to perform?

“Very few parents, except people like me, can ask my son or daughter to go and become a teacher. So we must change our attitude towards teachers if we want to get the best for the education system,” Akau said.