The Method in el-Rufai’s Madness
At an “Education for all is responsibility of all” summit on 14th February 2013, the then Kaduna State Commissioner for Education, Alhaji Usman Mohammed shocked his audience by disclosing that of a total of 1,599 teachers selected from across the state who were given primary four tests in Mathematics and Basic literacy; only one of them scored 75 percent, 251 scored between 50 to 75 percent and 1,300 scored below 25 percent. When the same examination was conducted for 1,800 primary school pupils, according to Mohammed, most of them failed woefully. “We are not surprised about the performance of the pupils because how can they know it, when their teachers don’t,” he said.
The implication of only 251 out of 1,599 teachers scoring above 50 percent means that a mere 15.7 percent of those tested passed. That 1,300 out of 1,599 teachers scored below 25 percent also implies that 81.3 percent of the teachers tested performed woefully in an examination meant for Primary Four pupils. Unfortunately, while the then governor, Alhaji Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, may have properly diagnosed the problem, there is no evidence that his administration took any action against the teachers who were certified illiterates.
Incidentally, just three months earlier, on 10th November 2012, Yero’s immediate predecessor, the late Governor Patrick Yakowa had disclosed that a verification exercise carried out in the state revealed that no fewer than 2,000 teachers secured their appointments with fake certificates. While he did not disclose what happened to those teachers, Yakowa said memorably: “Teacher quality dictates the success of any educational pursuits…and no nation rises above the quality of its teachers.”
I have highlighted the foregoing to show that the problem of illiterate teachers in Kaduna State predates the era of Governor Nasir el-Rufai and he is not even the first to have conducted a test of their suitability. The difference is that el-Rufai has decided to confront the illiterate teachers who, aside the support of a powerful union, may also be taking advantage of the complicated politics of Kaduna State to fight back.
However, before we go to the kernel of the issue, it is important to reiterate that this is not a problem peculiar only to Kaduna. On 26th May 2012, the then Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Mr Mohammed Modibbo lamented about the quality of teachers in most of our public schools, after which he zeroed in on Sokoto State when members of the Senate Education Committee visited his office: “More than 50 per cent of the entire teachers in Sokoto State cannot read because they are unqualified. So how can they read the UBE books we sent to them? How would they be able to teach the children how to read?”
While I am well aware of the efforts Governor AminuTambuwal has been making in the last two and a half years to change that sordid narrative and the dramatic improvement he has recorded as a result, the point remains that we cannot continue to live in denial about a systemic problem that is national. When my friend, BolajiAbdullahi, as Education Commissioner in Kwara State, conducted the same primary four test for 19,125 teachers in 2008, not only did majority fail, 259 actually scored zero. But, as I said earlier, the problem is not restricted to any state or zone, it is national.
On 15th November 2012, the then Education and Technology Commissioner in Ogun State, Mr SegunOdubela said that following a verification exercise conducted by a team of consultants, about 6,000, representing 31 percent of 19,146 teachers in the state, were found to be unqualified while another 800 entered the service with forged certificates; including the case of a teacher “who would have commenced primary school four years before his birth”. In 2009, Oyo State (under Governor Christopher Alao-Akala) conducted an oral assessment exercise for teachers in the state public schools where it was discovered that accounts teachers couldn’t define Payee and social studies teachers didn’t know the meaning of UNESCO.
In case labour leaders have forgotten, let me refresh their memory with what happened in 2011 when one of their own, the thenEdo Governor Adams Oshiomhole paid an unscheduled visit to a primary school in the state where he encountered an illiterate teacher. Asked for his working hours byOshiomhole, the teacher first said he didn’t know, then he murmured, “7am to 4pm Sir”. Apparently bemused, Oshiomhole turned to one of the pupils and asked, “Where is your teacher?” Before the boy could speak, the teacher quickly interjected: “Na me”.
At a town hall meeting held in July 2013, Oshiomhole disclosed that from the audit carried out in the state, “We found that of all our primary school teachers, only 1,287, representing 9% out of 14,484 teachers have proper records in our system. 91% have various forms of discrepancies in their records. About 1,379 teachers, representing 11.5% claim that they obtained their Primary School Certificates after they had been employed as teachers. In fact, some obtained their Primary School Certificates not more than two years ago, from the school in which they were employed as teachers.”
The challenge of our educational system is huge. Personally, I came face to face with this problem in the course of my two-year stint as a member of the panel of assessors for the Nigerian Brewery Plc in their annual Teacher of the Year Award. My 15th October 2015 piece titled ‘Teaching Computer on Chalkboard’ (reproduced below) tells a compelling story of the tragedy of our education sector and the challenge of the teaching profession in Nigeria today.
Unfortunately, those who have attempted a radical approach to deal with the problem have been subdued by labour unions. A classic example was what happened in Ekiti State in June 2012 when both the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUSS) directed their members to stay away from the Teachers Development Needs Assessment (TDNA) test organised by the administration of then Governor, Dr KayodeFayemi. In the end, those illiterate teachers were able to morph into the opposition that eventually terminated Fayemi’s second term ambition.
It must be said, however, that part of the problem in the Kaduna imbroglio is the temperament of El-Rufai who has not learnt to build consensus around public policies. The leakage of selected scripts of the teachers was an act of desperation that stands condemned. But what is more worrisome is the growing culture in which organized labour believes it must, acting like a mafia, oppose any attempt that hints at sanitizing the system; especially if it means that a few bad eggs among them would be weeded out. It is not a productive stance and I hope labour leaders will sit down to reappraise their position. The question is: Will those union leaders put their own children in schools where teachers peddle ignorance rather than knowledge?
Whatever one may say about el-Rufai, he has demonstrated again and again that to make a difference in a society like ours, a public official should act like someone conducting an orchestra: you just have to back the crowd. Therefore, the decision he has elected to take regarding illiterate Kaduna teachers may not be popular, and one can query or deplore his methods, but we cannot blame him for attempting a solution. As @cchukudebelu quipped last weekend, the only place where someone who failed a primary four test still qualifies to impart knowledge to others is on Twitter!
In practically all the research findings on learning, the broad conclusion is that the quality of teacher is the single most important school variable influencing pupil/student achievement. And since you cannot give what you do not have, it stands to reason that an illiterate teacher can only produce illiterate pupils/students. And if, as President MuhammaduBuhari said on Monday, “an estimated 13.2 million children are out of school” in Nigeria due to no fault of theirs, should we continue to deny the several millions of others who are in school the benefit of quality education?
That we are all aware of the problem can be glimpsed from the fact that hardly any Nigerian with modest means now put their children in public schools. Only children in the villages and those from the urban poor attend public schools in our country these days. Yet, nothing demonstrates the fact that there are gems among many of these children that are being denied opportunities as succinctly as the story of Mabel Igbokwe, one of the scholarship beneficiaries of Father George Ehusani. By dint of hard work and self-discipline, Mabel has been on top of her class since she was, by the grace of God and the support of generous friends of Father Ehusani, “transmuted” from the Kpaduma slum primary “school” to an elite Catholic secondary school in Asokoro, Abuja.
To better appreciate where Mabel is coming from, I enjoin readers to go back to my column of 15th March, 2012 titled ‘A Father’s Love’ which I have also pasted below. It is a testimony to the power of quality education that a girl that was practically left to waste, like hundreds of others, has not only maintained an impeccable academic and discipline records, she recently emerged the Head Girl of Divine Mercy Secondary School in Asokoro, Abuja. In fact, all the three SSS3 students (from the six) who come from the Kpaduma slum, through the intervention of Father Ehusani, are all prefects in the school. The message from that is simple: If we give many of our children roaming the streets the opportunity for quality education, they will excel. Meanwhile, Father Ehusani is now confronted with the problem of looking for money to fund the university education of these children.
All said, while people may disagree with el-Rufai’s politics, on this issue of illiterate teachers, the governor did not just wake up to start conducting test, he interrogated the problem. On Sunday, el-Rufai posted on a small online platform, a May 2015 report he got from the Education Sector Programme in Nigeria (ASSPIN) in concert with the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) which dissected the problems in the Kaduna education sector and offered possible solutions. That, he argued, explained why upon assuming office in 2015, he contracted the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) to conduct a preliminary test on all primary school teachers in Kaduna, an exercise he repeated in 2016 with “a notice to sharpen their skills for a final test at the expiration of the five-year deadline given to them in 2012 (by a previous administration) to upgrade their knowledge in pedagogic and content skills.”
However, the copycat governors who may want to adopt the ‘Kaduna formula’ should reflect more. One needs only to look at the education budget of most states to realise that many of the governors are part of the problem. Aside the fact that the votes for education are usually small, a high percentage of the money goes into procurement which then accounts for why teachers are not paid their meagre salaries as at when due while illiterate political office holders live large at their expense and that of other ordinary citizens. Besides, most of the unqualified teachers were brought to the system by politicians. Therefore, whatever may be the problem, teaching is still a thankless job in our country and one in which many professionals are making enormous sacrifices, even in public schools.
Despite the fact that the work environment is poor and the remuneration even poorer, Nigeria is still blessed with excellent teachers who are diligent at their work and eminently qualified for what they do. Besides, it will take more than sacking illiterate teachers to resolve the crisis of our education; we must return to the same communal spirit by which most of us were brought up as captured in the Yoruba adage, ‘Enikanlon bi omo, gbogboaiyelonbawo’ (it takes an entire community to nurture a child) which other societies have since adopted and adapted for the advancement of their people.
As President Buhari, who admitted being raised as an orphan, pointed out on Monday, if we must develop our society, education remains the only “launch-pad to a more successful, more productive and more prosperous future”.
Teaching Computer on Chalkboard
Why are you in the teaching profession?
Ordinarily, you would expect a teacher who was in the final round of an interview for a life-changing national award to be prepared for such a question. But after a momentary hesitation, the respondent said she chose teaching because it is a profession that “offers me opportunities to do other things by the side.”
For us, that summed up the tragedy of the education sector in Nigeria today. But that was just the beginning of the revelations that would come as we interacted with the ten finalists in the bid to pick someone who approximates to the best teacher in Nigeria. In the process, we learned that there are secondary schools in our country called “Miracle Centres” where many students usually pass the West African School Examinations Council (WAEC) even when they don’t know anything; simply because they are allowed, in fact aided, to cheat in the examination halls by the proprietors of the schools with the active connivance of the invigilators.
We learned that several of the teachers training colleges in Nigeria no longer teach specific subjects, preferring to offer professional courses, including in business administration and law! We were also availed the story of a student who was dismissed from school for failure to meet the required grades but who, on the way home, met the principal stranded on the road because his vehicle (most definitely a Tokunbo!) broke down. Since the boy spends his after-school hours at his father’s mechanic workshop, he was able to fix the vehicle for the principal who immediately recalled him back to the school that had no place for his vocational knowledge. And perhaps to cap it all, one of the teachers told us: “In my school, we teach computer on chalkboard”.
At an impressive ceremony in Lagos on Monday evening, the Nigerian Breweries Plc- Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund held the first Maltina Teacher of the Year Awards. Moderated by Frank Edoho (‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’), it was a night of fun with a fantastic Jazz band, “Platinum Blazers,” and comedy merchant, Gbenga Adeyinka, reminding many us of those good old days when men were boys! As an aside, interviewing the finalists provided its own entertainment and drama. One of the men who called himself the “Barack Obama of teaching profession” gave us a lot to laugh about. Another said he is so good that his students call him “Obama”. And yet another said he is known in his school as Barack Obama because of his teaching prowess. So, among five male teachers, we had three Obamas. Just how lucky can a nation be!
Meanwhile, on Monday, Mrs Rose Obi Nkemdilim from Anambra State emerged the “Best Teacher in Nigeria”. She won N1.5 million on the night plus five million Naira cash spread over five years. Additionally, she will be sent abroad for further training while the Federal Government Girls College, Onitsha where she teaches, also gets a fully furnished block of six classrooms, courtesy of NBL. “Teaching is a noble profession, it is a calling, it is a commitment to building the nation” said the 37 year—old teacher of mathematics and chemistry whose mother, also a teacher, could not contain her excitement at the occasion.
The second prize went to Mrs Binta Lawan Mohammed from Federal Government College, Maiduguri, Borno State who bagged a cash award of N1.5 million. She said most memorably that teaching is her life and that not even insurgency would prevent her from following her passion. Daniel Sunday Udiong from Akwa Ibom State who came third got N1.25 million. In all, there were 19 state champions and 16 of them (outside the top three) went home with N500,000 each.
However, notwithstanding the glitz and glamour at the Monday event, what our experience on the assignment has signposted clearly is that there is crisis in the Nigerian education sector, even though I hasten to add that there is also hope, if we do the needful. But we must commend the NBL for the idea of celebrating and motivating teachers in Nigeria with a focus on public secondary schools. “Everywhere in the world, teachers play a vital role in training, coaching and determining the quality of education, and this is critical to sustainable national development. Our objective is to create an avenue where exceptional teachers will be showcased and rewarded annually and continuously”, said Kufre Ekanem, the NBL Corporate Affairs Adviser, while inaugurating our panel of six judges in August this year.
Chaired by Professor Pat Utomi, other members included: Professor (Mrs) Mopelola Omoegun, Faculty of Education, University of Lagos; Professor Thomas Ofuya, Vice Chancellor, Wellspring University, Benin City; Professor Tijjani Abubakar, Dean, Faculty of Education, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; and Dr. (Mrs.) Fatima Binta Abdulrahman, National President, All-Nigeria Confederation of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPPS). Among the six judges, I am the only one who doesn’t operate within the education sector.
The process itself kicked off in May when the entry forms were advertised in the media with interested teachers asked a set of eligibility questions which included how long they have been teaching, the subjects being taught and in what class. They were also expected to list the awards (if any) ever received. In Section 2, each applicant was asked to write, in not more than 750 words, their “strategic approach in teaching students that impacted or improved their performance in the last 12 months.” Under this section, each teacher was to provide a case study with the topic and background of strategy, innovative and instructional practices, challenges encountered, how such were resolved etc.
Before our work commenced, the consultants employed by the NBL were able to work through the entries to shortlist 275 valid application forms from 32 states of the federation and Abuja. But at our first meeting in Lagos on August 11, we agreed on the marking schemes and what scores to award to each question. The idea was that each of us would separately mark all the 275 scripts and the marks would be tallied with the average scores taken. We initially set the pass mark at 55 percent but it was later reviewed downwards to 50 percent after marking the scripts, for obvious reasons. But we also agreed from the beginning that we would have a final interview session with ten states champions and that held on October 2 this year. That was the session that clinched it for Mrs Nkemdilim who was crowned Teacher of the Year on Monday.
However, our experience, marking the scripts (which cost me sleepless nights for more than a week) was very revealing. Many of the teachers did not understand the questions they were asked and thus wrote, for want of a better description, utter nonsense! What makes that a serious issue is that this was a form each filled without any supervision and at their pleasure. “The process was particularly enlightening in the weak comprehension skills of those who teach young minds. This is alarming and shows the need for intense use of English in further education for teachers”, said Professor Utomi. As he argued, even for those who teach science subjects, “knowledge can be of limited value if they cannot communicate what they know to students”.
Notwithstanding, there were also some silver linings. For instance, there is something that the Anambra State education authorities must be doing right not only because the best teacher comes from there but also because it is the state where many of the teachers scored above average. Perhaps that accounts for why candidates from the state continue to come tops in WAEC examinations every year. It is also gratifying that the teachers who performed well in the exercise are in the sciences (especially mathematics, physics and chemistry) as well as English. We could also see the commitment of many teachers who have taught for decades, including those who have written instructional books etc. These old war horses need greater encouragement from us all.
Whether those in authority understand it or not, teachers are central to the production of high quality human capital and providing incentives that would make life easier for them could make all the difference. After all, we all owe much of what we are today to our former teachers. However, while we must commend the Mr. Nicolaas Vervelde-led NBL management for the initiative of rewarding teachers in the public schools, the point we need to underscore is that the challenge of education in Nigeria is beyond the poor reward system. The environment too must change in terms of the infrastructure critical for learning and the disposition of those in authorities.
From our interactions with the teachers, there are many schools without functional laboratories while in one particular state, public primary schools were effectively closed for almost one year due to non-payment of teachers’ salaries. With such foundation, has the future of children in that state not already been compromised? But the greater challenge is that the critical stakeholders in both the private and public sectors do not seem to be paying the much needed attention.
The 21st Nigerian Economic Summit, with the theme, “Tough Choices: Achieving Competitiveness, Inclusive Growth and Sustainability” ends today in Abuja. With the tone set on Monday by the CEO of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mr Laoye Jaiyeola and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (who led discussion and stayed throughout yesterday’s session on reforming public institutions), one thing most participants were agreed on was that human capital development is essential to any efforts to rebuild the nation.
Unfortunately, aside Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, who used her public service experience to draw attention to some systemic problems, there was not much discussion on education at the all-important session and it was not a prime issue in other sessions either. Yet, if the education sector is not reformed in our country, all other developmental efforts would be in vain. It is therefore my hope that President Muhammadu Buhari will appoint a reform-minded person for the ministry of education to tackle the rot within while putting in place enduring structures to reposition the sector. It is very important for this administration and other critical stakeholders to understand that the classroom remains the central location of Nigeria’s hope for change.
- This piece was first published on 15th October, 2015
A Father’s Love
Sometimes in 1997, in my capacity as deputy editor of the defunct Sunday Concord newspaper (then edited by MrTunji Bello, current Secretary to the Lagos State Government), I sent a student-reporter undergoing her internship to interview Reverend Father George Ehusani. He was then the Deputy Secretary-General at the Catholic Secretariat in Lagos with the current Bishop of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, as his direct boss. The young lady got the interview alright but upon return, she waited around in my office for a while; then muttered almost to herself (but I heard her loud and clear): “How can such a brilliant and handsome young man be a Reverend Father? That means he will never get married and have children. What a waste!”
Embedded in that statement, which I have never had the courage to tell Father Ehusani, is the notion that a successful life is constructed around getting married, havingown biological children, living in comfort while they grow up, and then dying. But life consists much more than that. It is not the children we call our “own” that really matters but those whose lives we impact. Yet the tragedy really is that beyond supplying the cash, many do not even have any impact on their children. In that respect, Father Ehusani indeed has many children for whom he cares, kids who love and cherish him in return, because without him, they have no future.
Now let me put the issue in context. In the course of our stay in the United States between 2010 and 2011, my wife came home one day to pledge that once we got back to Nigeria, she would go and teach in any public primary school that caters for the children of poor people. She said the inspiration came from a film she had just watched titled “Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids”, a documentary about the children of prostitutes in the Indian community of Sonagachi, which in 2004 won the American Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Considering that she had then just enrolled for a programme at Harvard, a community of people with so many crazy ideas, I paid little attention to what I thought was no more than a passing fancy. I turned out to be wrong as my wife got her wish upon our return to Nigeria, following a chance meeting with Father Ehusani, currently the Parish Priest at the Catholic Church of Assumption, Asokoro, Abuja. She is now a part-time teacher at the school domiciled within Annunciation Catholic Church, Kpaduma village, one of the slums that overshadow the highbrow Asokoro district where 500 pupils are being taught by some auxiliary teachers.
Kpaduma residents basically are the poor, the displaced and the dislocated of our society. The shanties have for long been marked out for demolition and the plots probably already shared since the Abuja authorities quite naturally have no plan for the inhabitants and their children.Kpaduma has no water, no road, no school and no basic social amenities. The situation is so deplorable that the Rotary Club of Asokoro, Abuja in January this year pledged to commission a six-unit latrine and a borehole for the people by next month. According to the president of the Club, NzeKanayoChukwumezie, the projects are “being done in collaboration with the Rotary Club Malcolm, United States of America. With the toilets and a functional borehole, they will defecate and flush. They will also have the water for domestic use. We shall also provide them with a generator for powering the borehole. The toilet is six units, three for men and three for women.”
That is Kpaduma for you. Even though most of the residents provide the labour force for menial jobs at Asokoro, it was a Father Innocent Jooji who in 2003 decided to use the Catholic Church in the village as school for the children. On arrival in Abuja in 2008, Father Ehusani took interest in the school and decided to pay more attention to the welfare of the pupils and their future. I have visited the school twice and as I interacted with the pupils, I asked what they would like to become in future. Some said doctors, some lawyers, some engineers. They all looked happy and indeed believed they could achieve their dreams yet, they face a very uncertain future. The school is not registered because it is really not a school; it is just an arrangement to give the children education. Class four and five pupils share the same makeshift building with each class facing opposite directions. Classes one to three use the church auditorium.
The school has 10 teachers, two cleaners and one security man with each pupil paying N2000 (pre-school) and N2,500 (primary one to five) tuition fee per term. The worry for Father Ehusani now is how to get some of the pupils registered into an approved school where they can do common entrance examination into secondary schools by the next academic session. But the greater challenge is that the structures, which make up Kpaduma village, have been marked for demolition. So those innocent souls whose imaginations are already fired could soon be scattered with their future thrown into jeopardy.
I must stress here that this piece is not about the deplorable condition of the shanties that are springing up in many highbrow areas of Abuja. Nor is it about whether or not the residents of Kpaduma should be allowed to stay. In any case, a 126-page 2006 report titled, “Pushing out the poor: Forced Eviction under the Abuja Master-Plan” by the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) has already dealt with the issues surrounding Abuja slums where “…almost all residents live in mud, frail houses, though some are coated with cement and paint in the bid to give their homes a modern look…Most houses have pit latrines that are shared by a large number of people. Most households depend upon the adult female to provide the water needs of the family, while some others opt to buy from Mairuwas…”
My concern here is about those children of Kpaduma who have been brought up under circumstances for which they have no control. This is where I believe our society is failing and where I commend the Catholic Church which the efforts of Father Ehusani exemplify. All over the country, especially in remote places, the Catholic Church is building schools funded through the sacrifices of their members. I am a Pentecostal Christian, with all the hypocritical arrogance associated with that appellation, yet we profess our charity with our mouths with our schools basically established to cater for children of the rich. But that is not an issue for today.
What is important is that we need to create a society that cares. It is a shame that Kpaduma and other such villages exist around Asokoro and there is no thought for the children who live there. And I am not even talking about the government. How many of the home owners in Asokoro feel concerned about whether or not the children of their driver, gardener, security man and cook go to school?
I have had opportunity to interact with Father Ehusani who evidently sees the Kpaduma school children as his own. And they love him as their father because I once saw the way they mobbed him on one visit. He is of the strong opinion that the Church is called to serve the poor, “those who have no social and economic or political rights, those who have lost their human dignity due to the material circumstances they find themselves in.” He argues passionately that “the common good, the good of society as a whole requires that the powerless be specially protected and defended. That is why the degree of development or civilization of a society is measured and evaluated not by how much material wealth that society has, but by how that society treats the weak and the powerless in its midst.”
I agree completely with Father GeorgeEhusani. Those who are relatively comfortable in our society must begin to inculcate the culture of giving back. And their charity must begin from their immediate environment.
- This piece was first published on 15th March, 2012