President Buhari in a handshake with Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu

IN THE ARENA

Nigeria’s education sector needs help, writes Olawale Olaleye

The running story from Kaduna State in the last few weeks is disturbing. It is about some unqualified teachers in the state’s employ. Some 33,000 of them were handed primary 4 pupils’ competency test, out of which a large chunk 21,780 failed. Government thought such a poor result was scandalous and therefore resolved to sack them all.

Ever since, all hell had been let loose by the teachers, who had threatened to shut down the state. Indeed, the Nigeria Union of Teachers in the state had also issued an ultimatum to the government to rescind its decision. The ultimatum is due to lapse tomorrow, Monday. But already the state claimed it had received another fresh application for the yet-to-be vacant teaching jobs, about 23,000 of them including some of those who failed the competency test.

That was Kaduna. Whatever happened with the teachers, unfortunately, is not peculiar to the state, least of all, the region – North. It is a general problem. The signal from Kaduna is indicative of the poor state of education across the country, leaving no particular state or region out of this growing but ugly concern.

In August 2013, former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, randomly picked on a primary school teacher, Mrs. Augusta Odemwingie, who could not read her own age declaration certificate, after spending 20 years in service. The video of the encounter which went viral embarrassed not just the former governor, but the teaching class in the state.

About the same time in Rivers State, former governor Rotimi Amaechi also picked on a teacher during an exercise by the Best of Nollywood team, who had come to read to students with faces in the acting industry. She also failed a simple test. But the governor did not make a case from it.

The Minister of Mines and Steel, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, had a tough time during his term as Ekiti State governor. Fayemi had insisted on carrying out assessment of teachers as part of the recommendations of a reform panel to improve the state’s education system.

What was merely an innocent suggestion for the betterment of the state soon became the governor’s albatross. In fact, there is a strong belief that the move accounted largely for why some of the institutions in the state moved against his re-election, because they abhorred the change he dared to bring about in the education sector of the state.

Although Ekiti used to be known for sound education, the teachers could not vouch for themselves and would rather form an opposition against the government just to save face. Today, Ekiti is struggling to compete for attention in terms of rating in the education sector.

Senate President Bukola Saraki also had similar encounter as governor of Kwara State in 2007. The mass failure of teachers in Kwara, when a competency test was conducted by former Commissioner for Education, Malam Boalji Abdulahi, was so alarming that Saraki had to devise a means of handling it.

In Kwara, the test was organised for a total of 19,125 teachers and out of whom 2,628 were university graduates. The tests were designed for primary four pupils in English and Mathematics. But at the end of the exercise, only seven teachers out of the 19,125 passed, while only one out of the 2,628 graduate teachers passed the test. Ten graduates scored outright zero. In essence, about 90% of the teachers failed the primary 4 exams.

But rather than sack them, Saraki realised the teachers too were victims of a poor education system. He then designed what was called Teacher Professional Development (TPD) supported by DFID/World Bank. Through the programme, government developed a Teaching Manual, which reduced the lesson plans to simple easy-to-follow manual from Primary one to Primary six. He also recruited a team of State Schools Improvement Team made up of the few that did well and lecturers in the state colleges of education.

From the State Schools Improvement Team, teachers were later assigned to five schools each. Saraki further set up the quality assurance unit to monitor compliance and within a year or so, the tide changed completely for the public schools in Kwara.

Across the country, there is a need for capacity building of the teaching class as part of the efforts that government must invoke in addressing the deteriorating state of education in the country. What is obtainable all over the nation is so bad that government at all levels must come together for a critical review of the entire education sector, starting of course, with the teaching capacity.

It goes without saying that lack of jobs in the country may be partly responsible for the poor recruitment into the teaching service, because it is also cheap for government at the end of the day. This is why government must review the process and uphold standard. The strength of the education of any country is a major yardstick to measuring her prospects, especially at the foundation stage. Nigeria is below par here and the factors are not far-fetched.

Public schools used to be the pride of education back in the days and just a few years down, Nigeria seems to have lost it all. Even the private schools are worst hit. This is why government must take the revolution too to the private schools, but first, charity must start from home. Government cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. Education standard in Nigeria is failing and falling and therefore, government must act and act fast.