Why We Must Train the Trainers

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 FORTHERECORD 

At the formal inauguration of Moje College of Education in Erin-Ile, Kwara State, on Thursday, guest speaker, Olusegun Adeniyi spoke on why the reform of education sector must start with the quality of teachers

Since we are in a school environment, let me begin with the story of a student who got 100 out of 100 in a crucial examination. On the school’s prize giving day, after the student had been presented a gift for what everyone assumed to be his brilliance, the chairman of the occasion said: “I hope you will keep it up so that you can win this award after the next examination.”

To this, the student replied: “Yes Sir, I intend to do that. But I also hope that when that time comes, my teacher will equally print the question paper from my uncle’s computer.”

Until I got the invitation to speak at this event, I wasn’t even aware that there is any private school in this country that is committed to the training of teachers. Upon enquiry, I discovered there are actually a couple of them, including one in Ilorin. But this College is different because it is a product of community efforts. I therefore commend the vision behind this noble idea while I congratulate the people of Erin-Ile for the decision to raise the standard of education in Nigeria through this unique intervention.

As an indigene of Kwara State, I can attest to the fact that our people have always come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. Whether it is to build schools or hospitals or town halls etc. communities in Kwara State have always pulled resources together for the advancement of the common good through shared responsibility. But, this intervention is particularly special because it is geared towards the most critical yet neglected area of our national life: the education of teachers.

When they say three successive generations cannot be poor, as we often say in Yorubaland, we must qualify the saying. Ten generations can be poor if nobody seeks knowledge.  The only weapon to break such a generational curse is education. And there can be no education without teachers. Therefore, the significance of this initiative is that it targets the root of the malaise in our educational system. If we are to address the current state of our education, with the aim of fixing it, we must start with the training of teachers.

Kabiyesi, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let me pause here to pay tribute to a very special man in whose honour I am here today. I am talking of no other than Bishop David Abioye, one of the most respected men of God we have in the country today. I have known the Bishop for a decade now and I have within the period followed what God is using him to do. As a man whose ministry is about building the total man, I can understand why the Bishop is committed to this community project and his involvement also gives me the confidence that this will be a model college for the training of teachers in Nigeria.

The educational sector in Nigeria needs urgent reform and to do that successfully, we must focus on teachers and teaching as a profession and I have a few suggestions here. The respect that the profession deserves should be accorded it. The best of students should be encouraged and enticed to teach. Making teaching lucrative is also vital in reforming our educational system. A situation where teachers are owed salaries is inhuman and condemnable. The agencies tasked with the responsibility to regulate should also be empowered to do their job. This will inadvertently take care of mediocre teachers swarming the classrooms without the requisite qualifications to teach or model excellence to our children.

I will also implore teachers that are currently in service to seek self-improvement. In this age of the internet and mobile technology, there are many free online courses available to teachers. Since self-development is an essential part in the human capital development agenda, teachers must engage on continuing professional development programmes. It is only in that way that they can improve themselves and the standard and quality of the knowledge they share. Any teacher who strives to push their boundaries and actively create challenges for themselves will always be ahead of others.

I have a few more suggestions. The authorities and critical stakeholders in the education sector must work towards redesigning the curricular in such a way that it suits the requirements of a developing society with specific goals and objectives. The aim of the exercise would be to overhaul and reform the learning content in our schools to ensure that it is more robust and responsive to the socio-economic needs of our country. These are workable interventions and there is no better time than now to take these things on track.

As things stand, the model we are operating is rather obsolete and cannot produce the required or expected outcomes across board. Yet, as we all agree, the quality of our education system will determine the quality of the society we will have. Along this direction, we need to ensure that there is room for continuous staff development workshops, provisions of well-equipped libraries at all levels and parental involvement in the entire process of educating our children where appropriate.

However, even if we do all the foregoing, we may still be scratching the surface. The biggest challenge we have in the country today is the quality of teachers. In several states across the country, from primary to secondary schools, majority of those who impart knowledge to our children are no better than functional illiterates. The question is: If those who are supposed to impart knowledge on primary school pupils cannot even pass some elementary test, what kind of knowledge will they transfer to the children?

The situation is akin to a blind leading a fellow blind and unless some drastic measures are taken to address the malaise it could lead to a permanent system collapse while the future of the younger generations of Nigerians is seriously compromised. That is why initiatives like MOJE College of Education are very important. If we are to move our country along the path of peace and sustainable development, we must focus our attention on the training of teachers and I speak from experience here.

For two consecutive years, (2015 and 2016), I was on the panel of Judges for the Nigerian Breweries Plc to select the annual Maltina Teacher of the Year winner who usually go home with a cash prize of N5 million, overseas training and a block of classrooms for the school where he or she teaches. The process entails marking the entries of hundreds of teachers across the 36 states of the country and Abuja.

The maiden edition in 2015 was restricted to public schools in Nigeria but a year later, the competition was open to all secondary schools, private or public. But it was a rather depressing experience because if majority of those who are to impart knowledge to our children at secondary school level are themselves barely literate, as I found out, then there is a problem.

It is heartwarming that those in authority understand that teachers are central to the production of high quality human capital. The challenge is that there is no concrete action to change the narrative. At a recent retreat for members of State Executive Council and the Federal Executive Council in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari said and I quote: “With an estimated 13.2 million children out of school, high illiteracy level, infrastructural deficit and decay, unqualified teachers, and inadequate instructional materials, to mention some of the challenges, we can clearly see the effect of decades of neglect that the education sector has suffered.”

The President clearly identified unqualified teachers as one of the problems confronting the educational system in Nigeria. The Minister for Education, who was also at the retreat, suggested that attention should be paid to teachers and to teaching as a profession. But the problem goes beyond empty rhetoric, seminars and conferences; it is about taking decisive action to redress the situation.

This may be the wrong forum to say it but while it is good that communities are coming together for projects like this, we cannot continue to neglect public education if we are to develop as a nation. To the extent that the educational development of any country is measured by the state of its public schools, it goes without saying that we are already in trouble in Nigeria given what obtains today. I doubt if there is any Nigerian, including even those who are at the bottom of the pyramid, who wants to send his/her children to what we now call public schools except left with no other choice.

The sad aspect is that most members of my generation and the generations before us were products of these same public schools we have now abandoned. The implications of such a state of affair are many and far reaching. For instance, whereas people like us from poor background were able to associate with children of the rich by virtue of the public schools we all attended together at the time, such does not happen in Nigeria today which means we are already creating different classes of citizens.

Since education remains the only pathway by which we can address that evolving social problem in our country, we must begin to pay attention to the quality and welfare of teachers. By looking down on the profession and telling teachers to wait for their reward in heaven, we are killing the future of our country. That explains why a profession that should ordinarily attract the best and which indeed draws the best in many of the Western countries now attracts only those that have failed in other endeavors.

Therefore, as I conclude my presentation, I will passionately enjoin the management of Moje College of Education to raise the bar. You must make excellence your watchword. Only the best should be good enough for admission into this school. Those who do not have the calling and the interest to teach should not be found on this campus. Through this college, let Erin-Ile be the model for the nation. Include professional development courses in your curriculum for those already in the profession. Establish collaborations with universities and colleges abroad. Let Erin-Ile through this college become a hub of learning. Let the nation come here to recruit its teachers knowing this is where only the best can be found.

With people like Bishop Abioye whose life and ministry reflect nothing but excellence and other notable sons and daughters of Erin-Ile identified with this school, the message that Moje College of Education should send to the nation is simple: You have to be brilliant to teach. A situation where teachers fail the same examination they set for their students is unacceptable. It is a crying shame!

A teacher among other qualities should have knowledge of the subject matter, have clear objectives for learning, and possess an engaging personality. A teacher should be a good communicator with effective discipline skills and should not be ignorant of the curriculum and standards. Those are the teachers that this school must produce.

Moje College of Education has arrived on a rescue mission. It is not going to be easy. The turf is going to be hard. You are going to face discouragement. There will be moments when you would feel like packing up and changing course. When you start to feel that way, always remember that this is more than a college; you are on a mission to battle mediocrity and restore order and standard to education in Nigeria. Although your beginning is small, please stay focused. Yours is a little light, please let it shine till the flame catches the entire educational sector and God is glorified.

As I take my seat, let me remind us again that community development projects are about building a society that works for its people and the process is as important as the results. That should serve those who are on the Governing Board as well as the management of Moje College of Education.

However, on a day such as this, we should also reflect on the abundance that God has bestowed upon us as a community. So let’s celebrate the real essence of today which is about unity of purpose with gratitude and appreciation to our God and the enduring spirit of Olowe. That, I understand is the spirit that defines this community and is always cherished by sons and daughters of Erin-Ile, whether at home or abroad.