As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Teachers’ Day with the theme ‘The Right to Education means the Right to a Qualified Teacher’, some teachers say these rights may not be attained unless the profession is accorded the desired recognition and teachers well remunerated. Uchechukwu Nnaike, Funmi Ogundare and Kuni Tyessi report
October 5 every year is always a memorable day for teachers in the country as it affords them the opportunity to celebrate among themselves and be reminded how important they are because they belong to a noble profession. The Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) usually organises an event to mark the day across all states where teachers gather to celebrate and bring issues affecting them to the attention of the government.
This year’s celebration was not different from other years, but it would have been if the federal government had implemented the new minimum wage as proposed by labour unions in the country.
In Lagos State, the teachers gathered at NUT Pavilion, Alausa all gaily dressed in matching outfits from one local government area to the other, the high point of the event was the march past and the presentation of gifts to each local government area according to the time of arrival.
Commenting on the new minimum wage issue, the Chairman, Lagos State wing of NUT, Comrade Adedoyin Adesina said the government is not being fair, adding that it is only in this part of the world that government will reach an agreement and will renege. “In 2011 it was agreed that every four years the salaries shall be reviewed but we noticed that till date nothing has been done. They said we are out of recession, if we are out of recession, there is need to improve the standard of living. Labour creates wealth; you don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
“When you look at the exchange rate, as at 2011 it was about N160 to a dollar, now it is about N360, it is more than double, so definitely depreciation has come in, the purchasing power is very low, so there is need for the government also to honour the agreement. The government of Nigeria is like when you are dialoguing with a deaf, the only language they understand is strike, if you don’t go on strike they will not listen; if you don’t disrupt the economy, they won’t listen. We are not there yet but I believe there will be a time that we will get there.”
Adesina stressed that poor remuneration leads to low productivity; however he said teachers in the state go for professional development, but the level of that professional development is a problem.
“Teachers also undergo self-development, on-the-job training. When you go to primary schools these days, we have many doctoral and master’s degree holders there and that was not what they had when they were employed, they got it on the job.”
The NUT Chairman called on the state government to address the shortage of qualified teachers, saying that the recent recruitment of 2,200 teachers cannot cope with the deficit on ground.
“Teachers are the most crucial in the educational structure, it is never the infrastructure. We will therefore recommend that another advert be put up for recruitment of more qualified teachers for both sectors- primary and secondary.”
He also appealed for increased running cost; reinstatement of morale-boosting allowances; professionalisation of teachers; and conversion of non-teaching staff to teaching staff.
The acting Secretary, Gbenga Ayetoba, who commended Governor Akinwunmi Ambode for ensuring regular payment of teachers’ salaries and infrastructure development in schools however said “that we are having it good in Lagos does not mean we are actually getting a living wage, what we are asking for is a living wage for teachers and the entire workers of Nigeria. You cannot get the best out of teachers when they are not well remunerated and motivated. NUT is in full support of the agitation for a living wage in Nigeria.
“I also want to commend the governor for the training and retraining of teachers. Teachers in Lagos State are not sleeping; in our primary school system today you hardly see NCE so on daily basis, teachers are developing themselves. In spite of the fact that we are not getting a living wage, personal development is a must and I want to thank the teachers in Lagos, they don’t toy with their personal development, but there is still room for improvement.”
On how poor remuneration is affecting teachers, Ayetoba said: “We all know and understand the economic reality in the country now, the politicians are having it good, but it is the same market that the politicians and civil servants and teachers go to; to the extent that if you buy a product today by the time you go back there the following day, the price would have skyrocketed, but the wages remain the same. It is a pathetic situation, it is eating deep into the lives of teachers and civil servants and the common man.”
At the event in Abuja, the federal government promised to make teaching lucrative and attractive to encourage more people into the profession
President Muhammadu Buhari who made this known regretted that the profession in Nigeria has been regarded as a dumping ground and has been patronised by people that believe that teaching is a part-time job that allows for other profit making businesses which is considered more lucrative.
He said this will no longer be the case as the federal government is still committed to the profession and frantic efforts are being made to improve teacher education for skills acquisition through teachers’ continuous professional development.
Buhari, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, lamented the increasing number of out-of-school children, saying that at least 250,000 additional teachers are needed to achieve the recommended teacher: pupil ratio of 1:30.
“There is no gainsaying that the teaching profession has been and is still faced with various challenges. These include low wages, low self-esteem in the society, lack of professional in service training, low professional status, higher teacher/pupil ratio, ineffective machinery to enforce the code of conduct in the teaching profession, unqualified teachers, lack of standards and poor work environment.
The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, revealed that from 2015 to date, about 36,088 teachers have graduated as holders of Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) and Advanced Diploma in Education (ADE) including other continuing professional development programmes for teachers.
He said so far, the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) has registered over two million teachers at all levels in all the 36 states and has been working with the NUT to collate all bio-data of Nigerian teachers through their network in all the 744 local government areas of the country with over 26,350 teachers as certified and licensed for the past two years.
The NUT National President, Dr. Nadir Idris called on the federal government to close the gap in retirement between teachers in tertiary institutions and those of the basic and secondary schools from 60 to 65 years and the service period from 35 to 40.
“Teachers of primary and secondary schools in the country over the years demanded for their retirement age to be reviewed from 60-65 years and service period from 35-40 years. This has been granted to teachers in the colleges of education, polytechnics and universities and equity demands that it should be given to teachers at the basic and senior secondary schools in Nigeria.
“We call on the federal government to approve the payment of 27.5 per cent teachers’ enhancement allowance to teachers in the unity schools and other federal government schools. These teachers should also be allowed to exercise their trade union rights by belonging to the industrial unions of their choice.”
In her remarks, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Oluranti Adebule, lauded the steadfastness and dedication of teachers in the state, in public and private schools and acknowledged their invaluable contributions to the overall development of the next generation of leaders.
She reiterated the state government’s commitment to their welfare in the areas of training and re-training, prompt payment of salaries and conducive environment for teaching and learning in schools through infrastructure renewal, while assuring them that teachers’ wellbeing will continue to be the government’s priority.
“The effectiveness of our teachers can be judged or measured by the performance of our students in internal and external examinations, national and international competitions in which the students have performed creditably well. Though there is always room for improvement which I urge the teachers to take very seriously and stay committed because they remain the mirror with which students view themselves.”
On the on-going recruitment of additional 2,200 teachers into the school system, she said only qualified and competent teachers will be recruited as the exercise is to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
Adebule called on teachers to renew their commitment to hard work, place premium on service delivery and inculcate right morals in the young ones.
The Administrator of The Foreshore School, Ikoyi, Miss Oyin Egbeyemi told THISDAY that teachers need to be genuinely passionate and committed to their jobs, saying that these would always make them stand out.
“Teachers who have stood out to me exhibit these. They always go the extra mile in delivering their tasks. They do not take their work as just a job, they carry things out like it is actually a calling. To be honest, recognition could mean many different things.”
She said when her school commemorated the World Teachers’ Day, the children were asked who their favourite teachers were and their responses were interesting.
“One of the children said ‘I love my teacher because she allowed us to play in classes, another said ‘my teacher is very good with discipline, that’s why I like her’. Sometimes it is the manner with which they teach and how they really connect with their students. For some it is a natural gift, for some it is a skill they develop as a result of their passion or even their career development.
Asked how teachers should be more motivated so that the profession can attract quality people, she said, “Back in the very early days of my grandmother’s (50s to 60s) career, teaching was one of the noblest professions, especially for women. She and my grandfather were teachers for their entire careers, and were very proud of what they did (and still do). Times were different then and conventional careers of today (banking, engineering and consulting) were not as popular as they are now.
“However, I believe that the economic environment then was also more enabling: The cost of living was far lower, our economy was more diversified and foreign exchange rates favoured us. Our entire system as a country and the structure of the educational system in Nigeria were more efficient then, so much so that it was more noble for people of my parents’ generation to school here than abroad. In fact, Indians, Ghanaians and people from many other countries came to Nigeria to teach and learn. Many people from that time would probably agree that it was a noble or prestigious profession and sector then.
“These days however, the quality of the teaching profession seems to have been diminished both in its perception of nobility and the compensation it attracts (in relation to the cost of living these days). A colleague of mine who works in the finance sector made the comment, ‘why move from a career in engineering to one in education? To me, this was indicative of the shallow mind set of the current generation. This perception somehow extends to the system in the country such that even the welfare packages of teachers and other people in education do not match the volume of the important work that they do.
“For instance, the federal and state budget allocations to education are so low in comparison to our peers in countries such as Ghana and Rwanda. So, I think we need to change our mind sets and reconsider the importance of education in any country. If we took this a little more seriously (across various tiers of the economy; individuals, government, private and public sectors), the profession would automatically become as noble as it should be and would therefore attract quality people.
On how the glory of the school system will be restored for nation building, Egbeyemi emphasised on the importance of quality education, adding that it is one of the sectors that could restore growth in the country.
“We seem to forget the structure of the demographics in our country. The active population (ages 15 to 64 years) make up the majority of our population. Some people could easily view this large population as our strength, but we need to be very careful because if these people are not properly educated, they would be easily exposed to anti-social situations such as crime and then our nation would be doomed for disaster.
“Everyone has a role to play, from individuals to the government. This is not one of those things that we leave all responsibility to the government because it is actually too enormous for that tier of the system to handle alone. So as individuals, there are many little things we can do to help build the education system: from volunteering in educative initiatives to helping those around us who may not have access to education.
“The private sector could help build incentives for educational institutions to thrive such as support from the financial sector. The public sector could also help with policy reform and implementing a workable strategy bearing in mind the global environment which is beginning to move ahead of us.