GIGO: Story of The Nigerian Teacher

Adamu Adamu
Mallam Adamu Adamu

Ubong Nelson

Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO), in the context of information technology, is a slang expression that means regardless of how accurate a program’s logic is, the results will be incorrect if the input is invalid.

While the term is most frequently used in the context of software development, GIGO can also be used to refer to any decision-making systems where failure to make right decisions with precise, accurate data could lead to wrong, nonsensical results.
The scenario above defines the nature of the Nigerian teacher: once a-would- be teacher had a faulty foundation, the possibility of the ruin becoming ruinous, and offering a faulty cycle is a 100%. It can aptly be understood by the legendary Afrobeat exponent, Fela Anikulapo’s Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.

Effiong from primary school was taught by a “poor” teacher, it will be almost impossible for the miseducation of Effiong to be corrected along the chain. I am saying this because people I shared class with while in college over thirty years ago, who had ‘good’ grades, even when their pronunciations and written English were challenged, are today, dependable and serious teachers at all levels of education.

The rational questions to ask are, what happened to education in Nigeria? What went wrong? How did we get here? These challenges are not associated with public schools only, since the staff of private institutions are not specifically/specially trained for the latter. So, as far as quality teachers are considered, all learning facilities will be affected.

Several reasons have been adduced for the decline. The problem teachers pose, is actually a microcosm of the malaise termed education in Nigeria. Everything about education in Nigeria has fallen and depreciated. Iniabasi Ubong, teacher, administrator and lately, the Registrar of one of Nigeria’s Colleges of Education [where teachers for the early years of education are trained], had this to say:

Much has been said about the problems confronting education in Nigeria. In my opinion, the standard of education had a free fall in the 1980s arising from the unexpected/unintended impact of the introduction of free education in 1976. It is obvious that the government did not plan well for or was unable to manage properly the impact of the high enrolment of pupils on the existing but inadequate facilities and the shortage of teachers. To solve the envisaged problem of shortage of teachers, there was the establishment of Teachers Training Colleges and the massive recruitment of ‘teachers’. These were good intentions, but the standard was lowered for those admitted into the colleges. The one- year crash programme introduced to train teachers to fill the gap created by shortage of teachers, admitted and turned out many who did not have the capacity or the right attitude to be good teachers. In addition, very many unqualified people were recruited to teach at both the primary and secondary school levels.

The emergence of community secondary schools in the 1980s to cater for the products of the free education also contributed to the fall in the standard of education.

We can regard the above as the genesis of where we are now in our educational system.
However, the recurring decimal is the poor funding of education. Contrary to UNESCO’s recommendation that 26 percent of the budget be allocated for education, we have never had anything near that. I understand the 2019 budget proposal has about 7 percent for education. In the final analysis, the actual releases will be less than that.
Corruption is also a major issue. A good percentage of what is budgeted and released goes into private pockets or is diverted for other matters such as political campaigns, etc. Among the practitioners, regrettably, corruption is worse at the tertiary education level.

Government as The Primary Culprit in The Troubled Education Sector
It will be hard to discuss the problem called teachers in the educational sector, without a bigger percentage of the troubled sector heaped on the head of government at all levels of leadership. Education is the capacity building responsibility of any government, at least, the first 16 years of a child’s development, meaning that, if a nation fails to plan and bring out the best, either the growth will depend on expatriates’ domination of the economy, and an import-dependent economy.
Obviously, the Nigerian government, have been deaf to these problems, because, education in Nigeria has ground to a halt, resulting in the leadership and other privileged Nigerians encouraging capital flight by training their children and wards overseas, even at primary school level.

This writer spoke with a Nigerian who is an Administrator of schools in a county in the USA. The subject had all his early education in Nigerian schools until he left for post-graduate studies in the Americas. His angst against the government is not veiled or guarded:

‘I believe pretty much anyone knows the reasons behind the fallen standards of education in Nigeria. If we know what the reasons are, the solutions become apparent. It is inconceivable to expect educational standards not to be affected by the fortunes or misfortunes of the country. It is inconceivable to expect educational standards not to be affected by the gross dysfunctionality of the country. As Nigeria goes, so does everything else, including education. The decay, the gross decline in societal values, of those things that we held dear and were the epitome of a decent, progressive, functional and morally strong society could not but also negatively impact education and educational standards.

Corruption as an Enemy
The gross levels of corruption, intensifying and deepening over the years, resulted in a shift in priorities, to one of wanton graft including a complete abandonment of the educational sector. Some high ranking and highly placed individuals both in government and probably the private sector, actually capitalized and ensured that public education failed as they floated for profit making schools knowing that Nigerian parents still value quality education and will sacrifice much to ensure that their wards enjoy the benefit of a good education. A cursory investigation of these private, for profit schools, are owned by wives of high ranking government officials. Others front for them. With those saddled with the responsibility of promoting quality public education behind the plethora of private for profit schools, it is in their interest that public education fails so that they can profit from that failure. Other not so quality private schools have mushroomed all over the country with every standing building, many unsafe and not equipped to function as a school of any sort, littering the landscape. Government hardly regulates these private schools such that many are offering the same low level, low quality instruction as those witnessed in the public schools.

A Dearth of Infrastructure and Teacher Motivation
A system that has degenerated to a level where the education sector is starved of adequate funding to provide for quality instruction, resources, safe and quality learning environment, quality and well- trained teachers, can only result in the collapse of that sector. When teachers go unpaid for several months at a time, it is inconceivable to think that they will keep on showing up for work. They will be forced to do other things to earn a living and provide for their families. It is inconceivable to expect teachers to teach without the needed resources. It is inconceivable to expect children to learn in environments and physical structures that are frankly not even suitable to house cattle and goats. Collapsing, decaying structures, grossly unfit and unsafe for any living thing. How did we get to this point?

Development/Re-Training of Teachers
The ongoing professional development that teachers should be provided to improve and sharpen their skills and knowledge base are not provided. How can they be better? How can they be aware of cutting edge, research- based skills that are being utilized to ensure children are learning at very high levels? Our value system as a society today is fundamentally broken. The virtues we grew up with – hard work, honesty, integrity, value for education, decency, respect, and many more have been replaced with dishonesty, laziness, corruption of all sorts, short cut to success, cutting corners, thievery, disregard for authority, disdain for anything noble. These vices have unfortunately permeated and affected the educational sector and system of our country.

What Remains of Our Value System?
It is difficult to talk about changing the educational sector for the better in isolation. It is about changing the entire country for the better. While we will have pockets, small pockets of excellence here and there, mostly in private schools, the public school system is the vanguard of the country. It ensures its growth and prosperity. The bulk of the masses are educated through the public school system. At its core is the promotion of an egalitarian society where everyone has a shot at the good life. It is inconceivable that it can be replaced by the private schools. A continued failure of public education will result in what we are witnessing today in the country: a lopsidedness in opportunity where the very few highly placed with access to quality education, are assured and continue to Lord it over the disadvantaged majority whose access and upward mobility to the good life is stymied by the fact that they were not prepared to access those opportunities. A country such as that, cannot survive for long.

Leadership Alert
It takes leadership to turn things around. It takes outstanding leadership at all levels to turn things around. There has to be a sense of utmost urgency that realizes that our collapse as a society is imminent unless we take some very compelling and drastic steps to address them. It will require a reset in priorities. It will require a lot. We didn’t get to this point overnight. It will take some very heavy lifting, sustained over a very long time to get us back on track. It will require, honest, strong-willed, committed, focused leadership at many levels to turn things around. It will take engaging quality, knowledgeable hands to help turn things around. We have long been left behind as a country. What we teach our children is near obsolete if not completely useless. Our children are not being prepared for a future and world that changes every second. They stand absolutely no chance competing with children from around the world in what has essentially become a vastly connected global village. So, there is need for changes on several levels: curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, teacher preparation, etc. etc. While a journey of a thousand miles starts with s first step, our grossly disadvantaged position, require that we gallop at full speed just so that we do right by our children and our country.

But we have to go to the beginning when it comes to the teacher factor. Teaching is not just a job; it is a calling. It is by far one of the noblest professions. So, care must be exercised in recruiting candidates into the college/university preparatory programs. One, it has to be established that these are candidates with the right aptitude and disposition for the profession. Secondly, these candidates cannot be the rejects from other departments. In other words, they are not coming into the teaching profession because they couldn’t get into their first -choice programs. Thirdly, they should be graduating in the top 10% of their graduating class. You can’t give what you don’t have. It’s an issue of capacity. Intelligence, promise and potential. Someone who can hardly write and speak standard English cannot teach a child to speak and write correctly. But our universities and Colleges of Education are filled with misfits for the profession. The other factor we have to consider is how our college and university preparatory programs are preparing these candidates for the classroom. The truth is that they are doing a very terrible job of it. I know what I am talking about and I do not have enough time to elaborate on this. So, these candidates come out totally ill-equipped to function in the classrooms. The irrelevance of what they are learning and how they are prepared for today’s classrooms will make you totally sick. So, when they arrive in the classrooms, these teachers are totally unprepared and lack the basic knowledge and skills sets to function and impact teaching and learning in the classroom.’

Several years ago, a family member was a member of the admissions committee of a college of education. He recounted how an aspiring student could not defend his glowing School Certificate examination results, yet, he had to be admitted, since his fees will help in providing income to the college, as no subventions come from the government.
Recently, this writer met with a medical student in one of the universities in the Eastern part of Nigeria. I was alarmed because the state in question is notorious for owing staff salaries, and her university is owned by the state in question. She told me that they are at least 100 students in their class, and the charges are high, to enable teachers be paid, without waiting for the government.
In conclusion, the stakeholders have to make up their minds whether to watch the slide in education continue, or, for the sake of Nigeria’s waning capacity development, ‘arrest’ the malaise by becoming alive to our responsibilities.

Problems of Teachers
1. Poor societal perception of who a teacher is.
2. Allowing teaching to be an all-comers affair.
3. Lack of commitment among teachers.
4. Unethical behavior of some teachers.
5. Poor remuneration to teaching staff.
6. Lack of motivation/incentives for teachers.
7. Political considerations in recruitment of teaching staff.

Possible Solutions
Since we have allowed the situation to degenerate to this pitiable stage, it is incumbent on the government, the lead stakeholder, to purge itself of political inclinations and interests, determining to get Nigeria out of this educational wilderness. Practically, since English is the language deployed in teaching in our schools, present teachers, should be tested in the use of English, while “renovations” academically, are being carried out.

1. Government’s commitment to delivering a competitive, high quality standard of education across the country.

2. Funding through globally accepted budgetary allocations.

3. Improved emoluments to motivate teachers as practiced in the United Kingdom, where we borrowed our educational system/curricula from. In UK, only qualified teachers are engaged. Your incentives/emoluments depend on the area you are working. For example, a teacher serving in Ibadan, will receive less than the one in Lagos, owing to the cost of living in the latter town. So, earnings have to take into cognizance, the socio-economic factors.

4. Only qualified, professional teachers should be employed.

5. Periodical training for teachers, being the primary capacity building sector, should be paramount.

6. Provision of teaching aids.

7. Admission of pupils and students should be on merit, in order to lessen the responsibilities of teachers.
8. A re-visit to the present curriculum devised in our schools.

9. Stop the abuse of quota system in unitary schools by admitting unqualified pupils just to fill their quota.

10. Put a stop to the government policy of teaching children in vernacular in the hinterlands in order to fast-track their learning process, since the repercussions will be evident during JSS3 and SSS3 examnations.

Frankly speaking, the government and other stakeholders in the education sector, should declare, a state-of-emergency now. A word is enough for the wise.

–––Ubong Nelson, [Executive Secretary], Effective Learning For All Initiative