FOCUS By Fela Bank-Olemoh (FBO)
In my maiden piece, I opined that the singular most important factor for improving the educational outcomes in any nation are the teachers. We must acknowledge that the Teacher Challenge in Nigeria is multifaceted. In fact, the issues around Teacher Effectiveness, Quality and Development remain major concerns worldwide. To effectively engage them, we need well-thought-through large scale interventions that bring together all critical stakeholders.
According to the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), there are about 2 million registered teachers in the country. The question is; How can we immediately deploy a nationwide, multi-level programme(s) that would effectively train and improve the competency level of at least 500,000 teachers in the short term while we train the rest over a mid to long term period? As I mentioned previously, Nigerian governments at federal and state levels as well as many private organizations are already engaging these challenges. However, these efforts appear to be implemented in silos.
I strongly believe we can remarkably move the needle if every relevant stakeholder commits to a holistic intervention that will effectively leverage technology and provide special incentives to motivate teachers thereby getting their commitment to professional development. This intervention, which should be funded through a Public-Private Partnership arrangement must also encourage peer-to-peer learning, have a well-structured evaluation and assessment system to test teacher competence and award them with nationally and internationally recognised certifications.
In today’s world, technology must play a key role in deploying a programme that will cater to the kind of numbers we need to reach. Like education, the internet has become a global equalizer. We need to deploy an online platform where training materials in line with global standards are organised in a modular format for teachers to access via any internet-enabled device nationwide. I know platforms like this already exist, so we need not reinvent the wheel. We should rather identify any of these platforms capable of delivering the kind of outcomes we desire, make them fit for purpose and deploy for access across the country. This will speed up implementation while partnerships with the telecommunication providers, technology companies, ISPs, and so on will reduce data costs for users.
Furthermore, to ensure this programme cuts across every part of the country – especially areas where internet penetration and technology usage is relatively low, this intervention should also have a strong offline component. By working with education-specific NGOs already delivering programmes in different parts of the country or specially trained NYSC members, teachers in those areas will be given relevant trainings including ICT proficiency to enable them access and utilize the learning portal. The reality in today’s world is that every teacher must have the basic ICT proficiency to deliver quality learning experiences to their students.
In addition, this teacher development programme should be strong on incentives. Teachers are among the lowest-paid professionals in the country. A research carried out by VSO International (an organisation on the frontline of fighting poverty globally) discovered that teachers’ motivation in Nigeria is low and their morale is fragile partly because of their remuneration and the fact that promotions are poorly implemented. They posit that teachers’ performance will greatly improve if they are better motivated. For any intervention on teacher development to succeed, there must be an incentive mechanism that thrives on merit, transparency and accountability.
Teachers enrolled on the platform should receive incentives directly based on their performance in the periodic assessments administered at various levels in the programme. These assessments should be in two forms; one is self-administered by the participants to test their understanding of the concepts learnt while the other is a unified assessment required to progress from one level to another in the programme, which should be administered and evaluated by an independent body. For example, we could use the existing nationwide structure of JAMB to administer these periodic assessments. While participants who make it to the top tier become Master Teachers, to train others in lower tiers, every teacher on the platform would get their incentives as they move up the levels. These incentives should be a combination of cash rewards, learning tools (laptops, tabs, phones), scholarships, gift vouchers etc. These will complement the recently approved New National Teacher Policy, which includes the establishment of a Special Salary Scale for teachers, provision of rural allowance, automatic admission and free tuition for children of teachers at their place of work, and the provision of special bursary awards for students studying education in colleges and universities. All these will greatly improve teachers’ motivation, their commitment to professional development and ultimately, the education outcomes in the country.
While the thoughts above address the challenge with in-service teachers, we must review and enforce a standardized basic requirement for entering the teaching profession. As a global practice, every profession has mandatory requirements that must be met by individuals before they can be licensed to practice. For example, teaching in European countries like Finland and Estonia is taken so seriously that it is criminal for an individual to teach in a classroom without a teaching licence. Already, the Federal Government, in November 2020 has announced that by 2021, individuals with first-class and second class upper divisions will be engaged to teach. This is a step in the right direction. The Federal Government, in partnership with the States, need to set and enforce such minimum standards across the country.
Once again, let’s take a cue from Finland, a country known to have the best education system in the world. In the last decade, Finland has emerged as the leading OECD country in educational achievements and research shows that the country’s dramatic rise to the top is hinged on one key element: Excellent Teachers! In fact, among young Finns, teaching is consistently the most admired profession in regular opinion polls of high school graduates.
If we get it right with our teachers, we will dramatically improve the quality of education our children get. To do this, every stakeholder must dutifully commit to the discipline of execution so that a programme like this will indeed deliver the outcomes we desire.
This is a task for all of us, especially the teachers themselves. As Walter Anderson said, “our lives improve only when we take chances”. Teachers in Nigeria must take a chance on such a programme and commit to their professional development because no intervention would succeed without them.
Till the next time we meet here, remember we all have “A Role to Play”.