Anthony Kila is a professor of Strategy and Development and the Director of the Centre for International Advanced Professional Studies. In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, he explained why Nigeria should emphasise its teachers to continue to inspire and impact society. He also proposed that political parties donate part of what they receive from nomination forms to ASUU to solve the funding problem in universities. Excerpt:
Your centre has put together the ‘CIAPS Great Teachers’ initiative. Why the focus on teachers?
I believe that the greatest ideas that we have done as individuals and society come from something we have learnt in life, and most of the things we have learnt in life, somebody taught us. Majorly, the people who taught us were teachers. Whatever good thing we have become in life was inspired or influenced by one teacher or the other, especially for professionals and inventors, it is one teacher that inspired them. The other side of teachers is that we tend to forget that we have an active memory and do not appreciate it. So, what we have thought about the CIAPS Great Teachers initiative is to help people on one side appreciate their past and reconnect with their teachers who have influenced their lives, recognise the teachers and reward them where possible. So, we are focusing on people who can think that what they have achieved in their lives today is partly due to their teachers. We want to prick the conscience of society and individuals to remember their source. By recognising and celebrating teachers, you are appreciating the part of your past, the source of who you are today and also investing in your future. The initiative allows people to think about the teachers who have influenced their lives. We want those teachers to be recognised and rewarded. It doesn’t matter if the teacher is living or dead, but if they are still alive, we will contact them and find a way to reward them. If the teacher is dead, we may still recognise their families. The whole point is to help people appreciate their past and inspire present and future teachers to know that their labour is not in vain, and by doing so is a win-win situation for all. To participate in the initiative, we set up a website where people could go and nominate their teachers.
Enrolment in teacher education, especially in education colleges in Nigeria, seems to be declining. What do you think could be responsible for this, and what should be the way forward?
Enrolment is declining because, generally speaking, teachers are not appreciated interns of their remuneration and status in society. So, you get a lot of people saying they are teaching for now if you ask them what they are doing, which breaks my heart. I am teaching because I chose to, I have been a banker, director and consultant, but teaching is my thing and the opportunity to shape people’s lives. So, a lot of people don’t feel that way because they are not remunerated enough and appreciated. That is why the CIAPs Great Teachers initiative wants to start doing that and hopefully get the rest of society to start thinking about it that way. How do we attract people to teach and improve the profile of teachers? As individuals, as a society? What we have to do is to appreciate the importance of education in our lives. We have to know that everything linked to education is an investment in our future. As parents, it is what will give our children better lives. As a society, it will not just give us better lives. Government and companies should even think that they should have educated citizens as consumers. For the government, you need a citizenry who knows the importance of wearing a seatbelt at a pedestrian bridge so they will not be causing an accident. As companies, education helps you buy the right product, and you can get the right skills to build or manufacture and manage. If we understand the importance of education, we will see the importance of getting good people to do it; and those good people have to be rewarded. I think we need to tell ourselves that our teachers should be the best and brightest people in this society so that they can teach our children how to birth those ideas.
People seem to go into the teaching profession because they feel there is no other thing to do. What is your view about this?
It is a wrong idea. People should be going into the profession because that is the best profession to do. Teachers also need to help themselves to make it noble. It has not always been like this years ago. Teachers were one of the noblest of people. They were respected in society, and without begging, people in society treated them well and gave them goods in kind. They have their salaries. But in rural areas, farmers give them food, hunters give them meat, and everybody treated them very well. Now that we are not farmers and hunters anymore, if everybody decides to look back and take care of their teachers and teachers get the certainty that their students will remember them, I think more people will be inspired to teach, and if more people are inspired, we can have the luxury of choosing only the best to teach.
How best can teachers’ training be revamped to guarantee quality education?
I have a radical idea about our teacher training. For instance, our teacher training schools should all be converted to postgraduate schools so that only graduates will teach. You don’t go into the college of education because you cannot get into the university. The way it is now, the fact that people who don’t pass UTME or can’t get degree courses are going to the colleges of education is sending the wrong signal. If I was president of Nigeria, what I would do is convert our colleges of education into postgraduate schools so that we will see the teachers who are real professionals, not just one short professional course. They will start a degree in any area of their choice. Then they will learn the art of teaching, which is very important.
How can Nigeria advance the teaching profession?
The country can do this by doing four things; firstly, it is about appreciating the value of education, and once you appreciate the value, you will then put in place very robust teacher training programmes that will attract and train the best and the brightest, thirdly, you must remunerate them very well. As part of our understanding of the importance of education, their remuneration will reflect on the fact that we appreciate the fact that to get the skills we need to improve the country and get the people we need to become better citizens, education is an investment. At the moment, people spend more on basic things such as energy than education. It is wrong. We should be treating education as an essential amenity that should take a huge part of our budget. Unlike other days, education and energy are things we use for production. We should see education as one of the factors of production so that even when you produce good services and good people with good education, so to a large extent, we have to see education as a capital investment. It is the mother of all investments. It is when you invest in education that you get people who can think, create and analyse. That is the step that we need to take as a country. If you look at it, all the countries in the world in the past and present that are progressing, it is because they have the skills that can create progress. Where they do not have the skill, they even import the skills. There is no progress that doesn’t come without education. Whether it is the industrial revolution, IT, medicine, art and design, or even fashion, everything has its root in education.
Do you share the view that the quality of education in Nigeria is dwindling?
The state of our education is terrible at the moment. If you look around at the quality of students we are producing, school leavers or graduates, though some fantastic ones are doing great things, overall, the level is lower. If you compare the school leavers that we produced 50 to 60 years ago, the school levers were competent people, but if you look at them now, they are not. They are not as disciplined as the ones we had before. The same goes for the kinds of graduates we have now. When we talk about quality education, we have a peculiar case. For instance, the strikes we are having in universities are an indictment of how little we value education. Education is not just about teaching you the subjects. It is also a case where you learn discipline, routine, practice, perseverance and continuation. So, when you have a system where the schools go on strike, you are disrupting that discipline. They are not only losing classes. You are giving them a life that is uncertain, that can be disrupted anytime. That is not good for future generations.
In a recent interview, the labour minister said most of ASUU’s demands in the 2009 agreement are unimplementable. As the ASUU strike continues, politicians seem unconcerned. What do you think?
What is the job of the politician? They get elected, and they use it as they think is right. So, I cannot blame them for politicking. The only problem we have is that the rest of us are not insisting that they allow us to do our old jobs. If the 2009 agreement is not implementable, before lecturers go on strike, somebody in that ministry should have brought out the file, looked at it, and pointed out the problem. Once an agreement is signed, you cannot come out and say it is not implementable, but if you want to object to it, you have to negotiate it very well. I think that issue is beyond the ministers, and the president has to step in directly.
Do you think the president can achieve anything?
With vision and political will, it can be done in 48 hours. We can only hope for it, but if we keep insisting that the president should stand up and step in, and we are able to prioritise it for our universities to be reopened, we should also need to decide if we are going to borrow to pay what ASUU wants or shift priority? If we understand how much ASUU really needs, maybe the political parties collecting millions for notification forms can do a corporate social responsibility and donate to ASUU as a sign of goodwill. I propose that political parties should donate some part of what they are receiving from nomination forms to ASUU to solve this problem we are having. If I have N100 million today to buy forms, I will give part of it to ASUU because I value education.
How can private school teachers be better motivated to perform optimally without being intimidated by parents?
I think the first thing to do, being a teacher, you have to understand that you are not only teaching your pupils but also their parents so that the education you give to the children should be taken home to influence their parents as well. To be able to do that, a teacher has to be knowledgeable, disciplined and presentable. If you are teaching and you look like a beggar, or you do not know your subject, or you are not authoritative, then people will work over you. Also, because of your discipline, you would be found to do the right things at all times and be an example. But it will be difficult to be an example if you look like a beggar, come late to class, and you do not inspire. You need to see that education is not only top-down, but it is also bottom-up because by teaching children, you are teaching the whole society. It is a bad thing that parents come after teachers who try to discipline their children, but if you look at it this way, if the discipline is articulated and parents are involved in it, some parents are spoilt. Teachers need to know that society is spoilt, and maybe it’s not their fault but those before them. Teachers need to understand that it is their duty to manage the values of society as well. Teachers, clerics and philosophers have this duty. But where they are not involved and committed to value system building, it collapses in society. For them to be authoritative in value building, they also have to earn their place on their table and be recognised and consistent in their value system building. They have to know that their roles are not limited to teaching subjects but also building values.