Addressing Teachers’ Dearth in Public Schools to Avert Learning Crisis

In this report, Funmi Ogundare writes on the need for the government to stop politicising the recruitment of teachers by addressing the dearth of teachers in public schools and ensuring curriculum review to avert a learning crisis

Mr Olamilekan Adekoya is a teacher at Anthony Village Senior High School. He has been teaching Civic Education and Government for 10 years. Due to his love for the profession and impacting lives, he wakes up at 4:00 a.m. from Monday to Friday to beat the Maryland traffic, using riding on a tricycle and sometimes trekking amid fuel scarcity and perennial gridlock due to road constructions.

He teaches senior secondary one to three classes. There is a shortage of teachers in his school, and because he has to teach many students, Adekoya may be unable to give his best to each person.

He told THISDAY about the burdensome workload. According to him, a teacher who​ teaches Biology and Chemistry is responsible for teaching Computer Studies.​ The situation has forced some teachers to seek​ greener pastures.

Adekoya added that when teachers retired in his school, there was no effort by the government to replace them.

“Before now, there used to be a catering craft teacher, but when she retired, no teacher was hired to take her place and the students learning of the subject suffered,” Adekoya explained. “Also, in art and craft, ever since the teacher retired over three years ago, there has been no teacher to replace her.”

He worries that the teachers in the school are overworked and battling depression.

“Some of our colleagues are going through depression and cannot manage it effectively.​ It is when they die that you will see people coming to empathise with their families,” he stated.

Adekoya, studying at the University of Lagos, stated that combining that with teaching has not been easy.​

“UNILAG is compelling me to come to school from Monday to Sunday between 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. my school management will equally want me to teach all my students from SS one to three and still want me to do extra curriculum activities. For now, I am on bed rest. I had an appendicitis operation a few weeks ago.​ If I don’t manage myself well, nobody will do it for me,” Adekoya said.

He appealed to the government to employ more teachers, saying that many unemployed teachers are seeking government employment.

According to UNICEF global standard, the Pupil/Teacher Ratio (PTR)​ is 1:25. However, in Lagos, there is no evidence to support the average data on PTR in public schools, and there is a lack of a teacher-based information management system to determine how teachers are being deployed in the state to take different subjects.

THISDAY can confirm that TPR is 1-64. More so, Lagos, a cosmopolitan state, harbours people from diverse geographical locations in Nigeria daily with a strong nexus on the rate of enrolment in schools, creating overbearing pressure on teachers,​ the school population, as well as infrastructure, thereby bringing about a learning crisis in the system. According to UNICEF, 70 per cent of Nigerian children are going through a learning crisis. Statistics from the Learning Crisis in the Nigerian Literacy of 2021 revealed that 53 per cent of 10-year-olds could not read or write. It added that despite having one of the best policies globally, implementation had been a challenge that kept the TPR at 1:65.

A teacher in Unity Junior Secondary School, Tolu Complex, Ajegunle,​ who does not want her name in print, disclosed that there are about 35 primary and secondary schools within the Tolu complex, adding that pupil/teacher ratio in some of the schools range from 1:50 and 1:120 per class.

“In some schools outside the complex, the population is more, so you can have​ between 120 to 140 pupils to a teacher,” she said, attributing the large population of students to the free education policy of the state government.​

Asked if the infrastructure will not be overstretched and how the students will be able to learn effectively considering the large population in a classroom, she said, “The state government is trying its best in the provision of desk and chairs for the students and textbooks which must be returned at the end of each session. If the child is really interested in learning, he will learn. Learning has been made easy now.​ There are different types of learning methods; you can use a projector to teach and you can also give take home assignments on what you have already taught.”

She expressed concern that the government is not helping matters as they have​ given teachers the mandate to ensure 100 per cent pass for all students, irrespective of how dull or intelligent a student may be, adding that parents are not helpful.

“One of the challenges of learning is poverty. I found out that some of my students have not been coming to school because they had been engaged in other businesses which their parents supported,” the teacher stated.

For schools with a large population of students, she stressed the need for government to divide them into two to make the classes more conducive for learning, adding that teachers’ welfare packages and salaries must be paramount so that they can be happy to teach students.

A teacher at Community Senior High School,​ Alapere, Mrs Mojirade Adetunji (not her real name), who teaches Mathematics and Physics, said the school lacks enough teachers, adding that the teacher-students ratio is not ideal, especially in densely populated schools. She said though the state government has been recruiting teachers, they are not enough.

The teacher attributed the shortage to parents transferring their wards from private schools to public schools due to economic hardship.

Adetunji, who lives on the island, said it has been stressful for her getting, coupled with standing for long periods to teach. She stated that the ratio of teachers leaving is higher than those recruited.

The Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Lagos, Akintoye Hassan, attributed the insufficiency of teachers in the state to limited financial resources available to the government, other social services competing or begging for government interventions, uncontrollable migration to Lagos by non-indigenes, as well as lack of adequate and verifiable data that could support the government in making decisions or projections on the number of teachers, required to close the inadequacy gaps.

He confirmed to THISDAY some of the factors responsible for the overwhelming increase in students’ population in the state, saying that there is improved infrastructure through the efforts of the Lagos State Committee on the Rehabilitation of Public Schools (LSCRPC), a government agency in charge of public schools rehabilitation, construction of new schools, capacity building and career development for teachers to enhance teaching and learning.

“There has also been an aggressive media publicity by the relevant educational agencies calling for enrollment of pupils into public schools, free tuition policy of the government which has also taken up the burden of paying for WAEC and​ BECE examination fee from parents, digital learning policy, through the EkoExcel which translates into better performance in literacy, numeracy, problem-solving, etc.,” Hassan stated.

Other factors, he noted, include recognising excellence through positive reinforcement of gifts and the One-Day Governor spelling Bee annual competition to motivate or encourage reading habits, support services from the government through the ‘Project Zero policy’ with the slogan, ‘Leave no child behind’, free uniforms for indigent students, among others.

Asked if welfare schemes are available for his members, the chairman said, “To me, the issue of welfarism is highly a relative term, depending on the areas you are looking at. For example, the government claims to offer housing units to public servants through application.”​

He added, “The question now is, is it really affordable for our members, considering the cost of each unit? Again, the government enhancing teachers’ career development through capacity building could be viewed by my members in different ways. Some may see it as a kind of impacting on their welfare, while others may see it as a statutory responsibility of the government.”

He highlighted some of the welfare packages available for teachers from the government, saying, “There is recognition of excellence, through the annual merit award, where exotic cars are gifted to deserving teachers, career progression through the attainment of the pinnacle of the public service career, which is the position of Permanent Secretary, regularity of salary payment and other allowances, international exchange programme for deserving teachers, annual end of year bonus for public servants which is 100 per cent of the basic salary and non-taxable, capacity building through training, workshops, and seminars, among others.”

Experts’ views

The Technical Lead on Governance of Non-state Systems, Partnership for Learning for All in Nigeria (PLANE) programme, Dr James Fadokun, expressed concern about having a high number of pupils compared to the teachers saying that this has implications for teaching and learning and could bring about a learning crisis.

He stressed the need for the​ government to recruit more teachers and for them also to​ take advantage of the social networks available through the federal ministry of education.

“The ministry of education is bringing in the N-teach to be able to harness some of those capacity back to the school system so that the pupil/teacher ratio will be reduced,” he said, describing​ the learning crisis as massive for the country in general.

He stressed the need for curriculum renewal, saying that the federal government, through the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), should address the issue of the teachers’ gap, as well as​ teachers’ study to know the number of teachers who are in demand and those that will be supplied to teach subjects like English and Mathematics.

“Those who are being recruited are teachers who take​ Arabic, Social Studies and History. Most times they don’t have that capacity. They should stop politicising​ the recruitment of teachers. Most times, when teachers are going to be recruited, politicians bring a lot of lists that are not needed in the education sector.

“We need to ensure that we are recruiting the right calibre of teachers and ensure that Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) continues to develop the capacity of teachers to meet up with the demands of teaching and learning in the 21st century; and for teachers to also take advantage of the digitisation of the learning process and ensure that they have the capacity to utilise technology,” the technical lead stressed.

Fadokun advised the government to make the teaching profession attractive so as to motivate more people to read Education.​

“Education used to be a dumping ground in the university and the teaching profession also was a dumping ground for those who cannot get jobs, and so when they eventually become teachers, the motivation is not there,” he explained. “Now that government is trying to motivate competent people to go into the profession, efforts should be made to ensure that teacher salaries are paid on time, and the enabling environment is there, and parents are also playing their own responsibilities by ensuring that their children have access to materials that will enhance learning.”

He pointed out that using corps members to replace teachers in public schools is a temporary measure.​

“Those corpers will eventually leave, except the government says they will retain them. There have been a lot of efforts to have the Federal Teachers Scheme (FTS). It is unfortunate that after 10 years, the federal government put money in place to recruit teachers, but nothing has been done,” he added. “They should recruit the right people who will be able to deliver the curriculum.”

A source told THISDAY most states are using the 1970 scheme to manage teachers when teachers in a state were not up to a thousand.

“For basic education​ alone, there are 25,000 teachers alone in Lagos State. How do you effectively manage 25,000 teachers if you don’t have a database of how many teachers will retire soon? How many are in training? How many are qualified? How many are on leave this month? For us to be able to manage this, there is a need for a database information management​ system,” stated the source. “There is no harm in not having enough teachers, but the ones you have, are you making the maximum use of them? How are you deploying them? Are you sure that most of them are not located in one area where there are teachers?”

He expressed doubt governments have a teacher deployment policy.

“There is a learning crisis already, even in the world, there are learning crises, but everybody has to work on how to manage it.​ You must have all these in place to know how many teachers we need in English or science and how many do you need to deploy in particular areas. In a situation where you have 100 learners to a teacher in a classroom, I think the state should also decide on their carrying capacity,” he explained. “For instance, many people come into Lagos state. There should be a database of those who are coming into the state-owned schools. People coming in arbitrarily means that the population of those who come into those schools can grow anyhow. This is an argument on granting Lagos state a federal status because there is no state in Nigeria that treats visitors that way.”​

He also stressed the need for the state to demand funding from the federal government based on need and carrying capacity, adding that teachers should also be trained to manage large classrooms.​

Government’s response

The Chairman of Lagos State Universal Basic Education (LSUBEB), Wahab Alawiye-King, disclosed to THISDAY that the state has about 1,020 schools and over 400,000 pupils with over 15,000 teachers workforce.​

Regarding the impact of a large number of pupils on infrastructure, he said, “Lagos is a destination for all. Everybody wants to come to Lagos in pursuit of the state of dream. They believe ​ that when you get to Lagos, you can make it.”

He said those interested in entering its public schools come with their baggage, adding that the government​ must​ accommodate them and continue to invest in the education sector, which will make the economy buoyant.

Asked if the teachers will not be overstretched coping with the large number, Alawiye-King said, “No. The normal thing is to have 40 pupils per teacher. Right now, we are managing between 40 and 45. That means we are trying.”

On​ what his office is doing to put the needed infrastructure for conducive learning, the chairman explained that investment in the education sector and infrastructure “is a continuum” and that government alone cannot do it.

The demand for education, he noted, outweighs the supply, adding​ that the state needs intervention from public-spirited individuals, educationally inclined organisations to support the government.

“If you are clamouring for national development, which is the aggregate of summation of personal development, and that is what education is all about; to facilitate knowledge and acquisition of necessary skills that are required for one to contribute to national development,” he added.

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