As schools resume for the new term, it is important to bring the issue of teachers and teaching to the front burner again. There’s no gainsaying that the greatest desire of successive governments in Nigeria is to have a very efficient, highly functional and visibly productive education sector. Yet to achieve this targets, the same governments have often found it difficult to earmark adequate funds that could bring about the realization of the much-desired rapid transformation of its education sector. The United Nations Organization has never failed in its constant clarion calls to drum it into the ears of successive Nigerian governments about the need to increase the annual budget for education in order for the sector to meet up with global competitiveness. But such calls have often fallen on deaf ears, the highest so far being a paltry seven percent, leaving behind so many grounds for avoidable strikes and throwing up a very deplorable education system where any “excellent” performance of learners in any external exam is traceable to a regime of clandestine exam malpractice.
To the eternal shame of the government, Nigeria has been discovered to have the highest rate of out-of-school children whose number continue to grow at an alarming rate daily and portends a grave danger for the future. However, of all the known problems confronting the education sector, the greatest of them all is either not given adequate attention at all, or treated with a wave of the hand as if it doesn’t exist and that is the issue bordering on teachers’ predicaments. Indeed, the utter neglect teachers face can lead to the government being accused of sacrificing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
It is doubtful if most of the people occupying positions of authority in Nigeria actually realize how important teachers are in the scheme of things especially in the desire to have a truly functional education system. Nor does it seem that any of them understand that failure to address teachers’ plight frontally is at the root of various decay noticeable in Nigeria’s public education sector. Unfortunately, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, the umbrella body for public schools teachers, which ought to champion issues affecting teacher’s welfare is almost non-existent and teachers continue to suffer untold hardship in silence even though part of their salaries goes into a moribund NUT every month.
Of course, the problem has never been that of the government’s failure to deploy some funds to the sector. There’s no denying the fact that from time to time, seminars and workshops are organized aimed at improving teachers’ competency. But all such steps will continue to remain efforts in futility because the government has never taken time to address the issue of teachers’ proper frame of mind which is the most important aspect. Those in position of authority seem not to realize that there’s no way the best can be extracted from teachers majority of who are plagued by varying forms of psychological trauma.
And to address such issues is not as difficult as Nigerian governments make it seem. There are two broad strategies to adopt in order to put educators in a convivial frame of mind to perform their duties most optimally. These are: mobilization and sanction. Mobilization refers to a deliberate policy to provide for teachers all those items that can enhance and promote their commitment and productivity. In this regard, the first item to consider is housing to ensure proximity of the school to the residence. For best results, teachers should be made to reside in the local councils where their schools are located. Indeed, there are enough spaces in most school compounds in Nigeria to set up teachers quarters wherever such is needed. That will automatically address the problem of lateness which constitutes a major challenge sabotaging all government’s efforts. Anything short of addressing the issue of lateness will remain counter productive as teachers will continue to arrive late in their schools on daily basis and rush back in order to beat traffic.
The second strategy under mobilization is to work out a modality of ensuring that teachers get imbursed every two weeks to prevent them from running low on cash. It’s discovered that the present salary regime leaves most teachers broke after the first week of collection. The race for survival then begins which is always a major source of distraction involving all manners of illegalities all aimed at sourcing for funds. It may therefore be necessary to spread out payment of salaries as done in other climes so that teachers may continue to have money in their pockets at every point in time and stay focused on their primary assignment.
Having taken good care of the mobilization aspect of the strategies, the next step is for the government to apply severe sanction on erring teachers. To start with, if and when the issue of housing is properly addressed, lateness should not only be totally outlawed but should also attract a very strict sanction including forfeiture of part of salary or other stringent actions that can send a warning signal to everybody. Moreover, any teacher found to engage in any form of illegality should also face the full wrath of the law. In a nutshell, true sanity must be restored to Nigeria’s education sector before everyone can truly heave a sigh of relief.
Oyewusi, retired director of education and coordinator of Ethics Watch International wrote in from Lagos.