Investing In Teachers - by Rasak Musbau

To every discerning mind, the theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day, “Invest in the future, invest in teachers” is not only apt but calls for sober reflections and pragmatic action from all stakeholders. 

It would be an understatement to state that the teaching profession is losing its status as a dignified profession across the world, particularly in the developing nations. Ironically, for the developing nations to fully evolve, the teaching profession needs to be accorded the prime status which it naturally deserves. It is the failure to do this that is partially responsible for the decline in the standard of education in most nations of the world.

In Nigeria, for instance, there was a time when teachers played leading role in the evolution of the society. But in our clime today, to be a teacher almost equals belonging to the dregs of the society.

In an ideal world, teachers hold the keys to a better future for all. They inspire, challenge and empower innovative and responsible global citizens. They get children into school, keep them there and help them learn. Every day, they help to build the inclusive knowledge the society needs for tomorrow. Evidence shows that teachers, their professional knowledge and skills are the most important factor for quality education. This requires stronger training upfront and continual professional development and support, to enhance performance and learning outcomes. In Nigeria, we know this and yet, far too often, teachers remain under-qualified and poorly paid, with low status, and excluded from education policy matters and decisions that concern and affect them.

In truth, nothing can replace a good teacher. And there are far too few of them today. At the global level, some 5.24 million teachers need to be recruited in order to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015 – 1.58 million new recruits and 3.66 million to replace those leaving the profession. The challenge goes beyond numbers – more teachers must mean better quality learning, through appropriate training and support.

It is incontrovertible that a country cannot develop without a solid foundation for children in formal education. But the question is who and where are the teachers to lay the solid foundation? Ours is a country where majority in the teaching service became teachers by accident and where both the Nigerian leaders and society at large no longer appreciate teachers as nation builders. It is no longer news that policy inconsistency, dearth of qualified teachers, poor and inadequate infrastructure, inadequate funding, exorbitant tuition fee, among others, have conspired to reduce our educational system to a laughing stock in the comity of nations.

Without doubt, shortage of qualified teachers and few qualified teachers not being well paid pose great dangers to the education sector. It is embarrassing that 54 years after independence, a section of the country will still be having as much as 80 per cent of unqualified teachers engaged in its schools. Truth be told, our governments are complacent about investing in teachers despite yearly poor performance of pupils in national examinations.

When we lament about falling standard of education and poor performance in examinations, what we fail to address is that learning is not possible without professional, well-trained, well-supported, accountable and valued teachers.

The unstable conditions of teaching staff in Nigerian primary and secondary schools have crippled the system. This is because teachers’ conditions of service do not encourage them to stay in the profession. Another major concern of teachers is salary. Not only are the salaries meagre, they are often not paid in full.

Although the Nigeria Union of Teachers is quite active, it has not been able to change the unsatisfactory conditions under which teachers work. A UNESCO report states that 34.4 per cent of our teachers had neither the pupils’ textbook nor the teachers’ guide for any of the school subjects. The country must lament a system in which, for instance, half of the teachers in a state are as ignorant as the pupils, especially at the primary level and this stems from the fact that some teachers have not attended any training programme in the past 20 years.

Private schools do not fare much better. In fact they are worse in some cases as school proprietorship has virtually become an all-comers affair for commercial reasons. This phenomenal growth can be discouraged throughout the country if the states invest maximum attention and resources in public schools. In the same way, the Federal Government has to make a bold statement of unwavering commitment to the education of Nigerian children by putting more money in teacher training.

Of course, a rigorous staff training and re-training programme should begin in earnest to make the best out of the situation now within the shortest possible time. There can never be too much of such investment to make the desired impact.

Another area that needs critical attention is teachers’ recruitment. We have always had situations where influential individuals use their position to force unqualified teachers on the system, thus sacrificing merit for mediocrity.

A scheme that embraces and encourages massive recruitment of competent teachers from any parts of the country should also be put in place immediately. There is no shortcut to attaining great heights. Such primordial sentiment as religion, ethnicity, quota system, should have no consideration if we want to get it right. Attitude to education must change all over the country, by governments and citizens alike, if a meaningful and rewarding future for Nigeria would ever be laid.

Providing teachers with the means to have their voices and concerns heard should also be a priority. Avenues should be created where teachers especially principals will have opportunity to have inputs in policy development and decision-making within our education systems. However, teachers should also shun anything that can hinder the growth of Education in Nigeria. They should stop abetting examination malpractices and other antisocial tendencies.

There is no stronger foundation for lasting peace and sustainable development than a quality education provided by well-trained, valued, supported and motivated teachers. The education of future generations hangs in the balance unless we can rise to the challenge of putting the best possible teacher in every classroom.