Opinion: Valuing our teachers and improving their status

by Jide Ojo

According to information gleaned from its website, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed October 5 to be World Teachers’ Day in 1994, celebrating the great step made for teachers on that date in 1966, when a special intergovernmental conference convened by UNESCO in Paris adopted the UNESCO/International Labour Organisation recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. The recommendation sets forth the rights and responsibilities of teachers as well as international standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions. Since its adoption, the recommendation has been considered an important set of guidelines to promote teachers’ status in the interest of quality education.

This year World Teachers’ Day marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. It is also the first world Teachers’ Day (WTD) to be celebrated within the new Global Education 2030 Agenda adopted by the world community one year ago. This year’s theme, “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status”, embodies the fundamental principles of the fifty-year-old recommendation while shining a light on the need to support teachers as reflected in the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A specific education goal, SDG4, pledges to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

Teachers, UNESCO rightly observed, are not only pivotal to the right to education, they are key to achieving the targets set out in SDG4. The road  map for the new agenda, the Education 2030 Framework for Action, highlights the fact that teachers are fundamental for equitable and quality education and, as such, must be “adequately trained, recruited and remunerated, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems”. However, in order to achieve this goal, it is necessary not only to substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers but to motivate them by valuing their work. By 2030, 3.2 million more teachers will be required to achieve universal primary education and 5.1 million more in order to achieve universal lower secondary education.

Last Wednesday, Nigeria was not left out of the global community that celebrated the nation builders called teachers. There were seminars, press conferences and the likes organised by the Nigerian Union of Teachers. The theme of this year’s World Teachers Day was very apt. Do we actually value teachers in Nigeria? Have we done anything to improve their status? How many pupils or children, while choosing a career path, will want to grow up to be teachers in this country? Truth be said, the plight of Nigerian teachers leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Where does one begin to recount? By the way, my late father, Deacon Isaac Oyeniyi Ojo was a thoroughbred teacher who taught in Oyo and Osun States for forty years and retired as a headmaster in 1995 before his demise in 1998. I have also taught, albeit on part time basis, at both secondary and tertiary education level. Thus, whatever I am saying here is that of an eyewitness.

There is no gainsaying that teaching is a noble profession as teachers rank next to parents in moulding the character and charting the course of life of a child. There is no professional alive, be you Engineer, Lawyer, Judge, Architect, Medical Doctor, Visual Artist, Journalist or inventor that is not taught by a teacher. Unfortunately, the banana tree that nursed the cocoa seedling to maturity ends up being treated with scorn and disdain by its very beneficiary. Teaching profession is in shambles in Nigeria.

Teaching, in Nigeria, has become an all comer’s affairs with a lot of impostors operating in the system. Since the advent of private schools, a lot of school proprietors who are themselves not teachers end up populating their schools with non-professionals who though may be graduate of tertiary education but were never trained teachers.  Even in public schools, there are many of them whose main source of teaching staffers is drawn from National Youth Service Corps. This crop of untrained teachers, many of whom only took to the profession after years of fruitless search for better jobs, lacks teaching techniques as they do not know how to write Notes of Lesson and have never been involved in teaching practice which is mandatory for graduates of education in Teachers College,  Colleges of Education and Universities.

That aside, there is also the challenge of dilapidated structures and lack of teaching aids. A visit to many public and private schools in Nigeria will reveal their deplorable conditions. Many of the schools have dilapidated buildings, lack furniture for staff and students, do not have toilet facilities, lack perimeter fence, still rely on blackboards and chalks when the rest of the world uses whiteboard and markers as well as interactive multimedia teaching aids. The school curriculum in many respects is archaic and not in tune with modern day trend in imparting life skills, numeracy and literacy.

Again, there is a nagging issue of welfare of teachers. They are poorly remunerated. There is a saying in local parlance that ‘how much does a teacher earns that s/he uses saliva to count his wages? Salaries of teachers is one of the lowest in the public service in Nigeria, yet, that paltry sum is still not paid as at when due. It is an open secret that many state governments and private school proprietors owe their teachers months in salary arrears and leave bonus. Many retired teachers are worse off as their pension and gratuities are not paid as at when due. My father was a victim of this wicked practice. The old man died three years after retirement without collecting a dime in pension and gratuity.

The most heartrending development is the challenge of safety and security of teachers and students at their workplace. For many years there have been abductions of students and pupils from schools with the Chibok girls incidence of April 2014 receiving global attention. However, last Thursday, October 6, 2016  a new twist was added to the unfolding tragic phenomenon as kidnappers invaded Lagos State Model College, Igbonla in Epe  and went away with  four students, a teacher and a vice principal. The fiends are now demanding a ransom for their release.

Teachers as destiny moulders and nation-builders deserve a better deal from their employers. They need to be valued and their status improved like the theme of this year’s World Teachers Day enjoined. It is saddening that despite the early warning from the President of Nigeria Union of Teachers, Mr. Micheal Olukoya that the 500,000 teachers being recruited by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government should be made up of trained teachers so that the quality of teaching in our public schools can improve significantly, the administration is pressing on to employ all manner of non-education graduates with a promise to organise two weeks crash programme for the new recruits in teaching techniques. This fire brigade approach should totally be avoided due to its counter-productive consequences. Nigeria has more than enough trained teachers from which government can source this half a million new recruits into teaching profession.

In closing, UNESCO has shown us the way to go by enjoining our government and indeed all employers of teachers to ensure that teachers are “adequately trained, recruited and remunerated, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems”. This is the condition precedent to attaining SDG4. It therefore behooves government at all levels to redouble their efforts to ensure that education is well resourced for the attainment of national development.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.

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