Nigerian teachers are always in the news, oftentimes, for the wrong reasons, and this has continued for decades.
From military to civilian administrations, teachers have often decried their coldly imperfect world, calling on government to improve their condition of engagement and service. They have patiently waited for that intervention that would inevitably lift their spirits after decades of trauma and abandonment by their employers, usually the government.
In pressing home their demands and drawing government’s attention to their predicament, the aggrieved teachers, on many occasions, spit fire and embark on industrial actions. They usually lament their poor salaries and mostly unpaid allowances, but no one seems to listen to their yearnings.
Year in, year out, promises have been made by the authorities to look into their plight, but most of the pledges have ended as mere political statements. And the students have continued to be at the receiving end of the struggle and the politicking.
However, on October 5, 2020, a day globally set aside as Teachers’ Day, President Muhammadu Buhari shocked teachers and many Nigerians when he unveiled a package of goodies for teachers.
Since the President made the pronouncement, it has generated reactions within and outside the teaching profession. For public school teachers, the President has become a hero who remembered them when everyone else appeared to have forgotten them.
On that fateful, Buhari approved a special salary scale for Nigerian teachers, as well as increased years of service, from 35 to 40.
Jubilation engulfed the teaching profession as Buhari, through the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, announced the changes in teachers’ salary scale and retirement age in Abuja.
No doubt, teachers have impacted society in no small measure. They are purveyors of knowledge. They have been commended for their resilience, pain and patience in moulding and nurturing many people to become exceptional professionals in different fields. Teachers help to build young minds into adulthood and ensure that they grow well in academics and character.
Despite the poor pay, many of them perform their duties meticulously, to the amazement of all. It is argued that these sets, who have continued to exhibit electrifying brilliance, should not be left unnoticed. The poor pay has always been a source of concern to teachers and their sympathisers. And as a result of the low income, not a few people have become convinced that, indeed, the reward of teachers is in heaven, as nothing but persecution by the authorities seems to be their reward on earth.
Matching words with actions, Buhari instructed the Ministry of Education to facilitate the implementation of the new salary scheme, saying it would encourage teachers to deliver better service.
His words: “Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great. A positive or negative influence of a teacher on any child will have an effect on that child. Therefore, the Federal Government is ensuring quality education.”
He emphasised that the future of the country would depend on quality education for children and the quality of teachers would depend on motivation.
Educationists and other concerned Nigerians have protested that past governments, military and civilian, have treated the welfare of teachers with disdain. It was as if teachers did not matter and their work was of no importance. Many commentators hold the view that teachers are the engineers of development anywhere in the world, who deserve to be pampered and treated like royalty.
Many have also argued that Nigeria’s education is not funded as it ought to be. For instance, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) suggested that 26 per cent of national budgets be devoted to education. But what Nigeria usually earmarks for education at the federal level is always less than 10 per cent.
Indisputably, low budgets and underfunding have contributed to the poor state of education in the country at all levels, and, consequently, impact other sectors of the economy in negative ways. As a result of this, half-baked graduates from Nigerian universities, who are not fit for employment, roam the street seeking jobs, but with little or no capacity to convince potential employers that they can deliver.
Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Lagos State chapter, Mr. Adedoyin Adesina, in a telephone interview with the reporter, joined his colleagues to commend President Buhari’s approval of a new salary structure for teachers. Expressing delight over the development, he said it would boost teachers’ morale and ensure efficient service.
“This is a struggle that was started as far back as early 1990s. The decision by the President would go a long way in turning out good results.
“We need experienced hands in the teaching profession because the gap between the mentors and the mentees is too wide at the moment. When teachers spend more years in their work, they age with grace and become more experienced to give their very best,’’ Adesina said.
On availability of funds to implement the package, he said that what government needed was to set its priorities right. He pointed out that the Federal Government might not have much a problem in implementing the packages, but he expressed worry that the state governments were already complaining of paucity of funds.
He said that teachers’ basic salaries were not increased by the President’s pronouncement, as the new salary scale was about providing special allowances, which he said members of other critical sectors have been enjoying for decades. He also maintained that the new package was not too much for any sincere government to finance.
“Just like the judiciary, the education sector also needs people with lengthy years of service so that they will be able to train others who are coming behind them.
“We cannot ignore the primary and secondary level, because it is the bedrock of solid education in every society. If we miss it at this entry level, the pupil or student will miss it forever. There is no country that can develop beyond its level of education. The President has done a great thing and he must be commended,” the chairman said.
In his contribution, however, a seasoned educationist, Pius Augustine Ike Obanya, a professor emeritus with the Institute of Education, University of Ibadan (UI), Oyo State, told the reporte, “These are simply pronouncements, not yet a policy.”
Also reacting to the development, the secretary of the NUT, Lagos State chapter, Mr. Gbenga Ayetoba, in an interview with Daily Sun, described it as a thing of joy for Nigerian teachers.
“All we are expecting from President Buhari is an enabling circular that is backed by law for the implementation of the pronouncement. We want the President to quickly do this for the teachers to start enjoying it. I want to believe that there is sincerity in this and not just another political statement. It takes courage for the President to do this, but it needs more courage to implement it,” he said.
Ayetoba believed that the President’s intervention would attract the best brains to the teaching profession. He said gone were the days when the education department was used as a dumping ground for students who could not meet the cut-off marks in other departments.
Said he: “This is good for the education system; it is good for the teachers as well as the students. This will bring competition to the education system that will have a ripple effect on the economy.”
On his part, the Minister of State for Education, Mr. Chukuemeka Nwajuiba, while identifying the teaching profession as the greatest profession in the world, which must be accorded adequate recognition and respect, noted that the picture of a Nigerian teacher in the 1960s and 1970s, which reflected discipline, needed to be replicated: “In those days, very comfortable and important figures in the society would send their children to a teacher’s house for grooming. That was the teacher then.
“Teachers’ children and those that lived with them became the crème de la crème of the society. Teachers deserve recognition and respect. The first step is to have qualified teachers in practice.”
He urged individuals, states, and local government education authorities and corporate organisations to reintroduce a reward system to boost productivity in the education sector.
The summary of the good news as announced by the President is a new special salary scale for teachers in basic and secondary schools; increase in retirement age, from 60 to 65 years or from 35 to 40 years of service; new rural and peculiar allowances; increased science allowances; and automatic admission and free tuition for kids of teachers at their places of work.
Buhari also approved automatic recruitment of Bachelor of Education graduates and bursary awards for Bachelor of Education students, among others.