Teaching profession has come a long way. It occupies a prominent position among other professions. Medical doctors, engineers, accountants and so on were all taught by teachers. In recognition of the noble role of teachers in the development of every nation, October 5 every year is set aside to celebrate them around the globe. This year, Nigerian teachers, as usual, joined their counterparts in the world to mark the World Teachers’ Day.
This year’s theme is, ‘Teachers at the heart of education recovery.’ But are they really at the heart of education recovery in Nigeria? It is doubtful. Teachers in some states are owed up to 19 months arrears of salary. Some of them are yet to receive the minimum wage. Some look too wretched on account of poor pay.
Recently, the National Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mike Ene, reportedly lamented this state of affairs. “There are some states that have not employed teachers in the last 10 years, yet teachers are retiring in their numbers. Boko Haram cleared more than 2,000 teachers in the Northeast and Northwest, as a result, we have dearth of teachers. We urge government at all levels to take education serious and realise that teachers remain the most critical factor for national development,” Ene stated.
At the commemoration of the World Teachers Day last year, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a new salary scale for teachers, rural posting allowance, science teachers allowance, peculiar allowance and special pension scheme for teachers. There was also an increase in their retirement age from 60 to 65 and years of service from 35 to 40 years. With the new salary scale, the least paid teacher in the public service is expected to earn about N150,000 monthly. This is against the current salary of about N49,000.
One year after, these promises have largely been observed in the breach. For instance, the harmonised bill for the new retirement age of teachers, approved by the Federal Executive Council on January 20, 2021, is yet to be presented to the National Assembly. The COVID-19 pandemic has not helped matters. For greater part of last year, it affected teachers and education system generally. Many private school proprietors could not afford to continue payment of teachers’ salaries because schools were forced to close down. With this closure came the need for online classes. Many teachers were caught unprepared for virtual learning as they were not used to it.
Even before COVID-19, some teachers lacked the necessary knowledge required for teaching and didn’t bother to upgrade themselves. In a state like Kaduna, about 21,780 teachers out of 33,000 failed a Primary 4 exam administered to test their competence by the state government in 2017. Although the pass mark was as high as 75 per cent, it was not acceptable that teachers failed a test meant for Primary 4 pupils. Some of them impart the wrong knowledge to their students because they can’t give what they don’t have. For many Nigerians, teaching is a profession they will not want to go into if they have a choice. Some join the profession for lack of better jobs. Many people, especially the men, run away from it due mainly to poor remuneration and low prestige.
That is why it is often said that teachers reward is in heaven. But this should not be so. A worker deserves his pay. Teachers deserve to get their reward here on earth. They should always be on the first line charge. Lack of funds should not be a hindrance.
It is gratifying though that government has made new promises this year. As part of efforts to attract the best brains into the teaching profession, the Federal Government announced at this year’s World Teachers Day that each student undergoing degree programmes in education in public universities in Nigeria would get N75, 000 stipends per semester. The Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) students will get N50,000 per semester as stipends.
The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, explained that the Federal Ministry of Education would collaborate with state governments to ensure automatic employment for the students on graduation. Government also promised to build low-cost houses for teachers in rural areas through partnership, train the teachers and also reintroduce bursary award for NCE students. Various state governments have also made different promises to teachers with regard to improving their welfare.
We commend the various levels of government for their efforts to improve the welfare of teachers. These efforts should have come earlier than now. But it is better late than never. Though it is one thing to promise and another to fulfill the promises. Private schools should copy the template of the Federal Government and try as much as possible to implement it. Among other professionals, teachers are nation-builders. While teaching, they act as surrogate parents.
In all, government must prioritise welfare, training and technological support for teachers to encourage the ones already in the profession and attract new ones. Let it provide them with professional development opportunities to enable them improve their skills.