By ASADU OBINNA
“If Education is expensive try Ignorance” is a popular saying which warns that there are grave consequences awaiting people who give the excuse that they can’t afford education because of its cost. This topic is neither about the expensiveness of education nor about those who can’t afford it. Rather, my concern is the wonder the ever-increasing cost of education in the country does not reflect on teachers welfare thereby keeping alive the over-used “Nigerian belief” that a teacher’s reward is in heaven.
After careful observation of the welfare situation of Nigerian teachers both in public and private schools, we have come to the conclusion that there is a general lack of seriousness and sincerity towards these custodians of the cradle of knowledge by their employers and the government. First and foremost, the teachers take home pay is scandalous, only comparable to the salaries of sales girls of provision stores. The spitefulness of this awful remuneration is even more pronounced when one considers the frequent increase in the exorbitant school fees of pupils and the consequent opulence and ostentatious lifestyle of proprietors of most private schools without any corresponding increase in teachers remuneration. And to complete this grim picture, slave wage pay is not regularly paid. Teachers in both government and private employment are frequently owed their salaries for months.
From the foregoing, it appears foolhardy talking about a welfare package for teachers when the payment of the basic salary is sometimes uncertain. But then, a welfare package, not to mention a befitting one, is non-existent for teachers both in public and private schools. The Pension Act which was enacted to enable employees and employers contribute to employees retirement benefits would have served as welfare package for teachers at least at retirement. Unfortunately, most private schools have failed to enroll in the pension scheme and few state governments fulfill their obligations of remittance to the pension fund administrators and this leaves teachers stranded at the end of their teaching careers alongside other government employees looking up to heaven for their pensions and gratuities.
Notwithstanding, this gloomy welfare picture of teachers, these noble and “humbled” lot rarely embark on strike to push for better working conditions in spite of having a nationally recognized union – the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT). In fact, this seems to suggest that teachers have accepted their situation as a fait accompli, which perhaps is the reason for the conclusion that a teacher’s reward is in heaven. Nevertheless, some teachers have decided not to wait for heaven by initiating the after school lessons, called private lessons, whereby these teachers take as many pupils privately as their time schedule permits all in a bid to augment their meagre pay. However, only a small fraction of teachers can afford the time and energy needed to tutor as many pupils privately to earn enough that will make up meaningful retirement savings.
I am persuaded to briefly highlight the worth of the teacher. The first organized formal interaction children encounter outside the home is co-ordinated by teachers and this interaction lasts for at least fourteen of their formative years. The teacher is thereby not only charged with imparting knowledge but with morals as well. And being an early guide for responsible living outside the home sometimes wielding that little cane that parents often find emotionally constrained to deploy. This fact alone is enough for teachers to be respected with befiting remuneration. However, notwithstanding the true worth of teachers, the education system in Nigeria is not in any way structured to ensure confortable and beneficial working conditions for these custodians of the cradle of knowledge. Unfortunately, this grim fact has not elicited any genuine concern, debates, dialogues, action plans on how to change for the better this unpalatable situation of teachers. Even the various governments appear not to see the need to better the lot of teachers. What government parades as education policy is not it. The picture is more dismal when you find out that government which is meant to be the driver of the sector through firm regulatory policies and frame-work appears clueless, often competing with private institutions of learning. The end result of this are poorly remunerated and motivated teachers who churn-out half-baked and intellectually lazy students.
Evidently, the private sector has since taken over the sector from the government in terms of proliferation of schools in the sector. Logically, this means that most teachers are found in the employ of private schools. Sadly, these private schools are also private businesses of educational entrepreneurs whose primary objective is to make profit, and in so doing, they apply business principles of low running costs and promotional strategies negatively without recourse to the noble nature of their vocation. And because the government’s regulatory policies are weak, some of these educational entrepreneurs in their bid to make profits engage in unwholesome practices that negatively affect the quality of education. This unmitigated shortchanging of the education system is made possible because the government is not alive to its duties as regulator of the sector.
As times evolve and the quality of education dwindles especially at the primary and secondary schools levels, we believe the first step government should take which is within the ambit of the law will be to enforce the pension law and ensure that all private schools and government comply with the provisions of the act, this will give teachers something to hope for at retirement. This will go a long way in enhancing their confidence and discouraging and dissuading them from engaging in unwholesome sharp practices that bring opprobrium to the profession and the education sector/system.
•Obinna writes from Enugu