How not to reward teachers

Nigeria’s education system is deep in turmoil. Like everything in Africa’s largest economy, the education system is moving in the wrong direction and no one knows how to reverse the trend.

From primary to tertiary institutions standard is plummeting precipitously.

Employers are worried that the system is churning out graduates that could hardly be employed.

One study suggests that 2 million Nigerian graduates are currently unemployed not really because there are no jobs but because most of them lack the skill to fill the few available vacancies.

Contrary to the United Nations (UN) demand that developing countries allocate 20 per cent of their annual budgets to education, Nigeria spends a scant seven per cent on it.

The result of the lack of funds is dilapidated infrastructure and dearth of teachers from primary to tertiary levels. UN standard demands a ratio of one teacher to 25 students. Ironically, Nigerian public schools are so crowded that the few teachers available have to contend with 70 to 80 students in a class.

In some states of the federation, there are public schools with only four teachers.

By 2016 there were 764, 596 primary school teachers, 292, 080 junior secondary schools (JSS) teachers and 398, 275 teachers in Senior secondary schools (SSS).

In 2018 the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), the institution maintaining professional standards in the country’s tottering education system said there were 2 million qualified teachers in its register and that Nigeria required 250, 000 more teachers every year because of population explosion.

The TRCN has set the national certificate of education (NCE) as the minimum standard for qualified teachers. Even with that, there are teachers in most part of the north without the good old TC-2 certificate.

Some months ago it was discovered in Niger state that 80 per cent of the teachers had fake NCE certificates. The teachers themselves are not educated.

There are very few classrooms compared to the students’ population in most of the public schools. Some students perch on windows during classes. Others sit on the bare floor.

Nigeria’s excelling poverty rate has joined poor funding by the government to take a toll on the education system, thus making it repulsive to the poor.

Consequently, Nigeria probably has the highest number of children of school age who are not in the classroom. About 13.5 million children of school age are not in class. That is close to the entire population of the Netherlands. The surging poverty in the land takes the blame for the low school enrollment. In 2016 only 65 per cent of the children of school age enrolled in primary schools. Even as a total of 26.2 million enrolled in primary schools in 2016, few ever complete their courses. Primary school completion rate plummeted in 2017 to 63 per cent. Secondary school enrolment is abysmal. Only 6 million enrolled in JSS in 2017.

The UN has established a direct link between poverty and school enrolment. Child labour is responsible for the low enrolment in primary schools. Most of the children of school age who are not in class are hawking all sorts of wares to supplement dwindling family budgets.

Even if all the children had the privilege of going to school, there are no seats for most of them. Nigeria has a total of 9, 015 public secondary schools along with 13, 423 pocket-size private secondary schools.

In the private schools, anything goes for standards. There are some that enlist secondary school drop-outs as teachers. Directors in the state ministries of education who monitor the private schools for maintenance of standards merely collect bribes and nod at whatever is on ground.

One director in Lagos state recommended a private school he monitors in Alakuko for a parent. His reason for recommending the school was that the student does not have to labour for his West African School Certificate Examination (WAEC) as the school would arrange nine ‘As’ for him even before the exams. That is what happens in most of the private schools. To attract patronage, the proprietors cheat for the students at a fee which parents willingly pay.

The federal government is very eager to arrest Nigeria’s plummeting education standard, but it appears that no one knows the direction to steer the crumbling system.

During the 2020 World Teachers Day in October, the federal government announced an enhanced salary package for teachers. Nigerian teachers are among the least paid in the world. Even the pittance promised them comes at irregular intervals.

Most of the states owe teachers several months’ salaries. That probably explains the popular slogan that teachers reward is in heaven. Teachers deserve good pay. But it should be a coordinated gesture determined by all stakeholders.

In a desperate bid to reward teachers on earth, the federal government ended up handing teachers what amounted to a Greek gift. Details of the promised enhanced salary package is still in the works but it has set the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) against the state governments which have vowed never to pay the new enhanced package as they were not consulted before the federal government announced the package.

The planned new package is an anathema. It would not solve the mounting problems of teachers. If anything, states owing one year salaries would simply double their indebtedness to the embattled teachers. Those who retired would no longer get their intermittent pensions.

Even the extension of years of service from 35 to 40 is evil. It is only in Nigeria that workers jump at the extension of retirement age because no one expects regular pension. When the government of France tried to raise pension age from 60 to 65 years there were massive protests because the offer was an infringement on workers’ right to retire in time and rest from the stress of regular service. The futile pension age extension was the French government response to an ageing population with very few young people for service.

Nigeria has a youth unemployment rate of 55 per cent with 2 million jobless graduates lurking around a boisterous labour market.

The decision to extend teachers service by five years would simply worsen a bad unemployment problem and starve the system of the young blood that could rejuvenate it.

Teachers would not benefit from the planned Greek gift. The economy would not benefit. It would worsen the plight of millions of jobless graduates. Everyone is a loser. It is an anathema.

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