Sunday, October 5 is the World Teachers’ Day. It is a day set aside by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation to highlight the endeavours and achievements of teachers on a global scale. As expected, teachers in Nigeria will join their counterparts from more than 100 countries to celebrate the day.
The title of this year’s WTD is “Invest in the future, invest in teachers”. The theme will focus on, among others, the role of teachers in the development of the young generation, how to increase the number of teachers and the importance of teachers to the society.
But in Nigeria, analysts have argued, and persistently too, that many teachers, especially in public schools are no longer committed to the profession. Some teachers, they say, aid pupils in examination malpractice, play truancy, engage in petty trading at the expense of their jobs as well as exploit parents and their children.
They also argue that the government and parents have abandoned their responsibilities, a development that has impacted negatively on the sector.
So, as the celebration goes on, the discussion is not only going to focus on teachers. Other issues, such as funding, state of facilities in schools, as well as enrolment in schools, particularly the girl-child education, will form part of the discourse during the celebration.
The Nigeria Union of Teachers Lagos State Chairman, Mr. Segun Raheem, who agrees that it is not yet Uhuru for the profession and its practitioners, however, notes that the celebration in the country will not be elaborate.
According to him, the national executive of the NUT, after its last meeting, had concluded that the usual pomp and ceremony accompanying the event in the country would not take place this year.
He says, “This year’s WTD will not be celebrated in the usual way. Instead, we are to gather to sensitise and enlighten our members on Ebola and other challenges facing teachers and teaching in Nigeria.
“It will also be an occasion to remind the Federal Government to implement the outcome of 2014 National Economic Summit in Abuja: Invest in Teachers.”
Beyond this, Raheem, who says he is worried about the rating of teachers, adds that there is the need to fish out the unqualified persons rubbishing the name of the profession. In his thinking, all stakeholders, including the Federal Government and the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, should contribute positively towards rebranding the profession.
That the NUT boss holds this view is not surprising. Some parents have posited that while some teachers, especially in public schools, engage in unholy practices like selling recharge cards and in petty trading, their counterparts in private schools aid their pupils in examination malpractice.
Analysts have also said that many teachers are no longer committed to the profession. Some teachers, they say, play truancy during normal school hours but engage in serious private teaching practice at their convenient time. Parents, they allege, pay huge extra lesson fees to such teachers to cater to the educational needs of their children.
Reacting to some of these allegations, Raheem says, “All stakeholders must come together to review the country’s curricula with a view to capturing the reality of the moment. The review is long overdue. The activity of Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria to regulate teachers and teaching should be taken seriously to remove unqualified teachers, who parade themselves as professionals, either in private or public schools.
“Beyond criticising teachers, the government should introduce Teachers Salary Scale, a special salary structure for teachers that will be commensurate with the calling.
“Again, teachers should be professional in their activities. We should shun any act that could tarnish the image of the profession. We should be more committed, by participating actively in Subject-Related Teachers Associations to improve our syllabus and the quality of teaching. We must continue to ‘publish’, so as not to ‘perish’ within academic community.”
Even as Raheem put ups this stout defence, some head teachers in Lagos on the condition of anonymity because of civil service rules, also look beyond these accusations. They lament, for instance, the inadequate number of teachers to teach key subjects, such as Mathematics and Fine Art.
Supporting them, the NUT President, Michael Alaogba, remarks, “I cannot remember the last time teachers were recruited in some states of the federation.”
Alogba, who identified a number of challenges facing the education sector, says the inadequate number of teachers across the states has a profound effect on the quality of education.
“I cannot recollect when last teachers were recruited in some states in the federation. You find teachers teaching 200 students, the minimum in a classroom is 80. There is no way the quality of education will not drop in that situation.
“It is not correct that teachers engage in commercial activities during school hours. I am hearing that as news. But if it is true, for every 12 disciples, there will be a Judas. Customs officers sell; other professionals also sell. But we have a task force that goes round and we have not found any,” he declares