Text delivered at the commemoration of World Teachers’ Day organized by Nigeria Union of Teachers, Kosofe Local Government Branch, Lagos State on 5th October 2016.
I can’t be more privileged than I am right now. The set of people who gave me an invaluable asset in life have asked me to talk to them about valuing their profession and improving their status. I think that is a great honour and I want you to know that I will not forget this honour in a hurry.
Teachers are valuable and should be honored in every sense of the word. I have passed through teachers, still passing through teachers and also look forward to teaching in the classroom sometimes soon.
While I understand this is an occassion to commemorate the world teachers’ day, I think we shouldn’t be waiting for an annual event to discuss the lives and future of those who are really helping us to shape our own future. If there is any government that is serious about improving the life of its citizens, education is a good place to start.
Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. Just barely 60 years ago in this same country, we had the likes of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Intesrestingly, they would strike you as regional leaders and maybe, national leaders or politicians.
One thing stood these people out in their times as leaders in this nation. They were passionate about education and they didn’t just say it. They proved it in their actions and in their political agenda. In those days when we had regional governments, the pride of government was about which region had the most educated people. Bear in mind that they did not achieve that without placing much value on teachers.
In the pursuit of this invaluable ambition, the government took education seriously. Not just any kind of school was given approval and schools weren’t springing up on daily basis in the corners of every street. I remeber reading one of the several bigraphies of Dr. Tai Solarin, a great educationist that you also recognise as a human right activist. He spoke of the challenges he experienced when the ministry of education was to come and check if the school had proper laboratories in order to teach the students of the school he had just started.
He was not given approval because when the authorities came, Tai Solarin showed them a large box divided into different compartments as the Physics, Chemistry And Agricultural science laboratories. By extension, the government would not allow the students to be registered for WAEC. Dr. Tai Solarin traveled all the way to Ghana with all the students of that year to write the WAEC examination.
Let me cut the story short so that I don’t bore you. This hurdle before Dr. Tai Solarin was in the year 1956. We are now in the 2016 and that school that struggled to get approval for it’s laboratory, and consequently, registering it’s students for The West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) is still in existence today. Let me also mention that it, arguably, has the biggest laboratory any secondary school can boast of today. The name of that school is Mayflower School and I am proud to say that I am a product of that school. From the thouands of students the school has produced, I am number 11,763.
Why did I tell you that brief story? It is to tell you that when education started in Nigeria, and until a few years after our independence in 1960, the gate keeping responsibility of the government was done effectively, though it was not without sentiments. Not just anybody could build schools and not just anybody was employed. Those who were employed were the most qualified, if not the best.
The days of regional governments were also the days when the leaders gave free education as a way to advance the cause of their people. Several individuals were also sent abroad to learn, come back and develop the nation Nigeria.
One beautiful thing I can remember about those days was the quality of education that the students got. What is the proof of that quality of education? Education in those days, for many, was about successfully finishing your primary school. The ones who were a bit comfortable or well of in the society were those who got into secondary schools. To be employed by the government, your secondary school leaving certificate was just alright. I have also met a couple of people who went to secondary schools in those days and I hear the way they speak English. I am still very impressed. Many of them did not have tertiary education but they could be termed ‘well educated.’ My father was one of them. All he had was a secondary education and he spoke very well. In fact, I first learnt to pronounce a few words correctly from how my father spoke.
Today, with a Bachelor of Science or arts, master’s degree, an MBA, a PGD and even a Ph.D, people cannot even express themselves well. Not many, from all those who carry these big degrees, can defend their certificates. Eventually, after a fruitless but relentless job search around the country, all these people are those who have no choice but to turn to the teaching profession. Sadly, they are mostly absorbed with very little or no stress. If they can’t get into the government owned schools, the arms of the mushroom schools called private are openly waiting for them.
What’s more? Some of these people parading certificates without the inner content to back up the papers they carry have summoned the courage to start schools. Once you can pay the rent for a bungalow or your parents were rich enough to leave you a building, a school is ready!
The process of starting schools haven’t only been mocked, the names of the schools now only remind you of comedians or clowns. When the founder of the popular social networking site, facebook, Mark Zuckerberg visited Nigeria a few months back, a picture surfaced on the internet. Trust me, it is not a joke when I say that the name of the school in the picture is ‘Facebook.’ Those spreading the pictures then tipped Mark Zuckerberg to visit his school before leaving Nigeria.
Education is constantly being bastardised. The custodians of our educational system have been compromised. They no longer check the regulatory rules to ensure things are being done well. What they check is the SMS on their phones for a bank alert. With a credit alert of less than 140 characters, someone can be sacked or hired and results can go missing or be found even when exams are not written.
So much can be said of the decadence in the educational sector but I will focus on the values that teachers have lost, how they can regain it and how their status can be raised. The rewards of teachers don’t have to be in heaven, as is commonly said by people. They need to get those rewards here.
What values are we talking about?
The Gate keeping
Following all that I have just told you, we can deduce that one of the major problems of the educational sector is the gate keeping process, which is primarily a responsibility of the government. Over the years, there has been nothing like gate keeping. In fact, the government itself has enabled and created a seemingly logical system for gate crashing into the educational system.
Brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and other imaginary relatives with difficult traces to politicians or the boss in all educational parastatals are making it into the education system, and then they become teachers. Teaching for them is a job and not a passion or profession.
The first value that teachers lost had to do with recruiting those who wanted jobs and not those who were seeking to build a career in a profession. The failure in the gate keeping process has greatly affected the value that is placed on teachers. We no longer have just those teachers we used to be proud of and speak so well about in our various homes. Our schools are now filled with the mixed multitude.
In the words of Chief Ebenezar Obey, I say ‘awon eyan l’asan won ti b’eyan rere je.’ (The ordinary and useless people have made us consider good people as useless as well).
The solution to this is pretty simple and it should be the following:
1. Only qualified teachers, at all levels, regardless of who they know or don’t know should be recruited. That means the government must wake up to it’s responsibility to a proper gate keeping in the educational sector.
2. The recruitment process must be transparent and should be seen as such.
3. A fair test, where the tested and all stakeholders feel they got a level playing ground, should be the prerequisite for employment.
4. No one should pay a dime to be employed or given an unfair advantage over others.
I strongly believe when the entire nation is aware that only the best hands are recruited, the perception of teachers will change. This shouldn’t only happen, it needs to happen fast.
Upon receiving the invitation to deliver this paper, I immediately created an online form using google docs which you can find on www.tinyurl.com/ediblepen03102016
The results are not surprising going by the feedback from the few respondents I got before this presentation. More than 80% of teachers are not happy with their remuneration. Today, not too many people who are qualified want to get into the teaching profession because they do not feel those who are in the profession are adequately rewarded.
I dare say that this is not just a feeling. It is a fact. I know of graduates with Bachelor of Arts or Science degrees who earn only ten thousand naira (N10,000) every month. That’s about 50 USD a month at an exchange rate of 197 but it 25 USD when the exchange rate is a minimum of N400 to $1. Exchange rate at the time of this presentation has hit N400 to $1 so that’s what I will stick with. Some earn fifteen (N15,000 or 37.5 USD) and some of the best paid in some areas don’t earn more than twenty five thousand (N25,000 or 62.5 USD).
When you go over to the government schools, I don’t know of too many government teachers, even though they have risen through the ranks, who earn a hundred thousand naira N100,000 or 250 USD) monthly. They even work for state governments who claim that they cannot afford a minimum wage of eighteen thousand (N18,000 or 45 USD) monthly.
Currently, there is nothing impressive about the teaching profession. The reason is not far fetched. Teachers are not well paid and the appearance of many does not carry any motivation for the young ones to think about becoming a teacher.
The five hundred thousand teachers to be employed by the Federal Government in 2016 will be paid twenty three thousand naira (N23,000 or 57.5 USD) monthly.
A few years ago, a joke went viral on social media about how Cowbell mathematics competition star prize was just one hundred thousand naira (N100,000 or 250 USD). Meanwhile, you can get on a TV reality show and win three million naira (N3,000,000 or 7,500 USD). In addition, you can get a brand new SUV which will be worth about five to seven million naira. If entertainment is more rewarding, why should people consider teaching? Or why should teachers be motivated when people making little intellectual efforts are smiling daily to the bank?
After all the Nigerian figures, I went online to see average salaries of teachers in the United States as at October 2016 and I got the following:
Elementary school teacher – $43,439 in current exchange rate that is 17,375,600
High school teacher – $47,532 in current exchange rate that is 19,012,800
On an hourly basis, the least was 11.68 USD which is 4,672 naira per hour if they were Nigerians. Their bonuses were in excess of 1,000 USD which is more than 400,000 naira in the current exchange rate.
The infromation above is according to www.payscale.com
In the case of the Nigerian teachers, their meagre salaries are not even sure at the end of the month. Those who tell teachers there is no money have more than ten expensive cars in their convoy. They eat lavishly, spend without thinking, steal several billions and still have no money to pay teachers.
I have people who are retirees and as we speak, in the tenth month of the year, they have not been paid their pension more than once. That is in On do state and teachers are owed between 3-4 months salary. In Oyo, the government owes up to 7 months salary. For Ogun state, the teachers are owed three months salary or more. The more disturbing news from Ogun state is that the state government is feeling its hands into the cooperative funds of teachers and diverting the funds.
I am aware that among 36 states in Nigeria right now, it seems only Lagos can boast of not owing salaries. It also pays salaries by the 21st or 22nd day of the month. Extensive work has also been done on rehabilitating schools but much still needs to be done.
It is more than terrible to see teachers being forced to the streets to protest non payment of salaries and allowances. They are supposed to be teachers, not activists. Schools have been grounded for months, and sometimes years, because teachers were not paid. This shows that teachers are not really valued in this part of the world. Their status is further brought down by pushing them to the street to formally announce their hunger. How can teachers impart knowledge on empty stomachs? Is it not enough that their pay packs can’t pay their bills? Some year ago when I was a student at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, I went to the office of Directorate of Students’ Affairs which shared an office with ASUU – a Nigerian association of academic staff union that has chapters in nearly all universities. Then I saw a sticker on a door that struck me. It simply says, ‘my take home pay can’t take me home.’ This is the reality of many teachers. It is laughable but heart rendering.
Despite all these challenges facing teachers, those in the private schools don’t have any hope of being paid when the school is not in session. A better way to put it is that their salary is on vacation when the school is on vacation. At other times, there is no hope for payment if a term does not begin or end at the beginning of a month or last week of a month.
The problem is obvious and the solution is not far featched. I suggest the following:
1. The salaries of teachers must be paid consistently and in time.
2. Teachers’ salaries should be raised. To start with, it needs to be doubled and consistently increased until teachers are some of the highest paid professionals in the country.
3. Government grants with very little or no interest payable over a long period of time should be given to teachers so that they can consistently develop themselves through research, training, additional degrees or purchase of gadgets.
4. Teachers should not have to worry about where to live or spend their entire service year, struggling, and attempting to build a house with all their earnings. There should be housing schemes in form of mortgages for teachers that they can pay for over a period of fifteen to twenty years.
5. I should also add that there is no form of insurance or health management scheme offer for the teachers. So the government needs to provide health insurance for teachers in its employment. This at least takes away the burden of caring for loved ones.
The issues raised above, if taken seriously, will show to the society that the government takes teachers seriously. Consequently, the people in the society will envy them and also desire a career in teaching. That’s a good way to value teachers.
I have already talked about the poor remuneration so I will not belabour the issue. However, the issue of poor remuneration is directly connected to the work overload of teachers. Too many of our classes our crowded. I once sat in classes with about 100 other students as a secondary school student. Sometimes we were more and at other times, we were just a little lesser than that. You don’t even want to talk about the figures in the tertiary institutions. We usually have classes seating one thousand people and more.
The population explosion in classes has a straight link with the value that the owners of those schools place on teachers. Sometimes, teachers have to teach several arms of these over crowded classes. They have to prepare lesson notes every time and in some cases, teach different levels – junior and senior classes.
In the schools where teachers are valued, there are mostly two teachers assigned to classes that don’t even have up to a hundred students. Teachers don’t even teach different levels even though they may teach different arms.
On a lighter note, I think that teachers may not really complain if for instance, they will be paid one million naira per month. What is work overload when you know there is a million naira waiting? In fact, you will ask the government or any other employer to give you more jobs to do.
Having said that, you will agree with me that what we refer to when we talk about being over burdened with work load is simply a perception – a perception that makes you unconsciously argue that what you are being paid is not commensurate with the work you are doing. In simple terms, you feel under paid.
To get this out of the way, government and other school proprietors must:
1. Employ more hands to make teaching easier
2. Employ more qualified teachers to make teaching effective
3. We need to go digital. Electronic boards, projectors and other multimedia tools should be introduced to aid teaching in all schools that don’t have them yet. This reduces the shouting or talking that teachers have to do and they should be trained to handle these things.
In the short survey that I condcted online for this presentation, more than 75% of the respondents admitted to feeling or being actually assaulted by school owners, parents and students. These are the three major people who directly abuse teachers and it is a disaster.
The abuse that takes place
1. School managers and proprietors talk down at their teachers and sometimes do this in front of students and parents. Sometimes, they seek every opportunity to cut the salaries of their teachers while holding unto flimsy excuses as the justification for the ‘deserved punishment.’ Too many teachers are constantly being threatened with dismissal and no one who is valued should be threatened or blackmailed. It is a mental assault.
2. Parents verbally assault teachers and also physically assault them to either prove they are well connected or that they have money. Their children must not be touched but their teachers can go to prison or forced out of the school system.
3. It is no longer news that students beat up teachers who may have tried to enforce discipline within the system. Some of them talk back in the least expected manner since they know the means of their parents which will be used to deal with any teacher going over board.
Where a teacher has not in anyway assaulted or abused a student, parent or school manager in anyway, the teacher does not deserve to be assaulted by anyone. Grievances should be properly channeled.
Again I know that some teachers are not nice. And the truth is that they don’t know their boundaries. I don’t want to justify any ‘punishment meted out to them’ because the people trying to punish also go over board.
The main issue here is that teachers should not be going to work with the consciousness of a possibility of being abused. That consciousness alone takes away the value that the teachers feel but they have to continue because they must make a living.
Abuse or assault from employers is slavery with an illusion of freedom.
Abuse or assault from parents is capitalist oppression.
Abuse or assault from students is colonisation.
All these put together can only be described as a catastrophe. We can’t deny the fact that these things are happening and will still continue to happen for a while. How can they stop?
1. There must be policies and legislations put in place to protect teachers from any form of assault. The policy or legislation should also say what happens when the students or parents and school owners are on the receiving end.
2. The security system of the schools need to be worked upon. I am not talking about old retired men with tired hands that we parade as security men. At best, most of these men are gatekeepers. They can’t even handle tough boys and girls within the school so how will they rescue teachers being assaulted?
Some of the issues raised above will successfully take care of the work environment if they are addressed. However, there are outstanding issues that should be addressed. If the work environment is not taken care of, you don’t expect teachers to feel valued. Why do you think bankers always feel proud when going to the bank? Why do they wear their ties and dresses so nicely even when they are not the boss or the highest paid in the banking hall? For the kind of work they do, they have condusive work environments.
Most teachers are teaching in places that should be called slums and not schools. Their classrooms look like dunghills. Windows are broken down with no hope for attention. Ceilings are dangling over the students and the teachers. Some teachers pray against rain because of leaking roof. In fact, some schools have to take a compulsory break when it rains. Just this morning on my way here, I saw a flooded school and certainly, nothing will happen there until the water is gone. For many schools, there are no offices but a choked place called staff room.
Take it or leave it, these working conditions dehumanize anyone working in them. You certainly don’t value anyone who is forced to work within these environments and are still underpaid and being owed salaries.
You and I know what should be done. Just for the records, let me say:
1. Schools have to be rehabilitated.
2. It should not be teachers that will be cleaning schools, as it is in some cases.
3. Decent offices must be built for schoool managers and if the staff rooms have to be retained, they must be maintained.
Let’s make schools beautiful places that teachers and students always want to go. To understand what I am talking about, please visit some private schools in Nigeria. You will see that light does not blink in those schools. Their school buildings look like five star hotels. Teachers have condusive offices and can walk into their offices at any time of the day. Those teachers feel valued and proud.
To those who say but those schools you are talking about are privately owned so they will be well maintained, I have one question. Are the private owners of schools in Nigeria richer than state governments? Do they have access to more funding compared to state governments? Let’s not deceive ourselves. Anything private school owners are doing and are doing well, the government has the capacity to do ten times more if only they have visions and will be honest.
After all said and done, teachers are hardly found among those receiving national honours. It simply looks like those awards were created and given to some fellow thieves. They would have stolen and only recognize fellow thieves while teachers are left out.
Finally on how to value teachers and improve their status, my counsel and proposition will go to parents. I can call this proposition Parents’ Voluntary Teaching Service (PVTS).
Parents’ Voluntary Teaching Service (PVTS).
As a student in Mayflower School Ikenne, we benefitted from something called Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). I hope that still exists and if not, it should be reintroduced. Under this scheme, teachers from other countries come into Nigeria to teach for a few months or years. I am not sure if some Nigerian teachers were sent abroad but that’s what it should be. The government can partner with international organizations to do this kind of thing again.
The one we can immediately do, and without the governments in different states, is the Parents’ Voluntary Teaching Service (PVTS). What does this mean? It should be a forum where:
1. Parents volunteer a day in a month to teach in the schools of their children, choosing a subject they are comfortable with. They will talk to the school teachers and management in order to use the school syllabus.
2. They can spend the whole day or a few hours to teach under this scheme
3. Some others may not teach on school subjects but under a vocational training to be created based on the human resource of the school’s parents. This simply means that parents whose jobs are based on some practical skills can teach their skills or transfer the skills to students.
1. Parents will see and feel what the teachers of their students go through.
2. Teachers, on the chosen day of Parents’ Voluntary Teaching Service (PVTS) will take the back seat, watch parents teach and also assess parents. They just relax on that day.
3. This will bring some fun to learning for the students who will start looking forward to parents coming to teach them.
4. It will be a form of service to the community where parents give back.
5. This can also be a way to reduce the work load on the teachers.
Dear wonderful teachers, our elders will say you should not run out of the spittle in your mouth just because you are trying to say the truth. I think I am beginning to run out of the spittle in my mouth, even though I still have more issues to raise. Let me rest my case for now and hope that I have made sense rather than bore you with a fairly long presentation.
Please note that I value you, God bless you and thank you for listening.
Fola Daniel Adelesi