An acute shortage of teachers in Katsina has reached the level where a recall of retired teachers is being considered. A committee set up by the government to look into how the state’s education standards could be improved has made the recommendation. Governor Aminu Masari is not only disposed to its implementation, but added that directors in the ministry of education would join them in primary and secondary schools.
This deficiency is an alarm bell, which has been ringing across the national landscape for years. But the response to the crisis by the authorities has been poor. It is an insensitivity that gives Nigeria away as uncaring about the future of its children. In 2014, the UNESCO director in Nigeria, Hassana Alidou, raised the alarm that Nigeria had the worst education indicators globally, as it led 37 countries with a system where “education without learning” thrived. This paradox is the creation of many variables: unqualified and badly-trained teachers; explosion in school enrolment; poor remuneration of teachers; dilapidated classrooms; lack of equipment; supervision or inspection that used to enhance performance, and corruption.
A survey conducted by the Federal Government in 2010 had revealed that 207,818 unqualified teachers were in the primary schools. The North-East zone had the highest figure of 57.7 per cent. Undoubtedly, the situation has degenerated since then with the Boko Haram insurgency. The North-West had 46.8 per cent; North-Central 38 per cent; South-South 19.2 per cent; South-East 16.7 per cent; and South-West 6.7 per cent. Regrettably, some state governments’ attempts to scratch the problem by introducing measures to fish out the deadwoods and kick them out are often resisted by teachers and the organised labour. Even worse is political exigency that supervenes to negate such an altruistic endeavour.
It happened in Edo State, under Adams Oshiomhole as governor. He once exclaimed, “We found that, of all our primary school teachers, only 1,287, representing nine per cent, out of 14,484 teachers, have proper and accurate records in our system.” He, therefore, vowed to flush out the misfits. But he chickened out despite his discovery that a female primary school teacher of over 18 years standing could not read her age declaration affidavit. Only about 200 showed up for a competence test that was organised for 13,000 teachers. A similar experiment in Kaduna in 2014 revealed that 1,300 out of 1,599 state teachers failed arithmetic and basic literacy tests. They scored below 25 per cent. In Kwara State, 259 teachers, among them university graduates, flunked a test meant for primary four pupils in 2008; while 16,000 teachers in Ekiti State (primary and secondary), repeatedly shunned a competence test in 2012.
The Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, Mohammed Modibbo, had in 2012 stunningly told the Senate that over 50 per cent of teachers in Sokoto State could neither read nor write. The question is: what knowledge had such “teachers” either in Sokoto or elsewhere been imparting to the pupils? And how were they recruited in the first place?
Apparently, policy changes have destroyed teaching at primary schools. One of them is the abandonment of the Teachers Grade II Certificate as the minimum qualification for teaching, replaced with the National Certificate in Education. An NCE holder who studied two teaching subjects cannot discharge the classroom duties of a Grade Two teacher of old. The woeful failure of degree holders and NCE teachers in tests meant for primary four pupils in Kwara State, and their counterparts in Kaduna State, illustrates this point.
This is why Clement Kolawole, a professor and former Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Ibadan, and many other concerned experts now call for the return of TC II as the minimum teaching qualification. “The intensity of the training and the depth of the physical, mental, moral and academic exposure at the Teachers Grade II programme,” Kolawole argued in a 2013 lecture, are incomparable with what colleges of education carry out today. The NCE, as originally planned, was meant to produce middle-level manpower. Feeders to the programme were Grade II teachers.
But its reduction as the minimum qualification for teaching was an attempt to raise standards only on paper, copying badly the practice in Finland and other countries where degree holders teach at the basic level. Reputed as one of the countries with the best school systems, Finland has a policy of recruiting its teachers from the top 10 per cent of graduates. They are then subjected to professional master’s degree training in education.
David Crouch, writing in The Guardian of London in 2015, described teaching as an advanced degree subject, stressing, “the five-year master’s degree for primary school teachers is not in question. Competition is fierce – only seven per cent of applicants in Helsinki were accepted this year, leaving more than 1,400 disappointed.” In Singapore too, teachers are highly trained, subjected to 100 hours of professional development annually, Vivian Stewart writes in Centre for Global Education.
Unlike in Nigeria, teaching is an all-comers’ affair. The hydra-headed crisis – quality and quantity of teachers – demands a strong policy response. Rebuilding the system should take into account how the once cherished vocation – the mother of all professions – should attract the best brains and retain them. The curriculum should not be overloaded with subjects. The country should, for instance, learn how Finland, Canada, Australia, Singapore and others that deliver quality education do it. Professional training is critical, just as mastery in subject matter, teachers’ welfare and an environment that promotes learning are.
As the foundation is shaky, pupils will continue to score between two and four marks out of 200 in the entrance examination to the 104 National Unity Colleges and will be admitted in some parts of the federation. Its awkward spiral is evinced in the over 400,000 secondary school pupils who failed to get cut-off marks in university admission exams, but were admitted illegally, according to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board. Indeed, an educational substructure such as this, is in need of seismic shake up. Consequently, the situation calls for an urgent national summit on education.