Schools must have adequate and competent teachers to thrive
One of the most critical aspects of Nigeria’s continuing crisis in the education sector is the critical shortage of teachers in the nation’s public schools. The end-result of decades of under-funding, poor conditions of service, heavy workloads and the non-replacement of retired colleagues, the paucity of teachers threatens to undermine all efforts to produce the qualitative human resources that the country desperately needs.
Across the country, public schools are witnessing ever-decreasing numbers of teachers, especially in subjects like English Language, Mathematics, Physics, Information and Communication Technology and Economics, among others.
Salaries are often delayed for several months. In its 2018 Sub-National Salary Survey, BudgIT, the financial accountability watchdog, found that 12 states were owing between two and 15 months’ salaries to teachers. A similar situation obtains in the payment of pensions and gratuities. Many states have refused to employ new teachers for several years. A bill to raise their retirement age from 60 to 65 has been stuck in the House of Representatives since 2017.
The ultimate consequence is that public-school teachers in Nigeria are poorly-motivated, overworked and despondent. In a profession like teaching, such a state of mind is certain to result in badly-taught students; this is already being seen in the virtual illiteracy and innumeracy of a growing proportion of public school products. The recent announcement of 160 marks out of 400 as the official cut-off mark for admission to universities by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) is further evidence of the problem.
Teachers are the cornerstone of any educational system. A school may manage without facilities, but without qualified, competent and properly-motivated teachers, it cannot survive.
If the teacher-shortage crisis is to be resolved, it is crucial that the federal and state governments take comprehensive steps to recruit more teachers, improve their pay and conditions, and ensure that they work within conducive environments.
The most immediate issue is that of employing more teachers. It is obvious that the reluctance of many state governments to recruit more teachers is due to a supposed lack of funds. However, the insincerity of this claim can be seen in the failure of many of them to fully exploit the opportunities available under the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) programme.
Since 2015, all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory have failed to access a total of N84 billion due to their failure to provide the statutory 50 per cent counterpart funding. There can be no justification for this, given the obvious value for money inherent in such an arrangement. It is also surprising that the same governors who seem to have no problem budgeting billions for airports, stadia and other prestige projects do not have the funds to recruit teachers.
States should conduct a comprehensive audit of all public schools to determine their staffing requirements, and must work out ways of meeting them. The hiring of part-time instructors should be given serious consideration; it would certainly help to alleviate unemployment among the nation’s teeming university graduates.
Greater efforts must be made to ensure that counterpart funding is provided for UBEC financing so that funds are made available for the rehabilitation of schools and the provision of badly-needed facilities. Teachers themselves will have to accept the prospect of regular in-service evaluations, instead of fighting against them, as they did when Governors Kayode Fayemi, Adams Oshiomhole and Nasir El-Rufai introduced competency tests for teachers in their states.
Nigeria has more than enough challenges to face in its quest for educational development. It cannot afford to compound them by not ensuring that its public schools have adequate numbers of competent and well-paid teachers.