Though the quote of Nelson Mandela that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world is often touted among us, there is nothing to suggest that due regard is paid to that all-important bedrock of the entire gamut of development.
Apart from dilapidated infrastructure and the myriad of problems associated with education in Nigeria, a major index of how we treat education appears glaring in the treatment being meted out to teachers. It is self-evident that teachers are the ladder that children and students climb to a bright future. If the ladder is wobbly, the outcome is woeful.
We cannot change the world or the country without changing our general attitude to those who teach, those that everyone finds convenient to cheat. From irresponsible governments that owe teachers their meager and inconsequential salaries for months to rogue proprietors who treat them like vermin, recruiting and dismissing them at will, as well as withholding their salaries, it is ironic that we want our children to be successful and we treat their teachers with disdain.
The consequence of our attitude to teachers has resulted in their apathy of duty and indifference to work, except for the few that are employed by serious-minded organisations and proprietors. As a means of survival, teachers in public schools especially are now known to be engaged in menial jobs both at work and outside work. Quality time that would have been invested in assessing class work and assignments is wasted on the strength of expediency.
Since the time of Plato, it had been established that the basic needs of human beings are three, food, clothing and shelter. Our teachers, especially at primary and secondary levels, are teaching with tears because many of them cannot afford their basic needs. They cannot eat well, they cannot clothe themselves and dependants well, not to talk of having decent accommodation. The society makes them feel irresponsible as a result of their inability to meet their financial obligations.
Unlike Finland and China, where teachers are socially respected and the best graduates are meant for schools, we have made teaching in our part of the world appear to be largely meant for those who cannot find other jobs to do, a last resort, except for the committed and courageous few. Against the 26 per cent of national budget, believed to be the UNESCO standard or benchmark, our budgetary allocation to education now stands at an abysmal 6.01 per cent. How do we make much progress and build the future?
To rescue our education, Nigeria must prioritise teachers’ welfare and one way of doing this is by paying them joyful salaries, not tearful ones. Research has shown that the better teachers are paid, the higher the outcomes achieved by students. Conversely, poor salaries also result in poor student performance because poorly paid teachers lack motivation and passion for work.
Varkey Gem Foundation, based on the report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), not too long ago, listed the countries that pay teachers best to hierarchically include Singapore, USA, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Israel, Spain, France, Finland, Italy, New Zealand, Turkey, Portugal, Greece, Czech Republic, Brazil, China and Egypt. These are largely developed countries, implying that our development is a function of the attention we pay to education including those who educate others.
Nigeria does not appear on the list. The situation on ground is that teaching is not accorded much respect among us and our teachers are working under a large number of frustrating and de-motivating factors. The other day, a teacher was publicly slapped by a parent who felt that his child should not have been punished. The principal who sought to intervene had his own share of physical attack also from the unruly parent. The man knew that whatever he did, nothing would happen since the teacher and principal did not have the social and financial muscle to fight back. He was right!
Government owes the present and future generations a responsibility of attracting the best graduates to the classroom. The formula for this is to pay teachers well and make their work environment conducive. There is no reason for which competent and brilliant people run away from teaching except that they do not want to teach with tears. If good and consistent salary regime is put in place, many graduates ordinarily would like teaching because it is a profession that yields human dividends.
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I sympathise with you on the painful loss of your dear brother. I pray that Allah in His infinite mercies grant him eternal rest. Amen. – Aina Akindele Oyebanji, Ketu, Lagos State.