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Date Published: 02/17/11

Teaching: An Endangered Profession By Grace Igbokwe

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Last year results of National Examination Council (NECO) and West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) have opened our eyes once again to the steady decline in quality of education in Nigeria. The summary of the results revealed that, of the total number of students that sat for NECO examinations, less than 2 percent of the students passed while 25 percent of students passed WAEC. Education experts, public analysts and other stakeholders in the sector have adduced many reasons for the decline. These include funding, incessant policy somersaults, decaying infrastructure, lack of research, lack of quality of teachers, dwindling academic staff, disappearing libraries, and students’ attitude to studies, among others.

Amongst these plethora of issues, the issues of funding, lack of quality teachers and dwindling academic staff have continued to directly impinge on the quality of outputs. All over the world, especially in the developed countries, teaching and medicine are the highest paid professions. These developed countries acknowledge the value of education, are committed to it and have followed it up with affirmative actions through funding and good pay for teachers. The role of education for sustainable development is in controvertible. It is not in doubt that the Asian miracle (catapulted from third world to first world) has been due, in no small measure, to massive investment in education. Thompson Ayodele and Olusegun Sofola argued that the decline in education in Nigeria is not funding, neither is it with the system, but on the quality of teachers who train the students. They noted that funding has increased considerably from 166.6 billion in 2006 to 220.9 billion in 2008 and 259 billion in 2010, without corresponding increase in output quality. They also noted that the recurrent expenditure has increased substantially in 2008 and 2009 to N168.6 billion and N184.6 billion respectively. The debate is not about the increment but on the rate of inflation over the years. When you compute the rate of inflation and the current expenditure on education, one would find out that nothing has increased in real terms. Even if there has been real increment, the question should be, is the current funding sufficient to tackle new educational challenges that are emerging? Have we reached the minimum percentage of funding (26 per cent) recommended by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Ours is a peculiar situation and needs peculiar action; we ought to exceed the minimum recommended by UNESCO in order to move beyond our present state. The level of government’s commitment to education is reflected in the funding. How can we cope in this era of globalization, if all we appropriate to education is just about  6 or seven per cent of the total budget?

Education is a system with sub-systems (involving practice and processes), where neglect in one part affects the whole system. Teachers have been grossly neglected with dire effect on teachers’ morale and its consequence -low quality of education. That a good number of teachers lack commitment and motivation is evident in the products. In modern management theory and practice, the role of commitment, and motivation (whether material or non-material) in organizational success cannot be underestimated. Staff motivation and commitment improve productivity because they make staff to have strong desire to remain members of the organization and the willingness to exert high levels of efforts on behalf of the organisation to help it succeed against all odds.

The question is, are the teachers sufficiently motivated to have a strong desire to remain in the profession and be willing to exert efforts to make the educational system succeed by providing quality teaching? Your guess is as good as mine is, no! This is simply because the government has not demonstrated enough commitment to invest in teachers’ cost, their maintenance cost and their recognition. The inability of government to meet the motivational needs of the teachers has led to massive brain drain across the academic circle.

How many of our teachers are given or have been given national awards? How many of them are accorded the kind of recognition given to the celebrities, winners of reality shows, and football players etc?

Teachers are not provided with an enabling environment to do their work efficiently and effectively. For instance, most departments in the universities are under-staffed and the teacher/ student ratio is high. Amongst those employed, some do not have offices. The workload is too much on the teachers especially, lecturers. A cursory observation of lecturer’s activities will reveal tasks such as consulting libraries, internet to have an up to date information on the particular course he/she is teaching, conducting research to improve practice, writing articles and books for publication so as to gain promotion, teaching the courses allocated to  him / her (some have up to 10 hours each day); conducting continuous assessment, marking and recording them; setting examinations for those courses; loading the scores into the university’s central examination data board; attending seminars, conferences and workshops, most of the time from their personal pockets; acting as cohort advisers and parents and supervising students’ projects and theses  etc. The list of their tasks is endless. When you assess the number of activities, an average teacher is involved in the teaching process, the mental and physical energies exerted into these tasks, you will but sympathize and empathize with them. How do you expect somebody who is overloaded to that breaking point to perform at his / her optimal level? Teachers are stress-ridden. An Igbo proverb says that a bachelor that is tapping wine and at the same time roasting yam will either have his wine spilling from the palm tree or have his yam burnt.

That the teaching profession has the least attractiveness for people even among the ‘dunciads’ in career choice is a common knowledge. The children of teachers do not want to be teachers for any reason. That a greater number of secondary school pupils will not choose teaching as a profession because it seems, as if, being a teacher is a curse is stating the obvious. The profession conjures the image of wretchedness, backwardness, poverty, and all the negative indices of development in Nigeria. That is why the best brains are not retained in the universities?  There is nothing inspiring about the profession except that the reward of teachers is in heaven. Well, it becomes a double tragedy if one finds oneself in hell; it will become hell on earth and hell in hell.

The university admission policy does not help in injecting the best brains into the teaching profession. Most of the candidates that are pushed to read education are those who could not reach the cut off point in the courses of their first or second choice. As a result we have in the faculty of education some sort of disgruntled, frustrated students who have no interest, motivation and commitment in the profession. During their course of study, if you ask them, the course he/she is studying, they will not tell you they are studying education; instead, they will tell you their teaching subjects – economics, physics, mathematics, geography etc. Some of them on getting the certificate run to other faculties to do their post-graduate studies, which often times is difficult because of their low grade. The unemployment situation in Nigeria has turned the teaching profession into a ‘dumping ground’ where anything goes, since most of the graduates in teaching are there not because they are interested in the profession but because they lack alternative. How do you make quality teachers out of these? For somebody to record high performance there must be interest, passion, motivation and commitment.

However, teachers have a fair share in the blame because the teachers themselves lack finesse, panache, creativity.  We are the ones to prop the profession. My dear colleagues, it is time we rose to the occasion, it is time we made some noise about this noble profession (if you have what it takes); carry yourself with a kind of decorum and dignity; not looking beggarly or always looking up to students or parents for something. Part of the move to make teaching attractive is to change the mode of dressing as this, will in no small measure raise the confidence level of teachers. As the saying goes, you are addressed the way you dress. We can dress smart without being flambouyant. The way some teachers dress, can make a dog bark; some wear slippers to classes. This is not a good sense of dressing. Teachers’ mode of dressing accounts, partly, for lack of interest shown by the younger ones to the profession who are instead ‘dying’ for jobs in the banking and oil sectors. All these border on low pay, neglect and lack of recognition. An Igbo proverbs says ‘if the society or somebody rejects you, you should not reject yourself’. We are the ones to repackage and rebrand the profession by having depths in our fields, in the methods, in the techniques and in the tools of the trade; by being proud of the profession and doing the work well, from there we can demand our rights for it is right and meet to do so, as Professor Nathan Uzoma Protus puts it ‘in justice we do our work; out of justice we demand our rights’.

As a nation, need to do first things first by giving priority to human development in word and indeed. Nothing comes out of nothing. Teachers are the golden hens that lay the golden eggs. If they are made of woods, they will lay wooden eggs. What you give is what you get. There is need for government to invest in staff development in the country. Teachers need exposure. They should be sponsored to travel abroad for short courses where they can interact with other teachers and learn how to use modern gadgets in teaching.

In furthering the rebranding and repackaging process, government should not just be prepared to attend to teachers’ motivational needs, they should consider education a crisis situation, mustering all their energies, resources and time to ensure that the country gets the best teaching force. More hands should be employed (not just any graduate but those who have passed the rigours and rudiments of training in the profession) firstly, to reduce teacher / student ratio, secondly, to break the tasks into smaller units so that the lecturers will devote more time, energy, strength and health to operate at their optimum level without  let or hindrance.

However, this is a nation where the Academic Staff Union of Universities has been on strike for nearly one session and our governors seem unperturbed. It is the height of moral debauchery, lunacy and cruel anomaly for the National Assembly to gulp up to 25 per cent of government’s recurrent expenditure annually while the teachers who train our children wallow in abject poverty. Productivity, relevance and how much values one adds to the national growth and development should be determinants for remuneration. What is mind-boggling is that some of our legislators, governors, commissioners, ministers, politicians were once school teachers or better still, were what they are because they were taught by teachers; even if the certificates they are parading were acquired through distance learning or correspondence, the course materials were written by somebody; even if the certificates are ‘Oluwole’, it was somebody that taught those ‘geniuses’ manufacturing the certificate. Teaching profession has become an endangered profession that needs to be repackaged and rebranded through funding so that we would have full baked graduates, that can compete in the global economy. No nation rises above its teaching force. Education is a serious business and therefore, should be treated with high level of seriousness that it deserves.

Grace Igbokwe. PhD

Lagos

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