By Offiong E. Offiong
The attention of the Cross River State Ministry of Education has been drawn to a publication in the Vanguard Newspaper of Thursday, March 18th, 2010 on the above subject matter. 

In view of insinuations made in the said publication, the Ministry considers it pertinent to put the records straight and douse the tension and sentiment which the publication seems to have generated.  The write up in its entirety is not only spurious but capable of portraying the administration of Senator Liyel Imoke, the Governor of Cross River State, who has contributed in no small measure to reposition Education in the State, in a bad light.

The exercise that calumniated in the retirement of the 924 teachers commenced in 2006.  The State Universal Basic Education in the course of monitoring and supervision of schools had discovered that a number of teachers engaged in the primary schools were unproductive and incompetent.

As a responsible Board, the leadership of the Board sought and obtained the approval of Government to conduct a State-wide screening of all primary school teachers with a view to fishing out incompetent and unproductive ones.  At the end of the exercise, 924 teachers were found to be incompetent and unqualified to continue as teachers.

Prof Offiong E. Offiong,Cross River State Commissioner for Education.

The names of these teachers were forwarded to Government for necessary approval to disengage them from the service.

It is pertinent to comment on the process that led to the recommendation for their disengagement.  While the reporter of the story amplified the issue of poor dressing as the criterion used in disengaging the affected teachers since that is what he wanted the public to believe, it is important for the public to know that the process involved assessing the appearance of each teachers which carried (20 marks), oral communication with 30 marks and intelligence (50 marks), screening of credentials and general competence of the teachers.

Besides, the reporter seemed to be in a hurry to run to the press than to check records to see for himself how dressing was weighted in the screening exercise.  It is therefore inconceivable that appearance which carried a maximum score of 20 marks out of a total of 100 marks should be responsible for the abysmal performance of the teachers and their subsequent disengagement.

What happened was that many of them could not answer short questions put across to them in their areas of specialization.  The present administration has made it clear that it has nothing to hide and has always followed due process in handling every component of governance.

Responsible journalism, we believe, demands that parties to an issue be given fair treatment/hearing before an inference is drawn from facts on ground.  But this seems not to be the case in this matter.

In the present situation, the question that should readily come to the mind is, what should government do in the circumstance?  To keep the incompetent and untrainable teachers in the service at the expense of the pupils?  Should the interest of the few affected teachers be placed above the interest of over 100,000 pupils in our public primary schools?

What is the relative impact of the damages on the pupils when they get to the secondary level of their education?  After a thorough assessment, the option was clear.  The interest of the pupils and their right to qualitative education is supreme and is above every other primordial sentiment.  As responsible government, the retirement of the affected teachers was inevitable.

This decision was informed by the need to compliment the effort of the present administration’s desire to provide access to qualitative education through the provision of infrastructures and the rehabilitation of the existing ones.    Government realized that if a conducive learning environment is provided in the school system, complemented with textbooks but, without the qualified teachers, interventions in other areas will not have the desired impact.

This is because teachers are the major actors in facilitating teaching and learning in the school system.    At the primary level, the need to have quality teachers is more compelling because if a solid foundation is not laid at this level, no structure that is subsequently built on it will stand.

The retirement of the 924 teachers should therefore be seen within the purview of the efforts of government to reposition education in the state.  We cannot afford to neglect the quality of the teachers in our educational system if we are to become a leading state.  This factor, the reporter in a bid to create impressions in the minds of the readers, failed to consider.

More important is the effort which the State Ministry of Education has made to dialogue with the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Cross River State Wing which the writer(s) either claimed ignorance of, or deliberately feigned it.

The Ministry had, upon receipt of the 21_day ultimatum from the NUT held a meeting with the leadership of the Union on 8th March, 2010.  During the meeting, both sides discussed very frankly on the issues, devoid of all forms of emotion and sentiments.  The leadership of the NUT admitted that there were incompetent teachers in the system.

Their major appeal was that some of the teachers had improved in their competence, and asked that the issue be revisited.

Other issues raised, such as the appearance fee charged by the Joint Disciplinary Committee of the Boards have been addressed.  It is important to note that in retiring the teachers, Government is not unmindful of the hard economic times everybody is passing through, hence, their retirement with full benefits.

The writer also alluded to the non-payment for some months of the UBE teachers without considering the effort of the present administration geared toward resolving the challenges associated with their re_absorption.  It would be recalled that it is the present administration that approved the absorption of the 1,000 participants of the Federal Teachers Scheme, now called UBE teachers.  This singular effort by the Governor, one would think, should have received commendation.

It is however, gratifying that every step taken by the present administration in the education sector, as in all other sectors, is in the over all interest of the generality of Cross Riverians.  The retirement of the 924 teachers is expected to pave way for recruitment of more competent teachers in our school system.

While we sympathize with the families of the NUT Chapter Chairman who died in an accident and the other one who is alleged to have hung himself, it is imperative that we put the records straight.  The late NUT Chapter Chairman was returning from the house of one of his girl friends at about 5.00am riding a motorcycle without headlights when he crashed on another oncoming motorcyclist and later died.

It is therefore unfair to link his death to the retirement of teachers to whip up sentiments.   Our reflection on the issue of the retirement of the 924 incompetent teachers should be devoid of emotions but the over riding interest of the generality of Cross Riverians.

It is pertinent to note that prior to the publication under reference, the State Governor, as a listening Governor had approved the constitution of a Committee to review the cases based on the submission by the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry will like to emphasize that balanced reporting is the hallmark of responsible journalism and we expect nothing less.  The doors of the Ministry of Education are always open for cross checking of all matters that affect it by all media houses.

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.