By Funmi Komolafe
FROM the 36 states and Abuja, they converged in Asaba, the Delta State capital for the 4th quadrennial delegates conference of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT,Â one of the affiliates of theÂ Â Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC.
Nigeria Union ofÂ Teachers,Â NUT, is an affiliate of NLC that cannot be ignored.Â It is not only the biggest in terms of membership, also, its members hold leadership position in many state councils of NLC.Â It is also the union of the current president of the NLC, Comrade AbdulwaheedÂ Ibrahim Omar.
The NUT has had its own share of internal squabbles but this has been managed with maturity and personal sacrifice of many prominent individuals who hold key positions in the union.
Omar, was still president of theÂ NUT when he got elected president of NLC yet the union remained intact.
Deputy presidentÂ of NLC, Comrade Peters Adeyemi, in his solidarity message to the conference, singled out ComradeÂ Omar for promoting and sustaining a united union.
The Swedish Teachers unionÂ in a message signed by its president, Eva – Lis Siren congratulated the NUT for its important work onÂ the rightÂ to quality education of all children and for the teachersâ€™ professionalÂ and trade union rights.
The National Union of Teachers, United Kingdom in a message signed by its general secretary, Christine BlowerÂ said it â€œ recognizeÂ the decades of serious determinationÂ and efforts by UnionÂ to establish fair conditions, pay and salary structures for teachers in Nigeriaâ€.
Urge Govt to focus more on education
Then president of the NUT, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar in his address to delegates expressed the views of the union on the state of education in Nigeria.
He said, â€œ The NUT laments the present state of education in the country especiallyÂ at the primary and post primary school levels as education at both levels continue to face serious difficulties followingÂ the uncoordinated nature of government policies and actions, coupled with the absolute neglect of the teachers welfare needs, poor infrastructural facilities and un-conducive learning and teachingÂ environment..
Presently, education in the country has been balkanized to the extentÂ that different sets of schools nowÂ exist in the country for different classes of children with some well-furnished , properly maintained and well-equipped to take care of the children of the highly placed inÂ the societyÂ in the name of private schools, while others exist as public schoolsÂ with serious infrastructural decay, un-motivated teaching staff and poor staffing left to be attended by the children of the poorâ€.
The attitude of the Federal Government -Â Omar said, â€œ Only recently, theÂ federal government re-echoedÂ her positive skewness towards this divide and support for elitist schools at the expenseÂ of the public schools when it rejectedÂ negotiating with NUTÂ on the Enhanced Teachers Allowances geared towards motivatingÂ the public school teachersÂ for greater productivity in the work place.Â The federal government rather chose to allowÂ the children of the poor to remain at home for over two monthsÂ but the intervention of the Governorsâ€™ ForumÂ probably the strike action would haveÂ been left to last for over a yearâ€.
Save education- Urging the federalÂ and state governments to save the education system fromÂ total collapse, Omar said,Â â€œ The Union therefore calls on the federal and state governments to give priorityÂ attention to the funding of public schools and also stop the growing trend of returning existing public schoolsÂ to voluntary agencies instead of providing fundsÂ for the schools to meet up with modern challengesÂ and the ever growing population of children of school ageâ€™.
What the union would do?Â Omar who is also the president of theÂ Nigeria Labour Congress said, â€œ The Union once again reiterates her determination to continue to resistÂ any attemptsÂ to price education out of the reach of the poor through commercialization of primary and secondary education under the guise of return ofÂ schools to missionaries and voluntary agenciesâ€.
Education for all by 2015 may remain a dream
The union and its members have a doubt about Nigeria attaining the Millennium Development Goal of Education for all by 2015 and they said it loud for all to hear.
â€œ Today, more than ever before, happenings in the nationâ€™s educationÂ system indicate that the dream of Education For All by 2015 might not be realizedÂ after allâ€. Why?Â The teachers said â€œ For the pastÂ four years , ratherÂ than an improvement , public educationÂ has driftedÂ further into the woods.Â Federal and State governmentsÂ have failedÂ to invest reasonable fundsÂ in the sector.Â InfrastructuralÂ facilities in schools remain dilapidated all over the country.Â Laboratories and LibrariesÂ are not common featuresÂ inÂ schools, instructional materials are grossly lacking while teachers development and welfare are yet to be given due attentionâ€.
Regrettably, there is mass failure of students in school certificate examinations in the country.Â This situationÂ makes our choice of them yearâ€™s theme â€œ InvestmentÂ in the teachersâ€™â€ most apt and relevantâ€.
The way forward
TThe teachers made suggestions on how to improve the educational system.
â€œ For the nation to make any appreciable mark in meeting the goals of Education for All ( EFA)Â and the home grownÂ vision 20:20:20, investment in the Nigerian teacher is key.Â Government must not pay lip serviceÂ to teachersÂ matters but must develop a robous and practical policy on teachers training and retraining, employment, professional development, remuneration and reward system that will not only promoteÂ job satisfaction and retain certificated teachers on the job but also attractÂ other brilliant ones to the profession.
That, there is acute teachers shortage in schools all over the country is not debatable.Â Poor conditions of work has brought about brain-drain in the education industry and records in our Universities show that many students accept admissions in the FacultyÂ of Education as the last resort.
This means that if appropriate steps are not taken to improve the status of the Nigerian teachersÂ and make the teaching profession attractive,Â the nation will find it difficult to secure the right quantity and quality of teachersÂ that will drive the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme for the achievement of set goals.
It is therefore imperative that governments at the Federal, State and Local levels takeÂ the bold step to revamp the education systemÂ by working towards the UNESCO benchmark of 26% of their budgets to invest in Education and the teachersâ€.