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Deepening rot in education sector triggers alarm

This is the second part of the report, by Ebele Orakpo, which was first published yesterday. It continues with the argument in support of a state of emergency in the education sector.

ACCORDING to Prof. Udo Jacob:  “Sadly, it is only when stories like these   emerge that we tend to take notice of the problem with our educational system. But who cares? Children of the elite are at some of the best private primary and secondary schools despite the ridiculously high costs. Who sends his/her children to public primary and secondary schools these days? It is the poorest of the poor.”

In his response, Mr. Amed Demirhan, General Manager/Director at Barzani National Memorial in Kurdistan said: “The major issue of illiterate teachers is as a result of poor education from elementary school to teacher training schools.” Describing government primary schools as a disaster, Prof. (Mrs) Joanne Umolu, professor of Special Education and Director, Open Doors for Special Learners in Jos, said: “I used to work with local government schools in a literacy training programme and also, I did quite a lot of testing in those schools.

“My radical conclusion has been that it’s better to declare state of emergency in the education sector than to pretend there is anything like education going on with all that money going down the drain. However, I suspect that government schools in Jos are achieving more than those in rural northern areas like in Kaduna State.”

Enumerating the major issues in the Education sector, the Zonal Co-ordinator, National Teachers’ Institute, North-Central Zone, Dr. (Mrs.) Nwogo Ekpunobi, said: “Rejects from JAMB are taken by Colleges of Education because cut-off mark for UME is made higher than that for Colleges of Education. Other issues are those of qualification of the teachers and lack of continuing professional development.”

Chicken/Egg debate: The issue of illiterate teachers and students has been likened to the chicken and egg debate. Did we get to this sorry state because of the unattractiveness of the teaching profession and the low status attached to teachers, hence the attraction of the academically poor, or was it the unattractiveness of the profession that made it the last resort for those who have nothing ‘better’ to do?

Mrs. Jane Olatunji-Hughes, a consummate educationist with years of experience in Nigeria’s education sector spanning 39 years said: “The status of teachers is now so low that no person will enter the profession unless they are incapable of anything else.”

Said Okuneye: “One will not be wrong to say that teachers face problems as a result of the societal attitude towards them. The profession has been used as a dumping ground to which every failed job applicant resorts pending when he/she gets something better. If there is any profession that requires public sympathy and understanding in Nigeria, it is of course the teaching profession.”

Generation  of illiterates

“In 2009, we found no primary six pupil in Kaduna, Kano or Jigawa State with any word recognition skills at all. It was a small research in state schools only, but no one who has attended private school would expect the degradation of being a teacher these days. And if teachers could not read when they were in primary school, what could they have learnt in secondary school?” asked Olatunji-Hughes.

Problem not new: On the Kaduna case, the Zonal Co-ordinator, National Teachers’ Institute, North-West Zone, Mr. Yakubu Aka’aba had this to say: “This matter has been in existence since Makarfi era when he was the governor of Kaduna State. The government then had compiled the list of teachers to be booted out for low qualification and inefficiency.

However, since the political will was not there, the administration could not implement the committee’s report.”

Noted Hughes: “This is nothing new. When I was a headmistress from 1982 to 1991, the private schools used to test people applying for jobs to see if they could do upper primary mathematics and most failed.”

How did we get here? Respondents all agree that the problem has been in the education system for long, but how did we get here? They mentioned corruption, poor funding, poor teacher education, poor quality teachers, poor curriculum, lack of interest, neglect of first three years of education, etc as some of the causes of the rot in Nigeria’s education sector.

Poor teacher quality: “The poor outcomes of the education system are strongly linked to quantitative and qualitative shortcomings in Nigeria’s teacher stock. According to the World Development Indicators Database in 2010, only 66.15 per cent of primary education teachers were properly trained. The database has no information on the training level of secondary teachers, but we would assume the ratios to be about the same.

“Other sources say 57 per cent and more than 50 per cent, respectively, of basic education teachers are unqualified or under-qualified…it seems safe to conclude that as many as one third of the current population of primary and secondary teachers are under-prepared or unprepared for their jobs,” said Ensign and Bertrand.

They concluded from the statistics gathered that “out of Nigeria’s 574,078 primary and 273,781 secondary education teachers in 2010, only around 550,000 were properly trained while about 300,000 were not. Given that other estimates classify as many as 50 per cent of the teacher population as untrained, we believe that our estimate of 300,000 primary and secondary teachers needing training is conservative.”

Mr. Daniel Iyam, Founder, IYAM Media & Education Place said there are two major issues – “Obsolete curriculum and poorly trained and unmotivated manpower.” Chinese philosopher and reformer, Confucius, made this profound statement which is relevant in education: “I hear and I  forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”

Recruitment  not by merit

The mass failure of teachers in Kaduna State is not the first time. It has happened in Kwara and Edo states some years back. Teachers at Basic (primary) education level are recruited by State Universal Education Boards and Local Government Education Authorities. Most of these recruitments are not done by merit. Most of the officials at the top recruit their relatives who are not qualified because they want to provide jobs for them.

“According to the National Policy on Education, ‘No Education System can Rise above the Quality of its Teachers,” said Mrs Nwogo Ekpunobi.

An inquiry into the reasons for high graduate unemployment found that “inadequate technical knowledge, deficient English proficiency and lack of critical thinking on the part of graduate employees coupled with high technological drive of most organisations in response to tougher competition in the competitive markets, are the factors responsible for graduate unemployment in Nigeria,” noted Ensign and Bertrand.

Teacher training colleges/corruption: “It is a systemic problem and one must look at the situation at the teacher training colleges and the colleges of education. Look closely and you will find the dirty hands of corruption everywhere. How did these teachers get their jobs? How did they make it through the teacher training colleges? What is happening to our colleges of education?” asked Jacob.

Functional illiterates: Demirhan absolutely agrees with Jacob’s submission as he posed the same question in his response. He said: “How this individual moved that far in the education system need to be questioned. However, even in a country like USA, one could find functional illiterates graduating from high schools. A functionally illiterate teacher is dangerous for everyone.”

Continuing, Jacob said:“It clearly shows the rot and decadence in the Nigerian education system. Over the years, there has been a lot of attention on higher education and issues of access to primary education. There hasn’t been enough attention on the quality of teaching particularly at secondary and primary school levels. The consequence is that deep rot and corruption has easily eaten up our public primary and secondary schools.”

Okebukola mentioned two major factors that contributed in bringing Nigeria’s education sector to its knees. “The Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, brought in its wake, the devaluation of the naira. More or less overnight, the money available to educational institutions, especially universities, depreciated by about 200 per cent.”

Neglect of first three years: Describing failure in the school system as a national disaster, Olatunji-Hughes noted that “the neglect of the first three years when education should be about skills rather than knowledge content, has undermined the basic foundation,” talk about constructing a building without foundation! Of course, it will not stand! She regretted that “teacher trainers with their children safe in private schools, neither know nor care about the problem and have no idea how to teach education students how to teach reading skills or basic mathematics concepts. I wrote a paper once about the need to return to the three Rs (reading,  writing and ‘rithmetic).”

Government  neglect

Jacob blamed successive governments for the current state of the education sector. He said: “The sad truth is that successive governments, going back to the military governments of the mid-1980s, have failed Nigeria. You can damage any other sector, and somehow still expect a country to pull itself up, but when you damage education, this is the greatest harm you can bring upon any nation. Nigerian political and military elite have failed a whole generation.”

Speaking in the same vein, Aka’aba equally blamed successive governments for the rot in the sector. He said: “Successive governments find it difficult to weed out the teachers. However, El-Rufai was bold enough to take this major step. Who were these teachers? Going through the records, teaching is a profession that anybody who does not belong to the group can always find employment in. Teaching is a profession which ethics are not strictly followed like medicine or law. You cannot find an engineer coming to be a doctor.

“Coming back to the Kaduna case, I went through the records and what I found out was baffling. Many certificates I saw were school certificates or GCE O’ level. Many of the sacked ‘teachers’ were actually not teachers but cheats. This set of people found their way into teaching through the politicians. Some of them were actually used during the political campaigns and elections and needed to be compensated. So, the teaching profession was the readily available alternative.”

Poor curriculum content/delivery: Another factor that contributed in bringing education system to where it is now is poor curriculum content/delivery. Okebukola noted that the “practical work where students will acquire skills needed for job creation is the exception rather than the rule. At the secondary level, the handicap of facilities, large classes and teachers who lack practical skills themselves, contribute to practicals not being conducted with the frequency they deserve. Projects which will equip students with skills for job creation are hardly encouraged mainly on account of having to cover an overloaded examination syllabus.”

He described an ideal teacher as one who can deliver the entrepreneurial curriculum that will spurn job creators and be the model of good and exemplary service.

“The teacher should exude love of country and core values of honesty, shunning corrupt practices, demonstration of religious tolerance, honesty and fear of God. For the teacher, service delivery entails prompt attendance at school, not missing classes, effective class management, effective delivery of and evaluation of lessons; rendering effective learner support and general accountability to the school system and to the society,” Okebukola said.

Getting our priorities right: Okebukola must have had Newton’s first law of motion in mind when he noted that “On these measures, the typical Nigerian teacher is not intrinsically motivated to deliver on the services unless an external force such as sanctions are applied.” The law says that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force.

“The examination system is tailored towards the recalling of facts and token application and less on problem-solving which will stimulate job-creation skills. Since the system is primed to favour certificates, students and their teachers are not encouraged to venture into learning about techniques of problem-solving and designing of projects to solve problems. These are considered waste of time. To them, the time is better spent on cramming short answers to questions demanding recall of facts in their biology, geography, commerce and other subjects,” he said.

Way forward: While sharing the desires of parents at the CPEN conference, a parent, Mrs. Helen Essien posited that teachers can only give what they have just as we say garbage in, garbage out in computer language. “Teachers have a great influence on children, hence, the need for quality teachers. Nigeria needs a knowledge-based and knowledge-driven economy and that can only be achieved through quality education.”

Revolution needed

For Drs. Ensign and Bertrand, nothing short of a revolution is needed in the Nigerian education sector to get the needed result. “Transformative steps needed to reverse or at least redirect a nation’s priorities are almost always revolutionary in nature.

“They shock the system into action, which then creates the needed demand and interest to sustain that action. Only a revolutionary new approach well conceived and supported, can have the impact needed to take Nigerian youth to the point of world participation.

Training of teachers not enough: “Simply providing training to these 300,000 teachers will not be enough. UNESCO classifies Nigeria as one of 29 countries facing a severe teacher shortage and estimates that the country will need to recruit an additional 375,479 primary teachers by 2015 in order to achieve the goal of universal primary education (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2012).

In 2012, Muhammad Junaid, then Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Colleges of Education, had put the need for additional teachers even higher as he included the sub-sectors – early childhood care and education, nomadic education, primary and junior secondary education; and estimated that an additional 1,300,000 teachers need to be trained and recruited.

Educational problems: “The overwhelming need for recruiting, training, and retraining is confronted with the current supply issue of around 68,000 new trained teachers a year (National Bureau of Statistics, 2013).

“Thus, given these numbers to resolve the current problem would take almost 20 years by which time the population of young Nigerians would have doubled requiring yet another doubling of teaching resources. “In short, the current structure and system cannot solve the problem. Drastic action is needed if Nigeria is going to just cover its current need.”


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