By Adesina Wahab

October 5 is dedicated to celebrating teachers for their contributions to the development of the society globally. The celebration of the day started in 1994 following the adoption of the 1966 recommendations of the International Labour Organisation, ILO/ United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, report on the Status of Teachers.    

Therefore, for nearly two decades, teachers across the world have been coming out in large numbers to mark their day on October 5.  

Gains of celebrating the day

The celebration and recognition of a special day for teachers have brought some goodies to the lives of teachers in some parts of Nigeria in terms of career progression, cash and other rewards. Recall that it was during the celebration of the day during the tenure of Senator Bola Tinubu as the Governor of Lagos State that teachers in secondary schools were given the opportunity to be promoted to the position of Tutor-General, the equivalent of a Permanent Secretary in the core civil service. Also, former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State elevated the day to a real celebration galore for teachers while in office.

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Apart from promoting deserving teachers to the position of Tutor-General, he also complemented that with cash and car prizes to deserving ones among them. The Oluyemi Kayode Stadium, Ado-Ekiti, which served as the venue for the event during Fayose’s tenure, was always in a carnival-like mood during the Teachers Day when Fayose held sway in Ekiti.

How Coronavirus hit the sector

However, the Coronavirus outbreak in the country and the subsequent closure of schools for about six months, has made this year a special one, as the wound inflicted on the education sector by the pandemic is far from healing. Across the globe, over 3 billion students and over 150 million teachers were locked out of school for varied lengths of time.  

For teachers, the hardest hit are those in private schools. This is because many went without salary for months, many lost their jobs and even some private school owners opted out of the sector, with some converting their classrooms to accommodation for people to rent. Some school owners sold their properties off.

Palliatives for teachers

During the lockdown of the country, the government did some palliatives for some people and even, pupils/students in government schools benefitted from the School Feeding Programme, though it raised a lot of dust. Up until now, teachers in private schools, who did not collect salary during the period like their counterparts in public schools, are still waiting for their palliatives from the government.

At the peak of the lockdown, any member of the Concerned Parents and Educators, CPE, who is not a teacher or who teaches in government school, would not have anything but pity for teachers in private schools. 

The forum is just one of the many that focus on education-related matters. Almost on a daily basis, teachers who were not being paid would come to the platform to recount their ordeals. 

The development made the Founder of CPE, Mrs Yinka Ogunde, to initiate a number of programmes to assist them. The group started by raising over N7 million to buy food items for distribution to teachers. Some were given cash. Also, a programme where a teacher would send his account details to the platform, briefly stating his or her financial situation and such a teacher would be ‘adopted’ by a benefactor who would credit the account with whatever he or she has, also held.

“We need to encourage and celebrate our teachers. They are helping us to mould our children who are the leaders of tomorrow.   Teachers exert a lot of influence on their students because learners spend more time in school than at home except during holiday period and the unusual situation that the pandemic foisted on us,” she stated

Why teachers must be celebrated

Despite the odds and the new normal we now have on hand, teachers must still be celebrated, according to the Chief Executive Officer/ Registrar of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, TRCN, Prof. Josiah Ajiboye. He has said teachers in the country and indeed the world over should be celebrated for their resilience and coping with new developments in the education sector brought about by the outbreak of Coronavirus disease.

He added that with this year’s theme being “Leading in crisis: Reimagining the future,” the importance of teachers being the pathfinders in such a situation like the current pandemic should be emphasised.

“COVID-19 has impacted on all sectors. It led to billions of pupils and students staying at home for months across the globe. Also, millions of teachers were affected too. As we speak, not all students and teachers have gone back to school.  

“In the midst of all this, out teachers have been resilient and are bracing up to the task ahead. For teachers to be able to cope better with the new normal, they must be ingenuous and be up and doing,” he noted.

On some of the challenges facing the teaching profession, Ajiboye noted that poor salary was top of the list. He  also canvassed according teachers due recognition and not seeing them as those at the lower rung of the ladder.

Celebrating the day modestly

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s celebration was low key. In Lagos, the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT, converged on the NUT Pavilion in Agidingbi, Ikeja, where they marked their day in a modest way. 

Last year, the event held at the Sports Complex of the University of Lagos, UNILAG, in Akoka, where various branches of the union were present.  

Celebrating the day in Lagos, the state government promised to send teachers who excelled during a recent training organised for them on digital skills for further training in Microsoft office in the United States of America.

The Commissioner for Education, Mrs Folashade Adefisayo,  who disclosed this, but who did not give the number of teachers that would benefit from the training, said the beneficiaries would go as soon as the Coronavirus pandemic is over.

“We are now in a new normal as far as education is concerned. Teachers   must move to the new level and embrace digital skills. The pandemic has shown us that school is more than the buildings. 

The Lagos State Government has been proactive and we have been raising the digital levels and skills of our teachers.

“The pandemic has also taught us some lessons. It has made people to be open minded and to take risks. 

Though our road was rough, we were able to find a solution to the problem,” she said.

Speaking on the occasion, the Lagos State Chairman of the NUT, Otunba Adesina Adedoyin, while thanking the state government for promoting teachers,and   paying them regularly, noted that a lot still has to be done. 

He  urged the government to also allow deserving primary school teachers to rise to the position Headmaster General/ Permanent Secretary so as to enhance their career progression.

He also listed overcrowded classrooms, shortage of teachers and the non-payment of retired teachers among the challenges facing the teaching profession in the state.

“We also want special allowances paid to teachers in riverine and rural areas so as to stem rural-urban migration. We also want our primary school teachers to benefit from the Lagos State Health Insurance Scheme.  

“We also appeal for more buses to be deployed in our education districts, as our members cover long distances to get to work. Such strenuous trips do take toll on their efficiency and effectiveness. Some of the buses are no longer in good condition,” he said.

Delivering the lecture to mark the day, Dr S.O.S Enomhen, opined that salaries, and wages of teachers must be reformed.

He also called for training and retraining of teachers for them to excel and not be left behind by changes in the profession.  

The theme for the celebration was “Leading in crisis, re-imagining the future.”    

However, unlike previous years, private school owners, under the aegis of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools   NAPPS, and their teachers were conspicuously absent. The reason is not far fetched, they were hard hit by tbe Coronavirus pandemic, and are just trying to stay afloat.

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