There is a refrain that a teacher’s reward is in heaven, an acknowledgement that he plays a preeminent role in nation-building even as he is being made to hold the wrong end of the national reward stick, particularly in Nigeria.
It has not always been that way. Time was in this country when teachers were treated as royals. Today, they are the wretched of the earth and Nigerians are aware of it.
But why would this generation insult teachers, professionals in their own right, by telling them that their reward is in heaven when every other professional, including politicians who make the authoritative allocation of our collective values, get their rewards here and now?
Many wonder where Nigeria missed it.
We missed it at the point where we relegated teachers to the backroom of inappositeness and irrelevance because they play a great role in the development of any country.
Education is a fundamental aspect of national development, and a close look at every country that has become an economic and technological success will reveal, as the University of the People, UoPeople, aptly put it: “Teachers are arguably the most important members of those societies.”
UoPeople is the first non-profit, American-accredited, tuition-free online university dedicated to opening access to higher education globally.
Teachers give children purpose, set them up for success as global citizens and inspire in them a drive to do well and succeed in life.
Since the children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow, teachers play the invaluable role of making a child ready for the future because it is universally agreed that knowledge and education are the basis for all things that can be accomplished in life.
“Teachers provide the power of education to today’s youths, thereby giving them the possibility for a better future. If the youths of a society are educated, a bright future is born. Teachers provide the education that improves quality of life, therefore bringing so much to both individuals and society as a whole,” UoPeople noted.
“Teachers increase productivity and creativity of students and therefore, of future workers. When students are pushed to be creative and productive, they are more likely to be entrepreneurial and make technological advances, ultimately leading to economic development of a country.”
So, Nigeria is what it is today because we got our priorities wrong. And we got our priorities wrong because we neglected teachers by upending the reward system.
A political thug who becomes a councillor takes home thousands, if not millions, of naira every month while a teacher wallows in penury.
The consequences of our bad choices is that people started avoiding the teaching profession like a plague. In other countries, the brightest are recruited into the teaching profession. In Nigeria, the reverse is the case.
Hardly does anyone, even those who read education, choose teaching as first choice career. Many of those who end up teaching simply don’t have an alternative.
So, when President Muhammadu Buhari, in commemoration of the 2020 World Teachers Day on October 5, announced a raft of policy measures to improve the lot of teachers, including a special salary scale, he got a resounding applause even from his most strident critics.
Buhari, who spoke through Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, said the implementation of the new salary scheme was to encourage teachers in delivering better service.
Not only that, he said there will be a special pension scheme to enable the teaching profession retain experienced talents as well as extend teachers retirement age to 65 years and the number of years of service from 35 to 40.
Acknowledging that teachers have the power to shape and reshape the lives of young people and help learners to enhance their potentials, Buhari enthused: “Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great.
“A positive or negative influence of a teacher on any child will have an effect on that child. Therefore, the Federal Government is ensuring quality education.”
Buhari also said his administration had resolved that quality education of teachers in terms of engagement of continued professional development has to be given priority.
To attract investment in the teaching profession, Buhari promised special salary scale for teachers in primary and secondary schools, including “provisions for rural posting allowance, science teachers allowance and peculiar allowance,” building of low-cost housing for teachers in rural areas, sponsorship to at least one refresher training per annum to benchmark best practices for improved teaching and learning and expansion of the annual Presidential Teachers and Schools Awards to cover more categories.
Buhari also approved the reintroduction of bursary award to education students in universities and colleges of education with the assurance of automatic employment upon graduation and payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students and automatic employment after graduation.
To crown it, he said the Tertiary Education Fund, TETFUND, will now fund teaching practice in universities and colleges of education.
“My administration has resolved that quality education of teachers in terms of engagement of continued professional development has to be given priority,” he said.
If the president follows through with these promises, then teachers’ reward will no longer be in heaven. It will be here and now, as it should. This is tantamount to the declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector, which is long overdue.
By virtue of the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria Act 31 of 1993, teaching is a profession and should, therefore, not be an all-comers affair. It should not be a profession for never-do-wells.
As professionals, teachers should be treated with respect and dignity just like other professionals in the society. They should be well remunerated so as to attract the best hands.
Many Nigerians are skeptical about these pronouncements coming from Buhari. They wonder, using a Biblical parlance, if Saul was also one of the prophets.
But I am not.
On this score, the president has done well and must be praised for the courageous move. But since the devil will always be in the detail, Buhari must go beyond mere pronouncement to walk his talk.
The big elephant in the room is the fact that education is in the Concurrent Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution. For effectiveness, this policy must be national and not limited to only teachers employed by the Federal Government.
Yet, it is doubtful if the Federal Government had discussions with the states beforehand, so as to secure their buy-in. Most states are still struggling to pay the N30,000 national minimum wage. Meeting up with the extra cost which this policy will entail will be a tall order.
Yet, there is no other route to national development except through education and a well-motivated workforce remains the key because as Buhari noted, to address Nigeria’s developmental challenges and set the country on the path of industrialisation, the education sector must produce the manpower with valuable skill-sets.
This cannot be achieved by teachers whose reward is only in heaven.