By Jerome-Mario Utomi
President Muhammadu Buhari, Pursuant to section 58 ( 2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), recently, transmitted to the Senate, a harmonised retirement age for teachers in Nigeria Bill 2021 for consideration. This latest move is geared towards formalising the promise made few months ago by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to review upward the retirement age of teachers and their years of service.
While reading the new letter to members on the floor of the Senate, Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, explained that the harmonised retirement age for teachers in Nigeria Bill 2021 seeks to increase the retirement age for teachers from 60 to 65 years, and also increase the possible years of service from 35 to 40 years.
Since then, the development has received a torrent of commendations and glowing tributes. The reason for this is not far to seek. First, education typifies the bedrock of development of any nation. ‘With sound educational institutions, a country is as good as made as the institutions will turn out all-rounded manpower to continue with the development of the society driven by well-thoughtout ideas, policies, programmes and projects’.
In the same line of argument, development experts are in agreement that teachers play a strategic role in nation building and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. Second and very key, is that governments and parents across the world appear to have come to terms with the fact that as soon as their children step into the school:
“The single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the colour of their skin or where they come from; it’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is. It’s the person who will brave some of the most difficult schools, the most challenging children, and accept the most meager compensation simply to give someone else the chance to succeed”.
Again, pondering over this decision by the Federal Government, it is obvious that there exists, to some extent, this time around peripheral reasons to applaud the latest step particularly as teachers have often provided great leadership and innovation in ensuring that no learner is left behind, working individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue. But an objective analysis of the policy direction reveals that it is laced with limited options.
It will be of considerable importance to this intervention to stress that, aside retirement age, there are many objective concerns that teachers in Nigeria daily wrestle with. There are so many challenges other than retirement age they need the Federal Government to find answers to. In the same vein, talking about the falling standard of education in the country, it has nothing to do with early or late retirement of teachers, but principally a function of other factors militating against learning in the country.
Reviewing upward the retirement age of teachers and their years of service without first reforming/reworking the nation’s education policy to suite the 21st century industry and knowledge demand could be likened to curing the symptom of an ailment while leaving the root cause to thrive.
Tragically unique is the question that if this Bill sails and teachers’ retirement age is extended, what becomes the fate of our fresh graduates who spire to become teachers, particularly now that unemployment in the country has recently shot up?
President Muhammadu Buhari agrees with this because during the celebration of the world teacher’s day 2020, he emphatically stated that only great teachers can produce excellent people and students who will make the future of our country great. It is a fact that a teacher will have either a positive or negative influence on any child under his tutelage.
Going by the above agreement, it is my opinion that as a nation, if we are desirous of encouraging our teachers to help our children as well as build the nation, the first step to take is payment of attention to discipline with regards to education policies and training and retraining processes.
At this point, we must not also fail to remember that the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers recognises this fact. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment and teaching and learning conditions.
Aside the fact that the sector has in the past witnessed series of similar promises from previous administrations, many believe that solution to education sector challenges in Nigeria cannot be found in ‘bogus promises’ such as increasing teachers’ retirement age; rather, it’s about government going back to the drawing board to bring back teachers training colleges. It has become imperative for governments to address/rework education policy in Nigeria.
The education sector in Nigeria and teachers who are the bedrock are often hindered by serious challenges which include but not limited to payment of lip service, and in some cases, total abandonment of the National Policy on Education by successive governments through perennial underfunding of the sector. And in more damaging cases, the money government voted for running the sector does not get to the schools, and the little that gets there is normally wasted by those whose responsibility it is to manage the schools.
It has not been an easy road for Nigerian teachers. Since May 1999, when the return the return to democratic governance, it has been a tough and tumble ride. Most dehumanising is that they(teachers) presently receive minimum wage from government and private operators at a time the global community is preaching living wage.
This is happening in spite of the fact that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms that education is a fundamental human right for everyone and this right was further detailed in the Convention Against Discrimination in Education. The right to education is a human right and indispensable for the exercise of other human rights because quality education aims to ensure the development of a fully-rounded human being.
It is one of the most powerful tools in lifting socially excluded children and adults out of poverty and into society. UNESCO data shows that if all adults completed secondary education, globally the number of poor people could be reduced by more than half. It narrows the gender gap for girls and women. A UN study also showed that each year of schooling reduces the probability of infant mortality by 5 to 10 per cent.
*Utomi, Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy, SEJA, Lagos, wrote via: [email protected]