Written by the Editorial Board of The Guardian Newspaper
The threat the other day by the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) to embark on a nationwide strike action if the demands of its members are not met is understandable. The reasons are not far to seek. One of them is the worsening condition of workers including teachers across the federation, as a result of the prevailing economic downturn. The other reason is that if teachers are maltreated, there is no way education quality can improve, in this condition.
Besides, the biggest headache to most state governors at the moment is how to pay the backlog of salaries owed to teachers. The onus is on the government at all levels to do something about this unsettling situation because workers deserve their wages. What is more, welfare and security of the citizens have always been the primary purpose of government, according to our constitution as amended.
All these issues were re-echoed by the NUT on the occasion of this years’ World Teachers Day celebration in Abuja. Interestingly, the demands of the teachers’ body included adjustment of the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65.
Noting that every education system needs an appropriate quality and quantity of teachers to function properly, the union lamented that the sector had been plagued by a shortage of experienced professionals due to a high retirement rate without corresponding succession plans to fill the resultant vacancies.
The Union called on the government to ensure that the gratuities and monthly pensions of retired teachers are paid promptly.
Specifically, National President of NUT, Michael Olukoya, enjoined all tiers of government to pay up all salaries owed teachers to prevent education sector collapse.
Meanwhile, the NUT boss urged the Federal Government to ensure that only professionally trained and qualified persons are engaged in the proposed recruitment of 500,000 teachers to promote professionalism and effective service delivery in schools.
Furthermore, he implored government to take the teachers’ demands seriously to avoid the consequence of a nationwide strike. This demands should be taken very seriously as we cannot afford to trifle with education.
Meanwhile, teachers should be paid their entitlements. The quality of education depends on the quality of teachers. Unfortunately, the system is not treating teachers well. Teachers are regarded as the dregs of the society; people who have no need of the good things of life and so must manage life with crumbs thrown at them as salary whenever it comes. This is unacceptable.
A lot has been said about the appalling state of education in the country. The problems cut across the entire gamut of education from primary through secondary to tertiary level. There is absolutely no commitment anywhere in the country to turn around education. But of all the challenges, the way our leaders are treated deserves some special attention. How do we suggest teacher training, for instance, if the same teachers are not paid. Yet training the trainers too is an important component of the reform we would like to suggest.
Meanwhile, the issue of 65 years retirement age for teachers deserves priority attention. At 65years, one is not old to teach. Unlike before, there is improved public health condition making people to live longer. Even, university professors are retiring at 70. This does not foreclose giving chance to new blood in the system.
We need more experienced teachers in the system. Experience matters. They are the ones who understand the job and the ethics of the profession and are better placed to impart knowledge based on experience.
It is not that 65 years should be sacrosanct. It should depend on performance. There should be a way of determining those who are productive enough to retire at that age. A productivity template should, thus, be guiding the principle. While the productive ones should stay, the unproductive ones should retire at 60.
To make it work better, there should be opportunities for in-service training. Those not conversant with computer appreciation, for instance, should have opportunity to be trained. An assessment/performance evaluation should be done periodically. All promotions should be based on such evaluations.
Across most states, teachers are the last to receive salary at the end of every month. Many states owe teachers several months of salaries and allowances. The retired ones are not paid their entitlements. They are pushed to become beggarly, unable to fend for their families. This is wickedness in high places.
Sadly enough, there is no more dignity for teachers; the dignity for which teachers were known in the past has been undermined. In other climes, especially, in the developed economies, dignity and value are attached to teachers. Teachers in those climes are proud to belong to the profession.
If we must make progress, we have to return to the past when teachers were accorded dignity. The loss of dignity is at the root of the crisis. Unfortunately, quite often, people who have no value for knowledge are the ones planning for teachers. The basics that used to form the crux of the teaching profession have been eroded.
Truth is that nothing will improve education in the country so long as teachers are not factored into the scheme. In the olden days, teachers constituted the intellectual elite in the society. They were role models.
The way out is for government to pay special attention to teachers. It is ironic that at a time when unemployment rate is high, our schools still lack teachers because no one wants to be a teacher. What is worse, many teachers today are there for the job and not for the work. That should not be the situation. Teachers are part of knowledge workers that Peter Drucker, a management guru noted long ago that should be specially remunerated.
Government should come up with a new paradigm for teachers. The condition of service including remuneration package should be improved upon remarkably to attract the best brains. This is the only way education quality can be enhanced at all levels. There is a direct correlation between quality of education and quality of teachers.