Public schools in Kaduna State reopened on January 10, 2022 for the Second term of the 2021/2022 academic session with a directive to migrate to the four-day work policy. The directive came five weeks after the government reduced the working week for all civil servants in the state from five to four days on December 1, 2021, directing them to work from Monday through Thursday. According to the government, the measure will “boost productivity, improve work-life balance and enable workers to have more time for their families, for rest and for agriculture”. It further explained that the 2021/2022 academic calendar would be adjusted to ensure coverage of the curriculum for the academic session.
Since the idea was first proposed by British labour unions a century ago, four-day working week has grown increasingly popular around the world following very successful trials by companies and local governments, and the changes wrought in working patterns by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Iceland, 86% of the country’s 250,000 workforce now work from Monday through Thursday with the same pay following positive results from a four-year trial between 2015-2019. Only last week, a six months’ four-day week pilot scheme was launched in the UK by more than 30 companies, among them the electronic giant, Canon. Similar trials are also underway in the US, Spain, Australia and New Zealand.
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According to the 4-Day Week UK campaign, a British advocacy group campaigning for the policy, various trial results have shown that the policy has improved both productivity and profits, reduced unemployment, boosted tourism and work-life balance by allowing employees more free time for parenting, leisure and other non-work aspects of life that are just as important to families, the economy and society.
Thus, while the adoption of this new policy by the Kaduna State government reflects true federalism in Nigeria where each state has the right to enact legislation for its own development, it is however fraught with fundamental problems. First, while in almost all reported cases, policy adoption has followed evidence-based trials and training of staff to manage transition challenges, there is little indication that the policy in Kaduna has followed any successful pilots or adequate preparations, in a country where copy and paste policy-making has quite often gone badly.
For instance, the policy would incur extra financial burden for government particularly for essential services like hospitals where the state government would now have to employ more staff to meet the demands of a 24/7 service provision. While creating more jobs is good for any Nigerian state, it is important to remember that the Kaduna State government only recently threatened to reduce its workforce due to huge overhead.
Secondly, a 4-day work policy is based on retaining 100 per cent productivity within 80 per cent of the time, and therefore depends on a country’s work ethic. In a country where government workers often report to office late, at 11am, and close at 2pm, if they bother to go at all, such a policy could make things worse as public services are likely to suffer the more. Besides, there is little evidence that workers would use the extra day for agriculture as claimed by the Kaduna State government.
Worse, how would the schools under this policy cover the curriculum contents designed for implementation within a five-day week? More so, the development or re-design of any existing school curriculum, which is a national document, is the sole responsibility of the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC). Besides, any planned extension of school hours beyond what obtains now would only expose learners to psychological stress greater than their mental capacity can tolerate. Even when the state government goes ahead to extend school hours, as it is proposing, the teachers, like other workers, would require to be paid for those extra teaching hours; another overhead liability.
The argument that “The government will also ramp up its efforts to give public servants access to digital devices and platforms to enable them to work effectively from home” cannot be relied upon. The limited access experienced by most school children for online lessons during the lockdown periods of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 speaks of the gross inadequacy of the ICT infrastructure needed for effective e-learning programmes in Kaduna State, as everywhere else in the country. Moreover, it is simply unfair that private schools will continue to run a five-day work policy in the meantime when government schools are compelled to migrate to a four-day week, even though both categories of schools operate the same curriculum.
How will school children in the public schools, who are already disadvantaged by many challenges the public school system across the country faces, recover the extra-day lost to this policy? All of these only go to show inadequate consultations and preparations for the policy at this time in the state. Therefore, Daily Trust calls on the Kaduna State government to have a complete re-think of its new 4-day work policy.