Tuesday this week, October 5, 2021 was observed as World Teachers’ Day. Global and regional events were organized to celebrate teachers around the world. WTD is traced to 5 October 1966, when a special intergovernmental conference convened by UNESCO in Paris adopted the UNESCO/ILO recommendation on the “Status of Teachers”. The recommendation provided teachers worldwide with a tool that outlines their rights and obligations. The adoption of this recommendation went further to confirm that all countries universally acknowledged the significance of having competent, qualified, and motivated teachers in schools. In 1994, UNESCO in conjunction with the ILO proclaimed 5 October as WTD.
The annual event is co-convened under a partnership between the ILO, UNICEF and Education International (EI). To commemorate the 2021 WTD, a joint statement was issued by UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF and Education International (EI) which reads, “On World Teachers’ Day, we are not only celebrating every teacher. We are calling on countries to invest in them and prioritize them in global education recovery efforts so that every learner has access to a qualified and supported teacher. Let’s stand with our teachers!” The theme of the 2021 WTD is, “Teachers at the Heart of Education Recovery.” The choice of this theme was most likely informed by the diligent efforts teachers worldwide have been making and are still making to ensure that the ample time planned for learning but was unfortunately lost to COVID-19 pandemic is recovered. The theme of the 2020 event was “Teachers: Leading in crisis, re-imagining the future”.
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The day, which officially is not a public holiday in Nigeria, is used to honour teachers whose knowledge, experience and teaching skills have impacted positively on learners. On their part, Nigerian teachers use the occasion to highlight the responsibilities, rights, and value of teachers. The WTD in Nigeria also provides opportunity to discuss teachers’ working conditions and job prospects. It would be recalled that during the 2020 WTD, the federal government of Nigeria announced a set of incentives that were intended to make the teaching profession attractive. It was a ground breaking package on investment in Nigerian teachers, which if implemented, would change the decades-old lowly pedigree of teachers as well as the awkward narrative of the teaching profession in the country. The package includes a special salary scale for teachers, an upward review of their retirement age to from 60 to 65years, rural posting allowance, science teachers’ allowance, peculiar allowance, and automatic employment of NCE and B. Ed students upon graduation.
Sadly, 369 days after this set of stimuluses was publicized, teachers are yet to start enjoying the privileges. The bill on this very important matter is yet to be passed by the national assembly let alone signed in to law by the President. In any case, President Muhammadu Buhari who was represented at this year’s event by the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, said the implementation of most of the targets in the repositioning of teachers would be achieved by January 2022; re-assuring that outstanding salaries of affected teachers would be paid before December 2021. Without sounding pessimistic of government promises, it would require strong political will and genuine commitment driven by accelerated actions that will get the bill passed, signed into law and funds appropriated to settle salaries and allowances in lieu of the 2020 package of incentives; all before the end of 2021 which is already hastening to a close. Whatever happens, teachers particularly at the basic level of the country’s education system are workers known to be perseveringly patient and always full of hopes when it comes to expecting their entitlements from government.
While teachers are patiently waiting for the actualization of the 2020 WTD package of incentives, the federal government on the occasion of the 2021 WTD announced a pack of incentives, this time, for prospective teachers. The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, represented by the permanent secretary, Sonny Echono, announced that the federal government has approved N75,000 as stipend per semester for students of degree programmes in Education in Nigerian public universities. He also said students undergoing the Nigeria Certificate in Education programme would receive N50,000 as stipend per semester. This, according to him, is to attract the best brains to the teaching profession and encourage the best graduates to take up careers in teaching.
When promises by government take too long to be fulfilled or remain unfulfilled, the hopes that were initially raised in teachers could be ruined; making them to lose morale or become passive in their own matter. Government should avoid a situation that would prompt teachers to see the WTD in Nigeria as a mere speech-making event that is not backed by action. Government is urged to do everything humanly and materially possible to make the 2020 WTD package of incentives for Nigerian teachers a reality.
I wonder if teachers in Taraba state had any cause to celebrate the WTD last Tuesday as they were busy trying to cope with the challenges orchestrated by six months of unpaid salaries. Rather, celebration was for their counterparts in Ekiti state where Governor Kayode Fayem on this year’s WTD presented cars, computers, cash and other valuables as gifts to best teachers in the state-owned primary, secondary and technical schools. During the presentation of the gifts, Governor Fayemi said the gesture was in fulfilment of his pledge to continuously motivate teachers in the state in order to enhance excellence. He said his administration would continue to improve on the condition of service of the teachers in order to ensure that all schools in the state have qualified and highly motivated teachers. He further reiterated the commitment of his administration to the provision of needed technological tools to enhance digital literacy.
May Allah make Nigerian teachers at all levels happy, amin. Happy 2021 World Teachers’ Day!