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World Teachers Day: Sanitise teaching profession now

Today is World Teachers’ Day (WTD). In 1994, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation (ILO)…

Today is World Teachers’ Day (WTD). In 1994, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in conjunction with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) proclaimed October 5 as WTD. The day is traced to October 5, 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 was a further confirmation that all countries universally acknowledged the significance of having competent, qualified, and motivated teachers in schools.

The day, which officially is not a public holiday in Nigeria, is used for paying tribute to teachers and for resolving issues regarding their job. The WTD in Nigeria also provides an opportunity to discuss teachers’ working conditions and job prospects. The theme for this year’s event is, “The Transformation of Education Begins with Teachers”.

While we congratulate Nigerian teachers on the 28th anniversary of the WTD being held today, we empathise with them over government’s persistent failure to honour promises or agreements signed with teachers at all levels of the system. For instance, the Federal Government of Nigeria during the 2020 WTD announced a set of incentives that were intended to make teaching attractive. It was a ground-breaking package on investment in Nigerian teachers, which if implemented, would by now have changed the age-long lowly pedigree of teachers and the embarrassing narrative associated with teaching in Nigeria. At the 2021 event of the WTD, President Muhammadu Buhari, who spoke through the then Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, said the implementation of most of the incentives targeted at repositioning teaching would be achieved by January 2022.

This is October 2022 and the federal government is only now proposing to include aspects of the package in the 2023 appropriation bill. This lip-service attention not just to teaching but to education generally is not good enough. Educationists link the poor state of education today particularly at the basic level to the way teachers and their profession are treated by government. If the future of a country substantially depends on the quality and commitment of its teachers whose products are its prospective leaders, their ill-treatment by government would be no more than a deliberate attempt to render the future of today’s learners vulnerable.

More important than this belaboured chronicle about teachers over the years is, perhaps, the professionalisation of teaching in Nigeria. Over 120 years after the establishment, in 1896, of the St Andrews College, Oyo as the first Teachers Training College (TTC) in Nigeria and 100 years after Katsina Teachers’ College was founded as the first TTC in northern Nigeria in 1921; it’s beleaguering that the job of teaching yet remains a career that can be patronised by every Tom, Dick and Harry. For example, persons without the minimum teaching qualification are still being employed to teach in public and private schools at nearly all levels.

While having the knowledge of a subject-matter is one thing, knowing how to convey the knowledge to others is another; probably considered even more critical. Being the highest authority in a knowledge area as a professor in the university, for instance, is no guarantee for achieving the best out of a teaching-learning process. Teaching qualification is indeed critical to the success of every teacher in his or her job, no matter the level at which teaching is taking place. If teaching were a profession in Nigeria, no lecturer in the country’s higher institutions would have been engaged without a teaching qualification.

Because medicine and law are professions, no one practices them without being licensed by the MDCN or graduating from the Nigerian Law School. Sadly, the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) has failed to enforce this regulation across all levels of the system. More regrettable is TRCN’s inaction, which reduced the concept of professionalisation of teaching to mere issuance of its licence to teachers.

The answers to how, when and to whom a set of curriculum contents are delivered thematically fall under teaching, not the teacher, which is one important reason that obliges its professionalisation. When teaching becomes a profession, the same salary shall be earned by teachers with the same qualifications and experience regardless of which level of the system they teach; a practice that is currently obtained in the medical profession.

As soon as professionalisation is achieved, it is believed that many of the challenges currently bedevilling the teaching career would naturally fizzle out. Government, not associations, has the duty to enforce policies and operational guidelines that seek to make teaching a profession in the country. Anything short of this only leaves Nigerian teachers without a profession.