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New dawn for teachers, teaching profession

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˜NUT: We demand a policy framework from govt
˜Lagos NUT: It is an Act of Parliament for all teachers
˜UNESCO-IIEP harps on crucial issues of welfare

For teachers and the teaching profession in Nigeria, these seem to be the best of times. Thanks to the new welfare packages recently introduced and approved by the Federal Government for teachers in primary and secondary schools, with a view to bolstering the education sector and rescuing it from further decline.

There is no doubt that the teaching profession, over the decades, has remained the most challenging and taunting vocation, given the fact that teachers’ welfare and teacher education development in general have unassailable been decapitated by successive governments at all levels.

Unarguably, therefore, the teaching profession has lost its appeal due to the seemingly poor teachers’ welfare and declining attention in terms of salary, respect and working conditions. But, this declining status of the teaching profession, according to the World Bank in its World Development Report 2018, could be redeemed only through improved remuneration and, more broadly, the working environment and job stability as basic ingredients that will guide any attempt to upgrade the profession and mechanisms of attracting and motivating teachers.

This lack of deliberate policy to enhance teachers’ welfare and condition of service in the nation’s school system had also resulted in many ways and dovetailed in the dearth of quantity and quality teachers in schools. Stakeholders have also traced the staggering low subscription by students for admission into education programmes in the universities and colleges of education to what they described as poor remuneration and neglect of the profession by successive governments.

Meanwhile, as part of efforts to rejig and reposition the teaching profession, the Teachers’ Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) at the level of professionalism made it mandatory for all teachers in Nigerian school system to register with the Council.

In view of this, TRCN as the regulator of the teaching profession at all levels of the Nigerian education system, both in the public and private sectors, had introduced the Professional Qualifying Examination (PQE) for all teachers to pass for them to qualify and be registered to teach in the school system.

Despite this effort, several states of the federation, particularly in the North, still parade unqualified teachers in their school, while most states are faced with a gross shortage of teachers, especially in the core subject areas. Apart from teachers’ quality, the problems of shortage of classroom facilities; ineffective curriculum; decayed and dilapidated school structures, resulting in leaking roofs, collapsed buildings, damaged window planes; as well as students sitting and learning under sheds and dust infested floors, are some of the setbacks for effective teaching delivery in nation’s public primary and secondary schools. Currently, with about 13.5 million outof- school children, the country has a deficit of about 277,537 teachers in the basic education schools, as indicated in the new National Personnel Audit report.

This acute shortage of teachers persists even when the Federal Government noted that it had disbursed over N153 billion to state governments in the last four years for the implementation of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) across the country. According to the report, there is a deficit of 135,319 teachers at the Early Childhood Care Development Education level; 139,772 in primary schools, and a shortage of 2,446 in Junior Secondary Schools across the nation.

The report also put the number of primary-school-age children who are out of school at 10,193,918, which is 25 per cent of primary school-age children in the country; while the 2018 NPA report indicated that school enrollment stands at 27.8 million learners in primary schools, with 22,384,755 in public primary schools and 5,504,632 enrollment in private schools.

Worried by the poor teachers’ welfare and deplorable conditions of schools in most developing countries of the world, serious concerns had been raised in the last few decades locally and in the international community, especially the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and International Institute of Educational Planning (IIEP) on the crucial issues of teachers’ welfare, how they teach and how the schools in which they work can be made increasingly effective.

According to IIEP-UNESCO, although there were different ways of improving the quality of education that students receive, it would always be highly dependent first and foremost on teachers, and the quality of instruction that teachers provide. To enhance teachers’ welfare and teaching development, therefore, the organisation advocated for a system of career ladders and career paths as ultimate for the most balanced and promising approach in this direction.

The IIEP also pointed out that while salary was not the only factor that needs to be considered when it comes to upgrading teaching careers, saying it will always need to be taken into account if reforms are to be successfully carried out.

Therefore, determined to change this narrative and enhance the status of teachers, as well as ameliorate their age-long travail due to lack of adequate attention for the noble profession, President Muhammadu Buhari had on October 5 during this year’s World Teachers’ Day, took a major leap that will change the face of teaching, education and the general well-being of teachers in the country.

Instituted globally by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1994, the World Teachers’ Day is to recognise and celebrate teachers across the world, benchmarks the rights and responsibilities of teachers and set standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions. Also, the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) Target on education recognised teachers as key to the achievement of the Education 2030 Agenda, while the teachers’ day also sets out to mark the progress and reflect on ways to counter the challenges for the promotion of the teaching profession.

President Buhari in his address delivered by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu in Abuja, however, raised the hope of Nigerian teachers through the welfare packages and incentives outlined to improve their well-being. Unveiling the policies, the President approved a new Teachers’ Salary Scheme (TSS) for basic and secondary school teachers, as well as increased the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years, while the number of service years was also increased from 35 to 40 to encourage the teachers to deliver better services.

Describing this “fundamental and far-reaching changes” as part of ongoing moves by the government to revitalise and reposition the teaching profession, President Buhari insisted that a review of teachers’ development policies had revealed huge gaps in quantity and quality of teachers at all levels of the nation’s education system, and that the status and statute of teachers were currently at the lowest ebb.

Part of the policies to address the challenges and set the country on the path of industrialisation where the educational system will produce the needed skills and manpower, include the reintroduction of bursary award to education students in universities and colleges of education, as well as automatic employment on graduation, payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students, and automatic employment after graduation.

Under the policy, the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) will now fund teaching practice in universities and colleges of education, including provisions for rural posting allowance, science teachers allowance and peculiar allowance as introduced by the government.

The policy also provides for a special teacher pension scheme that will enable the teaching profession to retain experienced talents and create a career path policy for teaching profession and teachers’ conversion programme, as well as ICT training to mitigate the current dearth of qualified teachers in the school system.

As part of the motivation, the President also approved the following incentives, which include building of low-cost houses for teachers in rural areas, sponsorship of teachers to at least one refresher training per year, expansion of annual Presidential Teachers and Schools Awards to cover more categories with outstanding winners to be considered for the National Awards and National Productivity Order of Merit (NPOM) awards, among others, to motivate and restore the lost glory of teachers.

“The implementation of the new policies was to attract the best brains into the teaching profession and encourage teachers in delivering better services that would produce quality students who would, in turn, contribute to national development.

The government notes the emergency situation in our educational system with particular reference to the dearth of qualified and dedicated teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning at all levels of our educational system,” the President had said. Given the policy, teachers are to enjoy prompt payment of salaries and other entitlements such as consideration for first-line charge in annual budgets, timely promotion of teachers to eliminate stagnation, provision of loan facilities, free tuition and automatic admission for biological children of teachers in their respective schools to encourage and retain them in the system.

To fast track the implementation of the policies, the Minister had been directed to ensure an accelerated implementation of these policies and measures in collaboration/liaison with states/ local governments, the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission and other relevant agencies in the system to enthrone a culture of competence, discipline, dedication, increased learning outcomes and better service delivery in the education sector.

However, the President of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Nasir Idris, who lauded President Buhari for the policies, said the World Teachers’ Day provides an “opportunity to take stock of developments in the teaching profession and the education sector as a whole, with a view to promoting teachers effectiveness in the discharge of their professional tasks.” Thus, barely three weeks after the policy announcement, critical stakeholders including the parents, the Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant stakeholders were said to have been constituted into several committees saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the implementation of the reviewed salaries structure, among other welfare plans.

The Director Press and Public Relations of the Federal Ministry of Education, Mr. Ben Goong, however, told New Telegraph that the ministry was committed to keep the public, especially teachers abreast of ongoing developments with regards to implementation of the policies. He noted that a number of committees had already been set up to work out the modalities to implementing the presidential approval, saying: “The committees have between one and three months, and by January all the committees are expected to have submitted their reports for the ministry to take it from there.

We will continue to update Nigerians on where we are and efforts made in implementing the teachers’ day pronouncements.” The special salary, he noted, though might not have been captured in the 2021 budget given the timeframe within which the committees were raised and to submit their report, all hope of capturing the new salary structures in the 2021 budget was not lost. “When such details are worked out we can have a supplementary budget since there is hardly any budget cycle that does not have a supplementary budget. Hence, it can still be accommodated through a supplementary budget.”

However, NUT, a major stakeholder has expressed dismay that it was not represented in the committees, even as analysts expressed anxiety the non-extension of the special salary scale and the new retirement age of teachers to state and local government councils could be major contention between the Federal Government and the NUT.

The General Secretary of the NUT, Mike Ene, who expressed surprise that the various committees already set up failed to incorporate the teachers’ union, wondered why the process excluded representatives of the teachers in all engagements tailored towards repositioning the profession. Ene added: “We will reach out to the government on how the union will get the policy papers for the implementation as soon as the ongoing #EndSARS protest ends. Actually, there is no way the union will not be represented.

Maybe the ministry has done it at the ministerial level with the view to expanding the policy. I am sure that there is no way the NUT will not be a part of it. These were part of our agitations in past years.” According to him, 99 per cent of basic and secondary schools are in the states and local government areas, and this lifeline must go round all teachers regardless whether education is on the concurrent list or not.

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