The plan by the Federal Government to make a first degree the minimum teaching qualification in Nigeria is a worthwhile aspiration that should help improve the quality of teaching in the country. Education Minister, Ibrahim Shekarau, who revealed the plan during a visit by the Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria, Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhurry, said the Federal Government would also explore all measures to restore the respect, dignity and status of teachers in the country. He spoke in response to the envoy’s disclosure that the minimum teaching qualification in Finland is a master’s degree because teaching in the country is a highly competitive profession that is sought after by too many qualified people.
This plan to upgrade the basic teaching qualification in Nigeria to a first degree is welcome, provided it is sincere, considering the occasion at which it was disclosed. For many years now, the quality of Nigerian students have been widely affirmed to be on the decline, with the problem partly traced to the poor quality of teachers, especially in our primary schools.
Making a first degree the minimum teaching qualification is, however, not something that can be done by fiat. It is an initiative that will require a long period to realise, considering the fact that many of our teachers will need time to upgrade their qualifications, while university graduates who have degrees in subjects other than education will need some time of training in education. The plan must be handled in a way that will not lead to immediate massive loss of jobs by teachers, especially in the Northern parts of the country where it will be difficult to get enough degree holders to man the primary and secondary schools. We say this bearing in mind that previous exercises in this direction took some years to achieve. The upgrade will certainly require long-term planning and effective public enlightenment to become a reality. Some graduates are, however, teaching in primary schools in some parts of the country already.
This is not the first time that the government is tinkering with the minimum teaching qualification. There was a time that primary school leavers were engaged in teaching. This was later raised to Teacher’s Grade 111 Certificate in the 1960s. Later on in the early 70s, it was pegged at Teacher’s Grade 11 Certificate. It was finally increased in the early 80s to a minimum of the National Certificate in Education (NCE).
We commend the government for the planned improvement in the quality of teachers in the country. It is a good decision that will reflect positively on the quality of teaching and the products of our schools. This has become necessary, especially at the primary school level, where the standard has fallen far below expectation.
It is no longer in doubt that the quality of education in Nigeria has been on the decline for quite some decades now. One major reason for this state of affairs is the low prestige accorded the teaching profession in the country. Most job seekers see teaching as a stepping stone to other jobs or professions. Many prospective university students resort to studying education only after failing to gain admission for their preferred courses such as medicine, law and engineering. There is, therefore, hardly any serious commitment to their duties when they get teaching jobs. The remuneration of teachers, especially at the primary school level, is also abysmal and clearly unattractive to young school leavers. This, perhaps, is why the government wants to raise the minimum teaching qualification to a first degree, in order to shore up the standard, remuneration and morale of teachers.
We must, however, caution that raising the minimum qualification bar for teachers may not necessarily increase the quality of teaching if the teachers are not well paid and motivated. In this regard, the government should make the conditions for teaching in our schools attractive to university graduates. The teaching and learning environment should be conducive to the dissemination of knowledge.
The planned upgrading of the minimum teaching qualification should not be subjected to the usual fire-brigade approach to issues in the country. The teachers who are already in the system with NCE and other lower qualifications should be given ample time and opportunity to migrate to the expected minimum qualification within a specified period. The government should, therefore, take into consideration the need to train the teachers. All those engaged in teaching must be well grounded in education and their teaching subjects, while those without any teaching qualifications should be allowed to obtain them within a stipulated time.
Teaching should not be an all-comers affair. All prospective teachers must be certificated before they are engaged to teach as obtains in many countries. Government should also demonstrate the necessary commitment to making teaching noble and worthwhile to encourage young graduates to make it a career.