THE BURDEN OF ILLITERATE TEACHERS …. THISDAY

The authorities should give urgent attention to the training of teachers

Two years ago, the then Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Mohammed Modibbo, revealed that more than 50 per cent of basic school teachers in Sokoto State could not read and write. That worrisome disclosure came when Modibbo received the Senate Committee on Education at the UBEC headquarters, in Abuja.

“I have given them UBE books in Sokoto State. But more than 50 per cent of the entire teachers in the state cannot read, because they are unqualified. So how can they read the UBE books we sent to them? How would they be able to teach the children how to read and impact on the children so that we can record success with our objective?” asked Modibbo.

Unfortunately, the situation, which is both deplorable and unacceptable, is not peculiar to Sokoto State as many of the teachers in public schools across the country are basically the same. It can only be left to the imagination the amount of damage these unqualified, indeed illiterate teachers, have done (and are still doing) to the future of Nigerian pupils. What is even more disturbing is that at practically all levels, there is neither a real appreciation of the problem nor any urgency in dealing with it.

The pertinent questions therefore are: if those who are supposed to impact knowledge on primary school pupils cannot even read the very textbooks they are to use as their basic tools, how can they teach? And what can they teach? What impact can they make on their pupils? It is akin to a blind leading a fellow blind. For it is common knowledge that no one can give what he or she does not have. The more fundamental question has to do with how those teachers were recruited in the first place.

However, it is not just sufficient to lament this sad situation. There are critical issues for those in authority. For instance, what is the government (at all levels) doing about this deplorable state of education? Where is the Inspectorate Division in the various states of the federation? What efforts have been made in the past to ameliorate this crisis? Were the illiterate teachers, who obviously are indigenes of most of the states, recruited into the school system and subsequently retained even with the obvious knowledge that they have nothing to offer?

One of the cardinal objectives of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is that every child of school age should have unfettered access to education by 2015. But with MDGs coming to an end this year, it is obvious that there are no tangible results to declare for the Nigerian children. It is therefore important for the authorities to look back before signing on to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

No doubt, many Nigerian children may have access to education but would turn out as illiterates like their teachers. This therefore calls for drastic measures to reverse the ugly trend. Perhaps the starting point should be for many of the states to declare emergency in the education sector. They should meanwhile organise regular refresher courses, a kind of teaching-the-teachers programme.

At the federal level, it is important for the National Assembly to view the crisis as a matter of urgent national attention. We also urge all the states governors to pay greater attention to the quality of teachers in their school system. It does not augur well for the nation’s human capital development that in this 21st century there are still states overburdened by the inability of its adult population to read and write, especially when the people involved are those who teach our children.