A few years ago, while in my first year as a classroom teacher, I had posed the above question to my students. It was during a lesson in career counselling and the starry-eyed teenagers bustled with excitement and enthusiasm. As was expected in a career session, the entire class came alive with dreams about their future. It was a privilege for me to have played a part in the formation of their future.
But the response to my question had become obvious even before I had uttered the last word. In a class of 30, none of those teenage boys and girls had fancied a future in the teaching profession. As a young teacher, it was a rude awakening for me. My students didn’t want to be like me. They had fancied a career in engineering, law, medicine accounting. And yes, they wanted to be petroleum engineers. Working in multinational oil companies had become classroom fantasy!
I consider the situation the Nigerian paradox. It is the reason why the future of teaching is in jeopardy especially at the primary and secondary levels.
Indeed, the future is already here as many brilliant teachers are leaving the classroom. That is why Nigerians will continue to lament the dearth of good and dedicated teachers. How will you get good teachers when the ones who chose to remain in the system are badly treated and poorly paid? Now, my students’ apprehension about teaching has become my reality. I left too. Who wants to wait to reap rewards in heaven when that can be done even here on earth as well?
According to an article, Teacher Attrition in Nigerian Schools, written by Rosemary Hannah et al, which appeared in the Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies, the teaching profession in Nigeria aside from not having new teachers coming into the profession, is also besot with the reality of Nigerian schools losing teachers. The article observes that, “A number of theorist opinions were sought and there was a general agreement among them that teachers leave their jobs because of factors identified as lack of incentives for the job, poor salary structure, late or non-payment of teachers’ salaries and allowances, and lack of respect for the teaching profession among others”
But the article merely scratches the surface of what has become an endemic problem. The assault on the teaching profession has a long history. Its bastardisation is culturally tied to the political development of Nigeria. The history of teaching had taught us how its earliest practitioners were the precursor of the modern Nigeria. In the pre-colonial and the years after Nigeria gained independence, the teaching profession occupied a pride of place among the competing professions at the time. Teachers were respected. In fact, many Nigerian political elite once had built their careers on the back of the teaching profession. But teaching came crashing in the pantheons of the preferred careers due to neglected by successive anti-intellectual military regimes.
In many states across the federation, teachers became the butt of jokes. In the tertiary institutions, incessant closure of schools by the government led to a massive brain drain by a crop of intellectuals of the 1980s Nigerian academia. The result of such brutal attacks on the school system and its personnel is what has manifested today in the school system. Several decades of abuse and neglect of the public school system and the teaching profession had left its marks. Teachers are poorly paid and de-motivated.
Now, teachers are left in the hands of education entrepreneurs who are viciously exploiting the system to for profit while paying teachers peanuts. Meanwhile, teachers are burnt out because they are made to work through the year with no opportunity for vacation. In many private schools, teachers are so over-burdened with work that they are coming down with frequent stress-related illnesses. Their contributions remain unappreciated. The situation in public schools is worse. Teachers in public schools have to cope with lack of infrastructure, poor pay and over-population in class. Yet, the teaching profession is critical to any nation’s development. To understand why a country is developed or poor, one first has to look at the quality of the teachers and its public schools.
Sadly, the Nigerian condition is depressing. The reason for our underdevelopment and our warped cultural values is the quality of instruction our young people receive in our schools. It is time Nigeria invested in her teachers. This year’s World Teachers’ Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the state of public education and the role of teachers in education. The world obviously needs its teachers to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 4 which demands inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030.
The needs are urgent, not only in Nigeria but globally. According to a UNESCO Institute of Statistics paper, an estimated 263 million children and youths are out of primary and secondary schools globally.
According to UNICEF, about 10.4 million of them are in Nigeria. SDG 4 includes a specific call for more qualified teachers and more support from the international community for teacher training in developing countries such as Nigeria. According to the UIS estimates, to achieve the global goal for education by 2030 in the next 14 years, countries must recruit almost 69 million teachers to provide every child with primary and secondary education: 24.4 million primary school teachers and 44.4 million secondary school teachers.
There is an urgent need to review the welfare of teachers in the country according to global standards. This is important for the difficult work they do and the risk inherent in the profession. Comparatively, Nigerian teachers are poorly remunerated when compared to their colleagues in other climes.
According to the American National Education Association, depending on the state, high school teachers in the US get as much as $48,631 while the best-paid 10 per cent in the field made approximately $86,720, while the bottom 10 per cent made $37,230. According to the group, compensation for American teachers is typically based on years of experience and educational level. Newly qualified teachers in England and Wales, for example, start on the main salary scale, which rises incrementally from £22,023 to £32,187, though salaries may be higher depending on location. Salaries on the main scale in Northern Ireland are said to range from £21,804 to £31,868. High school teachers in South Africa earn an average of R166, 068 per year. While the attrition rate of teachers may be a global phenomenon, the Nigerian government must introduce incentives that will attract the best people into the system. We cannot hope to build a better country with a broken education system and poor quality of teachers.