IN 2018, September to be precise, I had an opportunity to visit some primary and secondary schools within Awka metropolis.While I was monitoring the turn-out of teachers and students as the new academic session began, I interviewed some of the teachers, with a view to finding out the rate at which their students turn-up in the first week of resumption.
I found out that most of the teachers were not able to communicate effectively in English. The climax of the scenario was that some of the teachers could hardly make a complete sentence in English, so they resorted to answering my questions in our native language, while I had to translate it in English. Then I asked: what would a teacher who could hardly communicate in English, (that is our official language) impact on these growing minds?
As shocking as this may sound, it still cannot be compared to a video that went viral sometime in 2016, of a female teacher, who had been on the job for 20 years, and was unable to read a sworn affidavit she presented as part of her credentials when she was asked to do so by the then governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
The governor had to help her pronounce some words and in some cases, asked her to repeat some words she mispronounced. At some points, she replied the governor in Pidgin English thus: “Make I start am afresh? (Meaning should I start all over?)” A visibly shocked Oshiomhole said: “If you can’t read, what do you teach the pupils? What do you write on the board?” This incident and others like it prompted the Oshiomhole administration to take a deep look into the Edo State Education sector.
But what many did not know or failed to acknowledge was that the Edo scenario is a tip of the iceberg as far as the abysmally low standard of teaching is concerned. Indeed, stories abound about how this situation has permeated the entire education sector and why most public schools are producing half-baked or barely literate graduates. Check these out: These may have been presented as jokes but are not far from the true situation unfortunately. A pupil was asked what a baby shark (pup) is called and he said: Shakiti bobo; while a baby lizard (hatchling) is called Lizzy baby. Unfortunately, Shakiti bobo is the title of a song by a popular Nigerian musician (Olamide) and the child had heard it over and over. Another pupil when asked to name some ailments in humans included in his list a slanted line (/). When asked what that meant, he proudly asked the person questioning him if he doesn’t recognise the health condition called stroke. Thanks to internet.
This brings home the saying that if the head is rotten, the whole body would be rotten! Children are so impressionable that whatever they are taught in the school, right or wrong, sticks. A mother, Mrs. Godwin, heard her six-year-old daughter mispronouncing the word ‘children’ as ‘shildren’ and she tried to correct her, only to meet a brick wall as the little girl insisted her teacher was right!
If we talk of falling standard in education in the country today, perhaps this can be situated within the context of the wobbly beginning that many pupils had. Primary education is supposed to be the foundation on which subsequent learnings would be built. Where the foundation is weak, whatever is erected on it is bound to crumble. Sadly, the government is to be held responsible for this trend because years back, it came up with a policy lowering admission requirements for people seeking to pursue careers in education, thus giving the impression that teaching is an inferior course.
Again, most of the satellite campuses in the country have crash programmes for teachers, where they certify them competent to teach after two semester (Sandwich) programmes. The implication is that we have half-baked teachers all over the place who have little or nothing to offer. These are unleashed on helpless pupils and students who come out of their academic programmes only a shade better than they were when they gained admission. This is contrary to the practice in some other countries like Finland and South Korea where teaching is held in esteem and their best are sent to the classrooms.
Nothing here suggests that there are no good teachers in the country. But the point is that many of the teachers in our classrooms are not qualified and this is a challenge we have to address. The starting point is to ensure that only qualified teachers are recruited.
Speaking on the issue, Mr Edmund Osigwe, a public servant said, “gone were those days when teachers’ rewards were in heaven. Teaching is a great profession and until we recognise it as such, we would continue to have problems in our classrooms and this would tell on the country because education is the bedrock of development. Even when we have qualified and competent teachers, they must undergo regular trainingw to build their capacity and they should be encouraged to upgrade and update their academic qualifications periodically. Also, their welfare and remuneration must be enhanced to retain and get the best from them”.
Mrs Marian Okwuanga on her own part said, “it is high time the government took some steps in the right direction to eliminate “quack” and “half-baked” teachers, thereby making sure that “Nigerian children are taught by only qualified professional teachers who can deliver quality education for the elevation of our children and our country.” Now, it is a commendable idea to make teaching a dignified profession. One might say, it is late, but then, it is better late than never”.
Elder Isaac Chinwoke, a senior citizen, on his own part said, “The Nigerian education sector has not always been poor. In the past, foreign students trooped into Nigeria to obtain quality education in her public schools and many foreigners were working as teachers and lecturers”. Delving into the history of Nigeria’s education sector, he said, “Education and teaching go hand-in-hand. The quality of education largely depends on the quality of its teaching force. Our educational system should be able to provide teachers with the intellectual and professional background suitable for their job as teachers. We cannot stress too strongly the benefits of a good teacher. The quality of education in any nation is as good as the quality of the teachers in the classrooms at every educational level. To deliver good quality work, the teacher must be equipped with knowledge which must come through professional training and re-training. Children, at every level, are the future of the country. It is risky to allow these future leaders to be molded by ignorant, poorly trained and barely literate teachers”.