Advising El-Rufa’i on Primary Education

By Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde

The humour of Kalarawi aside, I am here to suggest something to His Excellency, the Kaduna State Governor, on what to do with his 20,000 teachers who woefully failed the Primary IV competency test he administered last week. I can understand his anger. Their problem, however, cannot be detached from the larger issue of having a rotting education sector in place. My suggestions, therefore, attempt to cover the primary education delivery as a whole from its human content point of view. I am not a good advocate of classroom buildings at the expense of knowledge. The suggestions also border more on tested practice than on theory.

Retention

To begin with, the governor has to drop the idea of dismissing 20,000 teachers before my advice will be of any benefit to him. My reasons are pragmatic: He does not have a better system to fetch new teachers from other than the one that produced the old ones. So the new ones may not be much different. The small difference, if any, will not be enough to offset the financial burden of disengaging the old ones, the social crisis that their dismissal will generate and the political nightmare of the Governor waking up one morning to find out that the 20,000 teachers have joined the ‘akida’ camp.

So the governor should make the best use of the teachers he has on ground by tackling the problem that turned them so bad.

The Problem

The teachers are not the problem. In fact, studies have shown that in Nigeria there are better teachers in public schools than in private ones though unarguably teachers in private schools are more productive despite their dismal wages. The difference is in the systems under which they serve, not in the teachers.

Once teachers are left alone, without supervision, motivation, training and all that is needed to keep them up to date in their trade, their productivity will continue to decline. This is common to all states and applies to majority of officials in various domains of the public sector. Private individuals today are better informed, more equipped and more effective than their counterparts in the public sector. His Excellency is more likely to have the latest books on Quantity Surveying than the department from which he graduated in Ahmadu Bello University. I know that.

My experience, however, has shown that the situation is not that hopeless to warrant a mass dismissal of teachers as some are suggesting.

Condition

It can be salvaged if the government can abandon politics and face its shortcomings. Majority of these teachers can be turned into very good ones within a year or two, with the necessary training, motivation and control tools in place. This is not theory. It has been done elsewhere.

Government needs to protect education funds from the “contract syndrome” that pays more attention to awarding building and school lunch contracts than to a content-driven administration of education – for political purposes. An army of supporters needs to be compensated in every community and there is no better way of doing it than awarding them classroom construction and renovation contracts while even daily teaching materials (like chalk, books, registers), teacher on-the-job training and paltry allowances are not provided.

This condition must be met before any progress can be made in education, including the much needed teacher education. If half of what is spent on these contracts or school lunch programme will be spent on teacher training, motivation and inspection, Kaduna State’s education sector will be revolutionized within a short time.

Having assumed that His Excellency has agreed to put politics aside, I will go ahead to discuss how he can salvage the situation by addressing the five areas that affect teacher performance: Training, supervision, teaching materials, motivation and measurement.

Training

I am an advocate of quality delivery in anything. Teachers must be sufficiently qualified to be entrusted with the future of our children. That qualification does not stop with the NCE, diploma or degree certificates they have at point of entry. Those papers say little about what they actually know. Their knowledge needs to be transparently tested at point employment and from time to time during the course of their work to ensure that it is of the desired standard.

For many reasons teachers deteriorate after employment leading to the present situation where many are no longer qualified. That is why, worldwide, employers train their teachers on the job continuously, especially for the level that each serves. There must be a standing policy on this that will be implemented religiously, supported by adequate funds from government. Attending workshops and seminars and passing competency tests must form part of teachers’ duty.

Initially, the State Universal Education Board (SUBEB) must take inventory of the competency of its teachers and key in each teacher into a training program that will “upgrade” him to a higher operating level. I suggest a three tier approach to the training:

The first will be workshops at the school level where a competent senior is appointed to put other teachers through their difficulties as was done in our old schools in Northern Nigeria but this time with the caveat that if the teacher fails the next basic competency test he or she will be disengaged. This caveat is necessary because from my experience teachers treat in-house workshops with levity, as adults generally do, unless it is accompanied by the threat of a loss or the hope for a benefit. Fire any teacher that fails the second competency test after he is given a retraining opportunity and you have my support, 100%. The 20,000 teachers that failed the last competency test will be very willing candidates for this upgrading programme.

Higher than the basic competency level, workshops can be held for teachers at local government and zonal levels where advanced and modern skills of teaching are taught to teachers who have passed the basics. While passing the basic competency test assures retention of a teacher, passing the test at middle level forms part of promotion requirement. Without it he or she will remain stuck forever.

The most advanced workshops will take place at the zones or state capital and will be for teachers that have proved exceptional. The curriculum here will cover all modern skills in education administration. Passing competency at this level gives a teacher the opportunity to become a headmaster, supervisory headmaster, or an official in the local government education office.

The essence of training is to meet the most basic ingredient of quality control. Without knowing what to teach and how to teach, effective delivery in our schools will continue to be a mirage. Training must be continuous and competency must be ascertained from time to time. No assumptions must be made on certificates or tests passed a decade ago. With sufficient training, the next level of concern comes in.

Supervision

Even the most competent teachers need supervision. Headmasters must be competent, charismatic and committed to ensuring that every teacher in their school works as required by his terms of duty: He plans his lessons, reports punctually, delivers the lessons conscientiously, assists his pupils in learning and monitors their behavior, reports problems to the headmaster, etc.

Then the supervisors must ensure that the headmasters and their teachers deliver what his expected of them. They evaluate performances of schools and report same to the local education authority office where problems and their solutions are handled.

Beyond the above two are inspectors from SUBEB, the body which bear the ultimate burden of education delivery in the state. It monitors activities of the local education authorities and ensure that standards are adhered to. Where has it been all this while?

If the Governor will dig a bit deeper beyond the class teacher, he will find that supervisory officers and authorities are equally wanting. Otherwise, what hid the incompetence of the 20,000 teachers away from government until last week when the competency test was administered? The supervisors are, therefore, either incompetent or indolent.

I have seen supervisory headmasters who abscond from duty for over 15 years and are still on government payroll. They pay others to concoct reports for them. I have seen both primary and secondary schools that have not been inspected for over 10 years at local, st.e and federal levels. How can teachers and schools be expected to meet public expectation through self-supervision?

However, when teachers are sufficiently trained, adequately supervised to ensure that they give in their best, only the dearth in teaching materials, motivation and measurement will prevent them from attaining the best standard. Let us discuss each briefly.

Materials

The third thing that determines teachers output is his tools: books and other materials needed to deliver his lesson effectively. Governments today pay little attention to these too. They are concerned about boosting pupil attendance by spending billions on school lunch but they are less concerned about providing the necessary teaching materials in schools or helping pupils with learning materials like exercise books and textbooks, things that the budget of school lunch of just a month can provide. Schools are likewise left without registers and other basic stationary for teachers and school administration. Like in other areas, there is a complete abdication of responsibility by government.

Motivation

When motivation is mentioned, people often think of remunerations only. It goes beyond that. Teachers can be motivated of course with better wages, promptly paid; however, nothing will motivate them better than reading a transparent commitment to improving standard of education by government. When standard of education rises, so would the reputation of the teacher rise in society.

Let there be a system of reward and punishment in place. The few diligent will always work with little motivation but the majority needs carrot and stick policy to meet the desired standard of conduct. Private schools have this in place. They do not tolerate underperformance from teachers despite their meager wages and go to any extent to retain good ones. Government must use the same strategy. Schools are learning centres, not welfare centres.

Introduce competition among teachers for a prize, say a 200,000 for the best teacher in each subject at local government and state levels; N1million for the best headmaster or best performing school, etc. We do it in sports, then why not in education? In another vein, discipline underperforming teachers, headmasters, supervisors, and way up to the SUBEB chairman where necessary. Threaten them with dismissal aw they will sit up. Your Excellency, ba a bori da sanyin jiki.

Also, let teachers be provided with the right pupils, training, materials and supervision. They will register a success that will make them proud of their profession. Let us see that their success brings about a flood of pupils from private to public schools, as I saw it happen in some states before.

Measurement

Finally, here comes the barometer. I have realized that teachers’ performance needs to be measured annually through the performance of their pupils in a statewide standard test, earning each teacher a reward or a reprimand as the performance of his or her pupils may indicate. Without holding teachers accountable for the performance of their pupils, when other factors are considered, only few will thrive to put in their best. The era of leaving teachers on their own to evaluate their students is gone.

Pupils will also work harder when they know that they need to pass an examination before they are promoted to the next class. This practice, which was there in our days, has long been abandoned for an “automatic promotion” policy that has made both teachers and pupils equally indolent.

I therefore strongly recommend the reintroduction of promotion exams among pupils and let there be a way that authorities will make teachers share in the success or failure of their pupils in such examinations. This is the best way to judge whether a teacher has imparted the desired knowledge to his pupils or not.

Conclusion

In my submission above, I have advised His Excellency on what to do with his 20,000 incompetent teachers: Do not dismiss them; retrain and retrain them instead. But in addition to retraining them, there is the need to put in place training programs for all staff at different levels of the education chain. Beyond training, lack of adequate supervision, teaching materials, motivation and measurement needs to be addressed unfailingly, without which even the best teachers in the world will yield nothing. It is a complete overhaul of the system, which when done or even started, the Governor can confidently tell his citizens that the state is once more on the path of educational glory.

Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
12 October 2017

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