The poor state of education in Nigeria should be one of the things that should be keeping us awake in the night as Nigerians.
Anyone that went to state schools in Nigeria from the 90s till now, would have experienced some of the issues discussed in this reflection: Students are now being asked to come to schools with their own chairs and tables, parents are responsible for buying chalks and teaching materials, in some cases, parents often contribute money to hire teachers for the school- these teachers are usually paid at lower rates compared to their colleagues who were employed by the government- there are other worrying issues of dilapidated buildings, roofs that could not protect students from the elements of weather etc. and incessant strike actions by school teachers.
The poor working conditions often make some of the teachers to device alternative ways of surviving, some of the teachers have had to add extra jobs, and some become so demotivated that they hardly pay any serious attention to the demands of their jobs.
Yet, lives of millions of children are entrusted to them. This piece is not to bash teachers, but to explore some of the problems that we have with quality of teaching in our schools.
Most of the schools are ill equipped- I once taught in a school in one of the oil producing states in Nigeria while I was on the NYSC [National service], the school was poorly equipped- it lacked basic infrastructures- the only room with a framed window and door was the principal’s office, there were no laboratories, the students had no chance of taking any science practical sessions in the three years of their senior secondary school- yet these students were expected to sit a test of practical knowledge in the subjects- and these are very key subjects such as chemistry, physics, and biology…
This is the stage in the life of the students, where opportunities for greater attainment in life are being taken away from them- especially from the children of the poor. The children of the rich could be enlisted in private schools, their parents could afford all the international school franchises that are springing up in Nigeria, and other good schools overseas, while most children of the poor are trapped within the mess caused by the criminal leadership in the county- the politicians who steal from the wealth of the countries ferry their children abroad.
I have my own first-hand account of the damage that the education system of the country could do…. It took me more than 4 years to redeem my life after suffering the most damaging educational failure of my life (I have taken personal responsibilities for my own contributions to it)- but come to think of it, most of the blames went down to the quality of teaching I received in school.
I was a ‘science student’ in high school. We never went pass the ‘periodic table’ at the end of my senior secondary school year 1 (SS1). My first chemistry teacher was hired and paid for by the Parent Association, the teacher left the school for better opportunities mid-way into the first year.
We never had a replacement until the end of year 2 (SS2), as the school often take the final year student as priority. Until the last weeks of SS3- the year we would sit the high school final exams, we never had any practical sessions in chemistry, no salt analysis, no titration etc… Similarly in other subjects, the school always kept the available subject teachers for the final year class, but most of the damage had been done in the previous 2 years…
The problem of course transcends issues of material and infrastructural inadequacies within schools, some of the problems have to do with teaching qualities, or I should say some of the problems have led to bad teaching qualities in our secondary schools.
I have been taught by some wonderful teachers who have enabled me to realise my life ambitions- most of them were working under the most precarious conditions I ever witnessed- some of the times they were being owed their wages by the government for more than 6 months at a stretch, and even when they were paid, it was pittance- they could barely survive on it.
However, there were cases of ‘bad’ teachers too, sometimes it was so obvious that the person standing in front of the class to teach had insufficient knowledge of the subjects… we have had NYSC teachers who studied Law and were made to teach English in secondary schools… and most of these NYSC teachers are product of the half-baked systems as well- so it was a perfect case of ‘rubbish-recycling’.
The garbage that some of them deposited in our heads took half a decade to be evacuated. Some of my class mates from the high school never recovered. None of my class mate made it to the university within 4years of leaving the secondary school… including myself. This piece offers some suggestions on how to combat some of the problems of poor teaching qualities in Nigerian schools.
FUNDING THE EDUCATION SYSTEMS: TOO LITTLE…. TOO LATE – All teachers in Nigeria (from primary to secondary) should be well paid, and they must be paid on time. Government should ring-fence some funds, with special budget protection for education- this money should not be kept where thieves in government would steal it…. All teachers deserve decent living- it was almost became a shameful thing to be a teacher in Nigeria, in the recent past, some property owners would not even agree to let their houses to teachers, because it was a well-known secret the government do not pay teachers enough, and they were never paid on time.
Good remuneration would attract the brightest of the best into the teaching profession. This is what the private enterprise schools are doing well- in 2017, I met a young man on a flight from Amsterdam to Lagos, we were both connecting from the UK to Nigeria- we sat next to each other, and we got talking. The young man was a teacher in one of the international schools in Lagos, and his employer had sent him on a training/course at University of Surrey in the UK. We talked at length, and he told me a lot of good incentives that the school does to motivate the staff. And I would not be surprised to see the good quality students being produced from such schools, happy teachers will produce good students.
BAD TEACHERS WOULD PRODUCE BAD STUDENTS – We have had a crazy situation in Nigeria, where a large section of secondary school teachers that are preparing pupils for exams which are required for entrance into universities- themselves never went to university- isn’t this madness?…. I will suggest that all teaching/education focused (teachers-producing) institutions be upgraded to become universities…. The entry requirements into the then-grade II teachers college (now defunct), and the NCE are lower than what is required to get into universities. How then do we expect the teachers who themselves never attained the qualifications that could earn them places within universities- to produce good students that would be able to proceed to universities. I have no apologies about this, individuals who never had up to the minimum 5 credits required to gain a place in the universities should never be allowed to teach students who we expect to proceed to universities. When the Oshiomole’s public trial of the Edo school headmistress went viral, some of us had sympathy for the woman- she is a victim of the same system, maybe she had poorly trained teachers as well, and there was no way she could give what she never had.
MORE GOOD TEACHERS NEEDED- teacher to student ratio should be reduced to a manageable size, more teachers should be recruited to fill vacancies in schools that are under-staffed. All those times that we never had teachers meant we never covered all the topics in the syllabus- in my case and in the case of many others, the grounds for failure in the WAEC is long set, even before the exams are written.
TEST THE TEACHERS AS YOU TEST THE STUDENTS. A robust system of quality control should be put in place, I know culturally there is a problem with ‘asking the child to assess the parent’. There must be ways of asking the students to give feedback on their teachers— this is being done successfully elsewhere, it is part of a comprehensive performance management system. I remember the issue I had with my parents- who were teachers too. Whenever I expressed my concerns about the poor qualities of teaching- they only reminded me to go and carry my books and read them, and stop playing football about… there were issues being brushed under the carpets, of course the last 20 years have changed their opinions on this- as most of the system have become even more failing… some of the teachers would rather not enrol their children in the schools where they teach.
There should be an independent agency that ensures the quality of the teachers are checked, and upgraded where there are identified gaps in teacher’s subject knowledge and teaching skills. I am not suggesting that people should necessarily lose their jobs- of course there may be need to ask some people to leave the profession if they fail to become better after management measures have been introduced- but the essence of the exercise should not be punitive, but to save what is left of the system.
SOME CONTROVERSIAL SUGGESTIONS?
CHILDREN OF POLITICIANS SHOULD ATTEND STATE SCHOOLS? There have been public outcries that the children of the politicians should be enrolled in public schools in the jurisdictions where they govern. This is a colourful idea, but what happens where a politician has no children, or where all their kids have become adults and living independently? THOUGH this suggestion may force them to take measures that are more radical, and see things changed rather too quickly, but it may be infringing on the fundamental human rights of their children too. Every summer the pictures of the politicians’ families attending graduation of their children in overseas’ schools flood the social media…WHILE the children of the poor languish in the ‘universities of Strikes’.
NO TEACHER IS BETTER THAN BAD TEACHER? There is a wild spread use of unqualified teachers, if it is not acceptable that an untrained doctor should treat us when we are sick, why should it be acceptable for untrained teachers to teach school pupils… examples of where unqualified teachers are commonly used within the system is the NYSC- if a graduate is not specially trained to be a teacher, he/she should not be asked to teach… In my case as NYSC teacher- I had the subject knowledge, but I lacked the skills of a teacher. So should the schools rather stayed unstaffed? Or what can we do differently with the NYSC teachers?- If NYSC members must teach, there should be a short teacher’s training scheme incorporated into the NYSC orientation for those who are deployed into schools, this will prevent some of the damage that bad teachers do to secondary school pupils’ learning.
STATE OF EMERGENCY should be declared in the education sector of Nigeria, these matters require urgent interventions, the government should become more serious with their commitments to education, and teacher’s training in Nigeria should be overhauled. There are many potential talents being harmed in the systems, they are the leaders of tomorrow, something must be done to reverse the damage, and it must be done now.