In this report, Tyohemba Henry looks at the plight of a 21st century Nigerian teacher, characterised by hunger and frustration which discourages many young school leavers from taking to the profession.
It’s often said that a teachers’ reward is in heaven. This reward-in-heaven cliché is the one reason many young school leavers run away from teaching profession. The fact is, everybody needs earthly and heavenly glory. Teachers rightly need heaven on earth. The inhuman treatment meted out to them despite their crucial role in both human and national development calls for a greater concern.
If there is anything Nigeria needs to do, it is to encourage young elegant minds who are into teaching and have the desire to become teachers and reward them here on earth before accessing the heavenly reward by ensuring they are being paid at regular and allotted time all their entitlements and other necessary benefits.
The teacher is in all forms the central figure and source in the development of any nation. He is the pillar and live wire of human capital development who can also make and mar the society when not properly treated and monitored. An American professor emeritus of education, Dr. Ivan Welton, once said “The future of the world is in my classroom today, a future with potential for good or bad.” He tries to portray how the whole future of a nation lies in the hands of one person who is not given due recognition in the society. A teacher from all indications is not treated well going by the work he renders to the society, he is being neglected.
Despite having the great responsibility of moulding the future of Nigerian citizens, the welfare package of the Nigerian teacher is among the worst in the country. He operates with meager and irregular salaries, he is over used in the private schools, yet, he remains a scapegoat where children go unsuccessful.
Most teachers lack the passion for the profession and are not properly trained on what it takes to be a 21st century teacher and when they are trained, lack the necessary instructional materials and yet, they are the first to be blamed for poor student performance.
This has reached a critical level, especially in private schools. When a student fails examination, some parents launch a war on the form teacher but when the reverse is the case, the same parents may not remember that someone was behind the success.
As Nigeria joins other countries to celebrate this year’s ‘World Teacher’s Day’ themed “Valuing Teachers, Improving Their Status”, Nigerian teachers in both public and private institutions expressed their pains and talked about being denied the joy to celebrate.
Speaking with some teachers in their Abuja residences, they painted a gloomy picture, narrating how the profession has turned them into destitutes because of either non-payment of their salaries or insufficient remuneration. One of them, Anthony Terfa who resides in Lugbe, Abuja said:
“I have been teaching in a private school for seven years. At times I become desperate and ask myself where I am heading to. I don’t have a comfortable house to live in, no car, no wife. There is no increment in salary and we are being embarrassed in the presence of students who fail to cope with academic studies.”
On the occasion of the World Teacher’s Day, the Edo State chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mike Uhunmwangho said teachers had been subjected to various kinds of ill-treatment by various stakeholders as a result of huge neglect by government.
“The massive impoverishment suffered by teachers in our societies has made them to be classified as second class citizens in Nigeria whereas they are supposed to occupy a pride of place in our country,” he said.
The NUT boss lamented lack of teachers’ welfare and called on the Federal Government to consider the demand by teachers to increase their retirement age from 60-65 years and ensure that only qualified and professionally trained personnel are engaged in the proposed recruitment of 500,000 teachers in order to promote effective service.
Speaking at a similar event organized by the NUT, Lagos chapter, the deputy governor of Lagos State, Dr. Idiat Adebule, who is also the state Commissioner for Education also referred to the agony of teachers and urged the federal government to ensure they enjoy the reward of their labour on earth before doing so in heaven.
“Our vision of providing the best education delivery for our citizens can only be achieved when adequate care and attention are given to our teachers,” she pointed out.
It needs be stated that private school teachers suffer the most in this situation. They are paid peanuts which makes living difficult for them. An Abuja teacher, James Uzo, talks about the Nigerian teacher of the 21st century:
“Before, we were suffering but much respected in the society. In the village settings especially, teachers were next to village heads and chiefs. Today, even the respect is gone. We suffer to give the best to students, yet we are being mocked by the same students. They have the feeling that once called a teacher, you are a nobody.”
All over the country, it is one tale of woe after another about teachers’ plight and condition. UNESCO which proclaimed the World Teachers Day in 1994 marked the day with a special event in Paris. The organisation called on people all over the world to celebrate teachers because they are heroes. “Teachers should be celebrated by generating awareness and ensuring that teacher respect is part of the natural order of things.” Will this advice ever be heeded in Nigeria?