Primary Edition: Building on a Weak Foundation

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Oshiomhole

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |

THE reading incompetence of Augusta Odemnigwe, a primary school teacher in Edo State, during a recent screening of 1,300 teachers in the state, has further exposed the lack of adequate teaching skills by educators in the nation’s primary school education. The screening, which went viral on the internet, showed how Adams Oshiomhole, the state Governor, listened attentively to the teacher as she battled with difficulty to read the affidavit of her age declaration.

When it became clear that the teacher could not read out what was on her affidavit, the fate of the pupils she had taught in her 20 years of teaching became a crucial issue of national discourse. Oshiomhole, who was disappointed by the teacher’s lack-lustre performance, said to her, “If you cannot read, what then do you teach pupils; what do you write on the board?” Edo is not the only state in the country where such rot exists in primary education system because Kaduna State was in the news for a similar reason. Usman Mohammed, State commissioner for education, said that 1300 of the 1,599 teachers in the state failed simple arithmetic and basic literacy tests initially meant for primary four pupils. This development thus brought to the fore the standard of teaching in the primary school system when educators cannot pass an examination meant for their pupils. “Only one of them scored 75 percent; 250 scored between 50 and 75 percent and 1, 300 scored below 25 percent,” Mohammed said.

Similarly in Kwara State, about 259 teachers including university graduates, failed a test meant for primary four pupils in 2008. The decay in the nation’s primary school education system was further magnified when teachers in public secondary schools in Ekiti State in 2012 embarked on an indefinite strike to protest the introduction of a Teachers’ Development Need Assessment announced by the state government for the more than 16,000 teachers in the state. The teachers intended to use the strike as a weapon to make the government rescind its plan to test their competence.

Mohammed
Mohammed

The dwindling quality of education in Nigeria is a cause for great concern and a call for prompt action by all stakeholders to salvage the slide. Speaking on the competence level of primary school teachers, Ademola Onifade, former dean, faculty of education, Lagos State University, described the situation as unfortunate. He said that since primary education marks the foundation of national education, there should be much work therein. “Teachers in primary schools are not skilled as they should. We are not doing a good job at that level of education. The infrastructure is bad. In some of our primary schools, pupils sit on the ground. Teachers are not motivated. How do you want pupils to learn when the teachers are not also motivated?

“Government needs to fund primary education properly and invest in teachers’ training colleges. The teachers also need to be motivated so that they can give their best. The importance of education to human beings cannot be overemphasised because education is considered as a human right that should be accorded to all human beings and this is the more reason a lot of international human rights bodies consider education as a fundamental human right.” According to him, one should not be talking of unavailable teachers in schools but of the instability in the system. The unstable condition of the teaching staff in Nigerian primary schools has drastically crippled the system. The question now is: Why the instability? The answer is that the condition of service does not favour teachers to stay in the profession and as such, they are always looking for an alternative career.

Over the years, the education system in Nigeria has been going through many challenges, thus, preventing the country from achieving its set goals. The first and, perhaps, the greatest challenge facing education in Nigeria and making it difficult for good quality education to be attained is inadequate funding by federal, state and local governments. According to a World Bank survey on Nigeria, the federal expenditure on education is below 10 percent of its overall expenditures. For instance, between 1997 and 2002, the total share of education in total federal expenditure ranged between 9.9 percent and 7.6 percent with the trend showing a downward plunge. It would have been more interesting to spell out what proportion of this expenditure on education actually goes to primary education but the accurate data in this regard is lacking.

Another problem of educational development in Nigeria is that of responsibility and control. For instance, the control of primary education is neither fully in the hands of the federal government, nor in that of the state or local government. This is a great barrier to effective educational development at the basic level.  Another major problem facing education in Nigeria is the faulty method of recruiting teachers. Peter Ogudoro, a development educationist, said it’s not surprising that some of the teachers in the nation’s education system are not qualified and could not be trusted to impart the right knowledge and values in the pupils and students because their recruitment was based on favouritism. He said that some of the teachers get their jobs through god-fathers and their affiliation with some power brokers.

Pupils listening to their teacher in a stuffy classroom
Pupils listening to their teacher in a stuffy classroom

He said: “Policy-makers and those who implement it need to be trained. When you get the best teachers and you do not train them, you should not expect that they will continue to deliver at a level that they will give you in future. If a person teaching you is ignorant, you cannot be better than he or she. It is because most of them did not get the right background in primary school which is the basic level of education, they enter into secondary schools and pay bribes to make their WAEC exams. They neglect teachers’ training colleges and dabble into the university, thereafter they go into teaching and have no or little knowledge to impart on the primary school pupils.”

Ogudoro said since primary school serves as the foundation for a good education, it would be futile constructing anything meaningful on such base if it is initially shaky. He stated that the way out was to remedy the defective recruitment process into primary schools by employing only competent teachers. “In a place like Finland, you will need a Master’s degree to be able to teach even in the primary school level. If an individual gets a good education at the primary level, even if such a person is not opportuned to go to secondary school, he or she can learn a lot of things by himself. We should watch the recruitment process into primary education, train the teachers and ensure they receive good remuneration,” Ogudoro stated.

In the same vein, Ngozi Nwoye, another educationist, said that the best brains would not be found in the education system as long as education was made a stop-gap to other professions. Besides, she noted that education had been politicised and that it was necessary for the state and federal governments to get the best teachers for schools since education was on the concurrent list. “In teacher-training colleges, one can get quality teachers. But since they no longer exist, the best teachers can be gotten from colleges of education or faculties of education in universities where you can tell the provost or vice-chancellor to identify their best students for employment.” According to her, before a nation can get the best from a teacher, that nation needs to invest the best in the system. She also stated that anybody who desires to impart knowledge should be in possession of quality knowledge too.

“Indeed, it is very easy to know that something is seriously wrong with Nigerian educational system now compared to the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Anybody who walked into any school then automatically felt like being admitted immediately into the school. The teachers then were trained basically as teachers and they saw it as a profession,  enjoyed it and imparted quality knowledge to their pupils but the reverse is the case in recent times. The headmasters and other educational administrators both in schools and in the educational bureaucracies were highly motivated and committed to educating the youths of the country.  The quality of education was very high, thereby, enabling Nigerian students to compete very well throughout the world. During the decades mentioned, educators maintained high professional and ethical standards. Educational institutions competed at every level to be the best regionally, nationally, and internationally in terms of academic performance, extra-curricular activities, and infrastructural development,” Nwoye recalled.

Dilapidated state of primary school buildings
Dilapidated state of primary school buildings

In contrast, she lamented that the 1990s and 2000s were characterised by poor academic standards, unorganised extra-curricular activities and wretched infrastructures and facilities.  She noted that Nigeria’s school compounds and campuses today are like facilities located in war zones.  “They are unkempt and in a serious state of disrepair. Many primary and secondary schools are comparable to makeshift refugee camps in a war zone with broken windows, chairs, and desks.  In some schools, the roofs are leaky and when it rains, classes are interrupted.”

However, the dwindling quality of education in Nigeria is a cause for great concern and a call for prompt action by all stakeholders to salvage the trend. Realnews findings revealed that over the last two decades, the management of primary school education had been experiencing some problems as a result of policy gaps. Teachers’ salaries were not paid adequately, schools were not well-maintained and facilities were not adequately provided because the management of primary school education had oscillated to and from the different tiers of government. It was only in 2004, that a concrete legislation was passed to regulate primary education in Nigeria otherwise known as the Universal Basic Education, UBE Bill.

Tina Obi, a teacher in a private school in Lagos, said that the high rate of indiscipline in the society is also a hindrance to the development of education in primary schools. She said that indiscipline is manifested in examination malpractices and corruption among other vices. “These days, students are no longer interested in excelling academically, rather, they think about when they would pass out from the schools.” She also identified poor parenting or guidance as another major problem facing primary schools education system in Nigeria. “Parents do not care to protect and guide their wards and as such no adequate provisions are made for their basic needs to help them meet the challenges of life, in accordance with the laws of the land. Many parents bring about innovations that are not encouraging to their wards but rather paving ways to examination malpractices in order to brighten their chances in qualifying examinations to higher institutions.

“To tackle these challenges in the primary educational system, adequate teachers’ education training with adequate provision of resources and re-introducing of teachers’ colleges, quality assurance in terms of class, size, number of teachers and instructional materials, proper management, supervision of schools and implementation of schools management committee system, adequate budgetary provision, employment of professional teachers, empowerment approach to education, provision of child-friendly and teacher-friendly school environment, review of school curricula with a view to promoting relevant learning and extra curricula activities, admission of students to schools based on merit and not on political ground as well as provision of special salary for teachers.

“Government must encourage private and mission schools to thrive; at the same time, all levels of government must make public schools environment more competitive and attractive to the citizens. Government should hand over all seized private and mission schools to their original proprietors, so that they can continue to nurture the values they were renowned for. This will create alternative opportunities for our teeming youths to determine the most suitable schools to realise their future dreams,” she said.

—  Oct. 7, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

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