World Teachers Day: ‘Toast To Nigerian Teachers’

 

By Ike Onyechere, MFR
Founding Chairman, Exam Ethics Marshals International.

 

 

 

The World Teacher’ Day (WTD) is held annually on 5th October since 1994 to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendations concerning the status of the teacher, to mark progress and reflect on ways for the promotion of the teaching profession and to remind the world that the teacher is the nucleus of human development.

One thing that differentiates developed, developing and underdeveloped countries is the relative importance accorded to teachers. Developed countries appreciate the fact that while education unlocks the door to the progress and development of countries, teachers hold the keys that unlocks the door. The appreciation reflects in their teachers being among their highest paid professionals.

Consider the case of Luxembourg. The average starting annual salary for junior secondary school teachers is US$79,000 (seventy-nine thousand dollars) or N31,600,000 (thirty-one million six hundred thousand naira) in today’s exchange rate. Some teachers progress to salaries of up to N55,000,000 per annum indexed to achievement of performance indicators and targets. The story is almost the same in countries like Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Netherland, Australia, USA and Ireland.

Now consider the case of developing countries including Nigeria. The average starting annual salary for junior secondary school teachers in public and private schools is about N600,000 (six hundred thousand naira) or US$1,500 (one thousand five hundred dollars) in today’s exchange rate.The situation is compounded by insufficient or total lack of educational infrastructure and teaching and learning materials.

Despite this gulf of disparity, Nigerian teachers continue to deliver commendable performance. Many Nigerian secondary school students have been admitted to foreign tertiary institutions to set academic records. Many of our students have won awards and prizes in international academic competitions. It almost looks like a miracle.

This is why it came as no surprise that the Independent Award Committee of Ethics Resource Centre Nigeria unanimously voted the Nigerian Teacher as winner of 2018 Education Leadership Impact Award. And this is why I am dedicating this toast to the Nigerian Teacher to mark this year’s World Teacher’s Day.

Let me start by asking what may appear like a simple question. Who is a teacher?

A teacher is a person who educates pupils and students. But they are in many categories including formal, informal, religious, tutor, lecturer, etc. Formal teachers teach pupils and students in public and private primary and secondary schools. Lecturers teach in tertiary institutions including universities, polytechnics and colleges of education. Religious leaders like Reverends, Pastors, Gurus, Mullahs and Rabbis are teachers to their followers. Family members or community heads perform the role of informal teachers in transient or on-going roles to their members. Tutors facilitate education for individuals on person-to-person basis

I salute all of you involved in passing the baton of positive and uplifting knowledge from one generation to another.

But my toast is to the professional teacher that earns his or her livelihood from teaching. My toast is specifically addressed to Teachers, Lecturers and Principals in public and private primary, secondary and tertiary institutions across Nigeria.

Teacher, I salute you. Outside parents, no other authority holds more sway over the environment of pupils and students than you, the teacher. Outside parents, you determine what they hear, see, learn and think. You plant ideas, concepts, objects, events and determines that determine their eventual thought processes and beliefs. One positive aspect of COVID-19 lockdown is that it demonstrated your importance to parents in practical terms. Your role as surrogate parents for pupils will now by fully appreciated by parents.

Without you, the teacher, they will be no WAEC or NECO or any public examination body because without you there will be no examiner, supervisor or invigilator.That you are the most powerful force for the progress and development of nations is succinctly captured in the saying:“When Doctors make mistakes,patients die. When Engineers make mistakes, bridges and buildings collapse and people die. When lawyers make mistakes, justice is miscarried and somebody hangs. But when a teacher makes a mistake, whole generations perish”.

Lecturer, I salute you.Your work as teacher, researcher, community worker stands at vintage intersection point between education and societal transformation.Working as mentor and model, with brains of young people as raw material,you are planting ideas and seeds of truth, honesty and integrity in the fertile minds of young people. As the nation’s best and brightest intellectuals and as incubator and reservoir of knowledge, you chart new courses, create new paradigms, to come up with big revolutionary solutions for problems of society. You deploy your research skills in the persistent search for the truth and the findings for service to Governments, communities and organizations.

Principal, I salute you. Your role in the education ecosystem is central and decisive. You are the major pillar that holds the foundation of the education system together.

You wear many caps: agent of the proprietor (government or private); educator; mentor; model; leader of men, women and children; manager of men, materials and money; accredited agent of examination bodies; parent; guardian; teacher; and chief security officer of your school.

As governments of countries at the apex of global developmental pyramid realize,no salary is too high for Teachers, Lecturers and Principals. I hold the view, very strongly, that they should be the highest paid professionals in the Nigeria to attract and retain the best brains; that not less than 30% of budgets of federal, state and local governments should be allocated to education; place salaries and allowances of Teachers, Lecturers and Principals on first charge of fund disbursement; that the Education Bank should be re-established as a matter of national emergency just like we have Mortgage Bank, Agricultural Bank, Infrastructural Bank, Bank of Industry, etc;

It is fit and proper to fight to secure the above benefits for teachers. The fight is not for teachers to be placed on annual salaries of N31M like in Luxembourg. It is just for importance of teachers to be appreciated, for them to be placed at high end of the salary scale structure whatever it is. There should also be legislative attention on the slave wages being paid by some private schools. The argument that private schools are private businesses of the proprietors should be moderated by the fact that their products enter service for the entire society without discrimination.

But I also hold the strong opinion that strikes are no longer viable options for securing the desirable concessions and benefits in education.Strikes have not only become too destructive but also have a high propensity not achieving the desired result in situations of serious economic decline and resource scarcity. Years of decline follow long “successful strikes” in education as we are already seeing in Nigeria. The Art of War authored by Sun Tzu over two thousand years ago remains one of the most popular treatise on successful management of conflicts and competition for resources. The central theme of the book can be summarized to mean that degenerative conflicts, like strikes, are destructive even for the victors, often counter-productive if and when the objective is not achieved or achievable; that winning without degenerative conflict is the best option.

Interestingly, there is an alternative even if it will not yield instant result. The greatest strength of education unions, associations and organizations in Nigeria lies in their population, organized structures, network and brain power. The support of their over 25 million voters can guarantee success of education friendly presidents, governors and legislators at the ballot box, leaders who can commit to and summon the political will to provide the resources needed to transform education. They can also make education-unfriendly leaders pay for their neglect at the ballot box. Three things are needed: for education unions and associations to eschew divisions and come together as a unified force; to produce an education manifesto of irreducible minimum demands candidates for 2023 general elections must subscribe to win their support for national, state and municipal elections; to mobilize their members to bond, work, speak and vote together for candidates that subscribe to the manifesto.

This is not just theory. On July 31, 2010, representatives of nineteen education unions and associations met in Abuja to institute the Joint Education Stakeholders Action Coalition (JESAC) that span the entire gamut of the education sector from primary to secondary to tertiary. Following their Abuja declaration of 8th September 2010, at Transcorp Hilton Hotel, JESAC held a series of consultative conferences which resulted in the production of JESAC Charter of Education Reforms. JESAC mobilized and played active roles in 2012, 2015and 2019 in support of education-friendly candidates. The interventions produced lessons on which successful future interventions can be built to produce education-friendly leaders that will make strikes unnecessary.

The campaign to appreciate Teachers, Lecturers and Principals in public and private educational institutions in practical terms will continue until they become the highest paid professionals in Nigeria, until 30% of budgets is allocated to education and until payment of their salaries, allowances pensions are placed on first charge of fund disbursement.

I have met and worked with thousands of wonderful Teachers since the launching of Exam Ethics Project in 1996. Before then, I had the grace of meeting amazing teachers from primary to secondary to university that thought me really important things of life and moulded my world outlook. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you mentoring my children and grandchildren. Thank you for being there despite the challenges aggravated by COVID-19. Very happy teacher’ day to you.

Ike Onyechere, MFR
Founding Chairman, Exam Ethics Marshals International.
 October 5, 2020.