Worldwide, October 5 is celebrated as teachers’ day. For Nigeria, that occasion provided instructional materials for the honourable minister of education, Igwe Nwachukwu to give everyone a lecture on the plans by the Yar’Adua government to implement the Teacher Salary Structure, TSS, which his predecessors had swept under the carpet for decades. According to the minister, teachers ‘’are moulders of other professionals and professions whose contributions cannot be quantified’’. Continuing, the minister intimated Nigerians that the National Council on Education, NCE, has deliberated on plans to increase primary and secondary school teachers’ pay. The only thing he said was left now was for the National Executive Council to give a final nod. This should be a noble thing to be happening to teachers in a Nigeria where the teacher is regarded a little more than the average unskilled factory worker, vis-à-vis graduates like him who work in multinational companies. If the undertone behind the enthusiasm the minister expressed concerning teacher remuneration were to be laid bare, what would emerge is a realization that the teacher is seen as one whose reward is still in heaven, and therefore may have to die and get to heaven or hell before he gets that fantastic salary that is commensurate with his so-called ‘’innumerable contributions to society’’.
Teachers all over the world apart from, perhaps, Japan and China, are poorly remunerated and that is why Nigerian teachers should not in any way be seen as an endangered species from the remunerative point of view. Take for instance teachers in Connecticut in the United States who get only $50,000 per annum (an average of $4,000 monthly), while their counterparts from South Dakota get half that amount. That same disparity obtains in Nigeria particularly between what is known as private and public schools, even though there is no basis for comparing what the lowest-paid teacher in the US gets and that that the highest-paid teacher in Nigeria gets. Disparity or otherwise, the lot of the teacher worldwide used to be an attractive one, underscoring the need to do something about a formerly prestigious profession, now one for the wretched, and teachers becoming a dozen a dime.
But a lot of questions readily come to the front burner from the seeming ennobling gesture by the federal government to jack up primary and secondary school teachers’ salaries. Was the minister just massaging the already bruised ego of the Nigerian teacher by cashing in on that day to tell them their plight is being considered? If that is not the case, why wait all of these years before suddenly beginning to think of doing something about the sorry passé of secondary and primary school’s teachers? Why now? Why give the impression that the government is simply playing politics with the condition of the ‘’moulders of professions and professionals?
That the minister has come out to say that his boss was considering an increment of the salaries of primary and secondary school teachers ordinarily exposes him as someone who is hardly abreast of global best practices in attending to problems associated with the teaching profession. The minister should know that when you say that you cannot pay teachers, it simply means that: that there is no amount of money you could give to someone who moulds ‘’professions and professionals’’, and who stands in loco parentis to children that could ever be remunerative.
In civilized countries, people stopped throwing money at conditions that appear intractable. They attend to these problems with ideas. Take another example of a seemingly intractable problem in the educational system of the United States. According to records, ‘’ public and private schools in the United States had 52.4 million students and about 3 million teachers. Experts estimate that the number of students attending American schools will increase to 55 million by 2006 and that to serve this increase adequately will require 3.4 million teachers’’. So what did they do? First, they identified the problem like this: the US Department of Education’s National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found out that that there was inadequate teacher education programmes, poor teacher recruitment efforts, poor administrative practices and lack of rewards for teachers who demonstrate skills and achievement. And what did they do? They set a benchmark of salary based on competence and skills and teacher educational programmes geared towards meeting national professional standards and goals. That agenda was faithfully pursued since 1996 right through till 2006 and has yielded the kind of dividends that has made the teaching profession an attractive one, even though teacher salaries in the US are still very low. What this means is that rather than take the short cut to tackling a problem by throwing or proposing to throw money at it, the US government created an enabling environment that, plus or minus, put certain things in place to cushion the domino effect of poor salaries. Why has is it been difficult to do the same thing here?
The answer may lie in the fact that serious attention has never really been given to the conditions of primary and secondary school teachers. Of the three reasons given by educators for the collapse of the national version of the Universal Primary Education, UPE, was the fact that as at that time, the government had no idea how many teachers it had on its payroll, what with their inability to envisage the numbers that took advantage of the programme. Therefore, what seems best to do at this critical point in time is that, as the present government seeks to sustain the tempo generated by the re-launch of the Universal Basic Education, UBE, by its predecessor, it should also think in terms of ‘rewarding’ teachers by putting in place long-term programmes like a UBE for teachers. Otherwise what use is it to want to educate our children when the teachers to educate them are not educated or work in a competence-driven school environment?