By Nwachukwu Egbunike
(The Guardian (www.ngrguardiannews.com) May 14 2007)
“WHAT do you want to be when you grow up?” This is a typical question for kids. The answers one usually gets are: “I want to be a doctor”, “I want to be a lawyer, or “I want to be a pilot”, so-on and so-forth. The list usually drags on and on. However, I cannot ever recall any kid responding with these words: “I want to be a teacher”.
This aversion for teaching is not shared by kids alone. No Nigerian teenager ever considers teaching as a profession to be aspired to. Prof. Michael Omolewa, Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to UNESCO, recalled an anecdote sometime ago. According to him, it happened that a certain parent had sought his advice because her son could not gain admission to study medicine. In all simplicity, he advised the boy that since he could not make the cut-off mark for medicine, he should consider studying education. He had hardly finished when both mother and child broke down into tears.
When I mean teaching, I have in mind those that teach in nursery, primary and secondary school. This is because those in tertiary institutions have a more ‘dignified’ title of lectures. Besides teaching in this category is more prestigious and nets in a very fat pay package. During the era of the colonial masters – who we always blame for all our misfortunes, both real and imagined – the teaching profession was prestigious. In the Teacher Training Colleges, student teachers were paid. The training colleges were very rigorous and as a result, only the best graduated as teachers. Granted that perhaps the salary was not that fantastic, however it provided for the basic needs of most of them. Besides in those days, the teacher had a certain reserve, a dignity that did not come from the weight of his purse but on the significance of his tasks. To be called onye nkuzi (teacher) carried as much weight as a lawyer, doctor or priest.
Unfortunately things have not only changed but also gone worse. It seems that a sizeable number of teachers in nursery, primary and secondary schools are just victims of circumstances who having no other means of livelihood, took to teaching. This group of people are always on the look out for greener pastures. This in itself is not bad. After all there are also some teachers who started teaching by accident but have made a success story out of it. The last group – who unfortunately are a minority – enjoy teaching; they have a passion for imparting knowledge.
Taking a look at any Faculty of Education, one finds that the majority of those aspiring to be teachers are people already advanced in age, matured students. The young ones are few and are usually those that could not make it in other faculties. Even among these students a great number are there because they want a degree to consolidate their jobs, especially these days that an NCE means little or nothing. The few, who are interested in teaching, have their minds set on checking-out.
Why do young people shy away from teaching? It is also a reflection of the crisis of values rocking our society. If Nigerian politicians, who do little to nothing in terms of creation of utility, are immersed in wealth, why should a young fellow want to teach? Nobody wants to be a teacher due to the poor remuneration. Another important factor is the absence of professionalism. Besides the general population does not value teachers. Parents are only interested in teachers when their children are in school. As soon as they graduate, that’s the end of it. Thus the Nigerian teacher in most cases is like a broom that is only useful when it can sweep but as soon as it gets old, it is discarded.
The public schools are worse hit as the teachers hardly give their best – settling only for the barest minimum, paying more attention to the private classes they organise. Those located in the rural areas rely a lot on Youth Coopers. Not only do most coopers lack the prerequisite training, they are unfortunately in most cases, grossly incompetent in their areas of specialisation and above all have to battle with the communication barrier, as most of their students can only understand their native language. Teachers in private schools are not any better as they earn peanuts when compared to the volume of work they handle. It is only the proprietors of these schools that smile home with huge bank accounts. A sorry situation of monkey dey work, baboon dey chop!
If the youths are really the hope of this nation then we are an endangered species. This is because if the moulders of the minds of the young are unmotivated, sad, hungry and generally without any drive, if the future is entrusted to those who have no love for their profession, who are constantly impelled to look for other avenues to keep body and soul together then we are in big wahala.
The teaching profession should be given the dignity it deserves. More work – than talk – should be put in place to accord this profession its pride of place. The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) and other stakeholders in the education industry should wake up and do something. I am delighted that the present drive of the present Education Minister, Oby Ezekwesili is yielding fruit. One only hopes that her reforms do not die after she leaves office. However, madam minister should kindly accelerate the necessary changes that will make teachers proud of their professions. It will be worthwhile to review the conditions of service of Nigerian teachers.
On the other hand, the private sector should be proactive, especially those in the education industry. The book publishers in particular who have a direct dependence on teachers should take the lead. I was elated on bumping into a newsletter “School Supplement” exclusively dedicated to Nigerian teachers and bankrolled by Evans Brothers Publishers. It may seem so little but life itself is a collation of little things. It is in our interest to restore the pride of the Nigerian teacher. Otherwise we are only digging our graves because in the words of Gbenro Adegbola, President of Nigerian Publishers Association, “any society that does not treat moulders of the future with reverence is certainly doomed to fail”.