Welfare, training, ICT gap resonate at World Teachers’ Day

• One year after, bureaucracy, funding stall Buhari’s promise to teachers
• Govt has failed to deliver on its promises, NUT laments

The popular refrain that teachers’ reward are in heaven, as acknowledgment that they are at the wrong end of the national reward stick, rings true today as Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark Teachers’ Day.

Stakeholders have identified welfare, training and technological development as key areas government must focus on to encourage those in the teaching profession. They lamented that government, over the years, has failed to deliver on its promises to teachers, which they said has discouraged young and brilliant ones from embracing the profession.

The Guardian gathered that teachers were yet to benefit from the promises made to them last year on the occasion of Teachers’ Day by President Muhammadu Buhari regarding their welfare because of official protocols and lack of funds.

The two critical areas where teachers in the country are waiting anxiously for the government to redeem its promises are new Teachers Salary Structure (TSS) and the implementation of a new retirement age of 65. The TSS is expected to make the least paid teachers in the public service earn about N150,000 monthly as against the current salary of about N49,000, while the retirement age is up from 60 to 65 years.

World Teachers’ Day, held yearly on October 5 to celebrate teachers around the globe, commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendation concerning the status of teachers, which sets benchmarks regarding their rights and responsibilities, and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions.

A joint statement from the Director-General, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Audrey Azoulay; Director-General, International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr. Guy Ryder; Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms Henrietta H. Fore; and General Secretary of Education International, Mr. David Edwards, reads in part: “On World Teachers’ Day, we are not only celebrating every teacher. We are calling on countries to invest in them and prioritise them in global education recovery efforts so that every learner has access to a qualified and supported teacher. Let’s stand with our teachers!”

National Secretary, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Mike Ene, said despite government’s promises of improved welfare and training, state governors have failed to implement the new wage.

Although he said few states have partially made efforts to improve teachers’ welfare, Ene said such states only focus on secondary schools, neglecting their primary counterparts.

“Our concern is that governors have interpreted the constitution upside down; some feel that it is the duty of governors to take over primary education while local governments will only support, and to the best of my knowledge, someone supporting will not bear the most responsibility,” he noted.

The NUT chief lamented that government is playing politics with allocation to the sector, pointing out that if successive governments stop paying lip service and adequately fund the sector, teachers will be better off.

He described this year’s theme: ‘Teachers at the heart of education recovery,’ as apt, saying teachers change the fortune of children for the better and remain at the heart of education recovery.

Ene expressed concern that some states owe teachers 19 months salaries, warning that as long as government keeps toying with the lives of teachers, the nation will suffer for it.

He said: “There are some states that have not employed teachers in the last 10 years, yet teachers are retiring in their numbers. Boko Haram cleared more than 2,000 teachers in the Northeast and Northwest, as a result, we have dearth of teachers. We urge government at all levels to take education serious and realise that teachers remain the most critical factor for national development.

“If government continues to owe teachers, we are not going anywhere as a nation. Nigerian teachers should be accorded their right of place,” Ene added.

The NUT chief said the body is pushing for legislation on the new minimum wage from states to enforce payment.

Ene also expressed concern over deplorable infrastructure in schools, particularly those in rural areas, saying in most of these schools, teachers lack necessary tools and instructional materials to work.

On his part, last year’s finalist of UNESCO’s Global Teacher Prize, Mr. Sunkanmi Opeifa, said the outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed lapses in the sector.

“Prior to lockdown, there was noise everywhere about embracing technology in the classroom, suddenly, COVID-19 pushed us to that place and as soon as the lockdown was eased, we all relaxed and went back to use of blackboards, pencil and paper. Our life has not been the same, yet the only tool that will help us, which is technology, has been jettisoned. There is no word about teacher training, especially technology, anymore.

Opeifa, who emerged Maltina Teacher of the Year 2019, lamented that despite President Buhari’s promise to transform teachers’ lives, nothing has happened.

He said: “This is one area I think government needs to be serious with, if government can be faithful to that promise, teachers will not use that money on themselves alone, many of us will be buying instructional materials to use in the classrooms. We will not wait for government to get laptops for us, teachers will have enough strength and capability to buy tools, train themselves and do things.

“Teachers’ welfare is terrible, if this is improved upon, it will lift the profession. Once these two are looked into, teaching profession will be better and students will be better for it.”

In the same vein, teachers in low cost private schools have appealed to government to consider them in the implementation of some of its welfare packages, such as healthcare.

They noted that if low cost schools are not in existence, the number of out-of-school children would have increased.

National President, Association of Formidable Educational Development (AFED), Orji Emmanuel Kanu, said teacher’s welfare should be top priority. He said a situation where teachers are poorly paid or deprived of their entitlements after retirement is unacceptable.

“The situation of those in private sector, especially low cost schools, is quite pitiable because they are just on their own. So, when government is making plans for those in public schools, they should remember teachers who are also in low-cost schools.

“If you go to Kenya, government is playing a big role in paying teachers in low cost private schools. Already, we have over 25,000 low cost schools with at least 150 children in a school, while some have over 500 pupils across the federation and we are still growing. Imagine the number of teachers being employed in these schools, if this particular segment does not exist, what would have happened?” Kanu queried.

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