‘Proprietor’s Child Slaps Teacher’ | ‘When You Get There, You Feel Bitter’: The LRF on How to Tackle Nigeria’s Teacher Problem

The country faces issues of low quality as well as high job dissatisfaction among its teachers. The LRF asks a panel why the problem exists – and what can be done to rectify it.

The Literary Renaissance Foundation’s (LRF) panel discussion on the factors affecting teacher recruitment, retention and attrition in Nigeria, held on Saturday, 8 July 2023, drew significant interest from participants. Yetunde Tonmaye, retired director from the Lagos State Ministry of Education and teacher for 17 years, bemoaned the poor academic environment that fills teachers with exhaustion and discouragement. “The teaching and learning environment most of the time is so poor for a teacher,” she says. “You get to where you call your office and you are not encouraged. You feel like you don’t belong to the environment where you sit down for up to eight hours daily to work. Sometimes there is no furniture. Sometimes the classroom and even the staffroom itself is poor.”

The situation is worsened by the attitude of many students, Yetunde observes, who are being pushed to go to school, especially with the introduction of technology. “Some of them are not really ready to learn. They feel like going to school is not as important as being rich. That’s the mindset. An average student wants to get rich quick – without sowing, without any hard work.”

While the panellists generally acknowledged the immensity of the problem, some of them recognised that its root cause was intense poverty in the country. “The overall backdrop behind these factors,” says Olabisi Olasupo, English Language and Literary Studies teacher with the Teaching Service Commission, Oyo State, “is the high level of poverty in the land, which has affected the standard.

“Every nook and cranny of the country now, you see mushroom nursery and primary schools just to cater for the particular environment they are in. In a low-income-earning environment, of course the kind of schools you get there would be the ones that suit such environments. You have such mushroom schools charging as low as N10,000 for school fees, just to get the crowd. And with that, they definitely would not be able to afford seasoned, well-trained teachers.”

bird's eye view of Abeokuta, city in Nigeria
Low-income neighbourhoods like this one feature schools that charge really low fees that parents can afford. Image credit: McBarth Obeya on Pexels

However, Olabisi also notes that, even in many middle-income neighbourhoods, there is “no proper professionalism in the recruitment of teachers”, leading to widespread incompetence. Gloria Ohakwe, teacher and public speaker, believes that this incompetence is a direct effect of not having learned effective teaching skills at teacher colleges. “Those who went through teacher-training courses had some courses that were centred on teaching skills like micro-teaching, mini-teaching and so on,” she says. “So, we were really trained on the tenets of teaching skills.”

She believes that a key factor contributing to the drop in teacher quality as well as the high rate of attrition is the idea that teachers can be ridiculed in society. “We’re not proud to call ourselves teachers,” she laments, “compared to our counterparts in other industries – for example, doctors and lawyers. They always rate them high in the society, but we teachers are always neglected. We are always relegated to the lowest ebb of society.

“For example, in schools, if you do a head count on the kind of profession students wish to take up when they grow up, you will hardly come across a student who will opt for teaching as a profession.”

For Olabisi, you can only give what you have and many people who are employed as teachers possess neither knowledge nor passion, but are only there to eke out a living. “Some teachers see the teaching profession as a means to an end,” she says. “So many of the teachers are just there to get by, really not believing in what they are into, only looking for the next opportunity to go. So, they are really not committed.”

She also bemoaned the poor moderation of the educational sector. “To gain admission into colleges of education now, you have to score as low as 180, 160, 140. That dichotomy of having higher scorers in the university and having low scorers going to colleges of education where teachers are meant to be trained has been a very serious factor. I don’t know how educational policymakers arrived at that dichotomy.”

Chukwuma Adekunle, teacher at a missionary school in Enugu, noted that corruption was equally a major setback. “The government has oversight,” he says. “They can come to your school and tell you who is or isn’t qualified. But the drawback there is that schools can tip government officials, and that is what happens most of the time. When they come, envelopes are prepared for them. They look at some areas – then they overlook some areas. The heavier the envelope, the better the report that the school gets.”

As a former school inspector, Yetunde agrees on the impact of corruption. She believes it makes it impossible for inspectors to do a good job and enforce any educational regulations. “You are there to inspect a subject,” she says, “and the school has provided to you an adequately qualified teacher to handle the subject – only for you to discover later that that adequately qualified teacher was borrowed from somewhere else and was presented to you on that day in order to get the school accredited for that subject. That’s part of the corruption we are talking about.”

She also noted that this was especially a problem with private schools, which repeatedly flout government regulations and engage in all kinds of malpractice, hiding behind an apparent shield that government control over them is limited. “There are some things that private schools do,” says Yetunde, “when you get there, you feel bitter. They just treat teachers like nobody. I’ve seen instances where the proprietor’s child slaps teacher.”

Discussing strategies to tackle the problem, Bobai Kabonbwok, lecturer at the Kaduna State College of Education, Kafanchan, suggests that technology such as phones and computers should be used more – to get students’ attention. “Most learners now get easily distracted with their devices, so why not take teaching there? Teachers should be looking at ways to engage their learners using these devices. It’s possible.” However, he also recognised the difficulty caused by a lack of internet connection, especially in rural areas. “And families are poor,” he added. “They can’t afford these devices.”

nigerian parent selling footstuffs in a stall
Many Nigerian parents may not afford gadgets for their children. Image credit: Tope A. Asokere on Pexels

On using ICT, we also need to be a bit current, says Chukwuma. Some of the developed countries of the world may already be removing mobile phones and some other similar technologies from their classrooms due to their negative impact on young learners. He notes: “The Netherlands less than a week ago came up with a policy that, by the next educational session, their students will not be allowed to use a mobile phone, tablets and all these gadgets in the classroom. They did a study for a period of about five years and discovered that these have actually been causing more distraction than any other thing.”

Instead, he suggests an overhaul of the educational system. “What we are getting is what we are putting in. The whole system is corrupt.” He insists that only good and honest practices from the government and the private sector can turn things around. “If we want to be serious, until people in the government and private sector can be holistic in their approach to recruitment processes, we will still actually be having issues.”

This resonated well with most of the panellists, including Olabisi, who declares that we would continue having the same problems “until corruption is flushed out of our system as individuals of our nation”.

Williams Oladele, consultant, writer and poet, identified this as part of widescale degradation in the country. “I’m sure most of the older people who are 40 or 50 know what education used to be, what the headmaster used to be, what teachers represented. There is a general erosion of values and general irresponsibility. Back then, you know what schooling was.”

With economic freedom tightening in the country, people are leaving in droves, a brain drain that has been popularly tagged the Japa Syndrome. The only way to keep competent teachers interested and dedicated in such conditions is to improve their pay, says Caroline. “Everything boils down to pay.”

However, the educational system requires significant funding in order to offer much better pay to teachers, among other things. For Tejumade Oke, solicitor and notary public, this task is too big for the government to handle alone. “The funding of schools should not be dumped on the government alone,” she says. “All stakeholders must be ready to come on board. The PTA, the old students’ association, they should give meaningful contribution into the funding and running of schools.”

Emphasising stakeholder collaboration, she further called for a united approach to tackling these issues. “The masses should be reorientated to add their own quota. At the level we are now as a nation, if we continue to have the mindset that the government should fund everything, then the problem persists.”



Discover more from Literary Renaissance Foundation

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Discover more from Literary Renaissance Foundation

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading