Please, Stop Hu­mil­i­at­ing Teach­ers

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The oc­ca­sion of a re­treat on ed­u­ca­tion two days ago pro­vided the plat­form for Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari to en­dorse a “sur­gi­cal op­er­a­tion” Gov­er­nor Nasir el-Ru­fai is em­bark­ing upon in Kaduna. While this pres­i­den­tial en­dorse­ment would doubt­less en­cour­age the Kaduna state gov­ern­ment in its pol­icy steps on the one hand, on the other hand it has un­wit­tingly raised a spec­tre of hu­mil­i­a­tion of teach­ers on the na­tional hori­zon. The gov­er­nor is de­ter­mined to sack about 22, 000 teach­ers who have been ad­judged as “in­com­pe­tent” in the school sys­tem of the metropoli­tan state. The al­le­ga­tion of the state gov­ern­ment is that the 22, 000 teach­ers to be fired sat for tests meant for pri­mary four pupils and failed abysmally. To jus­tify its po­si­tion, the state gov­ern­ment has made the very scan­dalous scripts of a few of the teach­ers pub­lic. Any one con­cerned about the fu­ture of the pupils be­ing taught by those whose scripts were made pub­lic should feel dispir­ited. The Pres­i­dent felt so and ac­tu­ally said the sit­u­a­tion is a “tragic one.”

The sys­tem is odi­ously faulty, yet it is con­ve­nient for those in gov­ern­ment to iso­late one as­pect of a huge prob­lem and make a fes­ti­val of it be­cause some help­less fel­lows are in­volved. Yes, the it is a se­ri­ous prob­lem, but it would be more help­ful if both Buhari and el-Ru­fai pon­der the deeply struc­tural as­pects of the prob­lem.

For clar­ity, no gen­uinely progressive per­son could ob­ject to the strate­gic fo­cus of el-Ru­fai in Kaduna State: the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion should be raised so that good ed­u­ca­tion could be made ac­ces­si­ble to the chil­dren of the poor. This is cen­tral to any ef­fec­tive poverty al­le­vi­a­tion strat­egy. You can­not dis­pute such a strat­egy if you wish the poor stu­dents in Kaduna State well; it is also hardly de­bat­able that the qual­ity of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria (not only Kaduna) is in sharp de­cline.

The prob­lem with the el-Ru­fai sur­gi­cal op­er­a­tion is with his tac­tics. So it is with his pol­i­tics and many of his pol­icy steps. As a con­vinced right-wing star, the gov­er­nor may have no time for the philo­soph­i­cal is­sues of dia­lec­tics. Yet, he needs a bet­ter com­pre­hen­sion of the dia­lec­tic of strat­egy and tac­tic in his pol­i­tics and pol­icy for­mu­la­tion, ar­tic­u­la­tion and in­deed, im­ple­men­ta­tion. As ev­ery good stu­dent of dia­lec­tics knows very well, an ex­tremely er­ro­neous tac­ti­cal step in the short run could eas­ily com­pro­mise the strate­gic end in the long run.

Mal­lam el-Ru­fai has de­clared 22, 000 teach­ers in­com­pe­tent. Can we also pause and think about the com­pe­tence of the as­ses­sors of these poor folks? Does pro­pri­ety mat­ter in this ex­er­cise at all? Both in law and in fact, the test it­self was in­com­pe­tently ad­min­is­tered. While the ob­jec­tive may be valid, the pro­ce­dure also mat­ters a great deal. Pray, this civil order is ex­pected to be run on the ba­sis of the rule of law, as the en­thu­si­asts of lib­eral democ­racy tell us. What is the method­ol­ogy of this fa­mous test of teach­ers? Are the scripts of ALL the 22,000 teach­ers as bad as the few made pub­lic? How sta­tis­ti­cally rep­re­sen­ta­tive are those few atro­cious scripts of the per­for­mance of ALL the 22, 000 teach­ers to be sacked? Clearly, these teach­ers are so in­com­pe­tent that their per­for­mance does not re­quire the opin­ion of other as­ses­sors, in

THISDAY News­pa­pers Lim­ited. the view of the Kaduna State gov­ern­ment.

By the way, has any­body asked about the au­thor­i­ta­tive opin­ion of the Teach­ers Reg­is­tra­tion Coun­cil of Nige­ria (TRCN) on this very im­por­tant pol­icy step? Es­tab­lished by law in 1993 as a reg­u­la­tory body for the teach­ing pro­fes­sion, the TRCN is an agency of the fed­eral min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion. Its man­date is to en­sure that the “qual­ity, dis­ci­pline, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, re­ward and dig­nity” of Nige­rian teach­ers “match in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.”

Enor­mous dam­age has been done at the sub­jec­tive and moral level to the teach­ing pro­fes­sion by the sheer tact­less­ness of the Kaduna ex­er­cise. The pro­ce­dure of the as­sess­ment does not seem to mat­ter be­cause teach­ers are in­volved. The hu­mil­i­at­ing con­se­quences of the test- and –sack op­er­a­tion in Kaduna state would be­come man­i­fest if you pon­der the fact that the state gov­ern­ment could hardly mete this sort of mal­treat­ment to any other cat­e­gory of pro­fes­sion­als in the state civil ser­vice. The name- and- shame cam­paign go­ing on Kaduna state will di­min­ish the es­teem of teach­ers who may not be guilty of in­com­pe­tence as al­leged by the state gov­ern­ment.

Af­ter sack­ing the teach­ers, Mal­lam el-Ru­fai may pro­ceed to go the Mars to im­port ge­niuses in ped­a­gogy to prac­tise teach­ing in the state. But the moral dam­age done is that in the fore­see­able fu­ture, hardly would you find a young man or woman proudly an­nounc­ing in the pub­lic that he or she is a teacher from Kaduna State or any­where in Nige­ria for that mat­ter. Can you imag­ine a gov­er­nor or­gan­is­ing some tests for doc­tors, lawyers, en­gi­neers or ac­coun­tants and pro­ceed to de­clare them in­com­pe­tent with­out the ver­dict of the re­spec­tive pro­fes­sional and reg­u­la­tory bod­ies re­spon­si­ble for the qual­ity and ethics of those pro­fes­sion­als? With­out the opin­ion of the reg­u­la­tory and pro­fes­sional bod­ies, the tests ad­min­is­tered in Kaduna state can­not be said to be thor­ough. Yet thor­ough­ness is im­por­tant in these mat­ters. You can­not pass a pro­fes­sional judge­ment with­out the due com­pe­tence to do so. Given thor­ough­ness it would be pos­si­ble to de­tect if some cases could be sub­ject to re­me­di­a­tion while the ir­re­deemable ones would have to leave the sys­tem. It is thor­ough­ness that would even­tu­ally prove that some of them should not be ad­dressed as teach­ers be­cause they are not in the first place.

Some oth­er­wise in­formed com­men­ta­tors have also ques­tioned the man­date of the Nige­ria Union of Teach­ers and the Nige­ria Labour Congress in de­fend­ing the hap­less teach­ers. Some of them dis­miss the is­sues raised by labour as de­fend­ing “so-called rights” of the teach­ers. Now, in a law-gov­erned so­ci­ety you can re­move in­com­pe­tent teach­ers from the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem with­out be­ing in­de­cently anti-labour. There is a sub­sist­ing con­tract if the in­com­pe­tent teach­ers were ac­tu­ally is­sued with let­ters of ap­point­ment. It is, there­fore, not a mat­ter of “so-called rights” for labour to in­sist that the dis­en­gage­ment should be done de­cently and ac­cord­ing to labour laws.

The sub­jec­tive as­pect of this prob­lem is worth pondering by all those gen­uinely pro­mot­ing ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion in Nige­ria. From pri­mary school to the univer­sity level, the of­fi­cial at­ti­tude also cor­rob­o­rated by the elite is to hu­mil­i­ate teach­ers. It is a deep irony of the Nige­rian so­ci­ety. Ev­ery pro­fes­sional, tech­no­crat or politi­cian knows that he is a prod­uct of the cu­mu­la­tive ef­forts of his teach­ers at all lev­els, yet it is no more a na­tional cul­ture to ac­cord our teach­ers with the due re­spect and pro­claim their dig­nity. The first class grad­u­ates used to dream of be­com­ing pro­fes­sors. That was when a univer­sity pro­fes­sor earned more than a min­is­ter. The Kaduna drama should be sit­u­ated squarely within a na­tional cul­ture of dis­re­spect to teach­ers. You can­not ad­vance the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion by hu­mil­i­at­ing teach­ers sim­ply be­cause they are teach­ers. As a sub­jec­tive fac­tor, the dig­nity of teach­ers is cen­tral to any progress you want to make in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor.

Al­though in a markedly dif­fer­ent historical con­text and scale, what is hap­pen­ing in Kaduna state is rem­i­nis­cent of the purge of the civil ser­vice by the Mur­tala/ Obasanjo mil­i­tary regime in the mid- 1970s. In the name of fight­ing cor­rup­tion and in­dis­ci­pline, the ca­reer of many in­no­cent civil ser­vants were un­justly trun­cated in the rash­ness that was the order of the day. In ret­ro­spect, many re­view­ers of what hap­pened still in­sist that the Mur­tala/ Obasanjo “sur­gi­cal op­er­a­tion” killed the soul of the civil ser­vice. The civil ser­vice has hardly re­cov­ered from the op­er­a­tion more than 40 years af­ter be­cause since then per­ma­nence has ceased to be a fea­ture of the ser­vice. This hap­pened with the con­se­quences for loy­alty, ded­i­ca­tion and se­cu­rity of ten­ure.

The lack of thor­ough­ness of the qual­ity check is partly due to the fact that the Kaduna state gov­ern­ment does not seem to have suf­fi­ciently taken a sys­temic view of the prob­lem. For in­stance, if you sack the in­com­pe­tent teach­ers, are you go­ing to sack the of­fi­cials in the min­istry of ed­u­ca­tion and the teach­ing board who is­sued the teach­ers let­ters of ap­point­ment in the first place? Or will the min­istry too have to be re­con­sti­tuted with en­tirely new staff? What is the con­di­tion of the teach­ers’ train­ing in­sti­tu­tions in the sate? How cen­tral is train­ing to the cur­rent re­form process? There is a def­i­nite con­text to the pro­duc­tiv­ity of teach­ers like any other cat­e­gory of work­ers. The fac­tors of train­ing, equip­ment and re­ward are ap­pli­ca­ble as any other labour sit­u­a­tion. These are all im­por­tant ele­ments of re­form.

Be­yond hu­mil­i­at­ing in­com­pe­tent teach­ers, any hon­est re­form in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor is more cru­cially about the pri­or­ity ac­corded to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in so­cial ex­pen­di­ture. On this score, no gov­ern­ment in Nige­ria has acted com­pe­tently. Re­cently, our neo-lib­eral ide­o­logues (whose views dom­i­nate pol­icy con­cep­tion in Abuja and the state cap­i­tals) have been mak­ing a distinc­tion be­tween ‘’fund­ing ed­u­ca­tion” and “in­vest­ing in ed­u­ca­tion.” It is part of the al­most in­ex­orable trend of mak­ing ed­u­ca­tion a com­mod­ity and the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor a boom­ing mar­ket in which only the rich can buy qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for their chil­dren. When a gov­ern­ment ad­e­quately funds pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, the so­cial ob­jec­tive is to pro­duce qual­ity man­power for the so­ci­ety and econ­omy. The pri­vate school own­ers are ed­u­ca­tion in­vestors with profit mo­tives, which, by the way, is le­git­i­mate in a cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. In fact, a state gov­ern­ment in the south­west has con­tem­plated pri­vatis­ing pri­mary schools as a so­lu­tion to fund­ing prob­lem! Now you can­not solve the bur­geon­ing cri­sis in the ed­u­ca­tion with this bour­geois so­ci­etal ori­en­ta­tion. The chil­dren of the poor would sim­ply be left be­hind in the race for qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. This is the hid­den ide­o­log­i­cal war in the so­cial sec­tor.

So talk­ing about com­pe­tence the ques­tion may be posed: has the gov­ern­ment dis­charged its re­spon­si­bil­ity in fund­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion com­pe­tently? In the re­treat in which the Pres­i­dent said the sit­u­a­tion in the ed­u­ca­tion is “se­ri­ous”, the in­tro­duc­tory speech of the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Adamu Adamu touched on in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing of the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. In a breach of the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, Buhari has not bud­geted up to 10% for ed­u­ca­tion at the fed­eral level. For­mer Good­luck Jonathan bud­geted 10% in 2014. There are coun­tries bud­get­ing over 20% for ed­u­ca­tion. This is also a “se­ri­ous” is­sue for the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor. A rad­i­cal re­form should also in­clude a leap taken in this di­rec­tion.

Doubt­less, el-Ru­fai should be sup­ported in his drive to raise the qual­ity of teach­ers in Kaduna with­out hu­mil­i­at­ing the good pro­fes­sion­als in the crowd. Re­buke could be done de­cently and in many ways. For in­stance, in an ex­cep­tional show of good­will, el-Ru­fai has over the years sup­ported the ef­forts of a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion in Akwa Ibom state, the Inoyo Toro Foun­da­tion, work­ing as­sid­u­ously for qual­ity of teach­ers in the state. In fact, he is gra­ciously spon­sor­ing a yearly prize for the Best His­tory Teacher. At the 10th an­niver­sary of the foun­da­tion two weeks ago, no teacher was ad­judged qual­i­fied for the prize in Math­e­mat­ics by the board of as­ses­sors headed by a univer­sity teacher work­ing all the year round in­ter­view­ing the teach­ers and mon­i­tor­ing their per­for­mance. Mem­bers of the au­di­ence, of course, found this wor­ri­some for the qual­ity of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in the state. Now, that was a sub­tle re­buke about stan­dard with­out hu­mil­i­at­ing any teacher.

Read­ing the sit­u­a­tion in Kaduna state, it may not be pos­si­ble to take the sur­gi­cal knife away from el-Ru­fai as he is bent on per­form­ing the op­er­a­tion. But the gov­er­nor should note that a good sur­geon would only open up the pa­tient based on a thor­ough di­ag­no­sis of the dis­ease and suf­fi­cient clin­i­cal as­sess­ment of the pa­tient. Oth­er­wise the sur­geon would be act­ing like a butcher!

el-Ru­fai

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