It was indeed a shocking moment when the Kaduna State government disclosed that about 21,700 primary school teachers failed a competency test conducted for public school teachers in the state.
More shocking was the fact that this test was the same prepared for primary 4 pupils and the teachers were only required to at least, score a 75 percent pass, just to show they were competent enough to be in the classrooms.
In a list released by the Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), of the 33,000 that took the test, only 11,220 were able to get a pass mark, revealing what we have always known - a decadence in the education sector in Nigeria.
The gross failure by the teachers prompted Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai to declare his intention to sack the failing teachers and massively recruit 25,000 new teachers, a move condemned by the Kaduna State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) sparking series of debates and outcry in the public sphere ever-since.
Not swayed by the protests and threats by the unions, and in a bid to justify its decision to let the teachers go, the government, in response, released a few of the test scripts of some of the teachers, showing their abysmally and embarrassing performance.
This whole situation has once again opened our eyes to the often ignored rot that has eaten deep into the education sector of this country for many years. Even though, many have at different times decried the problems, several protesting voices have not allowed for proper reforms.
In 2012, the then Governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa had disclosed at the graduation ceremony of the National Teachers Institute, that a verification exercise by the state government had revealed no fewer than 2,000 teachers with fake certificates were employed in public schools. This was further emphasised a few years later in 2015 when the Commissioner for Education in Kaduna, Alhaji Usman Mohammed revealed during an education summit tagged “Education for all is responsibility of all” that 1300 teachers in Kaduna had failed in tests generally set for primary four pupils.
Kaduna State is not a peculiar case. If these tests are carried out in other states, it is guaranteed to yield the same result as we have seen in Kaduna.
Once upon a time, teaching was regarded as a noble profession in Nigeria. Teachers were respected for their commendable services to the society and were looked at as the moral and intellectual guides to their pupils. Teachers were honoured and loved for their commendable services to the society, but that is not how it is today.
Today, if we are to be honest, we know that a great percentage of people that have found themselves in the teaching profession, do so for lack of preferred employment. Today, teaching in Nigeria is like a punishment. Teachers in the rural areas are the worst hit. They suffer from lack of job satisfaction and low self-esteem, and assume a low status in the society.
Reforms such as el-Rufai's have previously been met with outright rejection and have had to be abandoned by the proponents who lacked the willpower to fight the system. For example, in 2014, a former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole was forced to rescind on his decision to sack teachers who failed a competency test to weed out unqualified and incompetent teachers following pressure from labour unions. The same scenario played out when then Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, in 2012, introduced Teachers’ Development Need Assessment (TDNA) to test teachers’ competency. The move was rejected by the NUT over the suspicion that it was intended to purge the system of many 'perceived' incompetent teachers.
In the heat of the current protests, the National President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba claimed the ultimate intention of the Kaduna State government was the massive reduction of the state’s workforce. Wabba also alleged that the competency test lacked credibility and was unacceptable because it was conducted without the relevant professional bodies regulating the teaching profession.
That might be true, but does that take away the focus from the shameful performance of the teachers?
It would do this country no good to politicize what el-Rufai is doing in Kaduna state. A good action is good whether taken by an enemy or a friend.
Seeing how many people have politicised the on-going debacle and attacked the governor on purely sentimental arguments, I am forced to sharply disagree with a renowned journalist and writer, Remi Oyeyemi who in his piece titled, "The Paradox of Untutored Teachers and a Certificate-Less President " insisted that the teachers should be allowed continue in the classrooms despite the despicable performance in a test meant for primary 4 pupils.
Oyeyemi wrote, "It is my position that the Government of Kaduna State should invest in their re-education and bring them up to par in their capacities. Moreso, these teachers, unlike Mohammadu Buhari, at least have certificates, the quality of such certificates notwithstanding."
One question I would likely ask Oyeyemi is, if hypothetically speaking, some of the teachers who failed this test were tutors in your son's school, would he still be comfortable having him there?
I guess, the obvious is the answer.
A teacher failing a primary four test is an issue beyond training. That would seem like going through the same tutoring process as pupils you are supposed to teach. How do you begin to retrain such an eyesore? By sending them off to Primary school again? Besides, while the over 20, 000 teachers are being re-trained, who occupies their pupil for the time being?
While the rest of the world is training teachers on the modern techniques of teaching and in-depth use of technology, you want us to be struggling with training teachers on how to write simple and correct English?
Let's not pretend that all is well with our education system. It has not been well for a very long time, and if the crisis in Kaduna is what is going to take for us to become aware of the problems in that sector, so be it.
Primary education is perhaps the most important level in children's schooling. Children acquire new skills and knowledge rapidly during these years, and research shows that average annual learning gains for children in primary schools are dramatically greater than those for subsequent years of school.
My stand on this issue is not the speedy sack of the teachers, but I unapologetically believe that the owners of those answer scripts that were released by the Kaduna State government to the public deserve no place in our classrooms because we definitely cannot continue to promote mediocrity and toy with the future of our children by playing the sentiment card.
Understandably, these teachers have family members whose livelihood they are responsible for, and firing them will be throwing the breadwinner of over 20,000 families into the labour market, which in so many ways will increase the suffering of these dependants and further heighten the rate of unemployment in the state, hence the need for caution.
Resolving the monumental crisis in the education sector in Kaduna State requires pragmatic approaches. Since the NUT and Labour seem not to have issues with the conduct of the test, then maybe for a fair and more transparent process, we can have a new test, one which will be conducted in collaboration with the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria and the National Teachers Institute, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees and other relevant professional bodies regulating the teaching profession.
And if after this is done and we still find some of them wanting, then we would have no sentimental reason to keep teachers who we will only be afraid to hand over our children to.
It is high time we held our teachers, schools, communities as well as government accountable for the education of our children and return sanity into the system. We have a responsibility to ensure that our children are in good hands of teachers who are senile, smart and competent to teach. If that fact is in doubt, we cannot on sympathy grounds continue to insist that they remain in the classrooms.
The availability and provision of quality education is a foremost right of every child and it is not only the responsibility of state but parents and households as well. This current imbroglio affords us an opportunity to revamp the educational sector, not only in Kaduna but Nigeria as a whole.
We can mismanage everything in our country, but if we mismanage education, we are killing our tomorrow and our collective future. Any country that wants to develop should not play with her education because education is the bedrock of development of any nation.
At this point, we cannot in our own sentiments subject our children to laughable and embarrassing teachers, for soon the bright ones among them will come to borrow the words of the legendary Afrobeat singer, Fela Anikulapo Kuti chanting, "Teacher, don't teach me nonsense".