By Abubakar A. Bukar
Ahmad Nasir El-Rufai (by this name I have already passed question five of the test, and by knowing other names even if they are bereft of taste like the one in question six of the test, we can be saved from the trepidation of being sacked and perhaps be rewarded for having done well. So names matter even in Primary Science nowadays; let no Shakespeare deceive you with ‘what is there in a name?’), on a serious note, is one public figure I admire for his daring and confrontational nature. Perhaps it is because I always believe that our systemic decay requires radical approach similar to the Tsunami unleashed in the banking sector a couple of years ago. He is the type who can, unmindful of his physique, approach the bull by the horn and step on both the hooves and the horns; challenging it with menacing finality to jet and crush down from Kufena hill if that pains. Like his friend of the revered throne, he can be controversial, sometimes unnecessarily and quite annoyingly as his recent utterances on Yar’adua and Sardauna attest. You may blame journalistic frame, but his autobiography, The Accidental Public Servant, is a testimony, his unapologetic confession of strategic nuisance. So who can be sure if the recent competency test on the teachers is not another ruse to gain some political capital?
A number of questions still beg for explanation from at least the state government’s information handlers: which professional body was contracted to conduct the test? How fair and objective was it in the assessment? How detached are the assessors from the political influence of the state? How available and verifiable is the result given by the state government? Assuming the figures (66% or two-third failure) are right, can sacking and replacing these twenty-two thousand teachers solve the educational impasse the state is plunged? This revelation also brings to question the situation of education in other less-privileged northern states.
It is actually pathetic and outrageous if this is the situation of basic education in a state that prides itself as a center of learning – a state that has a single local government area, Zaria, which can arguably compete with many states in terms of educational institutions for higher learning. In both traditional and modern scholarship some even disingenuously think however learned you are in the North, you are disadvantaged if you haven’t received any tutelage in Kaduna’s seat of learning.
Forget about the self-disincentivization politically, El-Rufai, I trust is the type that can commit suicide if sacking the teachers is the only answer to get to the root of this educational quandary in which quackery is only a synecdoche. But the problem is that if these are laid off the governor is not going to Jupiter or Mars to employ the qualified replacement. They too are victims of the same system – the colleges, polytechnics, primary and secondary schools in the state that produce them. Unless if he will go shopping the Indians and Ghanaians as was the fashion before, thereby making a jest of himself and the change agenda they profess. A far reaching implication lies in what these disgruntled teachers and their attaché of dependents would become after dismissal in this tense and combustible society. Some were already frustrated lots who opted to classroom as a last resort, often venting their anger on innocent pupils as if they were their barrier to those Utopian jobs in NNPC and FIRS.
I think what El-Rufai, nay northern governors and other stakeholders in education should do is to adopt the journalistic approach of on-the-job training in such circumstances. Many a journalist ventured into the profession from disciplines other than Journalism and Mass Communication – implicitly without any inkling of professional ethos. Through persistent coaching, they pick up; sometimes doing better than those who majored in the area. So train these teachers on-the-job. Treat them as Thorndike’s cat of the famous trial-and-error experimentation until the redeemables are redeemed. Conduct workshops, seminars and series of test regularly to keep them abreast, on their toes. Apply the carrot-and-stick unhesitatingly. Thus let those who fail not that badly in the primary four test be returned to primary one and two or nursery to teach songs or ABCD under stringent monitoring. Let them be promised promotion, even accelerated one if they prove redeemable. Where otherwise, let them be redeployed to streets to maintain hygiene or be clerical assistants or even work in government farm. I do not agree with Adamu Adamu’s concept of unemployability. If they are useless there, they can be useful elsewhere. Reintroduce different packages of motivation. Make these teachers look better and work better without this structurally-infused demeaning drudgery of wheel-barrow pushers or porters in motor parks. In a situation where higher institutions’ teachers have to be masters of threats before getting governments to do the needful, one wonders when will teachers start enjoying fatter packages than other civil servants as promised.
Finally, as the teachers are adequately motivated and provided with up-to-date teaching aids, they should be regularly supervised and the mode of employment and students’ enrolment standardized. For, what is obtained nowadays are coterie of students who have never attended any formal school but get admitted straight to SS One or even allowed to register for SSCE. That is why you have, not infrequently, cases of diploma and NCE students who can barely write their names let alone the simplest of English sentence. I am speaking from experience. Similarly, the issue of demotion and promotion should be made uncompromisable, or even legally sanctioned. The catastrophe of examination malpractice that once plagued our now rested Common Entrance transition exam is looming larger than ever in particularly our SSCE (WAEC & NECO). Secondary schools (especially the private ones) have perfected this aberration with photocopy machines for Xeroxing and distributing answers. Unless a state of emergency is declared with all seriousness thus; unless we are purged off this certificate-above-knowledge madness and parents learn to reward their kids for reading, we will all be wasting our time with lip services. Period.
Bukar wrote from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org