Teachers in Kaduna state’s public primary schools have dropped chalk in protest against the government’s planned sack of 22,000 teachers. They first gave the government, which is their employer, a two-week warning to rescind the planned mass dismissals. But the government said there was no going back. The teachers made good their threat and duly started a state-wide strike Nov. 8.
The 22,000 teachers the government said it must get rid of, according to it, flunked a competency test that they themselves had set for class 4 pupils. This was the number that did not meet the 70% cut off mark. The test was administered to 33,000 teachers over all.The government’s intention is to replace the “incompetent, unqualified” teachers with 26,00 new teachers with the requisite training and qualifications.
Governor Nasir el Rufai, in a recent radio interview, alleged that unqualified persons found their way into the public school system because standards were ignored. “Political patronage, nepotism and corruption became the yardsticks…Teaching jobs were given to those connected to politicians and bureaucrats,” he said. According to him, “ the future of our children is so important that we’ll not take chances. We’ll be vigilant to ensure that only (qualified) people teach in our public schools.”
The governor explained that theJune 2017 comptency test exposed the extent of the rot in the system. It revealed, he said, a general lack of basic knowledge, not just teaching skill.”If you have knowledge, but are deficient in teaching skill, we can retrain you. But when there is no knowledge what is there to teach?” He wanted to know if organised labour that objected to the planned sack wanted those who failed the test to be sent back to primary school class 4. “Are people saying that we should send teachers back to primary 4?”
Rufai said all teachers in public primary schools were given an ample opportunity to update their teaching knowledge . In 2012, for example, they were given a five-year grace period to acquire the National Certificate of Education (NCE), which is the minimum national qualification to teach in primary school. According to him, many failed to take advantage of that window. “We’ll not keep unqualified teachers on our payroll,” the governor vowed.
On the face of it, the government stands on a surer ground than the aggrieved teachers and their union leaders. The rot in the public school system is nationwide. Of course, there are many factors responsible for this. For some, government is to blame, such as poor physical infrastructure and teacher remuneration. But, unarguably, the biggest headache is the dearth of qualified teachers. Note the observation of Mr. Nasir Umar, zonal coordinator of UBEC in Kaduna state. He said even if the government did not have to sack teachers, the state would still have had to recruit additional 30,000 teachers for the over 3 million children enrolled in primary schools.
The problem is this bad. It is an emergency and drastic measures, such as the Kaduna state government has taken, are required. Rather than oppose it, NUT, the teachers’ union, and NLC, should embrace it in the interest of future of our children. Political brinkmanship is not helpful here.
To be sure, the unions do have a point in saying that the competency test was not administered by recognised teaching institutions like the National Teachers Institute and Teachers Registration Council. However, the government’s argument is that no law restricts it to only those organisations. It says the competency test was to test the efficacy of the training and retraining programmes of similarly competent evaluators as ESSPIN and the Teacher Development Programme. In other words, if a majority of teachers failed the test administered by these two bodies, what difference would it have made if a different body applied it, without having to compromise standards? None whatsoever. Painful as the government’s decision is, as it implies job losses in an economy just emerging from recession, we urge the unions to, for once, put militancy aside and join hands with the government to rescue the comatose education sector.