Read first article (1) here.

By @Anabagail

First, we need to accept that there is something flawed about waiting for common entrance exams into unity schools to offer an incentive for further education.  By the time pupils sit entrance examination to unity schools they have already completed six years of primary education, past the age when intervention into their reading, writing and speaking skills would have made a world of difference. Research has it that intervention is best introduced before the age of 9, so waiting till the children are 12 means that the intervention is late by at least 3 years.  Intervention should clearly come earlier when the children are still attending the state run primary schools. Moreover, there are just about 104 unity schools in Nigeria, clearly inadequate to serve the teeming population of secondary school age children. Another clear indicator that the ‘help’ needed ought to be provided at the state level.

This brings us back to the issue of funding.  With the dwindling fortunes from the oil sector many states are unable to meet up with expenditure. The    they get from the federal government is barely enough to pay salaries of civil servants to the point that a good number of states are owing civil servant salaries for months. Therefore, there is a need for alternate funding for education projects in states. Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) makes intervention funds available, but this is basically for capital projects.

The fact remains however that the biggest problem with basic education has more to do with recurrent than capital expenditure. It is more a problem of man power and curriculum development than the infrastructure on ground. As this writer has severally posited, children can learn under mango trees and grow to become the best if they are taught with the best teachers using working methodologies.  The writer is therefore using this medium to talk about how these issues can be tackled while still maintaining standards and ‘helping’ states that have fallen far behind in educational development.

Man Power Development

There can be no education without teachers.  So any educational intervention that does not take into cognizance the upgrade of teachers is doomed to fail. The situation with teachers right now is bleak. Consider the number of times teachers have rejected tests. When they do sit tests they perform poorly. For instance, in Kwara state in 2008, 19,125 public school teachers including 2628 university graduates were made to sit competency tests based on Basic 4 Math and English. The result was that only seven “crossed the minimum aptitude and capacity threshold”. Only one of the university graduates passed the test and 10 scored zero. It was also revealed that about 60% could not read information presented not prepare lesson notes.

Forward to Kaduna in 2013, Daily Trust of Friday, February 15, 2013 reports:“A total of 1,599 teachers selected from across the state were given primary four tests in Mathematics and Basic literacy. Only one of them scored 75 per cent, 250 scored between 50 and 75 per cent and 1,300 scored below 25 per cent”. In Edo, same year, a teacher was exposed on national TV as being unable to read her own certificate. And when Former Governor Fayemi tried to subject Ekiti teachers to a test, they opposed it vehemently and resorted to calling for a strike. This writer was privileged to be part of a training organized for teachers in Abuja in    and some of the teachers present could not read three and four letter words from ‘Queen Primer’.

All of this points to one fact, teachers in public schools are grossly unqualified. If a teacher cannot pass math and English meant for grade 4 pupils, what will they teach? Therefore there is a need to over haul the teaching staff in public schools. How though is this to be done? Remember basic education is run by the state government so any initiative to improve basic education should start at that level.

As shown by the examples above however, this has led to our having 36 plus 1 different standards of education in Nigeria. It probabaly would not have mattered if the standards are yielding desired results in pupils coming out with sound basic education. As shown, the biggest problem with the standards is the implementers. No manner of revamping of the curriculum will work when the man power to execute the revamping is not in place.  This writer will therefore produce a sytem of revamping that will involve a few legislative adjustments which could lead to great improvements in the standards of basic education.

For starters, it will be impossible to make any changes that will outrightly negatively impact on the teachers. We have the happenings in Ekiti as a reminder that teachers will go against any plans to weed them out simply by making them sit tests. They will protest and will get unions like the NUT and NLC to support them in grounding the economy.  This writer believes there can however be a win-win situation.

Many teachers want to improve. They want to do better to help improve their pupils because however you look at it, the joy of most teachers is to see their students improve and get better. So why not organize for starters, training programmes for teacher and follow up with peer reviews. For the sake of this exercise, each school will provide 3 or 4 team leaders depending on whether they have pre-school or not. All the teachers in the school will meet at the local government area or some other designated place and receive training.  The one month training will cover teaching methodologies and use of English. After the training, there will be no formal test. However, during the training the facilitators will note the teachers that performed poorly for tracking purposes.

The teachers go back to school and based on the last performance of the students (average performance) they are given a target score.  The score is calibrated into terms. For instance if the average score of the students in primary 1 was 3/10 the target could be 5/10 at the end of the year which means that the students will grow by less than 1 every term. The final year test of the students will be conducted by an independent body. Meanwhile, during the year, the teachers enjoy peer review and their team leaders work with them to help them improve.  To spur the teachers and their teams, their yearly increment will be tied to the performance of the students. If they all meet their goal they get a fixed % increase in salary which they will lose if they don’t.  Teachers who for three terms are not able to improve the score of their students and who are shown by peer review to not be contributing to the growth of the school will be retired, redeployed or downgraded as the case may be.

Of course, there are cases especially in rural areas where all of the teachers may not do well and so there will be greater difficulty using peer reviews techniques. This leads to another aspect of capacity building which this writer believes should involve some legislative amendments. If you are conversant with the Universal Basic Education Act 2004, then you will be aware that the Federal Government provides matching grants of about N1Billion/year to state governments. According to the act, the UBEC funds can be used for construction of classrooms/furniture; procurement of textbooks, instructional materials and teacher professional development but before the sates can assess these grants they have to provide matching funds. This writer’s proposition is that insistence on states providing matching funds be scrapped and that funds be invested purely on manpower development. It should be the sole responsibility of the states and local governments to provide the infrastructure required: school building, furniture and a functional library. If the Local Government can afford it, they can introduce an e-library.  However, professional development of teachers should be left in the hands of the Federal Government. The final professional certification of any teacher should also be left in the hands of the Federal Government. The Federal Government will maintain a database of certified teachers. States in need of teachers turn to the Federal Government for teachers who will supply same through SUBEB or the Local Education Board.

Let me digress at this point to mention that there may be a direct relationship between Local government autonomy and improvement in the quality of Education. Interestingly, the Nigerian Union of teachers have already taken a stand against Local Government autonomy. According to a statement released in December 2014 and which you can read here http://www.nut-ng.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=43:text-of-a-press-conference-on-the-proposed-local-government-autonomy-addressed-by-comrade-michael-alogba-olukoya-national-president-nigeria-union-of-teachers-nut-on-wednesday-november-19-2014&catid=6:activities the teachers are against LG autonomy because according to them it will lead to their being owed salaries and present a situation which occurred between 2004/5 when primary school teachers were on strike for about 6 months protesting nonpayment of salaries.

Quoting a Supreme Court interpretation of Item 2(a) of the fourth schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which states that “the function of a Local Government Council shall include participation of such council in the government of a state as respects the following matters – the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education”, the statement read, ‘In giving clear interpretation to the above provision, the Supreme Court as its 2002 judgment declared that “in so far as primary education is concerned, a Local Government Council only participates with the State Government in its provision and maintenance. The function obviously remains with the State government.”’

Of course, the teachers have a legitimate reason to doubt that Local Governments will stay true to paying their salaries which is why this writer again believes it best that recruitment and remuneration of teachers in the basic education system should be handled by the State Governments while the Federal Government handles professional development through UBEC funds.

There will also be a provision for total takeover of any schools which fail to meet with minimum requirements as agreed on by the federal, state and local authorities based on the current performance of the students.  A takeover of the school means it will be run directly and exclusively by SUBEB and the Local Education Board without any input from the state as far as recruitment of teachers and curriculum use is concerned.  The Federal government will have the powers to fire teachers who are being tracked through the process of their yearly trainings. Such a school will only be returned to the state if they demonstrate they now have the capacity in terms of teaching staff and teaching methodology to run the school.

Autonomy of LGs means that schools can actually become community owned without compromise on standards. The LG will be in the best position to come up with what and how to tax individuals/businesses within the LG to provide befitting facilities for public education without having to be burdened by worry for paying quality staff or providing training for them. The state can also take over the running of a school from a Local government that is not meeting with minimum standards of facilities to be made available to the students.

Local Governments are also in the best position to incentivize parents to send their children the school. Also the UBE can also implement one of the services it has included as necessary for basic education: school lunch. Needless to say, provision of school lunch will lead to increased enrollment especially in the poorer areas. Yet, this writer is not deceived into believing that it is possible for states to provide free lunch to all pupils even with the assistance of UBEC. Perhaps only the poorest LG’s will be given such assistance based on available data.

There is of course the need to mention at this point that one is not avoiding the question of where to get the teachers.  With the standard of education as it is now, even teachers being produced by our education institutes fall short of requirements. This writer proposes that teacher training institutes be suspended for one year. During this period, there will be a revamping of the curriculum and a retraining of the trainers in these institutes.

To start with, the idea of ‘rejects’ studying to be teachers or individual attending the education institutes simply to get direct entry into the university should be discouraged. For this to happen the cut off mark for entry into TTI’s should be upped and the start salary for persons who went through colleges of education should be increased. This writer is of the opinion that the idea once muted that colleges of education be upgraded to degree awarding institutions and the course should be a full four year course. The best students from SSCE can be given the option of teaching for two years immediately after graduation in exchange for skipping one year in the college of education and not sitting any other qualifying exams.

Presently, the Federal Government runs Federal Teacher’s Scheme which is aimed at building capacity and tackling the acute shortage of teachers especially in rural areas.  Every two years, through this scheme 45,000 teachers are placed in primary schools across the country after passing through NCE. You will agree that a student that does very well in his WAEC exams is better than a lot of NCE graduates. Let’s say NCE was scrapped and the best students in WAEC are given three month intensive training and then sent on internship in primary schools. After  2 years they have a choice of either studying part time while they continue teaching or taking a three year sabbatical to return as teachers after they complete their degree course. It is the opinion of this writer that this will go a long way in solving the skills gap we have in basic education. Remember, the problem with basic education has moved from being purely having a large number of teachers to having well qualified teachers equipped to produce better pupils.The added advantage of people who choose to intern as teachers will be that they do not have to go through the NYSC programme as they will be given exemption certificates after they graduate.

Speaking of the National Youth Service scheme, this writer is of the opinion that the practice of sending NYSC graduates without any teacher training to go and teach in schools should be discontinued. A person who has gone through four years of education should be a better impact in the society than being thrown into a school to teach. The one year NYSC should be the time to implement a project that is close to the heart of the graduand or to work as part of a team in achieving set goals.

The proposals put forward by this writer is by no means exhaustive but is presented to contribute to the conversation and perhaps start others thinking along fresh lines. The facts remain that if something is not done about the skills gap in basic education today, the nation will continue on a downward spiral until we may need to begin to start importing labour.  You need only be part of an interview panel to see how bad things are with people who hold some form of tertiary education, they can barely string together sentences in proper grammar or speak coherently. Logic  is usually thrown out of the window. It is time to beam a searchlight on basic education in Nigeria as this is the feeder system. If we do not get our basic education system right, our tertiary institution will not be able to remedy the situation.

 

Abigail Anaba has worked in education consultancy circles for over 15 years. She has taught in Nursery, Primary and Secondary schools in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port-Harcourt. She is presently Head of Training, Institute of Certified Communicators and Educator, Institute of Professional Educators. She contributes her writings and social commentaries to various magazines. She is a mother of three.