Kaduna Teachers And The Dilemmas Of Reform

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Nigeria To Stop Uncertified Teachers From Classroom As From May 31

Kaduna Teachers And The Dilemmas Of Reform – Ayo Olukotun

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On Monday, in an update of the raging feud between Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and the Nigeria Union of Teachers, the union handed down a two-week ultimatum to the governor to reverse the planned sack of close to two-thirds of primary school teachers in the state. The ultimatum is sequel to several protests including legal challenges to get government to back down on the easing out of those teachers, who failed a competency test administered to them last month. Recall that in a commendable initiative to upgrade the quality of primary school teachers, government had administered a test calculated to measure proficiency and basic skills. The result was staggering. A shocked el-Rufai told a delegation from the World Bank that out of 33,000 teachers, close to 22,000, that is, 66 per cent, failed to obtain 75 per cent in the test. The release of the test result and the consequent announcement that the state will recruit 25,000 new teachers to replace those who will be sacked, led to skirmishes and shenanigans, with each side in the dispute, trying to control the media narrative.

This piece was written by Ayo Olukotun. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.

In general, reforming bureaucracies, notably in the rapidly modernising countries of Asia, administer competency and proficiency tests to high-grade the quality of their workforce and to build merit-based public organisations, situated at the cutting edge of contemporary trends and global currents. In the Nigerian situation, in the educational sector especially, they have emerged in recent years as remedial instruments, to reverse the rapid downward cascade of the school system. A few years ago, for example, a former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, was forced by mass protest and the approach of election, to put in the cooler, a competency test planned to weed out unqualified and incompetent secondary school teachers.

The resuscitation of the test by his successor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, two months ago, has led to protests similar to what is going on in Kaduna State. Broadly, the same scenario played out in Ekiti State in the twilight of the tenure of Dr. Kayode Fayemi as governor. In all the instances where the reforms were attempted, the invariable outcome was the abandonment of the reform in the face of teachers’ agitation and in some cases, outright rejection of the policy. This raises the troubling issue and spectre that reforms, however well-meaning, may be aborted in the face of popular protest and union activities, notably in cases where they impinge on survival and livelihood matters.

Let me provide the context that much of the decay in our educational system is at the fundamental level of basic education, where a combination of factors, such as low prestige of teachers, irregular or delayed salaries, lack of refresher courses, illegal recruitment and the dilapidated learning environment, has kept the schools in a degraded state. Privately-run schools provide a partial remedy but they too tend to suffer and partake of the woes that afflict the public schools. Additionally, the lack of strong unions which can seize national attention on the scale of the better organised Academic Staff Union of the Universities, tends to keep matters concerning public education at basic levels in the back burner. Usually therefore, those commenting on educational decay and educational policy in general, have focused excessively on what is happening in tertiary education, forgetting that by the time students come up to the polytechnic or university, they are already set in their deformed ways, and no university teacher can perform a miracle to restore them. The crisis in Kaduna State over the threatened mass sacking of teachers, illustrates the dilemmas of trying to reform a system entrenched in mediocrity, low grade performance, survivalism and the mentality of public employment as welfare bonuses.

On a wider canvas, a former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, wrote a book documenting the frustrations of “reforming the un-reformable” in the larger Nigerian narrative. It is too early to speculate on how the unfolding confrontation in Kaduna State will pan out; will el-Rufai, under the exigencies of political competition related to his re-election, back out by eating the humble pie or will he attempt to push through the badly needed reform if not overhaul of human resources in basic education? No one can say for sure, but if past experiences in other states, are anything to go by, the attempted reform may end up in the graveyard of splendidly initiated but abandoned projects, so common in our history. Even if the reform survives, the outcome may be quite different from what its creators initiated. It would have been radically modified in the frying pan of popular agitation.

Let us raise the questions therefore, under what conditions and in what context, will reforms such as the one being attempted by el-Rufai succeed? In raising these questions, we broach the larger subject of the prospects of reforming a system, frozen in morbid self-interest, short-termism and underperformance. In the opinion of this columnist, the issues invite new thinking, fresh approaches and revision of strategy. For example, would the outcome have been different and the ongoing imbroglio averted if instead of administering the reform over the entire state, piecemeal approaches in which unqualified or incompetent teachers are eased out in some local governments, are attempted? In other words, working behind the lines in slower but systematic ways, and away from sensational headlines tends to yield better results. Such an approach may be, as the saying goes, “unsexy”, but it may have avoided the current confrontation which plays to the strength of trade unions, agitating for the so-called rights of their members. So, called rights? Yes, because no unqualified teacher smuggled into an opaque system, has the right to inflict ignorance on unsuspecting pupils, thereby deforming them educationally for life.

The second approach to consider is that of getting the teachers and the citizens generally to own the reform by enlisting them, through sustained mobilisation in the struggle for better schools. The drawback in many previous reforms is their elitist, top-down nature, reflecting the vertical geography of a state, where power is concentrated at the centre. To reverse this trend, it would have been necessary to create a bottom-up approach, centred on the beneficiaries of the system, who themselves will be called upon to police the reforms. True, el-Rufai involved some members of the union in the examination process, but it would have been better, after due diligence, to have stimulated the energies of the rank and file, after a thorough campaign that communicates effectively, the advantages of reformed schools.

That is another way of saying that most reforms, including the current one, fail because their authors believe that their merits are too self-evident to require popular mobilisation. Rather than operate with this mindset, it is suggested that detailed attention be paid to coalition-building and to forging consensus. A final suggestion is to think through social cushions that will ameliorate the fallout of the reform, so that it is not viewed as another fad, by an indifferent political elite to throw more people into the job market.

If the present is lost, we can raise the bar by salvaging the future.

This piece was written by Ayo Olukotun. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 360Nobs.com.



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