The burning issue right now in Edo State is your effort to reform the educators. You have rebuilt schools but the people who make good education possible – the teachers – you have been having running battles with them over the need to identify the qualified ones among them through competency tests. Even though the problem is there all over the country, can you describe the peculiar situation in Edo State?
We have abandoned the idea of competency test for what we now call assessment test. The basic difference is that we want to assess the teachers in our employment to find out what is the level of their competence. That way we will be able to establish the level of assistance they require. For instance, a man who has a National Certificate of Education (NCE) but can’t teach will be put in the hands of experts to determine the kind of training he requires to make up for his deficiency.
If he has the knowledge but does not know how to impart the skill, an appropriate training can be designed. On the other hand, if we find that someone was not supposed to be a teacher at all; he is not even educated but somehow, due to corrupt practices, either through monetary inducement or political manipulations by successive governments and they were dumped on the system, such that their weaknesses cannot be cured through training and retraining, we will decide what to do with them.
If they cannot be redeployed to other areas where they can be useful, then they have to give way to others who have what it takes. We want to understand the nature of the problem besetting education in Edo State, that is why we call it assessment. We can help teachers to be upgraded through in-service training and refresher courses.
We need a lot of investment in education because that is the most important infrastructure. Infrastructure like roads, hospitals, electricity, water – those are conventional infrastructure that people can see. The most important infrastructure is human capital. And the foundation is primary and secondary education.
I think that is the logic behind compulsory basic education; that every child, irrespective of his economic circumstances, should have quality basic education. If you get the buildings, the furniture and other things right but the teacher is not competent, then all that investment will be wasted.
As I walk round the state, I often come across young pupils going or coming from school, most times in company of their parents. I look at the uniform and realise that it does not belong to one of the government schools. Some of the m are attending these mushroom private schools. Some of the schools operate from uncompleted buildings, no playgrounds, no sporting, recreational facilities.
Then I ask the kid, why do you like to go to that school?’ Or sometimes I ask, ‘have you seen the government schools, the red roof schools?’ They say ‘yes’. ‘So why are you not attending there?’ ‘My mummy or my daddy said no I should attend this one’. A couple of times I have had to interview their parents. They tell me they are happy with the way we have rebuilt the public schools but they are not sure of the teachers.
Across the country, everybody recognizes the crisis in the education sector. It is easy to see the dilapidated school buildings. What is not easy to see is the quality of the teaching staff. The result is that every year West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and other examination bodies announce 70 per cent failure. And we just move on.
We are producing children who do not have what it takes to be employable, or go into the university or polytechnic or even acquire technical education. You now have educated people who cannot read and write.
To underscore the problem, I came across a woman who, in the course verifying her credentials, could not read an affidavit. Instead of “I solemnly declare”, she said “1 Solomon”. Instead of “Judicial Province”, she said: “Onitsha Prophet”.
“Judicial” starts with “J”, yet she was confusing “Judicial” with “Onitsha”. “Province” is “Prophet”. We asked yet another teacher: ‘how many local governments are there in Edo State, list some of them?’ She said: “UNIBEN”. UNIBEN is a local government! I mean, I don’t want to talk about it. We saw things like these in the process of checking credentials, and we realised that the problem goes beyond ghost teachers, or teachers refusing rural postings, but that there are people parading as teachers who are not.
We have too many quacks masquerading as teachers. And the moment I realised this, it was only natural that I had to find courage to deal with this human element which makes all the difference. I started meeting with the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), civil society organizations, we had town hall meetings. In all these meetings, civil society, human rights organizations, royal fathers, community leaders, market women all said yes, teachers must do this test. (Vanguard)
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