Today, the world celebrates teachers. Since 1994, the world has commemorated teacher organisations worldwide to mobilise support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by them. The World Teachers’ Day is celebrated globally in recognition of the important role that teachers play in society. The day is generally marked by expressions of appreciation of the work of teachers in various schools and communities. Students, parents, proprietors of schools, faith-based organisations and governments shower gifts and distribute posters and e-cards to honour teachers on this occasion.
In some countries, like the United States for instance, a day is considered too small for the celebration of the teacher. Hence, there is a separate Teachers Appreciation Day and Teachers Week. The youths are the leaders of tomorrow only because teachers equip them with the requisite skills to make leadership real. Indeed, teachers guarantee a secure future for society by training the young on the fine values and goals of society. In many societies, the contribution of teachers to development is considered so high that their reward in the temporal world, no matter how robust, is considered inadequate. Hence the saying that “the reward of the teacher is in heaven”. Many societies not only ensure that teachers are adequately trained; they also ensure that they are properly remunerated and recognized for their roles.
In Nigeria, the saying that the “reward of the teacher is in heaven” has been interpreted to mean that the teacher should wait until he or she gets to heaven before receiving any reward. Today, teachers are among the least paid white-collar workers in the formal sector. In the event of an economic recession, the government quickly defaults in paying teachers’ salaries. Under the current recession, there is concern that public servants are being owed several months’ arrears of salaries in the states. What is not often emphasised is the fact that the majority of the so-called public servants are teachers in primary and post primary educational institutions. The tragedy of this is that when the problem of bloated public services is broached, teachers are lumped with the civil service as if Nigerian schools have sufficient teachers.
Indeed, there is usually a shortage of teachers in public schools in the core subjects of English and Mathematics and in the science courses. The shortage of teachers is the rule in schools in rural areas. Many schools depend on fresh graduates on the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme to get the needed hands in the classroom. Even when public servants moonlight and engage in absenteeism, as salaries are not being paid, teachers cannot do the same. They can be monitored with ease. And their absenteeism and ineffectiveness reflect easily in the performance of students in external examinations such as the West African School Certificate Examination or the National Examinations Council school certificate examination. It is to the credit of the teachers that students performed well in both examinations in 2016.
Sadly, the state of the salaries of teachers has become the index for determining when a government is facing financial problems. Once there is a fiscal squeeze, teachers do not get paid. But when government revenue increases, the teachers do not gain. Teachers have moved from their revered position as custodians of morality and the future of society during the early days of western education to the position of the dregs of society. Teachers receive the poorest pay in the public service. The situation has become so bad that people take up teaching appointments only when the alternative is joblessness. Hardly do people set out to pursue a career in teaching.
The time has come for politicians and policy makers to review the status of the teacher in Nigeria. State governors must ensure that teachers are paid some if not all the arrears of salaries this month as a mark of appreciation for their priceless work. Teachers should be encouraged and recognized, especially because of the poor conditions under which they continue to work. They should be duly rewarded for their invaluable contribution to national development through the training of the young, the future leaders of Nigeria.
Denigrating the work of teachers does grievous harm to human capital development and the moral fibre of society. Indeed, the sorry conditions under which teachers work largely account for the poor state of education in Nigeria. If Nigeria must achieve development and improve the broad welfare of its citizens, teachers must be put at the centre of the educational policy. They are at the heart of service delivery in the educational sector.