Rewarding teachers: Putting the cart before the horse

LAST week, in commemoration of the World Teachers Day, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a special salary scale for teachers in the country. He also increased the service years from 35 to 40. The president, speaking through the Minister of Education, Mr. Adamu Adamu, who represented him at the celebrations in Abuja, said that the implementation of the new salary scheme was to encourage teachers in delivering better services. According to him, teachers had the power to shape and reshape the lives of young people and help learners to enhance their potential. His words: “Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great. A positive or negative influence of a teacher on any child will have an effect on that child. Therefore, the Federal Government is ensuring access to quality education.”

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The president added that there would be a special pension scheme to enable the teaching profession to retain experienced talents. This, he said, was because his administration had resolved that the quality education of teachers in terms of engagement of continued professional development had to be given a priority. He noted that there would be a special salary scale for teachers in basic and secondary schools, including provisions for rural posting allowance, science teachers’ allowance and peculiar allowances. Other perks announced by the president included the provision of low-cost housing for teachers in rural areas, sponsorship of at least one refresher training per annum to benchmark best practices for improved teaching and learning, and the expansion of the annual Presidential Teachers and Schools Awards to cover more categories. In addition, the president indicated that he had approved the reintroduction of bursary award to education students in universities and colleges of education with the assurance of automatic employment upon graduation. The payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students as well as granting them automatic employment after graduation is now a government policy, he said.

Although the place of teachers in national development has never been in doubt, it is a fact that the teaching profession in Nigeria has been under threat  for decades. Far from the situation in the First Republic when clergymen and teachers were the movers and shakers of society, teachers have, at least in the last four decades, been treated as the dregs of society. It is a fact, although to the country’s shame, that motor park touts, with their connection to the country’s unscrupulous political elite, wield more power and social influence than teachers nowadays. As a matter of fact, so bad has been the fate and image of the teaching profession that a popular Fuji musician in the country waxed an album indicating that the local brew, ogogoro, had killed a teacher, the implication being that many a teacher is a drunk nowadays.

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Against this backdrop, we applaud the fact that the Federal Government has been thinking of improving the lot of teachers. There is no doubt that with a radical shift in the attitude to, and treatment of, teachers, significantly improved conditions of service and quality training and retraining, the teaching profession can regain its lost glory in the country. In its latest announcement, however, the Buhari administration put the cart before the horse. Quite simply, the president does not have the power to make the pronouncements under reference without legislative input. The proper thing is to prepare a bill and forward it to the National Assembly. Upon receipt of the bill, both chambers of the National Assembly would debate the proposals extensively and reach a resolution, which, by a two-thirds majority and with presidential assent, becomes a law. Doing otherwise amounts to playing to the gallery, and the country has had enough entertainment as it is. Parliamentary debate would, for instance, have taken umbrage at the provision for automatic employment for all education graduates in the country regardless of their quality and class of degree. However, with the right step taken, we think that the Buhari administration would have done something significant to advance the fortunes of the teaching profession in the country.

On their part, state governments also need to roll out similar measures to those announced by the Federal Government. As a starting point, they should start implementing the new minimum wage. And there should be no hollow promises.

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