Failed hands that rock the cradle
The old saying remains apt even today. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. The hand here is literally that of the sweet mother because hers is the first hand that cuddles the baby and shows love to the tot – this possible leader of tomorrow, the way nobody else can.
The mum later on transfers this relay baton to the teacher – the real hand that now rocks the cradle and grows the tot into maturity, mentally, socially, psychologically and above all intellectually. For the child, the teacher means everything in the world, the way the pastor means the beginning and the end of life, an alpha and omega, to the modern day faithful.
Your little child returns from school and you want to intrude into his mental faculty by drawing his attention to something you think is possibly wrong with one answer in his homework, it could be a grammatical error, or some figures that don’t add up, and your child looks you in the face and, as if to correct you, tells you that that was what his teacher says. The teacher, as far as he is concerned, is correct, and you the father or the mum, despite all your years of schooling, are wrong. As far as the innocent child is concerned his teacher in the school, nursery or elementary, is infallible. The way the believer tells you, in the event of an argument, that what he is telling you is what his pastor says, something akin to a gospel truth. The pastor and the teacher are dressed up in the royal robe of infallibility. They are never wrong.
I would have said this much for Governor Nasir el Rufai’s 22,000 teachers in Kaduna State. By his own standard, through a competency test that he administered on some luckless fellows in his schools, el Rufai, this man who is about to be conferred with the dubious (?) honour of the stormy petrel of the modern day Nigerian politics, has exposed these luckless teachers, de-robbed them of their toga of infallibility and shown them to the world as tin gods with clay feet. He has shown them to be respected village teachers and village headmasters, all of them eminent scholars devoid of any pretence to intellectualism. He wants to sack them for failing his examinations with no option of repeat.
It is a serious matter. And it has assumed this singularly depressing dimension because it is happening in Kaduna, the political capital of the defunct Northern Nigeria. But this comic exercise of examining the examiners is not the patent of the Kaduna State governor.
In Adams Oshiohmole’s Edo State, the erstwhile governor undertook a tour of some schools with a retinue of officials and a team of journalists and television cameramen. When he got to one of the classrooms, he unceremoniously took a lady teacher to task. He picked the book from which the teacher was teaching some lessons to her captive pupils under an inclement condition in a dilapidated structure that passed as a school building. His Excellency turned examiner then asked the teacher to read out some sentences. She obviously could not. She stuttered and stammered to the utter amazement of the governor’s accompanying officials, who with glee, began to murmur their discontent. To bring the drama forcefully home to the viewers on national television, the governor admonished them to keep quiet saying “when the teacher is talking, nobody should talk.”
Before the Edo incident and before the examination in Kaduna where the governor served as the invigilator, the Kwara State Government had, in 2008, carried out a know-your-teachers- exercise. A total of 19,125 teachers were made to take a Primary Four mathematics test. The result was astonishing. Only seven teachers attained the minimum bench mark for the test.
Instead of pity, the unappreciative nation with its scandalised governments, have turned teachers into the nation’s current but of cruel jokes. Kogi State Government, ever in search of ghost workers and ghost teachers, has despatched a delegation to Kaduna State to study the method used by the wonder kid of Kaduna to clean the Augean Stable.
But before other state governments, also in search of alibi and some distractions and excuses not to meet their statutory obligations to their workers, turn this examination of the examiners into a national jamboree, a note of caution is called for. I am convinced that these teachers, that we seem to be falling over one another to scandalise, are as much a victim of the rot in our educational system as the pupils they have been suborned by governments to teach.
These teachers, if really they are teachers, can only give what they have. And for our requirement, they seem to have nothing to give, except garbage in, garbage out. The question to ask therefore is who recruited them, these teachers who themselves are barely literate? The man on the spot has the answers. El Rufai said the teachers were employed at the local government level without adherence to standards. He explained that “in many instances, no examinations or interviews were conducted to assess the quality of recruits. Political patronage, nepotism and corruption became the yardstick, thus giving unqualified persons a way in. Teaching jobs were given as patronage to those connected to politicians and bureaucrats.”
In a society that has lost its values, where standards of any sort are now out of fashion, the governor may be right. In a country like ours where the standard of education has fallen almost irreversibly, victim of a combination of unholy practices which include but not limited to an astonishing policy summersault, demotion of education in the national scheme of priorities and poor conditions of service for teachers at all levels and the perennial problem inadequate funding, to say nothing about corruption, it has become well-nigh impossible to attract quality people into the classrooms as teachers.
Teacher training colleges existed in the good old days to do nothing else but to train teachers. A little further up and there were advanced teachers colleges, ATC, from where teachers earned the National Certificate of Education, NCE. Those who had problems with names or those who wanted change for the heck of it, changed ATC to colleges of education with the same mandate and the same curriculum.
Unfortunately, today, many of them have become some kind of dinosaurs. In some places they have been ostracised entirely from the educational scheme and replaced by new policies that look more sophisticated and more modern but which, in my view, have failed to measure up to our national requirement. If anything they seem to have proved poor substitute for the time honoured system that was fashioned by those who genuinely believed in education as the key to our socio-political and economic development.
But when in the last 20 years, students were becoming increasingly unable to meet the required standard set by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, charged with granting admission to the universities; it became clear that there was problem. From year to year, nearly 70 to 80 per cent of those sitting for West African School Certificate Examinations failed to pass with the six credits at a sitting which was the requirement. Our education planners and administrators over the years always had recourse to the easy way out, something akin to changing the goal post. Where students could not meet the standard, the easy way out was to reduce the stiff requirement. It got so bad that as recent as 2010, the then minister of education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i decreed that five instead of six subjects should be the requirement for admission to the university. If you want to lower the standard, nothing else can beat the Ruqayyatu solution.
My sympathy goes to the Kaduna State governor. He has vowed to sack the whole lot of the 22,000 teachers. The truth is that they have no business teaching what they themselves don’t know. But throwing them into the job market is not the solution. Governments elected on the APC platform had pledged to create jobs not to take away jobs. These guys who have run out of luck must be rehabilitated in other sectors of the national economy.
Theirs have proved to be the flail and failing hands that rock the cradle, they can only end up ruining the world.
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