At the end of May, the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Mohammed Modibbo, told a Senate Committee that over half of the school teachers in Sokoto cannot read. Modibbo also sought powers to close sub-standard schools all over the country.
Quite apart from the quality and availability of facilities, the quality of teachers is just as important, if not more so, and this is where there seems to be a vicious circle: bad teachers produce bad students. It is therefore easy to see the reason why Governor Fayemi of Ekiti state mandated that all teachers in the state – 16,000 of them – take the Teacher Development Needs Assessment (TDNA) which will give an accurate picture of the areas in which they are lacking, and shore them up, so that they can do better.
This assessment was to happen on June 4th, but the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) has gone on strike, claiming that the assessment was a witch-hunt and a way to relieve some teachers of their jobs. Of course, you can always count on the opposition party to try to get mileage out of such a development, but as usual, no one is thinking of the students and the society at large.
Out of 16,000, not all of them will make the grade. Some might be disengaged, and that is what the NUT Ekiti chapter is doing: protecting the bad teachers amongst them to the detriment of the future of Nigeria.
In 2012, the demands on teachers are completely different from what they were 10 or 20 years ago. They must be able to change with the times. For instance, any teacher that cannot adapt to the impact the internet is having – and will have – on education, will be of little use to the students they are trying to teach.
In any organisation, periodic assessments are a cornerstone in maintaining standards. It is even more crucial when trying to raise standards. By refusing to be assessed, Ekiti’s teachers are an obstacle to progress. This obstructionism is even more grievous when teachers in Lagos, Kwara, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano and Oyo have already taken the TDNA.
It also brings into focus the role of unions generally in this country. The irony is that when unionists go back to their homes at night, it is often to complain about the very things they have blocked reforms to.
We must understand that unions take care of their members first and foremost, and are quite happy to slow everything else down in the process. This time, however, what is at stake is educational standards. Nobody should stand in the way of that.