Before Nigeria loans out teachers to Liberia

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Though the sobriquet, ‘Giant of Africa’, associated with Nigeria doesn’t stick that much any longer, the country remains a ‘big brother’ to many African nations. Little wonder that Liberia is turning to Nigeria for the recruitment of 6,000 teachers.

However, Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL writes that Nigeria requires the highest number of teachers in the world; needing nearly 400,000 additional primary school teachers between now and 2030

Nigeria boasts of the largest black population in the world. It is not big for nothing. Though the sobriquet, ‘Giant of Africa’, associated with the country does not stick that much any longer, Nigeria remains a ‘big brother’ to many African nations.

It is little wonder then that Liberia is turning to Nigeria for recruitment of 6,000 teachers.

According to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, an assessment of teacher needs by countries shows that the biggest challenge remains in Nigeria with nearly 400,000 additional primary school teachers required between 2012 and 2030, which is 12 per cent of the global total.

Of the developing countries needing the most additional primary teachers, seven are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The newly elected President of Liberia, George Weah, had requested 6,000 teachers from Nigeria as part of the Technical Assistance agreement between the two countries.

He made the request during a courtesy visit to President Muhammadu Buhari.

Weah, who assumed power on January 22, told President Buhari, “Your sustained technical assistance for capacity building in these sectors is most welcome.

For example, Nigerian teachers and medical volunteers to Liberia, under the Technical Assistance Corps (TAC) Agreement with Liberia, have been very crucial in boosting capacity development in Liberia, and it is my hope that this assistance can be considerably increased to address with urgency our most pressing socio-economic needs at this time.

More specifically, under the Bilateral Teacher Exchange programme, we are seeking 6,000-plus teachers to make up for the shortage of good teachers in our educational system.”

But a vocal stakeholder of Liberia’s education sector, Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh, thinks that approach is a bad business for Liberia.

He argued, “Instead of strengthening and funding KRTTI, ZRTTI, and WRTTI to produce more teachers, and providing incentives for Liberians to have interest in teaching, Mr. Weah reportedly is looking to Nigeria for teachers, which is bad for Liberia.

Sending for 6,000 Nigerian teachers to teach in the Liberian classrooms is not a policy, President Weah.

You need a long-term education policy that will focus on increasing the salaries of teachers, and the teaching and retention of teachers and students.

“President Weah, you can begin by getting with the Liberian legislature to fund the training of more teachers, increase the salaries of teachers, focus on public school education, make it a priority, fund the three teaching institutions (KRTTI, ZRTTI, and WRTTI), and provide electricity and technology for the classrooms.

Mr. Weah, your 6,000 Nigerian teacher’s education policy is no policy at all. It resembles a gimmick, a scheme that also resembles a pyramid, a flawed approach that sells the Liberian education system to the highest Nigerian vendor. This is not a policy at all, but a Band-Aid approach to education.”

Perhaps, the Liberian government can make do with its three teachers’ training institutes: Kakata Rural Teachers Training Institute (KRTTI), Zorzor Rural Teachers Training Institute (ZRTTI), and Webbo Teachers Training Institute (WRTTI), coupled with the University of Liberia and Cuttington University teacher’s education degree programme.

Nigeria too is bedevilled by short supply of teachers.

In 1952, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the old Western Region, comprising nine states, kicked off with the Universal Primary Education (UPE) committing not less than 40 per cent of the region’s budget to education.

Awolowo was reported to have cut down on capital costs on school buildings, cancelled housing subsidy for civil servants and opted for mud blocks for classrooms when he was faced with the task of juggling the N10m estimate for the UPE, free health programme and the projected 1954 expenditure that was N5m.  

By 1956, Grade 3 Teacher Training Colleges were established with 11,000 teachers trained between 1955 and 1958. How many teachers have been trained in the last four years across the country?

Despite Awolowo’s unprecedented and pragmatic approach to education and its many gains and enduring legacies, many beneficiaries who have become leaders in modern Nigeria – particularly, the governors – appear determined to bastardise the system.

Since the advent of democracy in 1999, education has been annexed to the political arena as few fanciful school buildings with exaggerated costs litter the western landscape; and many schools with classrooms that can only be fit for pigs found everywhere.

Teachers are hungry, ill-motivated and harried because the governors will rather spend money on white elephants than on the future generation through the provision of quality education.

It is not hyperbolic when the late Babatunde Fafunwa, an eminent professor of education, described Awolowo’s education policy as “the boldest and perhaps, the most unprecedented educational scheme in Africa south of the Sahara.”

In the past, teachers flourished in the Southeast and Southwest. The dangers of the present reality that governors and those directly involved in developing blueprints for academic excellence are oblivious of are that the country will likely end up sub-par in terms of development, service delivery and capacity to compete at the global level.

A foremost educationist and former vice chancellor of the University of Ibadan (UI), Prof. Ayo Banjo, said concerning the problem at hand, “The complaint that is regularly made today is that there are no funds. But I don’t think this is a very strong reason for not continuing free education in the country. All it requires is giving education a priority in the budget. That’s the way to fund the sector.”

The Nigerian government has been struggling over the years to pay teachers – from primary, secondary to tertiary schools.

A survey of 30 countries by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation Development showed that the United States spends $809bn; Japan, $160bn; Germany, $154bn; Brazil, $146bn; France, $123bn; and the United Kingdom, $123bn each year on education. How much does Nigeria spend?

Education experts also charge the governors and leaders in the education ministry to resist the urge to treat teachers with disdain or contempt.

In countries like Finland, the Czech Republic, China, Japan and South Korea, teaching is a prized profession.

According to the OECD data, teachers are treated like royalty in Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. Once, the affected states and Nigeria as a whole stop treating teachers like lepers and let their rewards be on earth, then the standards of education can improve beyond everyone’s imagination.

The EFAGM report noted that teachers are a critical education resource in every country. From early childhood programmes through primary and secondary school, the presence of qualified, well-motivated and supported teachers is vital for student learning.

Effective teaching strongly influences what and how much students achieve in school.

It added, “Worldwide, primary education systems employed more than 29 million teachers in 2012, 82 per cent of them in developing countries. The total primary teaching staff increased by 17 per cent between 1999 and 2012, or by about four million teachers.

The largest increase occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Arab States. The number of secondary school teachers increased, from 24 to 32 million over the same period, double the increase in primary education teachers.

“Since the EFA goals were set at Dakar, the pupil/ teacher ratio (PTR)1 has been an important measure for assessing progress towards good quality education.

Globally, between 1999 and 2012, average PTRs have barely changed at the primary and secondary education levels. In primary education, the PTR improved slightly, from 26:1 to 24:1, and in secondary education, from 18:1 to 17:1.”

The PTRs in Sub-Saharan Africa hardly changed at either level of education. In primary education, teacher recruitment grew by 75 per cent, at a pace similar to enrolment growth. At 42 pupils per teacher, it is the region with the highest PTR at the primary level.

In the absence of a global target on PTR in primary education, the most widely used international benchmark is 40:1. As of 2012, 29 out of 161 countries with data had a PTR in primary education exceeding 40:1. Of these, 24 were in sub-Saharan Africa, three in South and West Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan), one in East Asia (Cambodia) and one in the Arab States (Mauritania).

That raises the question: How many primary school teachers will be needed in classrooms by 2030? The future needs for teacher recruitment are determined by current teacher deficits, demographics, enrolment trends and the number of children who are out of school.

An analysis by the UIS in 2014 shows that 27.3 million primary school teachers are needed to be recruited by 2030. Of the teachers required between 2012 and 2030, 23.9 million is needed to replace teachers who retire, change occupations, or leave due to illness and death. The remaining 3.4 million make up the shortfall, address expanding enrolment, and underwrite quality by ensuring there are no more than 40 students for every teacher.

Therefore, about 190,000 additional teachers need to be recruited each year for a sufficient teaching supply in order to ensure universal primary education by 2030.

Some regions and countries need many more additional teachers in primary schools than others. By far the biggest challenge is in Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 67 per cent of the additional primary school teachers needed between 2012 and 2030.

Qualified teachers are thus vital to quality education. However, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, in 31 of the 96 countries with data, less than 80 per cent of primary school teachers were reportedly trained according to national standards in 2014.

Following that, besides a conducive environment and financial motivation, Nigerian teachers should be exposed to a continuous capacity building.

Education experts also argued that teachers in rural areas – where the quality of education is said to be lowest – should be the best compensated in those areas.

While the attrition rate of teachers may be a global phenomenon, the Nigerian government must introduce incentives that will attract the best hands to the education sector.

The ‘big brother’ cannot hope to build the teacher base of another country without fixing the broken education system and addressing the poor quality of teachers. Liberia and President Weah too should look inward.

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