Increasing teachers’ retirement age as catalyst for better education

National President of NUT, Mr Michael Olukoya

With the apparent desire of the National Assembly to increase the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65 years, their rewards now seem certain to be on earth than in heaven, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal.

Glasses sitting delicately on the bridge of her nose, chalk in hand, with a back slightly bent, she gesticulated as she instructed her class on elementary science. She loves children and she has been teaching since she was 18 years old.

Mrs. Memunat Shobanjo is now 75 year old; retired from public service but not tired. She left her job as a teacher in a public school about 20 years ago. Even though Shobanjo would love to teach as long as she could, the 60-year retirement age for teachers forced her out of job.

Fortunately for her, she has continued to pursue her passion in a private school. Not many teachers do have that opportunity and they end up like a beautiful library that no one visits to study.

Among passionate professionals in the world, teachers are exemplary because of their desire to want to keep imparting on tomorrow’s leaders – children.
It is cheery news that the Federal Government is intent on increasing the retirement age of teachers after much agitation by various teachers’ associations.

Little wonder, in August 2015, the Nigeria Union of Teachers in Kogi State called on the then Governor Idris Wada to review service year of retirement for teachers upwards to 65 years to enable them give their best in the profession.

The State chairman of NUT, Suleiman Abdullahi, had noted that the best brains in the teaching profession are wasting away due to early retirement from service.

In view of that, Abdullahi was convinced that there is the need for the government to adjust retirement age of teachers, just as it did in the case of university lecturers and those in the judiciary.

“In the university system, it was discovered long ago by the Federal Government and it has been raised to 70 years,” he said.

Education experts have noted that many teachers who retire at the age of 60 are still agile and mentally fit to teach in the class. They are of the opinion that it will be a disservice to throw them out of the public service if they are willing and able to impact knowledge.

With less number of people taking genuine interest in teaching profession particularly in public schools, the government may be wise to allow experienced teachers to stay on the job as long as they are able, some scholars noted.

In doing so, the government is charged to give adequate attention to the remuneration and welfare of teachers, especially payment of minimum wage, if it wants genuine restoration of the lost glory to public schools.

“We can achieve a lot if the retirement age is pushed to 65 years, because at the moment, we are losing the best hands in this profession. Those who joined the teaching job between1979 and 1985 are those who are properly trained. The current problem is that employment into the teaching profession these days is by patronage.

“There is no amount of workshops or seminars that can ginger teachers to perform if there is no adequate remuneration and motivation for them. We have well trained teachers in the state but until the issue of welfare is taken care, you cannot see effective results,” Abdullahi added.

Part of the bane of the teaching profession, as those knowledgeable about the education noted, is the issue of political patronage.

Politicians are often accused of offering teaching jobs to those who assisted them to win elections, irrespective of whether they can express themselves or be able to do the job.

In that same year, the School Head Teachers of Nigeria (AOPSHON), Dominic Ondeku, explained that the rate, at which trained, active and productive teachers are retiring from service as a result of the 35 years service policy, is alarming.

He said, “This is having a negative effect on basic education in the state. We are suggesting a review of the service year of retirement to chronological age of 65 years.”

But a year after the Kogi State clamoured for increment in retirement age, Lagos State University raised its professors’ retirement age to 70.
This is coming barely one month after the vice chancellor, Prof. Olanrewaju Fagbohun, had claimed that retirement was not part of the newly amended LASU Bill

In May last year, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode approved a new retirement age for the teaching and non-teaching staff of the institution.
“The new Section: 42 (6) of the Lagos State University (as amended) Law 2016 is as follows: Retirement Age: 42 (I) as from the commencement of this law, the retiring age for: – (a) Academic staff in the professorial cadre shall be 70 years; (b) Academic staff (not in professorial cadre) shall be 65 years; and (c) Non-academic staff shall be 65 years,” a bill by the state government stated.

The bill, signed into law on January 5, 2016 by Ambode, puts the retirement age for academic staff at 70 and 65 years for non-academic staff members.
The 2015 LASU Amendment Bill was an improvement over two previous amendments in 1990 and 1992.

In a similar development, before the end of his tenure, former President Goodluck Jonathan had signed a law increasing the retirement of polytechnic and university lecturers.

That law also increased retirement age of staff in the professorial cadre and non-academic staff in Nigerian universities to 70 and 65 years respectively.

The president signed the law five months after the National Assembly passed the bill for the Act titled, ‘Retirement Age of Staff of Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (Harmonisation) Act, 2012 and the Bill for an Act to further amend the Universities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act No. 11, 1993.’

The laws are major components of the Federal Government’s agreement with the various tertiary institution unions. The law also exempts the lecturers from the Public Service Rule, which requires a person to retire from the Public Service after serving for 35 years.

Few months after these developments at the federal level and in Lagos State, the NUT threatened to embark on a strike action if the demand of its members that their retirement age should be increased from 60 to 65 years is not met.
As a symbolic protest, the union chose the Teachers’ Day to drive home their point.

“In the same vein, the union calls on the government to ensure that the benefits (gratuities and monthly pensions) of retired teachers are paid promptly.

“NUT restates its demands that the state governments should appreciate and take up their constitutional responsibility of providing and maintaining primary education, including the provision of funds for payments of teachers salaries, in line with the 2002 judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” the head of the NUT, Alogba Olukoya, had said.

According to him, the union resolved to make 2016’s celebration low-key in consideration of the economic recession in the country, which has adversely affected the welfare of teachers, smooth running of the school system and the entire education sector.

Speaking passionately about the teaching profession, he charged the Federal Government to ensure that only professionally trained and qualified persons are engaged in the proposed recruitment of 500,000 teachers to promote professionalism and effective service delivery in the school system.

NUT advised the state governments to avoid promoting privatisation and commercialisation of education especially at the primary and secondary levels through the handover of schools to voluntary agencies in the guise of seeking higher standards.

The union urged the Ministry of Education to address the issue of discrimination in the terminal grade levels of graduate teachers in both primary and secondary schools across the country by ensuring a uniform scheme of service for all teachers.

But he warned, “It is time to take the bull by the horn. I want to assure you what is customary is two weeks after our teachers’ day we hold our meetings and we call for situation report state-by-state pertaining to the demands of the Nigerian teachers. If in two weeks’ time we meet and nothing positive has happened, do not wait for any other directive, we will call Nigerian teachers out on strike.”

It was no small joy when the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, reassured Nigerian teachers that the National Assembly would increase their retirement age from 60 to 65 years to retain more experienced teachers in public schools.

Dogara disclosed this when he received a delegation from the NUT who paid him a courtesy recently in Abuja.
The speaker said the House will support an upward review of teachers’ retirement age to benefit Nigerian children.

“We have done it for the Tertiary institutions and the Judiciary, so nothing should stop us from taking the bull by the horns. They say that wine gets better with age. It was the same consideration that motivated us to raise that of university lecturers, raised that of judges. So this is something we can pursue.

“Thankfully, it doesn’t require constitutional amendment; it is something we can achieve by amending the existing law. That is the responsibility of the parliament and we assure you that we will do something about that.

“If we don’t have people who will sacrifice their time and energy to impart knowledge on our children, then like I said, we have lost the future. This government which is a government of change must be prepared to change the narrative by ensuring that teachers are motivated and the condition in which they work are conducive at all levels, so that they can deliver on their professional calling,” he said.

The speaker also advised the union to channel their request for salaries of teachers to be handed over to state governments or paid from first-line charge from the federation account through the Universal Basic Education Commission to the Constitution Review of the House of Representatives for consideration.

But laudable as the proposal is, some stakeholders have described the move as unnecessary and in bad faith.
Rather than review the retirement age, they posited that improved welfare and special salary scale should be approved for teachers.

Lagos state Chairman, Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools (ASUS) Kazeem Labaika described the idea as counter productive and must be discountenanced.

Labaika said if the old ones refused to leave the system, unemployment will continue to thrive among the young graduates.

“How can some people begin to clamour for such? Most of these people who are well advanced in age and are still in the system are no more productive; most of them do not even teach again. They have become principals, head teachers, and vice principals, why should they remain in the system when young graduates are out there without jobs? We are already preparing our own position paper to the National Assembly, we believe if the teaching profession is made attractive, the younger ones will embrace it and the society would be better off.

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