World Teachers’ Day: Education and Sustainable Development

By Jerome-Mario Utomi

There was torrent of commendation and glowing tributes for teachers across the globe during this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebration, which had as   theme “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”,  held on Monday 5th October 2020.

To shed light on the above, World Teachers’ Day which holds annually on the 5th of October commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. This Recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions. This year’s celebration provided the occasion to, take stock of achievements, and draw attention to the voices of teachers, who are at the heart of efforts to attain the global education target of leaving no one behind.

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From the gleaming compliment during the celebration, flow two observations.

The first points to the validity of the claim by development experts that teachers play a strategic role in nation building and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education. Second and very key is that governments and parents across the world appear to have come to term that as soon as their children step into the school, ‘the single most important factor in determining their achievement is not the colour of their skin or where they come from; it’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is. It’s the person who will brave some of the most difficult schools, the most challenging children, and accept the most meager compensation simply to give someone else the chance to succeed’.

Indeed, while the global community specifically applauded teachers for showing, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in this crisis period,  ensuring that no learner is left behind. Working around the world, individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue, back home, President Muhammadu Buhari was more emphatic at the event. As he thundered that 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.

Admittedly a well chiseled comment coming from great leaders.And  the world again, is in agreement that the issue of teacher leadership in relation to crisis responses is not just timely, but critical in terms of the contributions teachers have made to provide remote learning, support vulnerable populations, re-open schools, and ensure that learning gaps have been mitigated. It is equally obvious, looking at commentaries, that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges faced by already over-extended education systems throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say that the world is at a crossroads.

But beyond these declarations, evidence daily emerge that in the past decade or two, quality and quantity of education and attention given to teachers by government across the globe has taken downward trend despite the global adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, which recognizes teachers as key to the achievement of the Education 2030 agenda.

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Not even the United States of America (USA), is saved of this embarrassment, failure and failings.

Take as an illustration, Barack Obama, immediate past president of the United States of America (USA), a while ago noted; we now live in a world where the most valuable skill you can sell is knowledge.  Revolutions in technology and communication have created an entire economy of high-tech, high-wage jobs that can be located anywhere there’s an internet connection. America is in danger of losing this competition.

By twelfth grade, our children score lower on their math and science tests than most other kids in the world. And today, countries like China are graduating eighth times as many engineers as we do. And yet, as these fundamental changes are occurring all around us, we still hear about schools that are giving students the choice between hairstyling and braiding. We are failing too many of our children. We’re sending them out into a 21st Century economy by sending them through the doors of 20th Century schools.Obama submitted.

Here in Nigeria, the situation is not in anyways different.

Except if the recent promise by President Buhari to; establish a special pension scheme to enable the teaching profession to retain its experienced talents as well as extend teachers retirement age to 65 years and the duration of teachers years to 40 years; Give priority to quality education of teachers in terms of engagement of continued professional development has to be given priority; Special Salary Scale for Teachers in Basic and Secondary Schools, will change the narrative.

But even as Nigerians await fulfilment of the above by Buhari, opinions looking at commentaries are still much divided.

Aside the fact that the sector has in the past witnessed series of similar  promises from previous administrations, many believe that solution to education sector in Nigeria cannot be found in ‘bogus promises’ such as reintroduction of bursary award to education students in Universities and Colleges of Education with the assurance of automatic employment upon graduation; payment of stipends to Bachelor of Education students as well as granting them automatic employment after graduation is now a government policy; funding of  teaching practice in Universities and Colleges of Education by the Tertiary Education Fund .

Rather, it’s about the government going back to the drawing board to bring back teachers’ training colleges. “It has become imperative for governments to address primary and secondary school education with thorough supervision. The primary education is under a regulatory body known as the Universal Basic Education Commision. The National University Commission, NUC is controlling the universities in its own little way. Polytechnics are under the National Board of Technical Education, NBTE. The colleges of Education, NCCF, but there are no national bodies controlling secondary school education in Nigeria’.

In the estimation of others, the situation is made worse by the fact that there is no linkage between the university system and the industrial sector. That is, why the universities continue to turn out, every year, several thousands of graduates that the industries do not need. The importance attached to the possession of university degrees in Nigeria is not helping matters.

But to the rest, the challenge in the sector has its foundation not in the education policy but in lack of commitment and concentration by teachers and lecturers in our Educational system. The current educational policies–6—3—3—4 system is excellent in policy statement but the inability of the financiers to prioritise the teaching tools for its success has truncated its intended goals and objectives, they concluded.

Finally, whatever may be the true situation, it must be stated that our teachers need support and encouragement. Missionary/private schools need to be monitored for quality assurance purposes and supported also by the government. Above all, the nation urgently needs to reform its education sector substantially. If we do, most of the ills of the society will reduce dramatically.

Jerome-Mario, a Lagos-Based Media Consultant writes via (jeromeutomi@yahoo.com).

 

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