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Kaduna Teachers And The Dilemmas To Reform

On Monday, in an update of the raging feud between Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, and the Nigeria Union of Teachers, the union handed down a two-week ultimatum to the governor to reverse the planned sack of close to two-thirds of primary school teachers in the state. The ultimatum is sequel to several protests including legal challenges to get government to back down on the easing out of those teachers, who failed a competency test administered to them last month. Recall that in a commendable initiative to upgrade the quality of primary school teachers, government had administered a test calculated to measure proficiency and basic skills. The result was staggering. A shocked el-Rufai told a delegation from the World Bank that out of 33,000 teachers, close to 22,000, that is, 66 per cent, failed to obtain 75 per cent in the test. The release of the test result and the consequent announcement that the state will recruit 25,000 new teachers to replace those who will be sacked, led to skirmishes and shenanigans, with each side in the dispute, trying to control the media narrative.

In general, reforming bureaucracies, notably in the rapidly modernising countries of Asia, administer competency and proficiency tests to high-grade the quality of their workforce and to build merit-based public organisations, situated at the cutting edge of contemporary trends and global currents. In the Nigerian situation, in the educational sector especially, they have emerged in recent years as remedial instruments, to reverse the rapid downward cascade of the school system. A few years ago, for example, a former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, was forced by mass protest and the approach of election, to put in the cooler, a competency test planned to weed out unqualified and incompetent secondary school teachers.

The resuscitation of the test by his successor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, two months ago, has led to protests similar to what is going on in Kaduna State. Broadly, the same scenario played out in Ekiti State in the twilight of the tenure of Dr. Kayode Fayemi as governor. In all the instances where the reforms were attempted, the invariable outcome was the abandonment of the reform in the face of teachers’ agitation and in some cases, outright rejection of the policy. This raises the troubling issue and spectre that reforms, however well-meaning, may be aborted in the face of popular protest and union activities, notably in cases where they impinge on survival and livelihood matters.

Let me provide the context that much of the decay in our educational system is at the fundamental level of basic education, where a combination of factors, such as low prestige of teachers, irregular or delayed salaries, lack of refresher courses, illegal recruitment and the dilapidated learning environment, has kept the schools in a degraded state. Privately-run schools provide a partial remedy but they too tend to suffer and partake of the woes that afflict the public schools. Additionally, the lack of strong unions which can seize national attention on the scale of the better organised Academic Staff Union of the Universities, tends to keep matters concerning public education at basic levels in the back burner. Usually therefore, those commenting on educational decay and educational policy in general, have focused excessively on what is happening in tertiary education, forgetting that by the time students come up to the polytechnic or university, they are already set in their deformed ways, and no university teacher can perform a miracle to restore them. The crisis in Kaduna State over the threatened mass sacking of teachers, illustrates the dilemmas of trying to reform a system entrenched in mediocrity, low grade performance, survivalism and the mentality of public employment as welfare bonuses.