We had been given forms to fill as part of the requirements for opening an account in one of the new generation banks. We had only started observing the mandatory one year of national service as fresh graduates and were due to begin receiving the monthly stipends to be paid by the government. I was in the process of filling my form when she walked up to me. Dressed in the traditional light green khaki attire of the NYSC, she was draped in the hijab, and had the unmistakable accent of one from northern Nigeria.
She had got stuck at one point in filling her form and needed some assistance. “Please, what’s “Maiden name,” she asked. I looked up, “What did you say?” I wasn’t quite sure I had heard her right. She proceeded to show me the section of the form she was referring to “What do they mean by mother’s maiden name” she asked again. “Oh, it means your mother’s surname before she got married” I answered. She looked confused for a moment, and then thanked me. It was a brief but eye-opening encounter.
I had often heard that the standard of education in the North was particularly appalling. Far worse than the general standard we criticise in Nigeria, but it took that one question, asked by a fellow youth corp member to make me come to terms with the reality. For a long time after my conversation when the lady, I wondered how a university graduate had never come across the term “Maiden name”. I also couldn’t help but try to imagine the number of other regular words or phrases that were missing from her vocabulary.
This brings me to the on-going controversy surrounding the teachers who failed a Primary four competency-based test, and the decision of the Kaduna State government to relieve them of their jobs and hire those who are actually capable of imparting knowledge to the next generation. I have read many opinions on the development and the step taken by the El-Rufai led administration, and to say that it is befuddling that a considerable number of people are actually against the government’s decision is an understatement.
These supposed knowledge givers were administered the same test they would have set for their pupils to answer in an examination, and the result was a startling revelation that confirmed the terrible state of education in public schools. In spite of this disgraceful outcome of the exercise, a section of the populace still believes the teachers deserve to retain the same job they have proven to be incompetent doing. The champions of this absurdity are being sentimental about a matter that clearly deserves to be treated as a state of emergency.
They cite the multiplier effect the loss of 22,000 jobs will have on the Kaduna masses as the reason the teachers should be allowed to continue imparting knowledge they do not possess to our leaders of tomorrow. They are of the opinion that the teachers should be trained or retrained instead.
Anyone who has taken the time to go through samples of the marked test scripts of the teachers will realise they have no business teaching in the first place. Teachers who cannot string a simple sentence together. One could not identify a rectangle. Another could not spell “Donald Trump” correctly. And these are people entrusted with the lives of the next generation? Precious kids learn at the feet of these impostors for several hours every day. Charlatans whose entry into the teaching profession happened through the back door.
In saner climes, someone would be facing sanctions for hiring them in the first place. In societies where a premium is placed on education, the debate would be about what the appropriate sanctions should be for those who are found culpable in the employment of the teachers.
It would be a waste of limited resources to commit to training a teacher who scores 3 out of 20 in a competency test. Anyone who intends to play a role in the development of a child ought to have invested in themselves by going through the required training process to ensure they are competent enough to take up such a future-defining job.
Nigerians lament the standard of education daily. We decry the quality of graduates our higher institutions churn out yearly; how they fall short of the standard expected. Yet when decisive steps are taken to put a positive spin on things and salvage the future of little children, we kick against it and brand the government callous. What then do we want? When we say we want to see a significant change in the way things are done by the authorities, what do we mean?
If the pupils who are at the receiving end of substandard education were to be our biological children or nieces and nephews, would we in good conscience want them to continue to “learn” under a teacher who cannot differentiate between food crops and cash crops?
The government of the state has said it is not leaving the sacked teachers in the lurch and has gone ahead to welcome proposals from people who have ideas on how to engage them. That should count for something.
The NLC who led the protests are the real enemies of Nigeria. They have conveniently shied away from the obvious question “Did the teachers fail a competency test based on a primary 4 curriculum or not?” If yes, should they still be entrusted with the education of our future leaders? Besides, their theory that the government only conducted the test to reduce the civil service workforce doesn’t hold water as the same government has taken steps to recruit 25,000 qualified teachers to replace the disengaged ones.
I am not a fan of any political office holder, but in this case, I believe the Kaduna State government should be lauded for choosing to do the right thing in the face of opposition. Instead of criticising the initiative that exposed the incompetence of the teachers, we should be clamouring for the same exercise to be conducted in other states of the federation.
It’s the time when reason, and not sentiment should prevail. Change always comes at a price, and in this case, it’s a welcome one.