Chika Oduah/Julius Berger Nigeria
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Not too long ago, I had the rare privilege of being in the same room with six of Nigeria’s 36 state governors. Discussions mainly centered around the need to urgently restructure the country and let the constituent units have their say on the issues that affect them.

While this lasted, only one thing agitated my mind. As discussions went on with questions receiving answers and suggestions on how to make things better followed one another, I could not take my mind off the questions of how Nigeria, restructured or not, will survive without taking care of the now neglected children and youths. When I eventually had the opportunity to speak, I told the governors that they and I had a different concern from the issues that had dominated the evening.

I said while restructuring the country and giving a sense of fairness to everyone single citizen was paramount, I worried that the future of the country would remain in jeopardy if we did not address increasing levels of illiteracy and unemployment amongst our children and youths respectively. I indicated that the governors were in a particularly good position to take these questions because basic education was within their purview.

I still cannot tell how sensible the question came across to the other governors, which included Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, Kashim Shettima of Borno State; Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State; Aminu Masari of Katsina State and Simon Lalong of Plateau State, but it was Shettima who spoke up.

He identified the question as a very important one and went on to reel out the dangers ahead of Nigeria’s future if we did not begin to make a conscious effort at reducing the burden of out-of-school children in Nigeria, in addition to providing gainful employment for our teeming youths.

The statistics of education in Nigeria are indeed gory. Well over 11 million children of school age in the country will never make it to a classroom as we speak while a sizeable number of those who are in school do not learn anything. Most times, due to the lack of competence and motivation of teachers. Some statistics say, for instance, that about 45 per cent of instruction time is lost to one of absenteeism or neglect by teachers in this part of the world. If we do not do anything to reverse this trend, how then can our country hope to survive in the increasingly competitive and global nature of our world?

From the way Shettima reacted on the evening under discussion, it was obvious that this was a discussion that the governors must have engaged in at one point or the other. This is especially so as the Borno governor is chair of the Northern Governors’ Forum. However, nothing in the recent past has shown that any intervention has made positive impact on the educational situation in the country especially in the north.

So, you wonder whether governors are addressing the problems correctly. There is hardly any of our governors who would, for instance, not have examples of initiatives and projects said to be aimed at addressing the disgraceful state of education in the country.

The very obvious diagnosis of the problem in most of our states is the modernisation of school buildings and furniture. So, on a regular basis, you find governors boasting of having awarded contracts for the renovation of dilapidated school buildings or even the construction of new ones.

While one cannot say that such infrastructural intervention would not contribute to the improvement of the quality of learning in our schools, the fact that we have not seen any significant improvement in spite of huge investments in infrastructure shows that there are a few more fundamental steps that we are missing out.

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This is why the current attempt at reviewing the quality of teachers by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State calls for some attention.

This is not an original initiative though. About a decade back, the Kwara State Government set an examination to test the competence of its teachers only to discover that a sizable number of them could not even pass examinations meant for primary school pupils. A number of years later, former Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, also tried to assess teachers in the state but met stiff resistance which made him backtrack. That el-Rufai is embarking on the same exercise at this moment indicates that governors understand the importance of quality instruction in our primary and secondary schools.

What probably restrains them from going all the way to deal with this situation is a consideration for their political survival. Given that teachers make up a substantial number of the civil service and the electorate of any state, governors fear for their political future and would usually avoid seeing the idea through. That lack of political will is why the state of education has remained what it is in Nigeria, without doubt.

Given el-Rufai’s well-known tenacity however, one can only hope that he has the steel to see this initiative through. Although there have been protests against the government’s announcement of a mass failure of the simple test administered on the teachers, some of those protests themselves justify the government’s position.

One of the teachers alleged to have failed the tests, wrote on his Facebook page: “Is a matter of time they almost finish their first 4years nothing on ground… how can you SAID more than 65% of teachers failed primary four EXAMINE#Wallahi is LIED.” Now, this post itself shows how much of mis-education this character will peddle.

It is said that el-Rufai’s administration plans to take out about over 20,000 teachers who have failed these tests and employ, young trainable people in their place. This will at least ensure that pupils in the state have quality instruction. But the governor would also have to manage those who are losing out in the circumstance. Truth be told, it would be dishonest to assume that all the teachers likely to be affected by this situation found themselves at this post by their own making.

And even if they did, the society would be unfair to them and do itself a lot of risk to send these 20,000 people or so into the unemployment market without consideration. It would therefore make sense to ease them out by building their capacity to remain productive rather than become a burden on society.

El-Rufai has vindicated himself as a man of courage and vision over the years, but governance also bestows a requirement for compassion on office holders. And beyond compassion, throwing this huge number of able-bodied men and women into unemployment can become a source of insecurity in the state.

But there are two other important things that el-Rufai and other governors have to do to bring hope back to our schools. The first is to pay attention to the education of teachers. Back in the day, people decide to become teachers by the time they concluded primary education. So, when their peers moved on to secondary schools, would-be teachers attended teacher training colleges, where they got imparted with the skills, temperament and disposition of teachers.

In addition to that, we must reconsider the remuneration of teachers. What has happened over the past few years is that the teaching profession has become a no-go-area for the best brains in the country. We must present incentives that will invite the best of our best to teaching. That is the only time we would be investing in the future of our children sustainably.

– Twitter: @niranadedokun

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