For the past five years, the Inoyo Toro Foundation has been putting smiles on the faces of public school teachers in Akwa Ibom State through its teachers' award for excellence in five subjects. The event also provides an opportunity for students to connect with a mentor.
The cliché 'teachers' reward is in heaven' is fast losing relevance, as several groups and individuals, and to some extent the government, are becoming aware of the importance of teachers in the education process and their contributions to nation building.
There have been series of trainings, workshops, awards and other incentives to boost their morale. Teachers on their part are being encouraged by the success stories of some of their students, which to them is the greatest reward.
One of such teacher-friendly organisations is the Inoyo Toro Foundation, which for five years, has continued to organise an annual teachers' award for excellence with the support of individuals and organisation. Every year, three best teachers in English Language, Mathematics, Biology, Physics and Chemistry get cash prizes of N250,000, 150,000 and N100,000 each for the first second and third place respectively. From next year, the award would be extended to include Economics and History.
There is also a grand mentor teachers' award of N500,000 for past winners who, through regular mentoring sessions, produce the next winners in their respective fields.
This year, four grand mentors emerged in English Language, Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
Though the event was organised for teachers, it was also an opportunity to connect students with some illustrious indigenes of the state and other partners through a mentoring session, where students are motivated and spurred for greater achievements through education.
It was also a memorable experience for the six students from each of the 20 secondary schools that were invited for the event, who not only shared the joy of their teachers, but were connected to a mentor, who would provide career counselling, support them and act as role models to them and help them to achieve a desired height in life.
In a chat with THISDAY, a Senior Secondary Two (SS2) student of Methodist Senior Science College, Oron, Master Moses Okon, said the mentor inspired him and encouraged him to always focus on his studies; study ahead and attempt difficult questions. Okon, who intends to study Petrochemical Engineering, said his mentor, Mr. Nkekere Udom also taught him some study tips.
Another dose of motivation and advice was offered by the guest speaker at the event, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, who emphasised the importance or reading and research by recounting his experience in secondary school, when he was given the wrong result of a medical examination.
He said when the result of the diagnosis showed that he had leukaemia, he had to spend 10 days in the library reading about his supposed ailment and noting its symptoms. He said the doctors were forced to examine him again when he confronted them with a list of the symptoms of leukaemia and said he did not have any of them.
He regretted that though students have more advantage to acquire knowledge these days with the help of the internet, which could provide information on any subject, they prefer to waste their time on the net with irrelevant information and social network sites.
El-Rufai told the students that whatever they become in future is the result of the choices they made. He urged them to take their education serious and acquire the right quantity of education at the right time because they might not succeed without it.
While highlighting seven success factors to guide students on their way to the top, he said, "try to be healthy because there is nothing you can do without good health; develop a very strong sense of right and wrong; education yourselves; read widely; interact, travel and understand other people; be polite to everyone and recognise the difference between fate and destiny."
He promised to sponsor the award in History because of the importance of the subject and to also commit his friend to sponsor the prize in Economics.
In her remarks, Chairperson of the foundation, Mrs. Ntekpe Inoyo, said members of the foundation's board of trustees are motivated by the number of committed volunteers, who go the extra mile giving their and energy to the course.
"I think that has kept us going. I am particularly happy this year because when you know that next year, without even thinking of it, without even dreaming of it, just knowing that next year we will have Economics and History. So by year 10, maybe there will be prizes for all the subjects and it will make all the teachers work hard so as to participate."
She said the state government appreciates and supports the initiative because "we are doing what they should do and we are making their teachers better teachers, the teachers themselves love it because finally they feel they are important enough to be recognised and they are happy."
Chairman of the Award Committee, Prof. Ebong Mbipom, said the screening process for both the teachers' award and the grand mentors' award consisted of a written test and oral examination, which were handled according to the preset rules and procedures with transparency and integrity. He said the expert examiners were two per subject and from the University of Uyo.
In her remarks, the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Valerie Ebe, commended the foundation for the initiative, saying that teachers deserve to be honoured because of their contributions to the development of the sector.
Ebe, who described the teaching profession as a noble one, said teachers are strategic partners of the state government and are the driving force of the free education policy of the state.
A recipient of the grand mentor award, Mrs. Irene Ironbar Essien, an English Language teacher at Qua Iboe Church Senior Science College, Ndon Eyo, Etinan, thanked the foundation and other donors for investing in the lives of teachers and assured them that the noble objectives of setting up the foundation would be achieved.
On behalf of other awardees, she pledged to be committed to duty and to excellence and to contribute to the improvement of education in the state.