Executive Secretary, National Commission of Colleges of Education ( NCCE), Prof Muhammad Junaid, in this interview with Kuni Tyessi and Ruth Choji, says the commissions has initiated policies that would attract more students to the colleges. He also says, among others, that the large number of unqualified teachers in the north is responsible for the poor standard of education in the region.
Nigerians are wondering why the budget of the National Commission for Colleges of Education is the least?
Many reasons; one, universities attract more students than any other tertiary institution. Again, they have a wide spectrum of curriculum and so many disciplines like engineering, medicine, architecture, and so on - disciplines that attract many expensive equipment. They have more science-oriented disciplines; polytechnics, by their nature, require heavy equipment, workshops and so on. All these require funding. But, ideally, we have technical colleges of education, but there are fewer students in colleges of education.
Some people see the colleges of education as glorified secondary school; could this be why it has less patronage?
What we are doing to correct the image of the teacher and colleges of education by extension, is that we are insisting that prospective students get the same entry requiremens like those demanded by universities and polytechnics. We have approached the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to come up with unified tertiary institution requirement; so all students who want to come to NCE must sit and write the same exams. We have also reviewed our curriculum to make it more acceptable to world standard. We have come up with a revised standard procedure that we now use in monitoring the colleges and the application of these new rules. We have embarked on capacity building of teachers, changing their mindset and orientation to the kind of teachers that Nigeria needs now in order to meet the world top 20 economies in the world by 2020.
It is believed that the north west and north east zones have too many unqualified teachers and most of the blame is heaped on the commission; what is being done to rectify this?
The assumption is not true. The majority of the teachers you find in some of these schools are not NCE graduates; most of them are secondary school leavers, or failures as you like. They are people who were not able to pass their A Levels. States are the culprits because they are the employers of labour. The minimum qualification has been set for teachers since December 2006. It was enforced by that year, but it was started way back in 2003. But if you go to the basic schools in rural areas, you find that most of the teachers are not NCE graduates. So, most of the criticisms levelled against teachers are actually because of teachers that are not supposed to be in classrooms; they are not trained and they are giving bad name to the real ones that have been trained.
What are the challenges you are facing as the executive secretary of NCCE?
The first major challenge is the one you allude to: the lack of attraction that colleges of education and teaching as a profession have. Nobody wants to be a teacher, so we are battling with few students knocking at our door. Teaching is the last consideration by any person: even children of teachers do not want to be teachers; the teachers themselves do not want their children to be teachers. The status of teachers has so fallen in the society that people are ashamed to be called teachers.
Is this peculiar to Nigeria or is it like that everywhere?
I am only familiar with the Nigerian situation; I cannot speak for other nations, but here nobody wants to be a teacher and it is not unconnected with the poor conditions of service that are accorded to teachers and the poor pay. In fact, that is why we are in this situation.
Although primary education is supposed to be run by the state government, you find the federal government taking responsibility for primary education; like the National Primary Education Board, it came into being in the 80s because there was so much hue and cry in the states where teachers were not paid for nine months. So, the federal government had to come to the aid of the teachers by taking direct control of primary education, but governors went to court and won a decision against that and that commission was abrogated. That was the same problem when the universal education was introduced; the states are not playing their roles very well in terms of provisions of good quality education, and in terms of hiring of teachers.
Some people are of the opinion that if the name could be changed from colleges to universities of education, the problem of low patronage could be solved; what is your take on this?
The name is not the issue. Even if you call them universities of education, there might be some attraction because the people are going to get degrees, but as we are talking now, there are many colleges that are affiliated to universities, and those colleges are attracting students, because they see them as avenue of obtaining first degrees. Increasingly, the first degree is becoming the basic education in the country, so everybody is clamouring to get the first degree. So, I don't think it is not about the name; it is about the profession.
You said that states are guilty of employing low grade teachers; could this be the reason for the falling standard of education in Nigeria?
No doubt, if you have an unqualified teacher in the classroom, you will definitely get low standard of education; the performance of young children will be very poor. If the teacher himself does not know, he will teach very little.
What is the commission doing in terms of drawing government attention to the plight of teachers that have NCE qualification?
We have done quite a lot. Even the ministry of education has done a lot, too. You will recall that there have been lots of reforms from 2006 till date. Then, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili was the minister and she introduced lots of laudable initatives that, till date, are being implemented. During that time, there was a document called 'Nation Strategy on Teaching Quality and Development.' In that document, lots of initiatives were developed for implementation by the ministry; one was the celebration of the excellent teacher. It was was started in October 5, 2007, where teachers are celebrated by giving them vehicles and other gifts to encourage them to do better. We also developed the housing-for-all-teachers. It has not taken off but I am sure the ministry is still talking about it. At that time, there was an institution that was ready to provide the land, and houses were to be built for teachers, and states were to replicate the programme. If the conditions of teachers are improved, then we are likely to attract the best brains.
Late Prof Babs Fafunwa once said that the south has a 70-year gap over the north in education; is the commission doing anything to bridge that gap?
We are, in many ways. As a regulator, we try to encourage private participation and the number of private colleges of education is growing gradually. States are also establishing their own colleges of education. The federal and state governments have 21 colleges of education. We try to popularise teacher education by expanding the curriculum, which will attract students - like adult education, and special education that covers persons with special needs. We are expanding the curriculum of education, and a communiqué was released recently where all the stakeholders unanimously commended the commission for expanding the NCE curriculum. There are many programmes that are going to take off that will create more colleges, so that more teachers can be attracted.