I have been thinking of doing a piece to honor the teachers who have influenced the course of my life and to whom I owe huge, incalculable debts. Then it occurred to me that the teachers who nurtured me in my formative years all had a long-forgotten qualification called the Teacher Certificate Grade II (TCGDII), which people earned after 5 years of attending teacher-training colleges. People who had secondary school qualifications and wanted to teach in primary schools went to the "pivotal" teacher training program of teacher-training colleges where they spent some two years to earn the same qualification.
Teacher-training colleges in Nigeria were designed to train people to specifically teach in primary schools. Judging by (my recollections of) the quality of people who taught me in the first six years of my educational career, Nigeria's teacher-training colleges had high standards. The teachers understood child psychology and were trained to be all-rounders; they taught all subjects with what seemed to me like effortless ease. I knew of no teacher who was not as proficient in the sciences as he was in the humanities. I later learned that this was so because the colleges had a policy of not granting full certification to students until they passed all 13 odd multidisciplinary subjects they learned.
I recall that some of my teachers still studied and went back to retake a few courses they didn't have credit passes in, which they called "referred" subjects. That's probably not the right word, but that was what my young, growing mind heard them saying. Teachers who passed all 13 or so subjects in one sitting often held their heads high and were the objects of envy and respect. I remember all this because I come from a family of teachers.
Then, suddenly, in the early 1990s, the Ibrahim Babangida military regime phased out teachers' colleges and imposed the Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) as the minimum qualification to teach in elementary schools. I don't recall the reasons given for this, but that has to rank as the most thoughtless and asinine educational policy change in Nigeria's history.
The Nigerian Certificate in Education offered by our colleges of education is designed to train teachers to teach in secondary schools. Its curriculum does not offer any kind of intellectual exposure early childhood education. Its course offerings are ill-suited for a teaching career in primary schools because they don't cover the full range of subjects taught in elementary schools. Someone who was an "arts" student in secondary school (which means he had no exposure to the sciences) who goes ahead to, for instance, study "Political Science, Economics and Education," can't be an effective teacher of Integrated Science and Mathematics/Arithmetic in primary schools.
The result, of course, is that there has been a frighteningly dramatic drop in standards in primary schools--the most important stage of anybody's intellectual development. Our elementary schools are now taught by a bunch of inept, ill-trained people who don't understand child psychology and who have no clue what it means to have a rounded education.
I have never been impressed by private primary schools bragging about having bachelor's degree holders on their teaching staff. I would rather send my child to a school taught by graduates of teacher-training colleges than to a school taught by bachelor's, master's, or even PhD degree holders who have no intellectual preparation to teach little kids. I would be impressed only if I knew that such teachers had a Grade II certificate before acquiring advanced qualifications.
This issue strikes at the core of the alarmingly progressive atrophy of educational standards at all levels in Nigeria. A wobbly foundation can't support a durable structure. That is why any educational policy that does not meaningfully address this crucial deficiency would be grasping at straws.
I think we have three options to turn things around.
The first option is to bring back teacher-training colleges. Bauchi State governor Isa Yuguda is one of the few higher-ups who see the wisdom in this. Daily Trust of February 7, 2011 reported him as saying he would reintroduce teachers' colleges in his state. He observed, correctly, that "the educational policy of government which did away with the teachers' colleges was not done objectively. I may be wrong, but I think the beginning of the collapse of education in Nigeria, particularly northern Nigeria, was as a result of the phasing out of teachers colleges."
Like before, students who graduate from primary schools should have the option to either go the teacher-training track or the secondary school track. While we are at it, our secondary school curriculum should be redesigned to expose students to the widest possible breadth of course offerings across the disciplinary spectrum. The current system, which forces students to "specialize" rather too early, is unhelpful. The distinction between "arts" and "science" students should be abolished. It is anachronistic and shortchanges students. America has no such distinction. Many developed nations don't, too.
I am aware that the National Teachers' Institute in Kaduna still trains primary school teachers by distance learning using the curriculum of the erstwhile teacher-training colleges. But that's not enough. In any case, if teacher-training colleges were such a bad idea that we had to phase them out, why do we still train teachers through the backdoor using their model? That's schizophrenic.
Our second option is to change our current colleges of education into institutions that prepare people to teach in elementary schools. The current college of education curriculum prepares students to teach secondary schools, which is a waste of efforts since our universities' faculties of education already do this.
The third option is to introduce bachelor's degrees in elementary and early childhood education in our universities and make the possession of these degrees the minimum qualification to teach in primary schools. The curriculum of the degrees should be modeled after our earlier teacher-training colleges. That's how it's done in America.
Whatever it is, Nigeria has no option but to address teaching and learning in its primary schools if it is to stay competitive in the 21st century and beyond.