Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Lagos State chapter, Samson Kayode Idowu, in this interview, speaks on the problems and undercurrents of the nation's education sector and the way forward.
What is your position over the irregularities in the Nigerian education sector?
The moment we allowed corruption in our educational system, it brought about decadence and until we fight corruption in its totality in this country, we cannot rule out failure in the sector because we celebrate mediocrity against excellence.
Would you agree that parents often aid and abet corruption in the education system and why?
It is very simple if we fight corruption holistically in this country, every individual will be mindful of his or her deeds. I was in South Africa recently and I read in the newspaper that teachers who involved themselves in malpractices with the students were taken to court and action was taken against them. This would serve to deter others who want to do such in future.
But here in Nigeria, the parent who bribes his/ her way for a child to survive in the academic world will also buy his or her way in the court of law and such a person will be set free and the common man will now look at it and say, if the rich can do this, then my own daughter will survive too. The total effect is what we are experiencing today and government does not help matters.
They refuse to pump more money into education. They budget but do not implement. Until we put education first in whatever we do, Nigeria cannot meet with vision 20:20. No nation develops above the level of its education. But here in Nigeria, we toy with education, thinking that we have gotten human resources and therefore, we can do away with education.
In the olden days, teachers were more respected, if you go to North Korea in any motor park, teachers have special queues when they want to board a bus, but here in Nigeria, we don't value our teachers. Teachers are not privileged to bag national awards. If teachers are given national awards, it can serve as a morale booster to them and our children will be better for it because teachers will put in their best.
Are you insinuating that teachers are corrupt because of poor remuneration?
The teachers we are talking about belong to the society and what happens in it will have negative or positive effect on the teachers too. If they are being paid peanuts at the end of the month while councillors are paid huge amounts, the teacher may think that if politicians are acquiring so much through corrupt methods, then, they may have a rethink and conclude that if they cannot beat them, then they can join them.
Such a teacher will look for a way to make ends meet but if the councillor had been arrested to serve as an example to others, such teachers will not emulate corrupt people. I am only giving this as an example to let you know that you cannot rule out negative elements within the teaching profession. I am not saying our teachers are corrupt but there will be a black sheep somewhere and I link that with the happenings in society at large.
But I want to tell you that as far as we are concerned, we embrace morals and deliver the subject matter accordingly. When they are being denied their rights, there is every tendency to look elsewhere and also be enticed by parents and even by the students. The government should try as much as possible to fulfil its obligation.
Then you can easily arrest those involved in corruption through quality assurance method. As a union, we do not condone corruption and malpractices, but the people who are supposed to strengthen us are not doing it. Teachers don't have to go on strike before they are given their entitlements.
What are the measures that can be put in place to strengthen the value of education?
If you give teachers national awards, it will motivate them to work more and others will emulate them. If the welfare of teachers are met as and when due, they would be happy. If an individual is happy, he or she will offer the best but in a situation where two months' salaries are being owed, which teaching and learning will take place? Teachers will offer the teaching grudgingly and the students will likewise, learn grudgingly. The effect will be when the students write public examinations like WAEC or NECO.
I will emphasize that until we treat teachers with respect in terms of their welfare, things will not change. How many parents will say boldly, that I want my child to become a teacher? This means teachers are not valuable to the system. The brilliant people are not ready to come. If you are giving admission into the university to come and study education, the candidates will be crying that they have committed him to a life of penury and such students have not even started working but believe they have been committed to a life of penury.
The trend now is for teachers to embark on strikes. Should industrial actions be the solution to their demands?
Strike does not worth it, but since we have waited since 2008 and this is 2013 for government to implement a simple agreement, we will have to look at the methods to fight government. We are mind builders and whatever we plant in the minds of students will go a long way before it can be erased. We are not surgeons who perform operations and if they make mistakes, they can correct it again. In our own case, whatever we teach the students goes into his/her adulthood.
If teachers go on strike, it assists in getting their demands. The way we are being treated shabbily is not the solution and would not encourage others to come into teaching. If we are talking of implementing simple agreements and we are shouting while on holiday and nobody cares, is it when the school resumes and children now stay at home that government will call for dialogue?
Let us get it, were you being romanced by government all this while?
No. as professionals, we should be able to sensitize the public because we deal with them. We must let them see the reasons for embarking on strike and we are also sensitive about our students. We are not interested in going on strike except we are pushed to the wall. We gave government enough time to dialogue, for us to get this done without affecting students under our care. We met early this month and put committees in place to settle issues but till today, we have not heard anything.
If peradventure, we go on strike, we should not be blamed because we have done everything humanly possible to avert this strike. We are being mindful of the negative effects and that is why we are still talking till now to let those who have ears hear us and to let leaders in the state intervene before we get started.