Since its establishment in 2015, the Maltina Teacher of the Year award has been motivating and financially empowering teachers, just as stakeholders believe that the move and similar initiatives will improve the quality of education in the country. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports
If knowledge is power, then teachers must be the power house. For most societies, the root of success in all sectors is traced to the teaching profession. Indeed, the long chain of all other professions originates from the teaching profession.
Teaching is regarded as an art of guiding and imparting knowledge and the best suited for this are professionally qualified and trained teachers.
Experts also describe teaching as a profession that is focused on human resource development and as a social function that aims at growth in others. Not a few experts agree that teachers are regarded as the interpreters of a nation's educational plan and philosophy.
Teachers play a vital role in training, coaching and determining the quality of education, which is critical to sustainable national development. They are regarded as the builders of the future and wealth of nations and therefore deserve to be encouraged and celebrated.
However, scholars are worried that the teaching profession in Nigeria is deteriorating which has been the fallout of factors such as underfunding of the sector, economic downturns, students' unrest bedeviling the sector and a general fall in the standard of living in the country.
At every World Teachers' Day celebration on October 5, the welfare of teachers always agitate minds, as the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) would reiterate its call for an improved welfare package for its members across the country. The union has also been calling on individuals, institutions, corporate organisations and government at national and state levels to rise to the challenge and improve the status of teachers.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Nigeria in providing quality education that promotes sustainable development is inadequate funding by all levels of government to the extent that funding has been in response to conditionality imposed by International Financial Institutions (IFTs).
Statistics show that the federal government's expenditure on education was below 10 per cent of the national budget between 1997 and 2000. What is worse, the national expenditure on education cannot be properly computed because various state governments' expenditure on education cannot be determined in relation to the UNESCO recommendation of 26 per cent of national budgets.
Meanwhile, the challenges confronting the profession continue to mount. These include the best brains not willing to embrace teaching and poor welfare and reward for teachers. Teachers too have been accused of not demonstrating the required professionalism and passion.
Others include low wages, poor motivation, absence of a professional education academy, lack of professional and in-service trainings, high teacher-pupil ratio and lack of autonomy by NUT.
In all these, education stakeholders have repeatedly called on the government to intensify efforts to attract and retain the best hands in the teaching profession for effective nation building. They particularly emphasised the importance of teachers and the teaching profession to the country's quest for development.
A Professor of Educational Management at the University of Lagos, Alloy Ejiogu maintained that teachers are invaluable drivers of societal norms, values and growth and no other person could have such an overarching influence in the lives of young members of any society other than the teacher.
He said teachers' impact is not only outstanding by its success stories, but also by its potential and real time errors. He explained that while the medical doctor buries his mistakes and the engineer dies with his own errors, the entire society perishes with the mistakes of the teacher.
"Then, can you ever imagine a Nigeria without any teacher- pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary? Or what more, a Nigeria replete with demotivated, disgruntled, unqualified and incompetent teachers who cheat their way through this sublime and noblest of human responsibilities; what would we have in return?"
Taking these into cognizance, the Nigerian Breweries Plc, in line with its philosophy of 'Winning with Nigeria', resolved in 1994 to play a more active role in the development of education in Nigeria when it established the Nigerian Breweries-Felix Ohiwerei Education Trust Fund with a commencement capital of N100 million.
The Managing Director, Mr. Jordi Borrut Bel explained that in 2015, the company's intervention in education was expanded to include teachers when the Maltina Teacher of the Year (MTOY) initiative was launched. He said the initiative was hinged on the realisation that teachers hardly get the recognition they deserve despite the pivotal role they play in determining the quality of education and the future of the country.
Borrut Bel maintained that over the years, the trust fund has impacted on over 25,000 students with more than 400 classrooms, 30 libraries and laboratories built in over 40 communities across Nigeria.
According to him, the intervention which has become an integral part of the company's sustainability agenda, has covered primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.
The initiative has provided a platform for exceptional teachers to be identified, showcased and rewarded. It is also aimed at restoring the pride of teachers and the dignity of the teaching profession.
With prizes worth over N50 million annually, the Maltina Teacher of the Year has been rewarding commitment and diligence to duty by exceptional teachers across the country. Since its inception in 2015, the award has also demystified the long-held belief that the teacher's reward is in heaven.
Since its debut, the award has produced four grand prize winners. At the inaugural edition in 2015, a teacher with the Federal Government Girls College, Onitsha, Anambra State, Mrs. Rose Obi blazed the trail, while Mr. Imoh Essien, a teacher at the Special Education Centre for Exceptional Children, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, won in 2016.
In 2017, Mr. Felix Ariguzo, a teacher with Mastercare International School, Asaba, Delta State emerged winner, while Mr. Samuel Opeifa from Government Secondary School, Abuja emerged champion of 2018.
Each of the overall winners was rewarded with N1 million instantly, plus N1 million every year for the next five years and a block of classrooms built in each of their schools. Also, the first runner-up received N1 million, while the second runner-up got N750,000 plus a trophy. State champions were each rewarded with N500,000.
With more participation of teachers judging by the increasing number of entries across the country, perhaps the award and other similar initiatives established to encourage teachers would address some of the challenges confronting the profession.
At the commencement of the 2018 award in May, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren of the Department of Educational Foundation, University of Lagos, and other stakeholders stressed the importance of teachers and the teaching profession to the country's quest for development.
They explained that teachers are invaluable drivers of societal norms and the teaching profession must be respected to attract the best and the brightest.
The expert highlighted factors that could attract the best brains to the profession to include professionalising teaching, reasonable and guaranteed salary, job security and competitive entry requirements for would-be teachers.
It therefore behoves the government to make the teaching profession attractive by applying the recommendations of experts so as to salvage the declining quality of education in the country.