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Good News For Teachers?

Teachers Smile

NIGERIA’S crisis-ridden education sector may be headed for another round of disruption soon at the primary and secondary levels. The brewing discontent was instigated by the ill-advised new special salary scale and increase in retirement age recently approved for teachers by the Federal Government. It should be nipped in the bud. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retired), said the measures, unveiled during the 2020 World Teachers’ Day, were aimed at mitigating the “emergency situation in our educational system with particular reference to the dearth of qualified and dedicated teachers to enhance the quality of teaching and learning” in the country.

Although the date of commencement for the payment of the new special salary scale and modality for its implementation were not outlined, the President also approved an increase in the service years for teachers from 35 to 40, free tuition and automatic admission for the biological children of teachers. Graduates of education will henceforth be automatically employed by the government.

No doubt, any measure undertaken by government to motivate teachers in the country towards better service delivery in their respective areas of assignment is laudable. But it is obvious that the ground is being prepared for an intractable crisis in the sector going by the way the Federal Government went about this all-important task all on its own, without collaborating with state governments and other stakeholders. It does not bode well that the Federal Government ignored the fact that education is on the Concurrent Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution, which requires multi-stakeholder buy-in and wide consultation among the three tiers of government in cross-cutting policy initiatives.

The governors rightly accuse the Federal Government of unilaterally strapping them with additional financial burden without consulting them on the new special salary scale. Already, the teachers have swiftly countered through the Nigerian Union of Teachers that the state governors should not hide under the claim that education is on the concurrent list in the constitution and refuse to implement the new measures. In a view deemed largely representative of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, said, “The Federal Government is imposing a new financial burden on the states without consulting them. While it is good to give teachers a new salary scale, it is also important not to politicise such a sensitive issue.” This is well said.

But signposting the battle ahead, the teachers challenged the governors to be more creative in public financial management, noting, “Nobody should come up with the excuse that there is no money to pay. There is money in this country, people are only afraid to use their intellect and get the needed result … Education remains the key to the development of our country.” This flies in the face of the fiscal realities in the country today. The teachers should not allow themselves to be goaded into false optimism that state governments will be able to pay the new special salary scale approved by Buhari. A number of these states were declared fiscally unviable by a slew of recent studies, they are mired in unsustainable debts and are struggling to pay the N30,000 national minimum wage structure signed into law in 2019.

FG to engage more qualified teachers to increase the teacher-to-pupil ratio  – NTA.ng – Breaking News, Nigeria, Africa, Worldwide
A Noble Profession

In fact, the governors should be resolute in their opposition to the unilateral imposition of the new special salary scale. The country can ill-afford a replication of the chaos that has followed a similar agreement between the Federal Government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities. That contract has hobbled seamless academic activities since 2009, having failed to take into consideration the huge financial implications on the state governments, which bear the brunt of funding a large proportion of the universities in the country. Another agreement it signed with resident doctors to stave off strikes has remained un-implementable to many states. It is a demonstration of the bizarre federalism practised in Nigeria where the central government suffocates the other tiers of government by entering into agreements with labour unions with overarching impact on the states. This is wrong.

The teachers need to see the increase of their service years from 35 to 40 years as a poisoned chalice and a Greek gift. The best response is to reject it for what it is. For a country confronted with a huge unemployment, estimated by the PwC, an international audit and consulting firm, to reach 30 percent by the fourth quarter of 2020, raising the retirement age is ludicrous and illogical. What is the rationale in keeping tired and spent teachers longer on the job when so many qualified unemployed young graduates are looking for what to do? In other countries, governments encourage early retirement to create room for the employment of young blood to rejuvenate the system and provide jobs for the youth population.

Instead of implementing this wrong-headed policy, we encourage the government to consider giving incentives to teachers who have put in a minimum of 30 years or thereabout in service to enable them retire early in order to create room for young teachers, who are innovative, imaginative, technology-adept and attuned to the realities and demands of the times.





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