By Martha Agas
When Nigeria joined the rest of the world to mark World Teachers’ Day last week, Prof. Mathew Sule, Executive Chairman, Plateau State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), had one concern in his heart – the quality of education in Plateau’s primary schools.
As an educationist, he says he had always known that the first step toward quality education is to motivate the teacher because he is the most critical stakeholder in the quality education delivery chain.
“The teacher is the engine room of every educational pursuit because he moulds the raw head into great inventors, trail blazers and leaders in all fields.
“That role appears even more crucial when he is handling little ones in primary schools because, aside the academic aspect, he moulds their character and provides the prism from which they view the world,’’ he told newsmen.
Sule, who was appointed SUBEB boss in 2015, says he had all along known that the education sector was in bad shape, but nothing prepared him for the rot he met when he became the SUBEB boss.
“When I assumed office, I decided to visit some schools, but after visiting the first school, I came back a sad man – many children in primary five could neither read nor write. Some could not even spell their names !
“Subsequent visits to other schools, both in rural and urban areas, confirmed that the entire system was in bad shape and needed urgent attention,’’ he said.
Faced with such grim realities, Sule opted for a holistic approach and engaged stakeholders to diagnose the problem before seeking the solutions. And, as feared, he found that practically every segment of the educational chain – teachers, pupils, basic infrastructure, the general teaching and learning environment – needed urgent attention.
As an educationist, Sule says that he was particularly irked that the teacher, globally recognised as the engine room in every educational endeavour, had not been given the needed support to put in his best in class.
According to him, no serious government can afford to toy with the quality and welfare of teachers, if it was interested in development and growth.
He regretted that the Nigerian society had always expected teachers to reach terrific goals with inadequate tools and poor welfare, and wondered how such “magic’’ was possible.
Capitalising on the fact that human capital development and social welfare were major policy thrusts of Gov Simon Lalong, Sule poured himself into working fervently to ensure that teachers were equipped with the necessary teaching materials, skills, and infrastructure to discharge their duties diligently and effectively.
To tackle the inability to read, write or spell words, the board trained 700 teachers on jolly phonics, a fun and child-centred approach to the teaching of literacy using alphabet codes of English language to teach pupils to write and spell.
The board has also trained 122 French teachers to enhance their proficiency and teaching skills.
According to Sule, the goal is to update their knowledge on the subject and ease their capacity to teach the pupils a foreign language.
“Learning a language other than English will boost the children’s chances for socio-economic interaction and increase their competitive capacities in life,’’ he says.
The SUBEB boss says that teachers’ salaries and allowances were being paid regularly, while hardworking ones were being recognised and rewarded to spur them into more diligence.
At a prayer session organised by SUBEB to mark the end of 2017, the board rewarded the best primary school teacher in the state with a Peugeot 406 salon car. That gift went to Mr. Adamu Hamidu from Kanke Local Government Area.
Mrs. Ruth Lengs, from Barkin-Ladi Local Government, who was adjudged second best, received a motorcycle, while the best teachers from each of the 17 local governments were presented with cash prizes.
Sule says that the award ceremony, the first of its kind in Plateau, will become an annual event.
According to him, government has renovated 411 schools and constructed many classrooms and offices as part of efforts to create an enabling environment for the teachers to discharge their duties effectively. This, he says, is in addition to lots of furniture supplied to ease teaching and learning.
To attract quality teachers to the rural areas, Sule says that the board is working towards giving special allowances to teachers posted to rural areas.
“`The special allowance is aimed at attracting manpower to the rural areas and retaining them there to serve the children who are eager to have better lives.
“The gesture will discourage the rising cases of rural teachers seeking to be transferred to urban areas because we believe that children in the rural areas equally deserve quality education,’’ he says.
According to him, SUBEB has also engaged 4,850 ad-hoc teachers, which included 450 teachers absorbed from the federal teaching service scheme, to minimise the acute shortage of teaching staff.
Just last month, Lalong approved their engagement as permanent staff with effect from September 1.
“Teachers have been grossly inadequate which has affected service delivery. We want to ensure that there is enough manpower for this very crucial sector,’’ he says.
To ensure that only qualified teachers are allowed into the classes, the board has also endorsed the bio-metric exercise adopted in 2013 to sanitize the teaching profession. That exercise led to the sack of 1,400 teachers with fake certificates and unclassified qualifications.
Sule says that ridding the system of such quacks was necessary to avert the danger of leaving innocent children in the hands of fake persons with no knowledge to impart on them.
The board has also established a unified teaching table to ensure that teachers were evaluated appropriately, during supervisions by their host communities and SUBEB officials.
Sule says that the teaching table will enable the board identify loopholes and address them appropriately.
But, in spite of efforts toward shoring up the quality of education, Sule is worried that monitoring and supervisory roles have been difficult, especially in rural communities.
According to him, owing to lack of supervision, some teachers in rural areas have often shut down schools to attend social functions like burial, marriage ceremonies, or local festivities.
To checkmate this, the board recently purchased a vehicle for each of the Education Secretaries in the 17 local governments to facilitate effective monitoring of schools.
“The vehicles will ensure effective monitoring of teachers and address the academic disparities between rural and urban schools. We have told the officers to visit each school at least once a week,’’ he says.
To further enlighten the education secretaries on their crucial roles toward quality education, the board recently organised a two-day retreat during which it evaluated goals and agreed on measures to tackle impediments to effective service delivery.
The retreat, according to Sule, provided a period for self-examination for the secretaries to reflect on their performance and learn fresh ways of promoting excellence.
The board has also moved to involve host communities in the administration of the schools.
To this effect, SUBEB, in 2017, inaugurated a 19-member committee to monitor rural schools and serve as a bridge between government and rural school authorities.
Sule says that the initiative will facilitate collaborative efforts through supervisory and advisory roles to improve quality of education.
“The initiative will augment state government efforts towards improving the quality of education. It seeks to garner collective efforts of host communities in monitoring infrastructural development.
“We expect the committee to serve as a platform for generating resources to develop and provide legal framework for involving stakeholders in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of education in the schools,’’ he explains.
As SUBEB intensifies efforts toward promoting quality education, Mr Waziri Azi, Chairman, Education Secretaries Forum in Plateau, has pledged his colleagues’ support, “especially in the area of supervision and monitoring’’.
“SUBEB is doing everything to make teachers happy; our role is to ensure that the efforts yield the needed fruits by monitoring the teachers for optimum productivity,’’ he says.
Mr Ayuba Gana, Chairman, National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Plateau, has also lauded the Plateau government for the regular payment of salaries and renovation of classrooms.
“In the past, pupils were taught under harsh conditions which made it difficult for them to assimilate knowledge. That has changed now,’’ he told a stakeholders’ meeting last month.
But Mr Sylvester Yakubu, PTA chairman in Plateau, is particularly happy over the provision of instructional materials to schools and training of teachers, and believes that the fruits of such efforts will soon manifest.
He emphasises the need to train and retrain the teacher because the quality of a society’s teachers determines how far it grows and develops.
Yakubu’s stance is supported by Prof. Soni Tyoden, the Deputy Governor of Plateau.
“The teacher is the father of all professions and should be held in high esteem. His welfare should be a priority and no efforts should be spared toward building his capacity because society shall reap bountifully from such investments,’’ Tyoden observed recently.
Bob Talbert, an American author, columnist and editor, put it more succinctly when he quipped: “Good teachers are costly, but bad teachers cost more.’’
Analysts say that Plateau, and, indeed, Nigeria, cannot afford the later because the consequences are unimaginable.