As a result of the persistent mass failure among WAEC candidates in Nigeria, the Nigerian senate decided to set up a committee to look into the factors that are contributing to the annual poor performance by students that seat for the examination. At the core of all the issues raised by the senators that Premium Times quoted in the report is the issue of teacher education and teaching quality. Hence, this post will focus on those two issues that are mutually inclusive.
It is almost impossible to talk about the quality of education that students receive in Nigeria without talking about the quality of teacher education in the country. The Nigerian Certificate in Education (NCE) that is supposed to be the main conveyor belt for training teachers in the country has the notorious perennial record of being the least patronised arm of tertiary education and usually requires one of the least, if not the least, barrier to entry in terms of admission requirements coupled with teaching being a poorly remunerated profession in the country. These are some of the factors that make teaching not to be an attractive profession for the average “A” student in the country.
The ESSPIN project has a dossier of research work on the state of teacher education in the country, and the recent issue on the challenges faced by the Kaduna state government with regards to the quality of the teaching staff in the state’s public education sector gives further insights into the magnitude of the problem in the country. However, the problem starts from the way and manner that teaching as a profession is regarded among the populace. To some people, teaching is an accidental profession that anyone should go into as a result of being unemployed or under-employed. To compound the problem, the academic requirements for gaining admission into courses under education in the higher education sector are usually the lowest compared to other fields of study like medicine, engineering and law.
There are also challenges that relate to the quality of education that trainee teachers receive in various colleges of education and universities in the country. There are instances in which one lecturer would be expected to lecture hundreds of trainee teachers at undergraduate level in a single cohort, coupled with the fact that the same lecturer would be expected to deliver more than one course unit or module, while supervising post graduate students and undertaking other administrative duties. And the worst case of all is that the same lecturer would be owed salaries for months by the government. Likewise, teachers at the compulsory education sector level are not spared of the ignobility of being paid in arrears by the government.
It is of great importance to note that the state of teacher education in the country demands radical curriculum reforms. For instance, teacher education is still heavily theory focused in the country as against practice based. A typical student-teacher undertaking an NCE or undergraduate degree in education spends little time in the classroom teaching and learning about the art and science of teaching than s/he spends in lecture rooms learning about education theories.
In order to improve the quality of teaching, particularly by newly qualified teachers, there is need to increase the classroom experience that student-teachers gain while undergoing their teacher training to a minimum of forty percent (40%) of their programs; this will provide them – student-teachers – the opportunities to link the theoretical knowledge they are acquiring in their various lecture rooms with practice, making them to become better informed education practitioners. Furthermore, this model can provide the education sector with regular supplies of subject specialists and trainee teachers to cater for the perennial shortfalls in teacher numbers in the country, reduce the ratio of students to teacher in classrooms, minimise teachers’ absenteeism and reduce the use of unqualified teachers that are not enrolled on any teaching qualification program.
Another important issue that keeps recurring in most political discourse on teacher education in the country has to do with the literacy and numeracy skills of “teachers” according to many politicians, although the ESPPIN reports on teacher education at the College of Education, Oro, Kwara state and that of the quality of numeracy and literacy teaching in public schools in Kano state give weight to the issue identified by the politicians. However, it is important to accept the fact that the problem covers all professions in the country; it is only that the magnitude and significance of the problem to the teaching profession is of utmost importance based on the role the two skills – numeracy and literacy – play in education. Hence, it is important for teachers to engage in professional development and come together to form professional learning networks, so as to be able to continuously evolve their practice and update their professional knowledge.
While the knowledge of pedagogy, assessment and curriculum are very important in the teaching profession; the praxes – loosely used to mean values and beliefs in this article – of any teacher are also very critical to the success of any educational setting. These two critical aspects of teacher education need to be given high priority by institutions delivering teacher education in the country. Likewise, student-teachers and qualified teachers need to regularly question their praxes because the country’s education sector is in a phase in which its survival lies mainly in the goodwill of teachers and the larger society. With the right praxes – values and beliefs – that protect and put the children’s education at the centre of discourse and practice, the quality of education that children are accessing in the country would improve significantly.