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Valuing and improving Teachers’ status By Tayo Ogunbiyi

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu
Education Minister, Adamu Adamu
To a large extent, the destiny of every nation is shaped, reinforced and actualized in the classrooms. The quality of lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, politicians, administrators and other professionals that a country has is determined by the worth of what transpires in the classroom. According to Chinese teacher, editor, politician, and philosopher, Confucius: “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; To put the nation in order, we must put the family in order; To put the family in order, we must cultivate our personal life; And to cultivate our personal life, we must first set our hearts right”. Since a well nurtured teaching force lies at the heart of every society, to get our hearts right, we need to first get our teachers right.
Without doubt, teachers hold the key to a better future for all. They inspire, challenge and empower innovative and responsible global citizens. They get children into school, keep them there and help them learn. Every day, they help to build the inclusive knowledge societies we need for tomorrow and the century ahead. In truth, nothing can replace a good teacher.
Since 1994, World Teachers Day is celebrated by UNESCO annually every October 5th, to mobilize support for the teaching profession across the world. Indeed, teachers are worthy to be celebrated. It is, therefore, quite thoughtful of UNESCO to set aside a day to acknowledge the laudable contributions of teachers to the socio-economic evolvement of our contemporary world.
It will, therefore, be an understatement to affirm that teachers play multifaceted role in the society. In taking care of pupils and students put in their care for a considerable number of hours on a daily basis, they act as proxy parents. By helping to shape the destinies of numerous children, they perform the task of social workers. A teacher could equally be likened to a miracle worker who is well schooled in the art of helping a student to discover his/her untapped potentials. Whenever the innate but largely hidden potential of a student comes in contact with the therapeutic skill of a teacher, a miracle occurs.
Teachers don’t just teach, they are critical personalities who nurture the young folks to mature, to understand the world and to understand themselves. The education of a child involves a total development of personality and this means that the human element of improvement is essential. This is something that can only be done by the teacher.
In the words of famous rabbi and scholar of Judaism, Jonathan Sacks, “when teachers open our eyes to the world. They give us curiosity and confidence. They teach us to ask questions. They connect us to our past and future.
They are the guardians of our social heritage…Life without a teacher is simply not a life”. In a world that is daily confronted with swift social changes, sometimes inexplicable crisis and bizarre natural occurrences, teachers remain the most constant bastion of hope.

In line with the theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day, “Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status”, every investment in teachers is one that is worthy of every penny spent. A society that refuses to value teachers will only be promoting ignorance. And ignorance, in its nastiest manifestation, breeds all manners of social ills. This is why every society must fully come to terms with the need to further enhance the competence of teachers at all levels. It is only in doing this that the critical issue of nation building, especially in Third World countries, could be effectively tackled.
Now that the razzmatazz and euphoria surrounding the 2016 World Teachers Day event are over, it is pertinent to properly address the plight of teachers as well as the falling standard of education in the country. It is no longer a secret that the teaching profession is fast losing its status as a dignified vocation in our dear nation. Paradoxically, for any nation to really attain lofty heights, it must pay a close attention to the teaching profession. Sadly, today, being a teacher is almost akin to being an outcast in our country.
Ideally, teachers ought to hold the ace when it comes to nation building. They get children into school, keep them there and help them learn. Every day, they help to build the inclusive knowledge the society needs for tomorrow. Evidence shows that teachers, their professional knowledge and skills are the most important factor for quality education. This requires stronger training upfront and continual professional development and support, to enhance performance and learning outcomes. In Nigeria, we are aware of this, but still neglect teachers’ welfare. Far too often, teachers remain under-qualified and poorly paid, with low status, and excluded from education policy matters and decisions that concern and affect them.
This is, therefore, the time to go beyond paying lip services to capacity building for teachers. Concerted efforts should be made by appropriate authorities to improve the working conditions of teachers. A situation where teachers are hired by some private schools as cheap labour should be utterly discouraged. A nation that toils with the well being of its teachers toils with her future.
Without putting in place the proper machinery to improve the working condition of teachers, all efforts to bring about the realization of the national mass literacy project would simply go down the drain. Consequently, the successful execution of the mass literacy project could only be made possible with the active participation of a well motivated, properly trained and competent teaching force. Appropriate governmental and non-governmental organizations, therefore, need to intensify efforts towards developing the competence of teachers across the country.
Perhaps, the most convincing approach to deal with the numerous problems we face in our dear nation is to urgently attend to the waning fortune of teachers in the country. As much as we try, poverty, disease, religious fanaticism, political chaos, ethnic bigotry, gender discrimination, economic depression among others, could only be effectively contained with the assistance of proficient and loyal teaching personnel.
It is, however, important that teachers, particularly in our nation, continue to uphold the integrity and dignity of the teaching profession. A situation where teachers get involved in unimaginable acts capable of denting the image of the profession is, to say the least, despicable. The teaching profession, the world over, is a noble vocation. Ours must not be an exception. A nation could cope with half –baked engineers or lawyers. But, no nation desirous of making meaningful progress could survive with a mediocre teaching workforce.

Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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