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Sunday, 17 July 2011

Turning Talents into Teaching

As a frequent visitor to one of my favourite website forum for teachers in the UK, I recently came across a topic by a prospective trainee teacher posing the question, what makes a good teacher? As you would expect, the responses were varied but nevertheless thought provoking and in fact did make me to reflect on my own journey into the challenging but satisfying world of teaching. However, on reflection, I had to cast my mind back to my days in school and University to recollect those teachers that I held in high regard. I believe if I can understand what my teachers had about them perhaps it would help me answer the question. Top on the list is my primary school teacher, Mrs Bianeyin whom sadly I understand is longer with us but unable to confirm it as at the time of writing this article. I can vividly remember she had an authority about her but at the same time very approachable. She was passionate but also knowledgeable when she was teaching and I still remember one particular day when she taught us about what makes a good citizen in one of our Civics lessons. Until this day what I learnt in that lesson has had a profound positive impact on the way and manner I conduct myself.

Since over three decades I left primary school, you do wonder how many teachers of the calibre of Mrs Bianeyin are still about in teaching. There are two schools of thoughts about what makes a teacher; one school of thought holds the view teachers are born and another school of thought is of the view teachers are made. Put it this way, in my view some people have a natural flair for teaching and some people can be trained and educated to become good teachers. However, one of the reasons for the decline in educational standards in Nigeria is the unattractiveness to teaching. This was highlighted in a recent Aljazeera report on the state of education in Nigeria. It highlights the fact that a quarter of teachers in Nigeria are poorly trained and without adequate qualification. It reported about one primary school in particular in the Makoko area of Lagos where in a school of about 1,050 pupils, there were only 16 teachers meaning a ratio of 65 pupils to teacher. What has happened is that the student population has been allowed to grow without a corresponding increase in the training and recruitment of teachers to cope with this expansion. Then you add the increase in class sizes which further compounds the problem as in my experince no meaningful learning would take place in such an overcrowded classroom.

We have many university graduates who are aimlesly looking for jobs that are just not there and we could turn their talents into teaching. But before that happens the different teaching qualifications and routes to teaching needs to be first of all streamlined into one single qualification. Teacher education should be consistent across the whole country with a considerable element of teaching practice through school placements and some theoritical work carried out in university to inform practice.

The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria earlier this year developed a document with 84 standards by which teacher's professional expectations could be precisely assessed and measured. While I have some reservations to have 84 standards, I see it as a welcome development nonetheless but it should not remain as just another document in the long list of policy initiatives that never get to take off.

Good education can only be achieved with good teachers. The only way we are ever going to get good teachers is by incentivising prospective teachers with good remuneration and conditions of service on one hand and providing a rigorous teacher education and training programme on the other hand to train the next generation of teachers. We will be letting the next generation of Nigerian children down if we do not take urgents steps to address the crisis of teachers and teaching in our schools. Every child deserves a good education but even more so a good teacher to make this even possible.

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