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Opinions of Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Columnist: Eze Jude O.

Governors’ aptitude tests for teachers: A wrong means to a right end

The photo used to illustrate the story The photo used to illustrate the story

“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”

Lee Iacocca Of all the cadres and professions of civil service, none has suffered more denunciatory and disdainful treatments like the Nigerian teacher.

The society in general sees them as a people occupying the lowest strata in honours web. They are downscaled to proletariats, and most surprisingly by those they taught.

Before the return to democracy, they were among the least remunerated civil servants.

A sharp contrast to Carl Jung’s assertion: “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.

The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Nigeria is averse to this position.

It is a social stigma that has adversely affected the psychè of Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and All Nigeria Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), making them the most attenuated trade union activists in the country.

At the exit of military in governance in 1999, the new civilian dispensation formulated and implemented minimum wage salary scheme that gave a quibble facelift to their monthly take-home.

Then the Universal Basic Education (UBE) program, which made Primary-Junior Secondary education free and compulsory to all Nigerian children came on board. Schools’ numerical staff strength needed to be enhanced to meet the demands of pupils’ population explosion.

Each state government was empowered to recruit more teachers in proportion to pupils’ population increase rate. But since it was a federal governmentassisted program, some states jumbled the recruitment process.

Merit was displaced by nepostism/favouritism and consequently mediocrity thrived over competence/adroitness.

20 years down the line, the hen is back home to roost. Successive governments emerging from varied political party platforms in those states started frowning at an alleged ‘low literacy level’ in the ranks of teachers.

Some governors, feigning perfectionists, have started conducting some demeaning exercises in the name of testing teachers’ qualification, competence or intelligence. They felt their predecessors maneuvered the twin prerequisite instruments of competence and merit in choosing who to recruit into the job.

But instead of querying their respective states’ Primary and Postprimary Education Boards, they shunted the legitimate due process and usurped the jobs of the Boards themselves. Even the permanent secretaries in their states’ ministries of education, were not brought to reckon.

It is akin to doing the right thing by the wrong means. For instance, His Excellency, Gov. Babagana Umara Zulum, who has amassed profound good will among his people and Nigerians at large for his unequalled developmental strides in Borno made a strange move on Monday 9th August, when he paid an unscheduled visit to local schools in Baga and Kukawa LGAs of the state and conducted impromptu aptitude test for teachers “to ascertain their level of qualifications and ability to teach professionally.”

It turned a melodrama as still photographs of about 65 teachers writing an ‘exam’ set by the governor made the rounds across social media platforms.

This was three years after Gov. El-Rufai of Kaduna set the precedence, subjecting all teachers in the state to an aptitude test for the same purpopse but with more severe consequences, as he claimed tens of thousands of them failed the test and risked compulsory retrenchment.

One prevailing debilitating phenomenon in Nigeria is the culture of imitation, or what political diplomacy call inter-state policy borrowing. Once one governor has done something that generated peculiar vibes (whether positive or negative), you can easily bet that others will copy and follow suit.

But just before another governor imitates Governors El-Rufai and Zulum, it is important to point out that it is an abuse of the chain of command in civil service in Nigeria for a governor to snub relevant authorities and bypass protocols to go so low to teachers and set evaluation tests to them.

It is not in the place of any governor to accost teachers with such exercise whatsoever. Reports indicated that none of the governors in their bravado took the leadership of their states Primary Education or Post-primary School Management Boards (SPEB or PPSMB) into counsel while embarking on the exercise.

It is a breach of teachers’ rights and an illegitimate encroachment into the job description of the SPEB/PPSMBs. It also amounted to undue intimidation and office bullying on the teachers who were made to shiver under the hammer of their governors.

It is ridiculous and makes mockery of teachers’ respect, honour and dignity before their students. Granted, Gov. Zulum promised they won’t be sacked even if they failed the test, rather, some would be redeployed to other units as it suites his wish, but Gov. El-Rufai threatened a mass sack. The truth is, both of them unduly played down on the psyche and self-esteem of those teachers.

To Zulum who claim to have conducted it as a novelty exercise, of what use is it, if not mere humiliation, as their pupils watched their Masters being ‘mastered’ by the governor.

What happened to the continuous “train the trainers” programmes aimed at improving workers’ efficiency and human capital development/resources management in state civil service?

If they’re sincere in their quests for quality education for our pupils, the governors should start by empowering Teachers Training Institutes such as Colleges of Education (COEs) and states’ Education Boards that produce and train/deploy these teachers respectively.

Ensure a good learning environment for them during their professional training in COEs, ensure strict compliance of SPEB/ PPSMB to due process, competence and merit in the recruitment process and supervisory roles, and watch every other thing fix itself.

This is the canon and spirit of civil service code. It is disheartening that many Nigerians react to issues of public interest with untamed emotions, such that they hail what rational beings would have condemned.

From 2017 when Gov. ElRufai subjected Kaduna teachers to the exercise, down to the current Zulum’s expedition, many have lauded them for ‘fighting the wrongs’ in our schools. Meanwhile, when placed in perspective, the magnanimity of Gov Zulum on Friday, February 8, 2020 when he strolled into Kyarimi Primary school in Jere LGA of the state by 6:30am and met only one teacher, Mrs. Obiageli, already waiting for her pupils, which excited him so much that he gifted her a cash of N100,000 in appreciation of her punctuality to duty, it becomes apparent that His Excellency has a special interest in that sector and wouldn’t mind going to any extent (permittable or not) to demonstrate that.