Before we sack the Kaduna teachers

Ogho Okiti | Wednesday, 22 November 2017 9:56am | opinion

Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai | source: @elrufai

According to the timeline set by the Kaduna State government, applications for teachers wanting to replace the planned sack of about 25,000 teachers that failed the competency tests set by the government ended yesterday. As expected, over that number has applied to take the positions of the laid-off teachers.

While the dust has fairly settled on the episode, this is still a good time to look at the planned sack from a public policy and reform perspective. To start with, unlike many Twitter and Facebook strollers, I was not entirely shocked, nor surprised about the outcome of the competency tests conducted by the government of Kaduna State for the public school teachers in the State. For many years, our public schools have been centers of mediocrity, intergenerational backwardness, and a destination for the life sentence of ignorance and stupidity. Nigeria’s public education has often faced poor enrollment rates, with those that attend not learning, and only a few with knowledge of how to read or solve basic numerical problems or the ability to even interact intelligently.

Worse still, this does not only apply to primary and secondary schools. A large section of the students produced by our universities, given their poor background, sometimes find it tedious to interact intelligently and solve basic problems in the office.

It is thus understandable if someone, in this case, the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai, wants to do something about it and change the trajectory of the future generation of children, most of them from poor homes, growing up in Kaduna. However, the success of such reforms, as important as they are, will depend also on the process. In pubic policy, as I have argued in many instances, the end does not justify the means. To build enduring institutions, process can even be more important than immediate outcomes.

Following the protests from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigeria Union of Teacher (NUT), Kaduna government released samples scripts of the competency tests failed by 75% of the 25,000 that took the tests. After the public outcry that followed the release, it appears the Kaduna State government has outwitted the organized labour in this public relations battle. For organized labour, it made the matter worse when the appalling and ironic statement that “examination is not a true test of knowledge” was credited to one of the labour unionists.

However, notwithstanding the state of Nigeria’s education and public schools, it is very easy to call for the sack of the teachers. Indeed, it will be very convenient despite the protests from the NLC and the NUT, given that the weight of public opinion is with the State government. However, I disagree on the sack, and I will attempt to articulate my reasons.

I do not think sacking 25,000 teachers at a go and immediately will present the best platform for an enduring reform on education in the state. Perhaps the Kaduna State Government has a plan and a system that I’m not aware of, my stance is that sacking teachers and replacing them with others in the absence of a holistic and comprehensive plan and alteration to the system, including recruitment, will mean failure. Without modifying the system that produces such pedantic teachers, replacing them will not take us far. What is in place to sustain the change and modify along the line?

Also, a system that criminalizes the majority is an unworkable system. The competency tests, which I am not aware how much time the teachers were given to prepare for, or whether they were told the consequences, but any system that criminalizes the majority cannot be said to have done all possible to protect the vulnerable. The teachers that failed the competency tests are products of a failed system, and though they have contributed to that failed system, it is unfair for them to carry the entire can for the failure. In Kaduna, as in all other areas of public service in Nigeria, jobs are seen as a social entitlement, a crass opportunity to collect monthly largess, and many do not see, nor recognizes the corresponding responsibilities expected of them. This is the Nigeria they know, and this is a system they are used to. To usher in an effective and enduring change, the process, though may appear not to provide a quick result, must be thorough and potentially enduring. I do not see how the sacking 75% of the teachers in one fell swoop can be justified if all other necessary measures to curtail the number and minimize disruption in the schools have not been adopted.

Another reason why I do not support the sacking of over 25,000 teachers is that there are not 25,000 teachers in Kaduna State with extensive, detailed, and relevant training. The State is already in an advanced stage of replacing the failed teachers, but these new recruits are not ready-made teachers. Therefore, if the State would be very happy to train new teachers, the same opportunity should apply to old teachers. Having then provided the training, provided the criteria for teacher recruitment and development in the State, it becomes transparent who cannot make the grade. But then, it will definitely not be 75% of the teachers.

And that brings me to the final point. Education reform is beyond tests and recruitment. It is an entire and consistent process of recruitment standards, trainings and retraining, accountability, and responsibility. According to Jamie Saveerda, Senior Director, Education Global Practice of the World Bank, there are three critical ingredients of successful education reform. First, well designed policies that contain incentive mechanisms for everyone connected to education, especially teachers. Second, the institutions that support education and learning must be effective. Third, and very important, there must a political alignment around education reforms, so that everyone recognizes that the sole purpose of education reform is the improvement of student learning across all tiers and social backgrounds. I can only hope that the Kaduna State reforms increasingly meets the criteria.