Celebrating Teacher’s Day with an Eye on the Future.
As we roll out the drums in celebration of Teacher’s Day with Educators and Educational stakeholders all over the world, it is important to re-examine what the profession stands for and deliberate on its future. The theme of this year’s celebration, “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession”, pushes the need for deliberation to the fore. If you were asked the question, would you like your child to be a teacher?, How many would answer with an unconditional yes?
The reasons for the proliferation of honest ‘no’s are not far fetched. Everyday we are bombarded with the statistics and scenarios of teacher incompetence and rot in the Education System through our timelines and particularly the edu/parenting groups we belong to. The perception of teaching as a second class profession with the near certainty of low to zero financial success is only debatable if we want to split hairs; it is a reality that stares us in the face.
How do we get, groom and give the baton to the young teachers who will power the future of the beloved profession? How do we make teaching an aspirational career choice for young people? How do we stop the unnoticed brain drain sweeping through the teaching profession (especially among young teachers)? There is an untested hypothesis that only 4 out of 10 young teachers survive the first ten years of teaching and go ahead to make teaching a career. Only 3 of them will run the full race .
Our problem is compounded by the fact that we are sitting in an educational time bomb in Nigeria. Here are the facts:
– 60 percent of Nigeria’s population is in the youth age bracket.
– 72 million people have to be in class or are of schooling age in Nigeria
– If 40 is average class size in Nigeria, we need 1.8 million classrooms in Nigeria to cater for this demand.
–We need 3.6 million teachers and teaching assistants to cater to for this need and we are nowhere close.
What this clearly tells us is that there is an acute shortage of teachers, qualified and unqualified. Added to this conundrum is the career burnout that leads to many young teachers switching careers before their first decade for many reasons.
Having established a tiny fraction of the problems bedeviling the profession and working against the achievement of this year’s Teachers Day theme, it is logical to explore some solutions to the seeming impasse. The most important factor in the whole equation is the government. Education and the teaching profession is too much of a social function that permeates every aspect of living that it cannot be left to individuals or the private sector to fix. There must be government policies, directives and laws that will create an enabling environment for other private interventions to flourish if we want to effect the desired change.
Teachers salaries could be made tax free. It will give them a stature, acknowledge their importance and contribution. and make the profession aspirational. It will also put more money in the hands of teachers without increasing the cost of education. This can also be extended to ensuring that no educational institution is charged income, service or sales tax, bringing down the cost of education.
There should also be efforts to incentivise teaching. Salaries must be competitive if not better than other industries and our best brains must be tempted to choose teaching as a career option. Education professionals should be given administrative and leadership roles in the ministries of education and the public sector so that we have round pegs in round holes.
Another dimension to the discourse is the empowerment of the current crop of young teachers. There is an unspoken divide between teachers of different generations that constantly affects the general well-being of the profession. Some weeks before resumption, I had to intervene in a number of issues between new and old school teachers in issues ranging from new ways of teaching old concepts to avant-garde administrative policies that the old guard saw as frivolous and counterproductive.
While it is important to learn from the wealth of experience gathered by the old guard, there should also be a conscious effort to integrate the brilliant ideas and strategies of the new school. Young teachers should be diplomatic and respectful in their advocacy for change and implementation of new learnings while the old must be open to new ideas and constantly compromise in their evaluation of their craft. Succession plans for educational management, administration and advocacy must be charted out and followed to the letter as the realization that age is no longer on the side of our current champions is a fact we cannot deny.
On a final note, the words of Pearl S Buck who wrote that “only the brave should teach” resonates at this time more than ever. Teaching is messy, complicated, complex and emotionally draining work; it is hard but worth it. This is why we should encourage young people to join the profession as it is a vibrant movement for social change, a role that effectively shapes the future and defines tomorrow.
So the next time the question is asked, would you like your child to become a teacher? I hope to give a less conditional ‘yes’ with confidence as we all join hands to work towards fixing the conditions that make teaching an aspirational career.