Former Commissioner for Education in the old Kaduna State and World Bank consultant on education, Mr. Maitamaki Tom Maiyashi, trained as a teacher and has been teaching almost all his life. In this interview with Blueprint, he says that it is wrong for Kaduna State Government to dismiss the teachers who failed the recent competency test because that will mean punishing them for the decay of the entire education value-chain…Excerpts

You recently lamented the poor state of education in Kaduna State and Nigeria, does it mean you are in support of the recent planned sack of incompetent teachers by Kaduna state government?

It is wrong to draw conclusions that the teachers to be sacked by the Kaduna State Government are incompetent. The discussions around fallen standard of education in Nigeria have been on in the last one and a half decades to two decades. There have been series of seminars and summits organized by World Bank, DFID, British Council, European Union, UNICEF and UNESCO. These discussions around fallen standard of education did not start now.

What has made the Kaduna situation topical is the issue of the sacking of 21,780 teachers, which to me, is reckless and irresponsible. Throughout my career as a teacher, somebody who is engaged in education, this is the first time I’m coming across this type of situation.

Definitely, nobody involved in this profession will tell you that teachers’ capacity is not important; teachers’ capacity is extremely important because the teacher is a facilitator of learning. And indeed in any profession, whether it is engineering, architecture, medicine and even in the military, capacity is very important. What made this particular situation in Kaduna State disturbing and nauseating is that what we expect the state government to do was to put its teachers’ capacity in context to be able to deliver their lessons efficiently and effectively. And to be able to do that, you need to do a comprehensive education assessment because the teacher is just one person in the education sector pyramid.
Let me give you a breakdown of what the structure of that pyramid looks like.

At the top of the pyramid, we have the commissioner in charge of policy, under the commissioner we have the permanent secretary who oversees the governance and management of the Ministry of Education. Under him, we have Directors in various capacities; school services, administration and finance, quality assurance. Then under that, we have Chairman of State Universal Education Board (SUBEB), education secretaries, district education officers, headmasters and teachers, the learners are at the bottom of the pyramid.

Now if you take the layout of that pyramid one after the other, are we saying that the policy maker, the Permanent Secretaries, the Directors are all doing their work as they should? The people in quality assurance, Director of Planning are they doing their work as they should? Are we saying that everybody is doing his work perfectly and it is only the teacher that is a criminal?

The Ministry of Education is supposed to be responsible for education sector planning; this plan is supposed to be a long term planning that covers the entire education sector. To say for instance, how many engineers, medical doctors, teachers of science, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, English do we require in the next 10 to 15 years. Nobody has done this. We are just groping in the dark.

The state government just decided that the teacher is the criminal and he must be humiliated. This is wrong and this situation must be reversed. What we expect is that after comprehensive education sector assessment, we would be able to ascertain the qualities or skills that our teachers possess and then through seminars and workshops, we should be able to bridge the gap that we have noticed by equipping the teachers with the skills that they require to teach. The government itself has been committing one blunder after the other then, they too deserved to be sacked, why are they still in government house? What is the justification of the government remaining in power? If the issue is that once you identify a deficiency in a staff, the result is that he should be sacked then this government has to go.

There are several things happening in the education sector around the world. Education is very dynamic. These people in authority today are not even conversant with them, they are completely uninformed. When you take our schools in urban and semi-urban centres, the pupil- classroom ratio is beyond the 40:1, 45:1 maximum that are supposed to be in a classroom. In some classrooms we have 60, 70, 80 pupils per classroom. I was just informed that in some classrooms we have even 100 pupils per classroom. What type of competent teacher do you require to teach 60, 70 or 80 pupils in one classroom in an un-conducive environment for learning?

And I can tell you what is happening in other societies, there are certain teachers that you select to teach large classes, they are specially trained to handle such situations. So, if students do not do well in their learning then it is the teachers that are to blame.

Let the government also publicise its budget for education viz-a-viz other sectors. How much has been voted for education from 2015 till date? How much has been released? Were those releases made as and when due? And what was actually released from 2015 till date and how much got to the schools. These releases must have been pilfered by senior officers in the ministry.

Look at the type of contracts that they are awarding to themselves but it is the teacher that is a criminal. By the way, who wants to be a teacher?

The teachers failed competency test, why are you condemning government’s step to disengage them?

The so called competency test is the most unprofessional thing that I have seen in my life and I repeat government is reckless and irresponsible. There are agencies that are competent to handle such an evaluation; we have NTI (National Teachers’ Institute) TRCN (Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria), we have Colleges of Education both at the federal and state levels.

We have Institute of Education at Ahmadu Bello University(ABU), one of the oldest institutes of education. Somebody who says he knows it all, would just sit in one place and do what he likes, why was none of these institutions given the task? Who says you can assess a teacher without seeing him in the classroom delivering a lecture?

Teaching is not a theoretical thing but a practical thing. So, I condemned the test and government should reverse the decision and action that it has taken. This issue has gone a long way to ridicule our teachers. Now after this, who will want to be a teacher? No responsible person would want to be a teacher.

Now when you dismiss 21, 870 and you recruit 25, 000, is the government going to mars to bring these people? These same institutions that trained these teachers are our indigenous local institutions, either it is the faculty of education in our universities, NTI, or our Colleges of Education. Is the government now moving out to Indonesia or to the United States of America or is it Britain to go and recruit new teachers to come and teach our children?

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Don’t you think it would be prudent to bring new hands instead of retraining people that have failed?

This examination was unprofessional, what is the margin of 75%, of 25%, that if you score 74.99% you have failed and should be sacked? Government should explain that. I was privy to the list of those who sat for the test and I learnt that there are people who died years back; they sat for the examination and passed. There are people with B.Sc. BA, MA who sat for the examination and are said to have failed.

I have information about the entire list of those who passed. What the government needs to do is to have a matrix for all those who sat for the examination, their qualification, location, years of experience, the subject, they are teaching and the subject they studied in school and then put the scores next to the teachers’ names. But just reeling out the names and the percentage scored is not enough.

We were informed that National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) was initially engaged to do the test, they conducted the test and we didn’t hear anything again. Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria is the professional body recognised by the law to assess teachers’ quality.

All over the world, in Germany, the UK, Canada, United States of America, the supply of quality teachers and retaining them in the classrooms is a big challenge. You must supply the necessary incentives and support for the teachers to stay.

Critics have pointed out the duplicity of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which has never protested against poor condition of learning, only to take to the streets to protest the planned sack of some of their members. What is your opinion on this?

That is not true. There are many training manuals developed by NUT in this state. NUT in Kaduna State has supported the organisation of capacity building for teachers. They were going to tax themselves to raise money for the training of teachers. NUT gave the required support to this competency test because they believed there was need to improve the capacity of teachers.

Government should come out and tell Nigerians that they tried to build the capacity of teachers and NUT turned it down. I’m not aware that government has any programme or plan to train teachers, when they cannot even pay them their salaries as and when due.

The federal government recently convened an education retreat where President Muhammadu Buhari lamented the fallen standard of education. Do you think anything would come out of it or is it another talk shop?

One on one, we have discussed issues around education with President Buhari even before he became president. I can read his mind on what he believes should be done to rescue democracy and education. This featured prominently in the APC manifesto.

The President means well for education and he believes education in Nigeria needs reformation. He knows that the public would hold him accountable if he makes any statement on education, he would not want to talk about a policy without being ready to implement such policy. The President will push a policy and do everything possible to ensure that it works.

Since 2015, federal government has allocated less than 10% for education in the budgets, even in the 2018 budget proposal. Don’t you think government is part of the problem?

We are reforming education but our funding is dismal and very appalling. Government at both federal and state levels should develop a strategic education reformation plan which should be costed. One of the problems of funding education is that nobody cares; government does not cost education to know what is required to fund effective delivery in education.

UNESCO, to which Nigeria is a signatory, recommended that minimum of 35% of annual budget should be devoted to education. In other countries, they followed it effectively, the Asian Tigers did just that; some went even higher, some went as high as 40% — 45% and that is why they have grown to the level they are and left us behind.

If education is not well funded, no country will develop to the required level. In the 2018 budget proposal that President Buhari recently presented to the National Assembly, solid minerals took precedence over education, it should not be so. So, the quality of governance determines the quality of education that it would deliver to its people and if you don’t provide good quality education you have killed today and tomorrow and you will end up maintaining people who have not acquired learning.

When you were Commissioner for Education in the old Kaduna State, how did you handle the challenges of education that you met on ground?

What we did was to appreciate the complexities of delivering education at various levels; basic, post basic, technical, vocational, science and other levels. And the type of resources required to reform our education in 15 years were so colossal that we had to strategise our planning in a very holistic manner. We made it clear that the ministry cannot deliver quality education to the people of Kaduna state. For instance, if a budget is prepared and sent to the Kaduna State House of Assembly, the Ministry of Finance is in charge so we collaborate.

The Department of Economic Planning plays vital roles, the Ministry of Water Resources is a major stakeholder in education because school communities require clean, potable water.

The Ministry of Health is a major stakeholder in terms of community health and provision of health facilities close to the school. Everybody is needed to plan and execute the plan; parents, old boys, old girls, market women and youth associations all need to be brought in as stakeholders because government alone cannot face the funding required. But when the stakeholders are brought in, they know what to do at every turn. But reforming education without involving parents, teachers, retired people, will fail. Then, we planned ahead for 10 years, the plan is still in the Ministry of Education.