The teaching profession, like military service, priesthood, the bureaucracy or any such others, is a noble public service vocation which establishes the foundation of human capital development around which the development paradigm of a nation can be anchored. My entire professional credentials have been staked around the argument that if the public service fails in Nigeria, then there might be no longer any hope. The same argument, without any contradiction, can be made on behalf of the teaching profession. Both the public service and the teaching profession in Nigeria are tied together into a governance framework that feeds the ideology of how a state wants to fashion its development. In other words, both professions work in tandem to sustain a grand design that ought to lift a nation into good governance and sustainable development. While the public service calibrates the education policy that defines the developmental learning processes, the teachers are thereby drawn into rigorous educational and practical contexts which conditions their relationship to human capital development.
It is therefore easy to calibrate the reform of the public service specifically with that of teacher education in Nigeria. Teachers, and teacher education, in this sense, must be the focus of a deep reform that is intended to achieve a capacity development that will pace them in between the students and the nation’s development ideology. And this implies, first, understanding the point of dysfunction. Several things are wrong with teachers and teacher education in Nigeria. At the most general but fundamental level, teacher education partakes of the lack of ideological basis for defining the role of education in Nigeria’s national development. It is true that the Nigerian state has a national policy on education, a document which attempts to structure the relationship that education has to national development in Nigeria. But there is a very wide gap between what the document states, and the reality of the education sector, from the primary to the tertiary level. This therefore made it possible for the education sector in general, and teacher education in particular to be caught in a double bind. One, it is caught in a political environment that promotes a haphazard policy that fails to recognize the deep-seated issues that could enable teacher education serve as the fulcrum for human capital development. And two, teacher education and its curriculum are not tied to any national development ideology that could serve as a touchstone for a nation-wide orientation on the roles of teachers.
And so, this top-level definition of the dysfunction makes all other problems understandable: the absence of a functional professionalization framework, inadequate welfare and incentivization programme, poor funding, the quality and quantity issue, lack of commitment, unbridled unethical behavior due to an ungrounded teaching ethos, and so many more. Like we mentioned in the earlier article celebrating my former classmates and boyhood friend, Bolaji Abiodun, LSF Keke, teacher education has equally been summed under the national reduction of the essence of education to the paper certificate. And this is all the more unfortunate because the colleges of education and even the universities awarding the said certificates are not up to size in terms of global certification standards or the ideological contents that imbue the certificate with development worth.
The attempts to reform teacher education in Nigeria goes far back to the colonial period and the general efforts at sustaining a manpower momentum that Nigeria would require after the end of colonialism. The first original efforts at teacher training were handled by church missionaries, especially the Church Missionary Society (CMS) which established the first teacher training college in 1859 at Abeokuta. Other training colleges, like the St. Andrew College, Oyo (which later became the Grade II Teacher’s College), established in 1896. This pre-colonial teacher training framework, and its apprenticeship pupil-teacher system, came under the first reform scrutiny—the Phelp-Stokes Commission of 1925. A major focus of the commission report was the ill-conceived curriculum which could not properly backstop the training of Nigerian teachers. The commission recommended a more standardized approach founded on formal programmes at two teacher training institutions—the Elementary Training College and the Higher Elementary Training College.
As national independence got closer, the realization of the manpower requirements of the soon-to-emerge Nigerian state gave rise to another urgent reform of teacher training education. This is the context for the popular Ashby Commission established in April 1959. This commission could be taken as a crucial dimension of the Nigerianisation Policy that was meant to replace expatriate officials with Nigerians. The Ashby Commission’s brief captured higher education as a critical source of manpower development for a newly independent state. Its objective was two-fold: first, to upgrade the educational requirements of Nigerians already employed; and, second, to achieve the design of a post-secondary teacher training education that will be adequate to meet Nigeria’s human capital requirements up to the 1980s. The Ashby Report, submitted in September 1960, recommended the establishment of four universities (to complement the University of Ibadan, already established since 1948): University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1960), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (1962), University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, (1962), and the University of Lagos, Lagos (1962). However, and beyond this, the establishment of the universities was to serve as a further boost to the qualification of teachers trained at the grade II teachers training colleges. This led to the emergence of the bachelor’s degrees in education that will transform teachers from “well-qualified non-graduates” to “well-qualified graduates”.
Essentially, the post-independence development realities, especially Nigeria’s galloping population, have outstrips the number of teachers available to carry the burden of human capital development. But this is to be expected. What is not, and what has arrested Nigeria’s post-independence capacity to put in place a well-structured infrastructure for dealing with the increasing demands for teachers consists basically in aligning teacher education and its curriculum to the dynamics of national education in Nigeria. This has nothing to do with the increase in school enrolment for Nigerian students or even the proliferation of educational facilities and institutes, especially after 1977. It, however, has everything to do with the inadequacy of a comprehensive plans of action that translate educational policies into educational programmes and practicums that situate the teachers firmly in the development project in Nigeria. This urgent need for a plan of action raises the question of how the teacher education curriculum intersects the professionalization programme that maximizes the teacher’s competences and skills that could be deployed to professionally preparing the Nigerian students for the task of national development.
We should concede that since independence till date, consecutive Nigerian governments have made valiant efforts to achieve the professionalization reform. This is where the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) becomes one of the best reform efforts at getting teachers qualitatively prepared to serve the development purpose. Yet, there is more to do beyond the TRCN. The current perception of the teachers in Nigeria’s development equation attests to this. The professionalizing objectives of the TRCN does not square properly with the statutory responsibility for teacher education placed on the colleges of education and institutes of education in Nigeria. This is where policy objectives are undermined by infrastructural inadequacies in the structures that are meant to deliver on the objectives of professionalizing teachers for the task of human capital development. Here, the issue of quality assurance becomes a very significant reform component that must intervene between policy implementation and the achievement of quality training that will increase the level of competence of the teachers for which there are countless innovations like the Bangladesh decentralized and integrated planning, inspection, mentoring and teachers capacity development model operated within the BRAC framework, and countless of other such smart practices to benchmark. Policy implementation however depends on a radically adequate budgetary allocation to education and honest but research rooted experimentation, continuous learning and incremental improvement with guaranteed political will to follow through.
Even as the so-called, though unfounded, claim of UNESCO recommended 26% budget allocation might stand at the critical point where political will constitutes the most significant reform point even in the reform of teacher education in Nigeria. At the top of the reform requirement is the mix of political push and disciplined implementation that constitute the critical core of any reform success. Let us agree that even if the 26% budgetary allocation becomes policy, it cannot be a sudden achievement, even for a politically willing government. It requires a steady but gradual commitment that makes it the focus of the reform of teacher education and of the challenge of making education the core of national development in Nigeria. While that is unfolding, there is another level of reform that becomes crucial. This is the development and activation of a national strategy on the reform of teacher education (NSRTE) whose fundamental essence would be, like its counterpart for the public service (the National Strategy for Public Service Reform, NSPSR), to cumulate all the insights and paradigmatic models that have gone into the reform of teacher education so far, with the intent of arriving at a firm vision of the dynamics of teacher education and national development in Nigeria.
At the core of the NSRTE is the development of a national core curriculum that defines basic and secondary education. This is significant because it is at the heart of this core curriculum that the fundamental development link for example between the sciences and the humanities and the social sciences (HSS) can be resolved and integrated into the learning experience of the students. With such a core curricular vision, there can then be a proper re-visioning of the teachers’ competence and skills requirements in line with what must be taught, how it must be taught, what is needed to teach, the components and frameworks of the learning processes, and the cumulative inputs of all the critical stakeholders—Federal and state ministries of education, MDAs, National Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), National Universities Commission (NUC), the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN), and many others.
The second reform component of the NSRTE would be the structural frameworks on which would hinge the implementation of the national core curriculum. Here, I have in mind the critical relationship that will have to be reformulated between the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN) and the reassessment of the place of the colleges of education and other educational institutes in certificating qualified teachers. As far as anyone is concerned, the colleges of education in Nigeria are practically dead, and hence have no capacity to achieve the capacity readiness required for the professionalization of teachers for development purposes. There is therefore an urgent need to reframe the significance and role of the colleges of education vis-à-vis the domineering role of the universities as the locus of certification for teachers. There is a reason why they existed in the first place.
Nikos Kazantzakis, the Greek writer, once said that ““True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” This is the vision of the teacher, as a development bridge, that the Nigerian state must strive to achieve through a deep-seated reform of teacher education. It is the fully qualified, fully incentivized, fully dignified and fully patriotic teacher that we sorely to take the development ship into a full throttle. And sincere reform is the means by which we get there.