Everyone is a teacher and a learner. When somebody learns from you, you are the person’s teacher at that point in time. We can learn spontaneously. We can equally teach spontaneously, especially when there is a circumspect observer.
The first teacher a child knows is the parent(s). Next are the extended family members. Then follows others in the chain of agents of socialisation. All these are involved in all the various types of Education.
As we celebrate the World Teachers’ Day, we expect to celebrate everyone who has successfully made another to learn something worthwhile. This traverses the normative, pragmatic, existential or the social that help each individual to modify behaviour for both the individual’s and society’s good.
However, the occasion gives special attention and credit to the members of the teaching profession. This is both the paid professionals and the voluntary (free lance) ones. It has to be recalled that the first profession teachers were the Sophists. Majority of the earlier ones among them bastardised the process of teaching and learning by being obsessed with clientèle than imparting of knowledge. They were seen as ‘subversive highbrows’.
The good teacher is the one who knows when the learner has learnt. This is the distinguishing factor and variable for a teacher par excellence. The Sophists earlier mentioned were not bothered. This is equally a present challenge. One of the greatest teachers in recorded history, Socrates, who equally was a thorn in the flesh of the Sophists, took it as an onerous challenge to ensure that his learners (interlocutors) have learnt. This he achieved through his several approaches, the popular Socratic Methods. This is one of the best methods to ensure and assess when one has learnt. Knowing when the learners have learnt is the major crux of teaching. This helps in assessing one’s approach in the teaching environment wherever and whenever.
Teachers, just like Socrates, need to approach the process of teaching and learning with passion. They need to see themselves as partners in the teaching and learning continuum. The learners are not empty vessels that need to be filled with information thereby implying what Pablo Freire called the ‘banking concept of education’. Depositing information or data into the learner’s brain and retrieving same during exams is a pure case of banking concept of education. It doesn’t improve the learner. It in most cases fails to help modify behaviour for both the individual and the society.
One of the major thrusts of the theme of the day is that teachers need to transform the process of teaching and learning. This means that teachers have to be dynamic in approaches. They equally need to be innovative. They can remodel old methods and approaches and make them adaptive and appropriate to current situations and challenges. It may not be a surprise to find some teachers still using the ‘banking concept of education’ approach in this millennium. According to the pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, any teacher who uses yesterday’s method for the people of tomorrow is heading the way of the dinosaur.
To know when one has learnt is not as facile as expected especially if the teacher does not know his onions. It may not be surprising that many teachers know some answers without knowing why they are the answers. In such a scenario, how would the teacher ‘really‘ know when the learner has learnt.
The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead made us to understand that education is the bootstrap through which nations and civilisations lift themselves up. In essence, education transforms both the individual and the society. This transformation begins with the teachers and their qualities. The quality of the teachers transforms education which later transforms both the individual and the society. Despite this being herculean, it is quite achievable. Investment in teachers is an investment for the future of the entire society. This has become more cogent in developing nations like Nigeria where the teachers at various levels of education are placed lower on the rung of remuneration and conditions of service.
For teachers to transform education, their conditions of service must be transformed. What goes in determines to a great extent what comes out. Teachers cannot transform education if they don’t have the wherewithal to do such. The motivation, the resources, the remuneration, the conducive environment, the conditions of service have to be similar to whatever is expected of them. The Hawthorn Effect must be put into consideration.
In the Nigerian setting, there is scarcity of teachers in some settings and more manpower in other settings and locations. There are equally scarcity of students or pupils as the case may be. On the other hand there are equally proliferation of schools especially in the private sector. The situations have their advantages and disadvantages. Where we have scarcity of students, the classroom can be successfully managed. The teacher has to be optimal. This is compared to a large or overcrowded classroom. The teacher has no excuse of not attending to the need of each learner to ensure that learning has occurred. The teacher can successfully attend to the different learning abilities of each learner. The teacher can then successfully assess each learner.
On the other hand, teaching a large class might limit the assessment abilities of the teacher who has to face various assignments. This puts pressure on the process of teaching and learning. In the private sector, where we talk of proliferation, many schools can’t afford enough and conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning. This affects both learners and teachers.
Where teachers are complaining of being owed arrears of salaries, a teacher being responsible for transformation of education becomes a mirage. They can no longer be productive as they are no longer a happy workforce. This has become the situation in all the levels of education in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, teachers are becoming endangered species. Many are quitting the profession for other ones. Some go for greener pastures which tantamount to brain drain. Teachers used to be highly respected. They used to be of a special class. It becomes unfortunate that the political class who were taught by these are now the ones making them miserly, beggarly and the society making a mockery of them.
As many are leaving the profession, there is equally low interest in going into the profession. In colleges of education where the bulk that take care of basic education are trained, admissions into NCE programmes have dwindled. This is a challenge. Those admitted, due to what is obtainable in the society still are not interested in the teaching profession. They take to other areas of survival. Many now know that since the politics in Nigeria needs a higher certificate outside the School Certificate, the NCE programme is the shortest route. With such a mindset, they seek to be admitted just for the sake of the certificate. If such a quest fails, they resort back to teaching and these, unfortunately, are the ones expected to take charge of the transformation of our education.
It becomes worrisome as one queries if Nigeria is ready to ensure that teachers transform our education when the leaders allow strikes to take a greater part of an academic session. When a session is done based on crash programmes to meet up with days and months lost to strikes, how would these future teachers be able to transform our education. When leader send their children abroad for education, how is the quest to transform education possible again? Unfortunately still, these children will never come back to work in Nigeria knowing that it was bastardised by their beneficiaries and in most cases proceeds were used to sponsor them abroad. These are some of the foods for thought as Nigeria marks the World Teachers Day.
As the world marks this day, the governments in developing nations and specifically Nigeria needs to transform the conditions of service of teachers at all educational levels.
It is therefore suggested that:
Teachers should transform their approaches to ensure and be able to assess when learners have learnt. The ‘banking concept of education’ is not the guaranteed means. It seems to be best for paper qualifications.
Teachers should be given the freedom and right (under supervision or any other justifiable means) to chart appropriate methods to officially assess when the learner has learnt. There are many ways to do such even in paper examination. This requires the independence of teachers with respect to assessments of their group of learners.
The government must ensure the retraining of teachers. Teachers should see themselves as learners. They are partners in the teaching and learning process. Workshops and seminars must be made motivating to teachers. Mere supervision cannot suffice.
Teachers don’t have the powers of transformation ex nihilo. They have to be empowered. This is the bottom-line.
Happy Teachers’ Day!!!
Dr Bellarmine Nneji