The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, recently announced the intention of the Federal Government to convert most of the unemployed graduates to teachers in a bid to tackle the perennial problem of graduate unemployment, adding that all youths in the country were not entitled to the N5,000 monthly stipend promised by the All Progressives Congress-led government, hence the basis for putting in place the teacher recruitment programme.
Ngige had clarified that, contrary to the widely-held opinion that the N5,000 was meant for all youths, only the vulnerable youths would benefit from the welfare package.
The minister said, “Most unemployed graduates will be converted to teachers. The move is equally aimed at boosting the education sector. For the social safety needs, we have budgeted N500 billion for the next fiscal year.
“We have captured unemployed graduates. We are doing two things; we get those who read Law, Engineering and other disciplines but do not have jobs. We will train them for nine months and convert them to teachers.”
The initiative on the part of government to provide employment for its teeming unemployed populace is a right step in the right direction. The adverse effect of joblessness can better be imagined. Apart from the restiveness that is a fall-out of such a situation, there is the challenge of under-utilisation of human capacity that should be at the centre-point of economic development. Over the years and despite the existence of series of programmes, the rate of unemployment has remained ever high and alarming.
As laudable as the plan of the government is, however, there is the need to exercise caution before its implementation to ensure that the nation’s educational system is better off.
It is commonly known that Nigerian teachers suffer from poor pay and bad working conditions. In most states, teachers are usually the last to be paid their meagre salaries at the end of the month, if they are paid at all. Many states still owe teachers several months of accumulated salaries and allowances while the retired ones do not receive their entitlements as and when due. A combination of these factors have made teaching – a noble profession – to be rendered unattractive and relegated to the background.
Generally speaking, many unemployed graduates find themselves in teaching just to earn a living and for want of other things to do. Even those trained as teachers have abandoned the profession for more paying jobs. Quality education remains the rock on which any progressive nation can build its future while the cornerstone of this foundation lies with the teachers.
Definitely, the products of Nigeria’s schools will be only as good as the quality of their teachers.
In countries that truly seek development such as Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, the best brains are assigned to teaching and remunerated adequately, and this invariably reflects in their levels of development. If Nigeria is to make any remarkable progress, teachers and the teaching profession should be accorded dignity in all respects. Unfortunately, not much premium has been placed on effective educational planning, curriculum, budgeting and personnel, among others. This should not be so. Education should indeed be well-funded, be given priority by governments at all levels and be spared of unnecessary politicking.
The sorry state of our schools is not too different from what is obtainable in the nation’s higher institutions. Teachers are products of tertiary institutions such as colleges of education and universities. Bemoaning this rot, a foremost educationist and former Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, Prof. Peter Okebukola, disclosed that over 80 per cent of teachers working in higher education institutions in the country have not received formal training. While delivering the 10th Convocation Lecture of the Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, titled, ‘Higher Education and Africa’s Future: Doing What is Right’, the don observed that there were several gaps that needed to bridged in the quest to reduce the stagnancy in education and elevate it to enviable heights.
It is for the above stated reasons that the Federal Government should ensure that the unemployed graduates to be engaged as teachers are truly given the requisite training, otherwise, the purpose for embarking on the policy may not be achieved. In addition, in selecting the beneficiaries, due process should be followed to ensure that those that are genuinely jobless are chosen, not those that are well connected.
Kupoluyi writes from Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.