Nigerian teachers on October 5 joined their counterparts the world over to mark this year’s World Teachers’ Day. The event marked since 1994 was introduced to commemorate the anniversary of the signing of the 1966 International Labour Organisation/United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (ILO/UNESCO) recommendation concerning the status of teachers. “Empowering Teachers” was the theme of 2017 World Teachers’ Day.

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The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebration is; “The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher.” It also commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that recognises education as a key fundamental right and establishes an entitlement to free compulsory education, ensuring inclusive and equitable access for all children.”

As explained by UNESCO, “the theme was chosen to remind the global community that the right to education cannot be achieved without the right to trained and qualified teachers.” The global agency also observed that “even today, a continuing challenge worldwide is the shortage of teachers.” Available statistics show that there are an estimated 264 million children and youth still out of school globally. Out of this figure, Nigeria has 13.2 million.

According to UNESCO, to reach the 2030 Education Goals of universal primary and secondary education, the world needs to recruit almost 69 million new teachers. This ‘teacher gap,’ it further explained, is more pronounced among vulnerable populations, such as girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, or poor children living in rural or remote areas.

Apart from celebrating Nigerian teachers and their contributions to human development, the government and other stakeholders in the education sector should reflect on the plight of teachers. Hitherto, the teaching profession was highly regarded and teachers were given due recognition and respect but not anymore. At present, teachers in Nigeria are derided and the job no longer attracts the best brains in the country. Teaching is regarded as a very poor profession.

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University graduates opt for teaching while still searching for a better alternative. Generally, teachers are shabbily treated as if they mean nothing. While the government and the society should be blamed for the low status of the teaching profession in Nigeria, the teachers should also share part of the blame in the way some of them approach their jobs. Some teachers have scant regard for the profession.

Despite having divided loyalty, most of them devote most of their time to personal business in spite of the fact that they earn their salaries at the end of the month. This may possibly explain why parents and guardians no longer respect teachers. As a result of the poor quality of teaching in most primary and secondary schools, parents devise other means to ensure that their children are educated.

The fall in the standard of teaching is not restricted to primary and post-primary schools. It is fast creeping into the tertiary level of education. For the teaching profession to regain its lost glory, the government should first of all recognise the importance of teachers in the training of future leaders and developing the society. Teachers at all levels of the education system must be adequately trained and remunerated.

There is the need to emphasise on teachers having a certified teaching qualification before they are recruited to teach in primary and secondary schools. This should be the first step towards the professionalisation of teaching. If teaching is professionalised, it will attract more bright and knowledgeable graduates. Nigeria’s dream of becoming an industrialised nation will not be met expect her teachers are adequately equipped to impart knowledge to the young ones, the acclaimed leaders of tomorrow.

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The government should hold a stakeholders’ summit on the way forward for teachers and the teaching profession and address the problems that affect the profession. Nigerian teachers, like their counterparts the world over, should be treated with honour and respect. The government should ensure that 26 per cent of our annual national budget is dedicated to education as recommended by UNESCO. It has been proved that the most developed countries of the world are those that put high premium on education through adequate funding.