Thursday, June 19, 2008

Address teachers’ demands

The recent 3–day warning strike embarked on by primary and secondary school teachers in the country to press for the implementation of a Teachers Salary Scale (TSS) deserves the urgent attention and intervention of the appropriate authorities and all lovers of education and the young in Nigeria. The strike, which kicked off on Wednesday, June 11, 2008, led to the suspension of teaching in all primary and secondary schools in the country.It also caused an abrupt postponement of the on–going Senior Secondary School CertificateExaminations (SSSCE) of the National Examinations Council (NECO).

The strike followed the 21–-day ultimatum given to the Federal Government to conclude negotiations with the teachers over the implementation of the TSS. A last ditch effort to stave off the strike on June 10 ended in a deadlock as the Federal Government declined to issue a circular to the state governments to implement the TSS. Public school children were found loitering around while the strike lasted even as the umbrella body of teachers, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), has threatened a full–blown strike if its demands are not met.

The problem of the poor remuneration of school teachers has remained legendary and intractable over the years. The problem, this time around, may be more protracted as the Federal Government has declined to compel the state governments to implement the TSS as demanded by the NUT.
The Minister of Education, Dr. Igwe Aja–Nwachukwu, on June 11 described the teachers’ resort to a nationwide strike as unnecessary because the Federal Government could not compel the states on what salaries to pay their teachers because secondary and primary school education, under the 1999 Constitution, is on the concurrent list, thereby making the running of schools and the payment of teachers, at that level, the responsibility of the states and local governments.

The minister insisted that the Federal Government would not negotiate teachers’ salaries for state governments because it could not determine their ability to pay. He urged the teachers to negotiate the TSS directly with their individual state governments while the Federal Government concerns itself with the payment of the new salary scheme to teachers in the Federal Government Colleges.

Aja-Nwachukwu, who spoke to journalists after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, said the government was not disturbed over the warning strike as it had no mandate to direct state governments on the salaries they should pay to teachers under their jurisdiction but could only act as arbiters in the negotiation.

The resort to a nationwide strike by teachers, which left schools closed and sent schoolchildren home, is a sad development. The disruption of the NECO examinations, so soon after the recently concluded West African Senior Secondary Schools Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) examinations were severely marred by a spate of cancellations and postponements on account of leakage of examination question papers, is regrettable.

It is unacceptable that school children in Nigeria are made to bear the brunt of government’s dithering over the problem of proper funding of education. What the recent strike points to is the levity with which issues pertaining to the education of children in the country has been handled over the years and up till the present moment.

But education, in our view, is too important an issue to be fiddled with for any reason at all whatsoever. The statement of the education minister that the Federal Government is not bothered about the strike is, therefore, unacceptable and inexcusable. Our view is that the federal government should be sorely troubled by any problem that will keep Nigerian children out of school when they should be at their desks.

Nigeria cannot afford any instability in the education sector, with its deleterious effects on the psyche, morals, discipline and ultimate academic performance of pupils at this time. The federal government should therefore work for a quick resolution of the impasse through proper arbitration between the state governments and the NUT to ensure the implementation of the TSS across the country.

Everything should be done to avoid a full–blown teachers’ strike, even as government works harder to address the other problems of poor funding, dilapidated infrastructure and other facilities in schools, to provide an enabling environment for learning. We also enjoin teachers to give good service for the money they earn. The imperative of a solid educational foundation for Nigerian children to be able to operate in an increasingly competitive world cannot be over-emphasized.