Teachers are the essential school-level determinant of children’s learning. Chances are, if you take a cohort of students and situate them under a tree but give them a capable teacher, they will learn. A capable teacher is one who cares for children and is cognitively sound, skilled, loves teaching, motivated, inspiring and flexible. Research shows that competent teachers can even make up for socioeconomic disadvantages.
However, despite the importance of teachers to student learning, teacher performance remains low across Nigeria. For example, in Kaduna State, there was a recent brouhaha because two-thirds or 21,780 of 33,000 teachers failed a teacher assessment test in 2017 designed to test the ability to teach Primary four students rightly. To be sure, the Kaduna State government utilised a pass mark of 75%, higher than the 60% benchmark it allegedly agreed with the Kaduna State Chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers. Nonetheless, the failure rate is alarming.
Governor El-Rufai responded to the results in Kaduna by dismissing the affected teachers. The socio-economic impact of this decision has rightly raised some consternation. The sack may likely affect the health, nutritional and educational security of about 65,300 children, assuming a conservative mean number of 3 children per teacher. Either side of the sack decision has ethical dilemmas involving welfare considerations of students, teachers and their families and the broader society; and between short-term and long-run educational imperatives. This sort of situation is better prevented than solved.
Similar tests conducted in other parts of the country show that the case is more critical than the policy and advocacy attention given it. In Kwara State in 2008, 19,000 teachers were assessed on the ability to correctly grade scripts of children in Primary 4 students in Mathematics, English Language and the ability to read simple factual texts. Less than 1% of the teachers were found to be competent, i.e., score above 80 percent. 79 percent of teachers tested scored between 0-59% percent on the test. Also, the test administrators discovered that teacher qualification did not affect the scores.
Truth is poor teacher performance starts before teachers enter the classroom. It begins when we systematically allow low-performers to obtain teacher training and qualifications. As an example, the prescribed cut-off scores for entry into Colleges of Education was 100 in 2017, the lowest of all the courses. Also, nepotism allows for those with less than recommended competencies to slip through the institutional cracks into our classrooms.
We believe that to strengthen teacher performance; decision-makers must take a long view by identifying and attracting potentially high-quality teaching talent into the classroom and creating systemic pathways to ensure that they remain and perform well.
We can identify better teaching talent in three ways: First, by raising the entry requirements into the teaching profession, so that higher performers apply. Secondly, test prospective teachers for non-academic qualities essential to students’ learning including enthusiasm, flexibility, and creativity. Thirdly, recruitment policies should allow for non-traditional but high-potential teaching talent to be embedded into the civil service, for example by allowing for professionals with interest in teaching to combine reduced teaching hours with simultaneous participation in teacher training.
A factor affecting the quality of teaching talent available is that teaching has lost its appeal as a path to upward social mobility due to poor remuneration, low teacher quality, and the widespread use of poorly educated contract teachers. The attractiveness of the teaching profession has implications for attracting younger talent into the profession when the current crop of teachers retires.
We need to collaborate to revitalise the reputation of the teaching profession. Within this collaborative, Government would play a role in implementing solutions to improve teacher quality by raising entry requirements and investing in quality preparation programmes. Private Sector organisations can complement these efforts by creating incentive schemes, such as recognition awards and professional development opportunities, for deserving teachers. Community Organisations and Citizens should take on the role of facilitating collaborations between teachers’ in-school efforts and broader community development imperatives. These will give teachers voice and recognition and ensure that teaching is no longer viewed as a profession for those without better alternatives.
As Lee Iacocca said, “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less.”
Once promising teachers are recruited: ensure that they stay by motivating them through individual and peer learning experiences, and competitive pay. Also, there must be a substantive plan to manage their performance.
A useful first step to efficiently manage teacher performance is a performance monitoring system. Teacher performance must be measured, with teachers held accountable to each other, to parents and sector officials for their processes and results.
An effective performance monitoring system is challenging to get right. Mixed approaches combining self-evaluation, which allows for reflection; student learning outcomes; and peer monitoring, should be designed for each context.
Responsibility for managing a performance monitoring system should ideally be concentrated at school-level. Schools (parent forums and school-based management committees included) should have more control over teacher selection, performance evaluation, and development. Situating teacher performance monitoring at school level is typically not the case, as central agencies make teacher hiring, training, and firing decisions and are often slow in responding to the results of teacher performance evaluations, where they exist.
Feedback from teachers’ performance evaluation should be used to identify developmental needs and to determine career advancement opportunities, as opposed to the promotional structure in place in most places that favors experience over competence.
Further, a programme to manage teacher performance must include an investment in the capacity of school administrators to handle an evaluation system appropriately; deliver feedback; discover training needs; and design or customise reward or disciplinary incentives for the teachers.
Finally, these solutions would be ineffective if efforts are not made to systematically reform and reduce the incentives for corruption in the civil service where responsibility for recruiting and managing teachers lie. Otherwise, it would be a case of pouring new wine into an old wineskin.
In sum, Governor El-Rufai and other Nigerian Governors must play the long game when it comes to improving the quality of Nigerian teachers. Without doing so, Nigeria does not stand a chance of achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. We recommend a three-strand approach to upgrading teacher quality including recruitment of better teaching talent, revamping the reputation of the teaching profession and designing a performance monitoring system with local accountability mechanisms.