By Sadoh Amina
The great teachers!! We are the great teachers!! This slogan caught my attention recently, while inside a BRT bus. A group of ladies perhaps in their late 30s or mid 40s shouted this slogan again and again, in a supposedly happy manner. I couldn’t help but catch a glimpse of the sadness in their eyes. Their subdued countenance, dusty feet and modest appearance held for me, a story yet to be explored. Teachers are generally regarded as an integral part or a country’s economy. In most parts of the world teachers are treated with respect. Their financial emotional and intellectual integrity is rarely ever in question. The N.U.T, N.L.C and other spirited organization have come a long way in the quest for better pay and service conditions for teachers in public schools.
This has been achieved in all the states to a great extent, especially with the advent of the minimum wage. Unfortunately, teachers in private schools in Nigeria, have either been completely left out of the struggle for better pay and service condition. The minimum qualification for teachers in Nigeria is N.C.E. Even without a background in Education a P.G.D.E saves the day for would-be teachers in Nigeria. The fact remains that very few private schools in Nigeria, live up to expectation when it comes to good pay and service conditions for teachers. One question that comes to mind is: What exactly are the expected service conditions and pay package for teachers in private schools in Nigeria?
A school is a citadel of learning and for any institution to be regarded as a formal school; it must meet the minimum average standard laid down by the relevant governing educational bodies in the state. These standards include the school’s location, environment, building, facilities, staff, and teaching staff. A private school is a business meant to yield profit. In Nigeria owning a private school is big business, that’s where the money is.
Unfortunately, one of the most integral parts of these institutions (teachers) is relegated to the background when it comes to good pay package and service conditions. In most private schools in Nigeria, the average pay is between twenty to thirty-five thousand naira per month. If you are lucky, getting a forty-thousand naira deal would indeed be a feat, regardless of a high-end qualification or experience as the case may be. Most private schools change their teachers every year usually due to irregular payment.
As soon as a teacher starts to grumble and ask questions, they are relieved and replaced almost immediately. In other cases, teachers are ridiculed in the presence of students by school owners over trivial issues, involving students. We have seen instances where students have been known to slap teachers, within the school premises and in the long run nothing came out of it. Such teachers simply had to adjust to the situation. Some teachers with postgraduate degrees have been insulted and told to their faces, that their qualifications are useless. The economic situation in Nigeria, leaves one with little options. Jobs are scarce. Teaching jobs come in handy and are readily available.
This poor attitude towards teachers, gives the students the impression that school is a scam. Teachers in private schools, often times have to augment their pay, by engaging in private home lessons which on the average, would cost between three to fifteen thousand naira per child. If teachers are lucky, they get paid regularly. If not to avoid paying the teacher, they are either shut out of the house of parents or guardians whom they work for. Sometimes. If they are nice enough, they give the teacher items such as a handbag, set of plates, a second hand suit etc. as compensation for their payment irregularity. Teachers at this point are usually advised to leave the situation to God. Most of these teachers are breadwinners in the home. Teaching in most private schools across the country hardly sustains an individual.
Teaching in a private school therefore in Nigeria, becomes a means to an end. But with time, one gets stuck in the teaching profession. Teachers struggle to improve their teaching skills and put their best foot forward. A few bad eggs have actually disgraced the teaching profession by indulging in vices, such as immoral acts with students, cultism, exam malpractice etc. Often times, they put the blame on the poor conditions of service. This can never be justified or tolerated but can be prevented, eradicated or reduced to the barest minimum, by improving the pay package and conditions of teachers in Nigerian Private Schools. The average Nigerian teacher is a human being and despite being rarely appreciated. Do their jobs and are willing to start all over again by applying to other private schools when they lose their jobs.
One persistent factor that plagues the Nigerian private school teacher, is the fact that they have to struggle emotionally and psychologically because teaching in a Nigerian private school, often times does not command respect. The moment you introduce yourself as a teacher in a private school, you receive funny looks. They are seen as unfortunate people and no one looks forward to being like them if they can help it. I was once told that a confident and qualified graduate of English should not be found teaching in a private school, particularly private schools that pay peanuts!
A school is a business and teachers are key players in the organization. They should be given the opportunity to grow financially with the business or be given a reasonable pay package and better service conditions. It’s high time the appropriate authorities and relevant bodies looked into the poor pay package and service condition for teachers. Teachers are like the heart to the human body. What use is a human being without the heart? Teachers should be accorded the right financial and psychological support, which they need to function effectively.
Amina wrote from United Estate, Alagbole, Ojodu Berger, Lagos