The Lagos State Government has initiated steps towards education sector reforms in the state’s public school system, such as the Lagos Eko Secondary Education Project. These reforms have sought to maximize outcomes by upgrading education infrastructure, strengthening teacher capacity, and adopting information technology for teaching. In some instances, attempts were made to outline teacher competencies. However, there is little evidence of progress made for ensuring that teachers are qualified and have the skills for grades taught, beyond subject expertise. Establishing standards for teacher competence is especially pertinent, as nothing is more fundamental to the success of any educational reform than the quality of teachers who are recruited – and how they are trained, managed and supported.
There is a wealth of both anecdotal and statistical evidence that show that the quality of an education system cannot surpass the quality of its teaching. In a study conducted by Gbenu JP, where he assessed the state of teacher quality in Lagos State secondary schools, he found that outcomes for quality depend solely on the quality of teacher. Though quality of infrastructure was also an important factor in determining outcomes, he reiterated that it contributed much less than competent teachers. The quality of teaching is, in turn, contingent on the calibre of people recruited, and on the approach to teacher training, preparation, continued professional development, and strategies adopted to ensure retention of skilled individuals.
The demands on education in Nigeria have changed dramatically in the last few decades; there is an increased demand on what students must know and be equipped to do in order to contribute to the nation’s skills needs and to thrive in today’s global world. This demand makes it imperative to invest in education by developing a competency framework for recruiting and selecting competent and effective teachers. A competency framework describes the ideal set of behaviours and traits needed for the teaching profession, and it assures that recruited teachers will perform to the levels and standards required. Competency frameworks have been used successfully in other countries for establishing and improving acceptable standards of teaching. Teacher competences are a key factor for evaluating quality of education and have been shown to be the critical most important factor for improving student achievement.
The history of teacher training and certification in Nigeria can be traced back to the introduction of the Teachers Grade III programme, introduced to certify “Pupil Teachers” i.e. elementary school leavers who demonstrated adequate academic ability during their elementary education. Shortly after, the Grade III programme was upgraded to Grade II, with the aim of producing professional elementary school teachers with enhanced academic pedagogical training. However, following a revision of the National Policy on Education (1977), the National Certificate of Education (NCE) became the minimum requirement for elementary school teachers.
As a result, there was a massive drive for teacher recruitment in many parts of Nigeria and teacher training colleges were upgraded to NCE-awarding colleges of education. Initially, this program produced new teachers quickly, ensuring that they had the basic requirement for teaching. However, what they produced in quantity, they lacked in quality. With the takeover of mission schools in the 70’s, the introduction of Universal Primary Education, the subsequent overcrowding of classrooms and the opening of new schools by state governments, quality derailed and teacher competence was widely believed to become compromised.
However, this poor teacher competence was less a direct function of the policies adopted for increasing access to education than of approaches to teacher recruitment that emphasised paper qualification rather than demonstrable ability.In a bid to fill teacher shortages that became acute during that period, teacher recruitment was indiscriminate, and teaching became one of the least regulated professions in the country, with debilitating effects on the quality of education. This poor quality of education persists today and is indicated by high levels of failure in national examinations, weak educational achievements of students, negative attitudes and the common antisocial behaviour of many school leavers in Nigeria.
Lagos State started to pay some attention to teacher quality in 2005, when – through the policy that created its Education Districts – the State government acknowledged that efficiency and effectiveness of education is a function of teacher quality. The weakness of that and other related policies however, is the failure to properly define teacher quality in relation to desired education outcomes for the State. In addition, attempts to outline a framework for teacher competence have so far not been incorporated into recruitment policies.
Lagos is expected to hire about 130,000 new teachers within the next 10 years to fill vacancies created by the rapid teacher attrition in the state’s public schools. This current attrition rates presents the State with an opportunity to examine current and past recruitment efforts, both nation and worldwide, and to use the findings to inform the development and implementation of a coherent and comprehensive action plan for improving teacher quality. Considerations should be given for identifying individuals with skills appropriate for a range of teaching and related activities in the school, who will be able to provide innovative leadership and drive to ensure the revitalization of schools in the short to medium term. This means that teacher recruitment should not be limited to entry level and should allow for adequate complement of skills for individual schools.
In line with attracting the best teachers, this is also an opportunity to position education within the broader vision of development for Lagos State. Governor Ambode recently expressed his interest in exploring the State’s comparative advantage in order to move the vision of transforming Nigeria’s economic fortunes for the better. A comprehensive framework for recruitment thus presents a corridor to link education to the State’s industrial needs by recruiting teachers who provide education aligned with the State’s needs. Essentially, the right recruitment strategy invites high quality teachers. High quality teachers incite quality teaching, and quality teaching breeds required results.
Teachers are the pipeline to the future. The need to recruit highly qualified individuals into the career pipeline and to effectively train them has never been more immediate. A failure to do so will result in negative spill-overs, not only for the State, but the country at large.