By Farooq Kperogi
Oscar Wilde’s satiric epigram about how “everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching” has been given literal materiality in Kaduna. I didn’t need to see samples of answers to the so-called teacher competency test in Kaduna State to be convinced that most, certainly not all, of the teachers employed to teach in public primary schools in Kaduna and elsewhere have absolutely no business being teachers. The samples the Kaduna State governor made public may be unrepresentative and probably merely serve to hyperbolize the egregiousness of the teachers’ incompetence and to win the governor public support. It frankly makes no difference, in my opinion. I cannot in good conscience defend the continued employment of teachers I would never allow to teach even my enemies’ kids, much less my own kids. That’s my own irreducibly minimum personal morality test.
But it’s also true that the sacking of the incompetent teachers merely scratches the surface of a problem that is considerably high and deep. For one, the remuneration for primary school teachers is among the worst in the country. As the English saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. If El-Rufai won’t increase teacher pay, his reform is mere superficial window-dressing because the half-wits he is weeding out now will most definitely be replaced by people who won’t be different from them. He would have my full support if he were to say, “I will triple teacher pay and insist that only the most qualified are recruited.”
Of course, this should be replicated at all levels of education—and even beyond–for it to be meaningful. Limiting it to only primary school teachers would not just be callous grandstanding; it would be exhibitionistic trampling on the weak and the helpless. For starters, if the governor is sincere, the people who set and graded the competency exams should also be fired. They, too, have no business being judges of anyone’s competence. From inexcusably poor grammar, to inept and fuzzily worded questions, to questionable grading (for example, a teacher lost points for not prefixing “Malam” to El-Rufai’s name!), they are nearly as bad as the people they are causing to (justifiably) lose their jobs.
As someone whose intellectual and ideological temperaments are irrevocably and unapologetically pro-poor, I hate for people to lose their jobs, but if we truly want to clean up the gargantuan mess in the country, we have to start somewhere, and it won’t be painless. You can’t have ineducable adults “educating” poor people’s children thereby ensuring an invidious intergenerational perpetuation of a vicious cycle of poverty.