By Boluwaji Obahopo, Lokoja
A shortage of teachers harms students, teachers and the public education system as a whole.
It hampers students’ ability to learn, reduces teachers’ productivity, and consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere.
The state of education in Kogi State at present is in a state of coma. One of the major reasons being the acute shortage of teachers that has bedevilled the state’s education for many years.
For example, the staff strength of the basic education teachers in Kogi state as of December 2015 was 23,466 which comprises teaching and non-teaching staff, according to a statement from the state chapter of Basic Education Staff Association of Nigeria, BESAN.
The staff strength has however reduced to 16,419 by 2020 due to deaths, retirements and many of the screening exercises by governments that placed many teachers on the “uncleared list.”
This situation is detrimental to the effective operation of the primary education subsector. Most of the public primary schools in the rural areas are faltering due to the acute shortage of teachers, while those in the urban towns are over-stretched due to the large population of learners.
The situation of their secondary school counterparts isn’t any different.
According to the State Chairman, Academic Staff Unions of Secondary School, ASUSS, Mr Ranti Ojo, the staff strength of teachers in the secondary schools has dropped from 9000 in 2011 to a little above 3000 in 2021.
Ranti who described the situation as a ‘serious problem’ in the education sector of the state, said at present, teachers are made to teach subjects that they are not meant to.
“The situation has degenerated to a point that in some schools, a teacher will be taking English, Geography and Economics. Also, a teacher who studied engineering will be compelled to take Physics, Maths and Chemistry.”
The last teacher’s recruitment in the state was in 2004 when 1,500 teachers were recruited into the secondary school. But an average of 100 teachers retired annually. A situation that means for retirement alone, the state has lost 1,700 teachers within seventeen years, and are yet to be replaced.
Between 2009 and 2018, three different screening exercises compounded the woes of teachers in the state. In 2009, many teachers were retrenched by the Sally Tibot screening exercise of governor Ibrahim Idris, same for the 2014 Ogunmola exercise of governor Idris Wada, and the 2018 screening exercise of Governor Yahaya Bello.
The effect is that many teachers were removed from employment for one reason or another. Coupled with teachers who transferred their services to core ministries in the state, those who found better jobs at federal parastatals, and those who died. But one thing remained the same, the failure of successive governments to recruit.
According to Ranti, schools in rural areas bear the brunt of the shortage of teachers. Ranti said, most schools in the rural areas could only boast of a Principal and a teacher, and at best, a Principal and 10 teachers.
The present government of Yahaya Bello gave approval for 500 teachers to be recruited in 2019. But that was before his reelection. The government has afterwards placed an embargo on teachers recruitment. A situation similar to the approval given by former governor Idris Wada for 3,500 Science teachers was put on hold when he lost his reelection bid in 2015.
But a solution has been proffered by most schools to fill in the shortage gap. Many public schools have turned to individuals, or their Parent Teachers Association, PTA for help. These individuals or PTA have, in turn, employed teachers as either part-time or temporary employees; with the salary responsibilities handled by the individual or PTA; just to fill in the gap.
This development has become the only hope public schools in the state have, as governments turned deaf ears on the urgency to recruit teachers.
It was a thing of joy in Community Secondary School, Kakun, in Kabba/Bunu council area of the state last month when the PTA employed three teachers to take Economic, Geography and another subject. The school took to the community social media handle, Owes Forum on Facebook to ‘celebrate’.
For Isanlu Victory College, Ilafin in Yagba East council area of the state, their survival had been on such recruitments which have now been termed “PTA Teachers”.
Isanlu Victory College, for many years operated with a Principal and two teachers for 36 subjects. But with the help of two illustrious sons of the community, who employed five PTA teachers for the students in 2018 to bridge the gap.
Before the development, school-age children in the community had instead of coming to school, taking to lumbering and mining jobs, since there was no available teacher for learning. But this has changed, as many students have since returned to school.
The employment of “PTA Teachers” has become visible across the 21 council areas of the state. According to Mr Ranti, virtually all secondary schools in rural areas operate with “PTA Teachers.”
This lofty idea is already facing challenges due to the sustainability of those PTA teachers. Most of them are not paid beyond a year by either the individual or PTA who recruited them. Coupled with the fact that their poor remuneration may not make them put in their best.
For example, while the PTA of Community Secondary School, Kakun pays their Part-time teachers N20,000 monthly; the Isanlu counterpart only received N10,000. Already, there is an outstanding of two months; their last payment was in November 2020. The N20,000 is the highest any of the PTA teachers are receiving across the three Senatorial zones.
With an average teacher strength of 18 – 20 required for a secondary school, Kogi State is presently sitting on a time bomb. The prestige of being regarded amongst the education- privileged states may just be a mirage. Little wonder the continuous increase in the numbers of ‘Miracle Centre Shools’ for SSCE students.
Mr Ranti has continued to appeal to the state government to recruit. He also urged communities to embrace the “PTA Teachers” format, which he said has helped to bridge the gap of acute teachers shortage.
He also urged that those “PTA Teachers” should be given priority whenever recruitment commences. He however said unless the “PTA Teachers” are sustained pending the proper recruitment from the state government, the education sector in the state faces imminent collapse.
There are 1991 primary schools in Kogi State, while there are 1011 secondary schools comprising both Junior and Senior secondary schools in the state.