When Governor Nasir El-Rufai announced to a delegation of the World Bank that more than 21, 000 teachers in the employ of Kaduna State government failed a competency test meant for primary four pupils, many Nigerians were justifiably outraged at the decadence in the educational sector.
According to El-Rufai, when the state government, in collaboration with the state chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), decided to subject its teachers to the competency test in order to evaluate their skills, the exercise was designed to assess their virtuosity but nobody expected the result it produced.
“We tested our 33,000 primary schoolteachers; we gave them primary four examination and required that they must get at least 75 per cent but I am sad to announce that 66 per cent of them failed to make the requirements.
“The hiring of teachers in the past was politicised and we intend to change that by bringing in young and qualified primary schoolteachers to restore the dignity of education in the state”.
As outrageous as the competency test result was, reactions to it have been mixed with Senator Shehu Sani, who many believe to perceive El Rufai’s policies from the prism of their political differences, describing it as “the height of lunacy”.
Sani said, “The sacking of over 21 000 primary schoolteachers by Kaduna State governor stands condemned. It’s inhuman and the height of lunacy by a man who derives pleasure in inflicting suffering and hardship on others.
“How can the governor blow over N10 billion feeding school children only to realise that the teachers are incompetent? El-Rufai’s action has brought nothing but chaos and confusion into public schools in Kaduna.
“He promised the people of the state that he will enrol his children in public schools when he becomes governor. He has not only failed to do that, he is also destroying the educational future of those who chose to send their wards to public schools. Incompetence is not a reason but an excuse to sack thousands of teachers owed salaries for months”.
Meanwhile, the NUT, which was initially part of the competency test, withdrew support for the planned sack of the teachers.
According to the Chairman of the state Council of the NUT, Audu Amba, while the union premised its support for the competency test on 60% pass mark, the state government unilaterally increased the pass mark to 75%.
“We supported the competency test on the grounds that 60 per cent would be the pass mark and those that failed would be re-trained. Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i, however, raised the pass mark to 75 per cent and released the names of the 21,780 teachers who failed for disengagement”, Amba said.
“We wrote a letter to the governor to reconsider his decision, but he went ahead to announce the list of teachers to be disengaged. We have even approached the National Industrial Court to determine whether the state government had the mandate to conduct competency test for teachers”.
He argued that the only approved body authorized to conduct competency tests for teachers in Nigeria was the Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria.
What were the questions the primary school teachers answered that allegedly exposed their incompetence?
According to the questions leaked to the media, the teachers were asked questions relating to their fields and basic current affairs questions. For instance, one of the questions asked was, “What is the name of the executive governor of Kaduna State?” to which one of the teachers answered, ‘Nasiru’; while another teacher, asked to name two qualities of teaching aids, simply answered, “Stick is a teaching aid; book is a teaching aid”.
But while some observers of the unfolding drama feel that Kaduna State government should shift position on the failed teachers, the governor is adamant in his determination to sanitize the education sector. In a media interview, El-Rufai vowed to keep to the standard of education the state administration had set.
“Everybody knows that we will not be deterred in doing what is right for the future of our children. The NUT thinks this is about politics, making a public show of opposing what they know to be right. Shouldn’t everybody be embarrassed by the test results? Where is the sense of shame? I hear some people say the pass mark for a primary four exam should be 60%; the same people say the state government has no right to test the competence of its employees.
There is no bigger evidence of the crisis in our society than that a union whose members failed a primary four examination thinks it can create problems over the issue rather than be a part of the solution”, he said.
“We are not people that bow to threats. We will respond appropriately. What will be point of that strike? To force us to violate our oath of office and knowingly retain as teachers those who are not qualified? That will not happen”.
And to give impetus to the conviction of the state government to sanitize the education sector, President Muhammadu Buhari backed the planned sack of the teachers.
In a speech at an education summit organized by the Federal Ministry of Education, Buhari described as “tragic” a situation where teachers could not pass a test their students should have been taught to pass.
The President said, “I listened to one of the Nigerians I respect. He said after his training here in Nigeria and the United States, he went to his alma mater, his primary school, to see what he could contribute.
“I won’t mention his name; but when he went, he couldn’t differentiate between the children and teachers.
“And what El-Rufai is trying to do now is exactly what that man told me about 10 years ago.
“It is a very, very serious situation when teachers cannot pass the examinations they are supposed to teach the children to pass.
“It is a very tragic situation we are in and, this gathering, to me, is one of the most important in this administration.”