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Social Class Prejudice in Nigerian Teacher Competency Tests

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi The results of the teacher competency test in Kaduna State—and in several Nigeri...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

The results of the teacher competency test in Kaduna State—and in several Nigerian states in previous years—give literal materiality to Oscar Wilde’s satiric epigram about how “everybody who is incapable of learning has taken to teaching.”

The samples Kaduna State governor Nasiru El-Rufai made public on social media may be unrepresentative. They probably merely serve to hyperbolize the egregiousness of the teachers’ incompetence and to win the governor public support.

 But 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 on the issue.

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 now among the worst in the country. When my dad was a primary school Arabic and Islamic Studies teacher in the 1970s and 1980s, his salary was sufficient to sustain a fairly comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle for us. He was even able to save enough to start building a 4-bedroom house until Buhari and Idiagbon struck in 1983, and things went downhill from there.

Today, public primary school teachers aren’t just poorly paid; they are usually owed salaries for months on end. As the English saying goes, if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. I’d add that if you pay nothing, you get nothing.  As I pointed out in my August 6, 2016 column titled “Nigeria as a Perverse Anarchist Paradise,” “When I grew up in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s, private primary schools were few and far between, and the existing ones at the time had a need to boldly inscribe on their signposts that they were ‘government approved’ to legitimize their existence. Even so, private primary schools were almost completely absent in rural Nigeria.

“During my last visit to Nigeria, the only primary schools that were in session in the whole of Kwara State (and this is true of most other states) were private primary schools. Government primary schools were closed because teachers were on strike to protest months of unpaid salaries. Several people told me even if teachers weren’t on strike people with even a little means have learned to not send their children to government primary schools because government schools have become the graveyards of learning and creativity.”

So if El-Rufai won’t increase teacher pay, his reform would be 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 incompetent as the people they are causing to (justifiably) lose their jobs.

And I can bet my boots that if a governance competency test were conducted for Nigeria’s leaders—from the very top to the bottom—most of them would fail, but their fiercest defenders would be the very people they routinely oppress and dehumanize. It’s the same twisted mentality that explains why poor, petty thieves are burned alive by other poor people but wealthy politicians who feed off the misery of the poor are celebrated and defended by the poor.

As someone whose intellectual and ideological temperaments are irrevocably and unapologetically pro-poor, I hate for people to lose their jobs, but you can’t have uneducated and uneducable adults "educating" poor people’s children and thereby ensuring an invidious intergenerational perpetuation of a vicious cycle of poverty.

Education is the greatest social leveler. There are very few Nigerians who come from moneyed or aristocratic dynasties.  Access to decent basic public education was the propeller for many people’s social rise. That access is now being denied to the children of the poor. They are condemned to be taught by “teachers” who are incapable of learning or who are too poorly paid to bother with teaching, in schools that aren’t even fit for animals, and under the watch of political leaders who don’t spare a thought for decent public education because their own children are either abroad or in the best Nigerian private schools.

 That means the children of the poor can’t escape the poverty trap that many of us children of poor parents escaped through access to decent public education.

In a bizarre way, nonetheless, several (certainly not all) of the people who celebrate the competency tests for primary school teachers and those who condemn them are unified by a common contempt for the poor: several who celebrate the tests do so only because the tests target a weak, poor segment of the society, and those who decry them do so because they’re not personally affected by the poor quality of teachers at public primary schools since their own kids are either abroad or in private primary schools.

But overhauling public primary school education through incentivizing teaching and then recruiting the best is crucial to securing our future. I hope that is Governor El-Rufai’s ultimate goal.

Fake Lai Mohammed Quote on Nigerian Social Media
When fake, satiric quotes attributed to you are indistinguishable from your real, everyday utterances, you know you’re the very proverb for untruthfulness. A quote trending on Nigerian WhatsApp groups— and that is now spilling over to Facebook and Twitter—credits Information Minister Lai Mohammed with having said, "PMB's government has spent almost N2 trillion on infrastructural projects. But you can't see it because of the huge size of these projects."

It would have been insanely rib-tickling if it were true, but Lai Mohammed actually never said that. Search the sentence on Google and you won’t find a record of it anywhere. The meme suspiciously never mentions when and where Lai allegedly made the statement. That was a dead giveaway for me. But I honestly don’t blame people who were suckered into believing its authenticity. I, too, was almost had, and it’s precisely because Lai had told fibs in the past that compete with that quote in incredulity.

A transparently compulsive liar who perpetually says he has never lied in his life (a claim even saints can’t and won’t make), who barefacedly tells the basest, most audacious lies without the slightest pang of compunction, and who has come to embody mendacity at its vilest is capable of telling any kind of lie. I think that’s why people are primed to believe the worst of Lai Mohammed. 

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