World Teachers’ Day was recently commemorated across the world to focus attention on the essentiality of the teaching profession. In recent times, attention has been focused on teacher’s professional duties, predominantly on duties in the classroom and the institutional life of the school. Regardless of financial resources available, an education system cannot function optimally without men and women to serve as teachers in schools, colleges, institutions and in the general administration system.
From whichever perspective the teaching profession is considered, it remains a noble and critical occupation. Chambers Dictionary defines a profession as an occupation or job for which a person has received a specialized training or skill and follows as a career. From another perspective, a professional is someone who is learned or skilled in a particular job or occupation in which he has specialized and intends to practice throughout his working career, such as, a medical doctor, an engineer, lawyer, artist, journalist, architect etc.
In Nigeria, while some professions are mainly focused on trade union and professional excellence activities, others are simply concerned on improved professional practice. The universal criteria that sets a vocation apart as a profession include theoretical and practical knowledge mastered fully by the practitioners, reasonably long training in the field, continuous practice, a regulatory body that licenses and disciplines as well as promotes the professional growth of practitioners and rendering qualitative services to the society by the practitioners among others.
Inaddition, the unique characteristics of a true profession can be established on the following bases: admission of members on equal footing, maintenance of members’ register, dues, and records which entails ranking and seniority; high standards of professional code of conduct, ethics and practice. Also, members practice freely in accordance with existing laws and membership is restricted to those who fulfill the minimum qualification or are admitted by examination. Any profession that measures up to its billing will command high status and dignity, societal recognition/acceptance, job opportunity and security, job satisfaction, immense rewards and professional excellence, that is, efficient and effective service delivery.
The idea of professionalizing teaching in Nigeria has been a herculean one for decades. In the law profession for instance, after graduation from the university and completion of the compulsory Law School programme, lawyers are called to bar and admitted into the professional body the Nigeria Bar Association and afterwards licensed to practice. For the teaching profession, entry levels are not the same. Although the minimum qualification is the National Certificate of Education, others are the Bachelor of Education, Postgraduate Diploma in Education or Professional Diploma in Education or Technical Teacher Certificate etc.
The professional status of teachers among themselves, as a matter of hierarchy, has not been fully defined and this poses a problem. The class stratification has given birth to various unions and organisations; a factor that has worked against teachers’ professional growth for so long. Currently, prominent professional bodies in the teaching profession include the Nigeria Union of Teachers, established in 1931; the National Association of Unity Schools; and subject -based associations such as the National Association of Teachers of Technology, Science Teachers Association of Nigeria and Visual Art Teachers Association of Nigeria, Mathematical Association of Nigeria among others.
To compound the unsavory situation, the vocation has been hijacked by all comers, making it almost a dumping ground for birds of passage holding on to teaching for just a while as they seek jobs of their choice, or persons who failed to succeed in other vocations and perhaps those who wish to combine teaching with other business such as trading, domestic works, etc.
As a way forward, the Federal Government established a body known as the Teacher Registration Council of Nigeria under Decree 31 of 1993. The Council is charged with the duty of determining who are teachers; set standards of knowledge and skills to be attained by persons seeking to become registered as teachers; raise standards from time to time as circumstances permit; secure in accordance with the provision of the Act, the establishment and maintenance of a register of teachers and publication from time to time of the list of such persons; regulate and control the teaching profession in all ramifications; classify from time to time members of the teaching profession according to their level of training and qualification, etc. With the coming of the TRCN, the long awaited dream of regulating the profession and giving it its rightful place, a dream of teachers is set to come to fruition.
Teachers on their part are expected to embrace this golden opportunity to be registered as a means of taking their rightful place among the prestigious professionals. It is gratifying that states such as Lagos, Ogun and Osun have given priority attention to teachers’ development on platforms of regular capacity building, career development and promotion to the administrative position of Permanent Secretaries/Tutor Generals.
It is highly important for professional bodies in the teaching profession not to limit themselves towards safeguarding their terms and conditions of service. They also need to set up an informed platform for discussion of educational challenges, exerting professional influence on the thinking of the government at all levels and the general public in respect of their educational needs and interests. This is a paramount duty of teachers in all places. To whom much is given much is expected.
Olagunju wrote in from Lagos