Dealing with incompetent teachers: Lessons from Saraki’s Kwara


By Abiodun Jimoh

I have read so much about the teachers in Kaduna that failed a primary 4 exam and much has been said as regards if firing them or not firing them is the right step.

Sadly, this same scenario presented itself in Kwara in 2007, the then Governor Abubakar Bukola Saraki mandated his Commissioner of Education, Bolaji Abdullahi to carry out an assessment of the competence of teachers. 

An aptitude and capacity test was organized for a total of 19,125 teachers in the state’s public school system. Out of these, 2,628 were university graduates.

The teachers were given tests that were designed originally for primary four pupils in English and Mathematics. At the end of the exercise, only seven teachers out of the 19,125 passed the minimum aptitude and capacity threshold. Only one out of the 2,628 graduate teachers passed the test, 10 graduates scored outright zero. What this actually means is 90% of the teachers failed the primary 4 exams but not a single teacher was sacked.

Saraki realized that those teachers were themselves victims of an educational system that had failed for so long.

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The Commissioner of Education then, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi was so embarrassed that he concluded that wrong people were in the teaching profession and the future of the state’s children was in jeopardy. The tests which were designed to determine the capacity of teachers to handle primary school level Mathematics and English for children up to the age 10, have clearly thrown up a challenge about the quality of teaching nationwide.

The primary school is important as a foundation level for every child’s education, if teachers at that level are so incompetent, then there is a lot of cause for anxiety. 

The teachers themselves are not culprits, what they needed at that time was help and that was the intent and essence of the of the test (To determine areas that needed improvement). Assessment is not an end in itself, it is to know the extent and nature of work that needs to be done.

Sacking teachers because they failed a test is like cutting the head to get rid of a brain tumor, anybody with a knife can do that but only a few can carry out the difficult surgery that the patient needs to stay alive and that takes understanding, empathy and commitment to hard work. Today, 10 years after Kwara State held that test, the quality of education in public schools in the state has really improved.

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Saraki administration then designed what was called Teacher Professional Development (TPD) supported by DFID/WORLD BANK. Under this program, they developed what was called Teaching Manual, which reduced the lesson plans to simple easy-to-follow manual from P1-P6. Then recruited a team of SSIT (State Schools Improvement Team) made up of the few that did well and lecturers in the state colleges of education. After training these SSIT, they assigned them to 5 schools each, bought Okada for them and they went round their allocated schools training the teachers on the job on the use of the manuals and supporting them. 

Saraki then set up the quality assurance unit to monitor compliance. Within one year, parents started withdrawing their children from private schools to public schools.

It is a little bit complex than I have narrated but I’m sure those that were in government then will be able to shed more light, but it became a model for the rest of the country and states started coming to Kwara to understudy the programme. 

States like Jigawa took it a little further by delivering the teaching manual to teachers mobile phones in Hausa. it’s an incredible strategy that turned the “Useless” teachers into enthusiastic students, willing to learn so they could teach better.

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This goes a long way to prove that the carrot and stick approach can actually work in this situation. While the problem has been noted and some of the teachers have been chastised, there is also a need to give them a platform for improvement. We should be solutions driven at this point we are in because Governance is not about exclusivity but inclusiveness.

Abiodun Jimoh is from Ilorin, Kwara State


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