Earlier this year, Yinka Ogunde went to an open market. She did not go there to haggle. She’d gone only to look around and pose questions.
Question one, why were there so many school-age kids at the market? Two, why would the market women choose to keep their children as apprentice traders rather than send them to free public schools?
As it turned out, more and more people had been electing to keep their children at home. Their reason? Schooling is now pointless.
Some of the parents told Ogunde that the country’s educational system did not align with their local customs. This point, Ogunde discovered, isn’t even uncommon, and, depending on where you are in the country, its insidious impact may vary.
“What might be applicable to the North,” Ogunde says, “might not be applicable in Lagos.”
But there is another reason for jettisoning this whole idea of schooling. Some of the parents contended that the older children they’d sent to school were currently sitting at home, no jobs. So, why bother?
And, of course, they knew who should be blamed for their sons’ and daughters’ unemployment. There are “people who should retire” but who “do not want to retire.”
Ah. One doesn’t have to be clairvoyant to see that by “people who should retire”, these folks had a stiff finger pointed at the country’s recurring political leaders.
Meanwhile, you have to feel for Mrs Ogunde, though. She is perpetually in the middle of one of a massive tripartite standoff: parents on one side, teachers on another, and the government completing the nerve-wracking triangle.
Ogunde is the founder and CEO of Edumark Consult, Total School Support Exhibition (TOSSE), and the Concerned Parents and Educators (CPE) network. In this role, she has to repeatedly confront the biggest problems in the education sector — and she has done this for more than a decade. From the unbelievable travails of teachers to the pitiful plight of parents who struggle under the weight of rising tuition, she somehow is always in the conversation.
Between March and September 2020, her CPE raised about N2 million for charity purposes. They presented the money, either as gifts or revolving loans, to private school teachers and parents who needed help to cope with the pressures of the global pandemic.
A number of the teachers they helped were employed in low-cost private schools, earning between N15,000 and N25,000. For these ones, salaries had stopped in March, just before the country went into lockdown.
The CPE, which has nearly 200,000 members in a private Facebook group, has chapters in 21 states. In February, which the CPE declared the education advocacy month, Ogunde said the chapters were presenting letters to houses of assembly, commissioners for education, and governors.
She reckoned that the government needed to retake control of the educational system in the country, first of all by designing policies to help all stakeholders thrive. These stakeholders are the parents, students, public school teachers, private school teachers, private school owners, and the government
“In Nigeria we have a very strong private sector,” she said, “and this is a ticking time bomb. It is very dangerous for a country to leave the development of its future leaders in the hands of private operators except there are very strong regulatory policies in place.”
On Monday October 5, President Muhammadu Buhari delivered some extraordinary news to teachers. And if you went by the quotes in the papers,
the National Treasurer of the NUT (Nigeria Union of Teachers), Mr Segun Raheem, was pretty ecstatic to hear that news.
For the first time in a long time, Raheem noted, Nigerian educators could say they were receiving something they’d really asked for. The government announced that it would raise the retirement age of teachers from 60 to 65. In addition to that, it would create a new pay scale just for them.
Raheem said, “The agitation started over 15 years ago. The issue of [the] retirement age for teachers ought to have been implemented when the new retirement age was approved for judges and university professors.”
Now, though, that wait was over. If the NUT’s proposal was exactly what the President approved, then base salaries in the profession would likely jump from N54,000 to N310,000, at least for college-educated teachers hired into the federal civil service.
For the rest of the country, nobody can tell what might happen. Some key states, such as Kano, Kogi, and Ekiti, have only promised to study the federal proposal in the context of their own realities. Edo swears it would do better than the federal government. And as for Lagos government, there is no official word yet.
However, notwithstanding what the states eventually decide, it appears that things are now looking up for teachers. It is even possible that soon, teaching will cease to be the career of last resort for many graduates.
“The new salary structure would help to attract the best brains to teaching,” Raheem said.
Meanwhile, back at CPE, there are still more rounds in the fight for an excellent educational system. As long as there is poverty, unemployment, low enrolment rates, and clashing cultures, Ogunde would have to keep raising more funds, presenting more letters, and mounting more advocacy campaigns.
Although Ogunde, a University of Lagos mass communication graduate, began her career in an advertising agency, she’d pivoted into education marketing (Edumark) as a blue ocean strategy. Her company did teacher trainings, exhibitions, consulting, and published trade magazines, featuring the best schools. If you had a school and wanted to put your name out there, you worked with Ogunde.
Now, however, her blue ocean has yielded to a white space where she is the undisputed chief connector for educationists, their patrons, and the industry regulators.
Because of Ogunde, there is now a subset of agencies known as education marketing firms. But it should not end there.
Because of her, let there be a large class of private sector advocates rising in defence of teachers, schools, and students. Let them approach the subject with equal passion. Let them understand that their grades will be decided by the weight of their impact. Let them learn that this is more than a business; it is a quiet protest, a patriotic grumble, a civic duty.
This story first appeared in The Guardian (Nigeria) on October 10, 2020.