When, last week, a primary school teacher in Edo State, Mrs. Augusta Odemwinge, could not read a court affidavit she tendered as part of her credentials, the news made waves in the media.
Indeed, many stakeholders considered the development as outrageous. For them, if a teacher could not read a mere court affidavit, what manner of knowledge would she impart to her pupils?
Little wonder, the call by the state government to screen and investigate the credentials of the over 1,300 primary school teachers in its employ received more commendation in the state and beyond.
Hitherto, the government had claimed that most of the teachers’ credentials were suspect.
The teachers reportedly have issues to resolve with regard to their academic and birth certificates.
Affirming this, the Commissioner for Basic Education (Primary and Junior Secondary School), Mr. Patrick Aguinede, said the decision to conduct the screening was taken to restore sanity into the teaching profession in the state.
Governor Adams Oshiomhole, who witnessed Odemwinge’s scenario, expressed dissatisfaction with her performance.
Oshiomhole said, “If you cannot read, what then will you teach the pupils; what do you write on the board?”
The governor was not alone in expressing concern over Odemwinge’s performance. The Chairman of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, Patrick Ikosimi, also described the development as “very embarrassing.”
But just as the governor and the NUT leadership frowned at Odemwinge’s performance, the opposition party in the state, Peoples Democratic Party, through its chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, dismissed the exercise in its entirety.
In the thinking of the PDP, the verification is not only discriminatory, but also punitive.
According to the party, the state government’s target is to punish some teachers for demanding the implementation of the Teachers Salary Scale in the state.
However, responding to the PDP Chairman’s claim, Oshiomhole said the state government had no intention to fire any teacher arbitrarily.
He said, “It is not my wish to preside over dismissals. First, it is not cheap. Secondly, I have a responsibility to keep Edo going and ensure that our children are in the hands of good and competent teachers.
“If the facts reveal that there are teachers in the classrooms, who do not have the requisite qualification, you cannot insist that they remain in the system. What is not acceptable to the state government is to say that it is business as usual.”
But as the PDP and the state government engage in the argument and counter-argument, other stakeholders in the state hold the view that issues bordering on education should not be politicised.
An educationist and public commentator, Mr. Tony Omoregie, for instance, noted that the alleged scandal needed proper examination in order to identify the “dead woods” in the school system.
According to him, a good and sound primary school education is the elixir for a better future.
Omoregie, who urged the state government and other politicians to divorce politics from the exercise, also called on the screening committee to carry out proper investigation into the alleged scandal.
He added, “Having tasted the importance of education before now, it will be unthinkable to begin to expose our children to incompetent teachers. So, I urge the different political camps in the state to look beyond their enclaves and contribute more meaningfully to the development of the state.”
For a private school proprietress, Mrs. Theresa Abulehim, there are many Odemwinges in the system in the state and beyond, especially in the public schools.
Like Omoregie, the educationist also called for a purge in the public school system. She noted that a private school owner would not tolerate the presence of an incompetent teacher in his or her employ.
Recruiting such a teacher, she said, is be akin to sounding the death knell of the school.
Contributing, the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, urged stakeholders not to be sentimental about the development.
The state government, he said, was looking beyond the school system in its attempt to cleanse the state.
He said, “The ongoing screening for primary school teachers in the state will be extended to other levels and sectors of the public service. The exercise is not designed to humiliate or witch-hunt anyone. Rather, it is geared towards ensuring sanity in the education system as well as to complement the revived infrastructure in public schools across the state.”