Photo Credit: The Legatum Foundation.
The Crucial Minority: Teachers
It is grave disservice for a nation to leave the development of it children, leaders of tomorrow, in poor care. But with mothers and teachers poorly treated, that is what we do in most cases.
Alice (I will keep her surname) was a teacher in a public school for many years. Now married with kids, she is doing everything to keep them in private schools, in spite of her current condition. She takes care of her kids all alone because of challenges in her marriage. Sometimes she has to borrow to pay the school fees of the kids but to her public school is not an option. “I have been there as a teacher, and I know what is good for my children.”
It has almost become a fad for parents in urban areas to enroll their kids in private schools, which are proliferating across the land. Some call it a status symbol, but parents who patronize these high-fee schools argue that they don’t want their kids to suffer the deprivation they lived with as kids. They see it as a sign of improved living standard or development. Why? On the average, a private school has a better learning environment, is better equipped and better staffed than a public school.
The family, especially mothers, and teachers are key to child development. They play crucial roles in the development of the child’s natural gifts or potentials. From both, the child learns.
Experts say learning plays a major role in the life of a child. While the school is the most obvious example of this, learning does not just take place in academic settings. From the earliest days of a child’s life, he undergoes a continual process of learning, which has a dramatic impact on the child thinking, how he feels, and behaves.
Alice, in the above example, knows all too well that poor attention, delayed speech, and late motor skill development are possible signs of a poor learning environment.
Experts agree that a teacher who provides the right encouragement and direction to his/her students, can actually help them grow into fine young individuals of tomorrow, by imparting values such as perseverance, hard work, determination and respect. Right from the child’s toddler days, his/her interaction with this parent-like figure begins, and goes right into his/her adulthood. And while the faces that interact with him/her may change over the years, the role remains a constant.
Studies have linked teacher-child relationship quality in the early school years has been to child well-being in many ways: peer relationships, behavior problems, classroom adjustment, and academic achievement. One such study by Maldonado-Carreno and Votruba-Drzal made important revelations.
The study showed that teacher-youth relationships are important, “across elementary school for children to be able to organize and modulate their emotions, conform to rules, and effectively interact with others both at home and in school.”
Specifically, the results show that: Teachers tended to rate a child more highly on language and literacy, as well as maths skills when they had a more positive relationship with the child, however, average teacher-child relationship quality was not significantly associated with gains in academic achievement over time, when reported by the teachers.
So, teachers bear the responsibility of breeding good citizens of tomorrow, by not only providing education but also providing children with the opportunity to mold their future into a bright and promising one.
A smart nation will therefore not oppress or ignore its teachers. Indeed their importance as molders of future generations demands that they are provided the enabling environment and be properly remunerated. With poor and irregular remuneration, many teachers are left frustrated and uninterested.
Proper child development also requires that only qualified and dedicated people are allowed into the profession. Unfortunately, with growing unemployment, the profession has become an all-comers affair. People, who fail to find openings in any other profession, find refuge in teaching. The profession is now a basket of all manner of people with poor dedication.
All that is happening at a time, parents burdened by work tend to leave their kids with teachers for longer hours. The kids are either in school long after normal closing hours or are passed onto lesson teachers.
A study from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research found that U.S. kids spent 7.5 more hours each week in an academic environment than they had 20 years before. With more time spent at school, teachers are left to take over the majority of a child’s day. Although the numbers could vary the situation is the same in Nigeria.
Experts say that while this doesn’t mean that there’s a complete role reversal or that teachers are the new “parents,” it can mean that the teacher’s role — relative to the parent’s role — is slowly growing, as the academic day and week are extended.
In terms of numbers, teachers are not a minority in the labour force, but their poor treatment is undeserving of the crucial role they play in child development.