Oct. 5 is recognized internationally as World Teachers’ Day to observe the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers, around the world. This event was first celebrated in 1994. To further mark this event in the editorial context, our correspondent, Favour Ebube talked to two Nigerian-based scholars, Professor Simeon Dosunmu, a Professor of Sociology of Education, Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University, and Dr. John Ogugbeni, a Systems Librarian with the Lagos State University, Ojo Campus, Lagos State.
Professor Simeon Dosunmu is a Professor of Sociology of Education, Department of Educational Foundations, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos, Nigeria. He is an intellectual sophisticate with copious publications within and outside Nigeria.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A TEACHER AMONGST ALL THE DESIRED PROFESSION IN NIGERIA?
Well, let me start by saying that I’m a teacher today with no regrets. Maybe because the teaching profession runs in my family. My father was a teacher. He was given money to establish a public school in 1947. He established the school and he was the headmaster till 1976. So, I was born into it and I love it too, because my father carried himself with an uncommon dedication to the teaching profession. And thirty, thirty-one years after his death, his students are old now, they still give him the respect; so, you know, somehow, as a young boy, I always followed him. We talk about teaching; we talk about a lot of things and the way he taught, too. So, teaching runs in our family. I love teaching. I am a teacher and I’m glad about that.
WHAT IS YOUR TEACHING PHILOSOPHY?
My teaching philosophy is that learning is fun and that education is not just transference of knowledge but also, it has to do with inner affinity, empathy, and praxis. By praxis, I mean, putting into practice what you teach.
DO YOU THINK BEING A TEACHER HAS A LOT TO DO WITH PERSONALITY THAN MERE TRAINING?
Well, some people claim that they are born teachers and I want to say that even if there are born teachers, those teachers must be trained. When one has a background of teaching, maybe the father is a teacher or he’s leaving with a teacher, or has the passion, somehow, it will rub on such a person. It’s just like someone who grew up in the barracks. If time is not taken, that person will manifest the life of a police man or a soldier but that doesn’t confirm that that person is truly a soldier or a policeman. So, the same thing, having affinity or fraternizing with teachers, -er…, getting to like what they do,it does not really confirm one as a professional teacher; so I will want to sum up that if one is a born teacher so to say, such a person must be a trained teacher.
WHAT IS YOUR MOST FRUSTRATING EXPERIENCE IN THE TEACHING FIELD IN DEALING WITH STUDENTS AND SYSTEMS?
A lot of experiences that cannot all be recounted. There are times you repeat what ought to be done over and over again and err.., dishearteningly, you find someone doing exactly the opposite of what you told them to do or what you told them not to do. It could be really frustrating, especially when one is a painstaking teacher who wants to explain things to students and you just find someone doing exactly the opposite. It could be really frustrating. Apart from that, every other thing could be managed, could be endured, and could be put right. As to the system, well, what I’ll say is that there is no perfect situation anywhere. As a teacher, one would have to really be an ‘Oliver Twist’ to have to ask for more. Teachers are ever demanding and it’s not for fun. It’s because of the demand of what they have to do.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT MANY TEACHERS SEEK TO BE EMPLOYED IN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM LESS ACCOUNTABLE IN THEIR DUTIES UNLIKE THE PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES?
I have not really taught at a private university, but all universities have their minimum expectations from their lecturers and teaching in the university or tertiary institution, be it public or private, is not an escape route. No. Even at that level, you discover that the demand is much because we stand at the tripod-the tripod of teaching, research and community service. Even teaching alone. People feel that all about teaching is just talking, so they want to be a lecturer, but you discover that it’s not so. Either private or public, you need to update your knowledge. That means a continuous reading. Then you talk, you lecture. Yes. But that is just twenty, thirty percent of the whole job. How about marking assignments? Then you come back to marking examination scripts,or giving tests, giving practicals, and so on and so forth. So, you discover that for a real lecturer, the time is just not there. Either in the public or in the private sector, you’ll have to enhance yourself, you’ll have to be on top of your game. You have to do some community service; people are inviting you here and there for a talk. It’s time consuming and you don’t want to go there just to mope or gallivant.Rather, you want to sit down so that by the time you get there, you give them substance. So, all these things add up to the teacher, the lecturer, or whatsoever you call their names, they’re really and very very busy.
DO YOU THINK THE STUDENTS’ AND TEACHERS’ MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL HEALTH ARE CONSIDERED IN THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?
Yes, teachers’ mental and emotional wellbeing are catered for. The same thing with the students. Err…first of all, you discover that every student that gains admission, one of the places he or she will report to is the health centre where they will have to do some tests and things like that. And for members of staff too, the health centre or the hospital is there for everyone to go and have a thorough check-up, whatsoever is troubling or traumatizing. And when we say something about mental health, it doesn’t have to get to a point where somebody is a schizophrenic. Err… that’s why you find in some universities, you have the staff club. The staff club is for people to get there to unwind, to refresh, breathe in fresh air. Also part of the wellbeing, you have the sports centre that people can go to to keep fit, to keep in shape. So, all these things are there for both staff and students so that everyone can be healthy. It is often said that a sound mind must be in a healthy body.
HOW ARE TEACHERS EQUIPPED TO CATER FOR STUDENTS WITH DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES?
When you talk of children or students with different learning styles, you should know that it ranges from primary school up to tertiary level. What is being advocated at the moment is inclusive education. Under inclusive education, students that are challenged are merged with other students so that they can work together, interact together, the other students can study them and so on and so forth. There are times you find students with special needs(that’s what they are called), that they’re mingled with other students and at university level, you discover that those people are able to cope amongst themselves. Yes. They’re able to cope with just little assistance. So, you discover that a lot of technology has been brought into learning in other to facilitate their ability to cope with learning; so, learning for the special needs of students have been gradually reduced because technology has really come in.
WHEN DOES A TEACHERS’ JOB END AND THE PARENTS’ BEGIN?
Teachers’ job and parents’ job are seamlessly interwoven. A situation where you find both the teacher and the students and the parents working together, you can be very sure that success will be maximised. Students will do better at that level but when it comes to teachers morals, it should start from home. There are so many students that are eventually going A-wire, not possessing the pleasantness they are known for just because the home is failing in its duty. There should be a great relationship between the home and the school. The home is to kickstart the process of morality. Yes. It is the work of the home to start the process and it is now further lending when the child gets to school. Teachers have their role to play, too, that whenever they teach, they bring in morals.
IT IS COMMON, ESPECIALLY IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO SEE TEACHERS STRAINING THEIR VOICES TO TEACH A LARGE CLASS. HOW CAN THIS PROBLEM BE SOLVED AND BY WHOM?
Well, it is common to see teachers training their voices to teach large classes. Lot of reasons could be attributed to this. Once you have large classes, as we are having now in most part of the country, teachers will have to strain their voices. And because teaching is not just a day’s act, it’s a continuum,on that basis, the teacher’s voice needs to be well managed; so, there are ways of handling that. One, split the classes, let the number be smaller; that could help. Then two is,err.., we should have some form of aid, the use of public address system for the classes, atleast, the volume should be manageable. We can have them. Also, you discover that when teachers don’t conserve their voices, they cannot last long. They are not machines; so, we need to bear that in mind.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY AND PAIN AS A TEACHER?
My greatest joy as a teacher is seeing my students progress: some of them travelling out, some of them making waves in their fields of endeavours. It is always a bounty of joy to me. When I see students moving on, not necessarily in matters of cash, but making waves, pushing through,leaving their footprints on the sands of time. You see, let me give you this example. I remember I supervised the citation of Uleanya. Yes. I supervised his citation, that is, his Maters’ work. Then, he took it to South Africa and by the time he took it to South Africa, they asked him to present his citation. He presented it. They saw it. ‘Wow’. They told him, for his thesis, he was going to do the same thing over again but it was just going to be comparing Nigeria and South Africa. If what we did, if the supervision had been wishy-washy, you understand, it wouldn’t have been. He was so happy-that’s Chinasa Uleanya. He has finished his PhD now and he is already teaching in one of the universities over there. So, when I remember all these things, I’m always very happy. It gives me joy.
For pain, when I see a student grounded, I’m not so happy. I have this student that I supervised his thesis. Till now, he has not graduated. Just for him to do viva. I’ve been looking for him, calling him, today I will call, tomorrow I will call. I still can’t fathom why someone, just to do viva, after going through all the trouble, It’s just for him to defend and badge his PhD. He keeps on postponing: ‘Sir, I will come and see you tomorrow, you will not understand.’ Just come and see me… till today, we are talking of four years ago now. Till today, it’s just for him appear for his viva but he is not coming. I keep calling. You know, those things are like pains in my heart and when you see a brilliant student who is an indigent student, they cause pain. When you see a brilliant student who becomes a freelancer, not serious, but you know that this one has stuff, he’s a material but he or she is never ready to do anything to achieve more. Those things, they cause pain. I remember one of the students that the parents are abroad and sending money to him here. One day, he came to me that I should buy his laptop. I said ah, ahn, what happened to you that you became this low? He said he would tell me the truth. The parents were sending money to him and he was using it to drink. Any bar he enters, he would gather the students and say ‘serve them round’. So, he kept on serving them round to the extent that he could not pay his school fees, you understand. So, all those things, the minuses are there. They cause pain. I told him I won’t buy his laptop, I had my own laptop anyway, so we just had to rally round to pay his school fees for him, but thank God he picked up after a semester or thereabout. He picked up and he has graduated now.
IF YOU WERE NOT A TEACHER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
Oh, wow. If I were not a teacher, I would be a lawyer, sincerely. I love law with passion but err… my overriding interest is to be a teacher and I’m not regretting it. However, if I were not a teacher, I would be a lawyer but I thank God today that I am a teacher, an uncommon one anyway and er…, let’s just leave it at that. I’m happy where I am.
Well, I teach, I talk, and I touch lives all within the axis of time. I raise talents and with that, it gives joy, bountiful joy. Yes.
Also, random questions pertaining to the teaching field were posed to another academic.
Dr. John Ogugbeni holds a PhD in Library and Information Science from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, and is a Systems Librarian with the Lagos State University, Ojo Campus, Lagos State.
TODAY IS TEACHERS’ DAY. IS THERE ANYTHING TO BE HAPPY ABOUT THIS DAY REGARDING THE TEACHING PROFESSION IN NIGERIA?
Yes, there are things to be happy about concerning the education sector. First, it gladdens one’s heart that there are teachers in Nigeria who are still committed to the business of molding lives and imparting knowledge. Such teachers don’t mind the harsh economic condition they have found themselves in. They are also unmindful of the lack of respect for teachers. Another thing is that the level of consciousness of Nigerians is increasing. This is made possible by the education the people have received. In other words, it is education that has made more people to be conscious politically.
DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ACCEPT THE TEACHING PROFESSION AS A FINAL OPTION TO ‘HOLD BODY AND SOUL TOGETHER’?
I will say NO. Many people have the teaching certificate but will prefer to do other things that they think are more rewarding financial, even though the reverse could be case. The major problem today is that our society has been reduced to one in which attention is paid to materialism above dignity of labour. People don’t want to be teachers because they think they won’t get enough money that would earn them respect in the society so, it appears to these materialistic people that those in the teaching profession settled there because they had no choice.
MOST STUDENTS IN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES COMPLAIN ABOUT STAFF MEMBERS’ RUDENESS TO THEM IN COMMUNICATION AND ATTITUDE TO THEIR WORK? HOW CAN WE ENSURE THAT TEACHERS SHOW BY EXAMPLE, THAT RESPECT FLOWS BOTH UPWARDS AND DOWNWARD AND NOT ONE-WAY?
This has to do with training. Many people who are guilty of this allegation are not trained teachers. That is why it is being advocated that having a PhD in a particular discipline is not enough to be a lecturer; the person should be taken through training on how to be a good teacher.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT MAKES AN EXCELLENT TEACHER IN NIGERIA?
What makes an excellent teacher in Nigeria is the personality of an individual (a teacher) to joyfully render service to humanity irrespective of the hostile environment he or she is situated.
WHAT ARE THE CRITICAL AREAS IN EDUCATION CLAMOURING FOR THE INTERVENTION OF THE GOVERNMENT?
I think all areas need serious attention. Do you want to x-ray infrastructure, human resources, policy, or the state of education at the levels of primary, secondary and tertiary? In fact, I support the call for a declaration of a state of emergency in the education sector in Nigeria because all levels in the education sectors have serious problems with policies, with infrastructure, and with human resources. Most of the people who are in the teaching profession, ideally, have no business being in that profession because they do not have the right orientation, the right qualification and so on. The policies are not laying much emphasis to technical and vocational studies. Any system that is not paying attention to these cannot make the right impact on the society.
DO YOU THINK IT IS HIGH TIME SCHOOLS SET UP ONLINE LIBRARIES THAT STUDENTS CAN ACCESS ANYWHERE AND ANYTIME?
We are in an era where you talk about mobile technology-based library services. YES, I think so. I am a librarian. It is not rocket science. However poor allocation of fund to university libraries in Nigeria has been a major reason why this has not been achieved. But I believe in no distant time, this will be achieved.
HOW CAN WE MINIMISE THE USE OF PAPER IN TEACHERS’ OFFICE AND IMPROVE ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF RECORD KEEPING?
Most universities today ask students to submit electronic copy of their projects alongside the hard copies. After the electronic copies are properly stored, the hard copies can be done away with. The solution is for a teacher to have a computer and be well educated on electronic records keeping because if he does not have enough training, his records keeping may be worse than when he was dealing with paper records.
THE REALITY OF OUR SOCIETY TODAY IS THAT WE HAVE GRADUATES WHO DO NOT HAVE BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF TECHNOLOGY ASIDE USING SOCIAL MEDIA FOR FUN. DO YOU THINK TECHNOLOGICAL KNOWLEDGE SHOULD BE MANDATORY FOR ALL STUDENTS IN THE UNIVERSITY?
I agree that the curriculum for most courses needs to be updated to be able to take care of the present needs in the labour market. There are different levels of technology education. Some graduates don’t need more than the ability to use simple applications on computers and be able to effectively use their smartphones. Others may need more than that. I think almost all departments in the university have relevant technology courses. There are also general courses on technology. However, the problem is that most undergraduates don’t pay attention to these courses. The issue of personal development also comes to play here. Part of the responsibilities of an undergraduate is to find out employability skills needed in the labour market, get them, and not rely only on knowledge imparted by lecturers.
HOW CAN WE PRODUCE GRADUATES THAT BECOME INVENTORS OF TECHNOLOGY IN OUR COUNTRY RATHER THAN CONSUMERS OF TECHNOLOGY?
By investing heavily in science and technology education not only at the university level but mostly at the level of vocational and technical schools. The environment for invention must also be provided. Presently, that environment is seriously lacking.
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