By Prof Obiaraeri, N.O.
Extended Retirement Age Of Imo Teachers Is Highly Commendable But Much More Needs To Be Done
Recently, and precisely on Wednesday 22 November 2023, Governor Uzodinma signed into law the Bill extending the retirement age for teachers in Imo State to 65 years of age or after 40 years of service, whichever comes first.
This legacy Bill passed by Imo House of Assembly ably led by Speaker Rt. Hon Chike Olemgbe is a welcome paradigm shift and huge boost to the education sector.
On the side of Governor Uzodinma, this gesture is highly laudable given that the act of signing the extension into legal existence cannot be said to be a political gimmick or a ploy to canvass for votes of teachers as the Imo governorship election had been concluded since 11/11/23.
Without more, signing this Bill into law is practical demonstration that the end of election should herald governance. Imo State is in dire need of good governance and return of her lost glory in the education sector.
By this meritorious extension, the morale of Imo teachers has been tremendously boosted and their job security better assured. At least, the gales of premature retirements of teachers in primary and secondary schools in Imo State have come to an end.
One other positive fallout from this extension is that it will occasion considerable drop in the immediate pension and gratuity obligations of Government as the number of pensioners retiring from the teaching sector will no longer be abrupt.
Ideally, this development should give government ample or plenteous time to plan for the orderly payment of pension and gratuity of retiring teachers as well as their replacement with fresh or new or younger teachers.
Furthermore, with this extension, those in teaching services (except the criminally minded or incorrigible ones) will have no need to falsify or misrepresent or arbitrarily change their dates of birth in order to put in more years in service.
The augmentation of retirement of teachers to 40 years of service or 65 years of actual age is or should be enough time for anyone to have contributed to the teaching and upbringing of the new and next generation of homo sapiens.
As an addendum, Government should be benevolent enough to allow qualified civil servants (who now have shorter period of service compared to teachers) to change to teaching in order to take advantage of this extension.
Needless to overemphasise that this extension of retirement age will conduce to having mature and experienced teachers in public primary and post-primary schools in Imo State.
There is no substitute for experience. Just like most other respected and noble professions, teachers mature with age or time on the job.
An experience teacher is an invaluable asset. Teachers need a lot of emotional intelligence and placidity borne out of experience to impart knowledge and deal with the delinquencies that come with the adolescent or pubescent group they shepherd or train.
Therefore, nothing spent on teachers and indeed in the education sector is a waste. Education is pivotal in nation building and teachers remain the backbone of society.
Teachers are, literally speaking, “next to GOD” as they are role models to children while imparting knowledge to them. Nothing is too much for Imo teachers but to whom much is given, much is expected.
It of significance that when the Governor was signing the extension of tenure for teachers into law, he said among other things that it is expected that Imo teachers will “approach their responsibilities with renewed vigor and dedication, ultimately benefiting the entire educational landscape of Imo State.”
The Governor has not asked for too much. To put it mildly, he was even conservative given the reality on ground in public education sector in Imo State. There is a compelling and urgent need for re-orientation and rededication to duty by Imo teachers.
Again, to whom much is given, much more is expected.
As role models and destiny shapers, contemporary teachers require routine training and retraining along the current demands of Information, Communication and Technology. Teachers are pivotal to attainment of the United Nations SDG 4 which is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”
An analogue, ignorant and ill-exposed teacher will never understand that education includes ensuring equity, inclusion and gender equality. You can only teach what you understand. Igbos are unapologetic when they wisely say “ihe onye ma anya ya k’ona ag nkuzi ya”. This means in Eglish language that no one can teach what he or she does not understand.
Imo teachers need to be trained and retrained on the targets of SDG 4 which include but are not limited to ensuring effective learning and the acquisition of relevant knowledge, skills and competencies; and ensuring the relevance of learning, in terms of vocational and technical skills for decent work as well as for global citizenship in a plural and interconnected world. Without teachers, it will be impossible to achieve Goal 2 of the African Union Agenda 2063 which is to have “Well Educated Citizens and Skills revolution underpinned by Science, Technology and Innovation”.
We now live in the age of intellectual rigour and artificial intelligence. Hence, Imo teachers will need serious knowledge upgrade to be able to fit into the demands of 21st century teaching and learning.
Beyond the extension of retirement age of teachers and its associated long and short term benefits, a lot needs to be done in the public schools in Imo State in terms of upgrade of dilapidated infrastructural by way of provision of functional classrooms/libraries/laboratories/offices/toilets and general learning environment.
This will be capital intensive and government should think outside the box by seeking collaboration and support from a cross section of stakeholders namely- government itself; parents; public spirited individuals or other private sector organisations.
Presently, the public schools in Imo State cannot claim to be better than the average badly run private school in the State in terms of quality of teaching and learning environment. This should not be so but for the sad neglect of public sector education in Nigeria as a whole with Imo State copying badly from it.
On the part of Imo teachers and as beneficiaries of the magnanimity of extension of length of service by the Governor, attitudinal dissonance and truancy amongst teachers must be eschewed and completely eradicated.
Truth be told, many Imo State primary and secondary school teachers have deserted the classrooms, pupils and students to embrace “Okada” or “Keke” or “Bus Imo” driving. The poor performances of Imo students in public examinations like JAMB, WASC and NECO are traceable to the fact that teachers have abandoned their primary responsibilities to become traders and hawkers in the markets.
As a consequence of dereliction of duty by teachers, headmasters and principals, primary and secondary school compounds are overgrown with bushes. In many embarrassing cases, school property (especially land holding) are trespassed into and wrested by land grabbers without resistance by the absentee school authorities. This should not be so and must stop.
On the part of Government, there should be increased funding of the education sector to meet the 15-20 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation for expenditure on the sector. This will help Imo State to achieve the United Nations SDG Goal 4 and African Union Agenda 2063 on well-educated citizens and skills revolution underpinned by science, technology and innovation.
Government should think of launching an EDUCATION TRUST FUND to raise funds and logistics for the education sector through private sector buy-in.
Public spirited Imo indigenes, philanthropists, individuals of means, companies or corporate organisations operating, carrying on or doing business in Imo State should be approached and encouraged by Government to adopt primary and secondary schools in Imo State for infrastructural upgrade.
Public schools should be mandated to have functional Parents Teachers Associations to engender and promote sense of ownership amongst various stakeholders.
Public schools should be encouraged to have Old Boys and Old Girls Associations. These critical stakeholders will assist in maintaining and uplifting the academic and moral standards in the primary and secondary education systems.
As “catch them young” strategy and to keep the young ones off the street, there should be reintroduction of inter house sports, inter-school sports competitions and inter-school cultural, scientific, quiz debates or competitions. This will help to curb cultism and other anti-social behaviours. It will also keep the teachers busy and meaningfully engaged.
Without sounding pessimistic, skeptic or cynical, the alarm must be sounded early enough that the gains of this sound policy of tenure elongation will be completely lost, if salaries and allowances of teachers are not paid as and when due or promotions are delayed or denied.
That will be counterproductive and ultimately devastate the public education sector completely. In fact, it will make no meaning, if on retirement after 65 years of age or 40 years of service, the pension and gratuity of the teacher “enters voice mail”.
The extension of tenure law will make wonderful social impact and boost confidence of workers generally if arrears of gratuity and pensions due to retirees of all cadres are cleared and or their payments made to be regular. This can be done. It is doable and should be done. Will it be done and when? Only the Governor can say how and when.
May Imo State have the wherewithal and may the Governor find the grace and political will to do the needful as posterity will judge him fairly if he does so.
It remains a transgression of unimaginable proportion, immoral, unjust, illegal and manifestly indefensible to owe salaries, pensions and or gratuities to retirees who spent better part of their lives working for the sustainable development of the society.
To owe a worker is also unscriptural. According to 1 Timothy 5:18 (ESV), for the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
IMO MUST BE DISCUSSED- OKWU IMO STETI AGA EKWU YA EKWU.
A new normal is possible!
Prof Obiaraeri, N.O.