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Eunice Thomas: The Badgering of Teachers in Akwa Ibom State.

By Thompson Essien

Missis (Mrs.) Eunice Thomas is the Commissioner for Education in the Godswill Akpabio's version of a government in Akwa Ibom State. Ever since she was posted to be the Commissioner in the Ministry of Education, the only popular policy which Mrs. Thomas has in effect is her constant badgering of teachers, often referring to them as incompetents and ineffective. But what Mrs. Thomas has never talked about are the plans she has in place to reverse the trends and her negative assumptions of her teachers.

It is very likely that Eunice Thomas is one of those square-pegs that Godswill Akpabio brought into his government to fill round holes. I can bet on anything that Mrs. Thomas has never been a teacher, even for one day in her life, which would have enabled her to understand the plight of teachers and what they have to go through on a daily basis in order to impart education to our children. But if Mrs. Thomas has ever been a teacher, then her constant badgering of teachers must be a manifestation of problems she might have in her personal life; it is very likely that using teachers as punching bags are symptoms of psychological problems, which might require professional attention.

On January 25, 2013, an article in the Punch Newspaper stated: “The Commissioner for Education, Akwa Ibom State, Mrs. Eunice Thomas, has charged teachers in the state to work hard to earn the respect of their pupils through knowledge of their subject matter; competence, and dedication to duty. Thomas said this was necessary as learners, even in primary schools, are quick to detect incompetence and quackery in teachers.” (Source:http://www.punchng.com/education/commissioner-charges-teachers-on-competence-dedication/)

On April 5, 2013, there was a story of how some students, considered the best in their respective schools, could not write their own names. As a solution to the problem, Mrs. Eunice Thomas blamed the teachers for the woes of the students. Listen to what was written in the report: “The Commissioner however blamed teachers for lack of commitment which resulted in pushing the pupils into cheating to pass their examinations. She also noted that most of the teachers in the state public schools were not qualified. She said, “I went to a school in Ukanafun LGA. I saw a teacher, who looks like a village woman. I asked her who her commissioner was. She mentioned a name that was not from this side, at all. “If you set the same questions you set for the pupils for the teachers, many of them cannot answer.”

You got it right! Because the teacher, who by the way looked like “a village woman,” did not know that Mrs. Eunice Thomas is the Commissioner for Education, therefore the woman and all the other struggling teachers who are trying to keep their heads up due to irregular payment of salaries, are stupid and beneath Mrs. Thomas, who is increasingly looking at herself as the God-sent-Educator of the century for Akwa Ibom State.

Of all her badgering of teachers, describing them as incompetents, there has never been any report credited to Mrs. Eunice Thomas on steps she intends to take in order to provide the necessary training that would bring up the competence of teachers to her level of proficiency. Even as recently as last week, when she was represented by her Permanent Secretary, Mr. Chrisantus Asuka, at the building workshop for primary school teachers in Uyo, all Mrs. Eunice Thomas instructed Mr. Asuka to say was the revelations of Godswill Akpabio on how students should be examined: it's never about training of the teachers.

It has never occurred to Mrs. Thomas that there may be a correlation between teachers' effectiveness and conditions of service, as in regular payment of salaries, reduction in class sizes, and availability of teaching aids, training, and enticements. When Akpabio announced the compulsory free education in 2008, enrolment of students went up to a point that some teachers were stuck with at least 100 kids in their classrooms. One does not need a doctorate degree in Education to understand that any teacher with 100 or more students in his or her classroom will never provide teaching methods that would produce students that can meet the required standard; it's common sense.

It also has never occurred to the Commissioner for Education that there might be a causal-comparative reason which may beg the question: Does adequate school funding has any effect on effective teaching?

The 2012 budget for Akwa Ibom State was N407.8 billion. Out of this money, N33.28 billion was earmarked for personnel cost, while N13.10 billion was earmarked for overhead costs. The N33.28 personnel cost budget, according a report posted by Nasir El Rufai in NewsDay newspaper of July 6, 2012, “covers the 20 commissioners, 39 permanent secretaries and equivalent six special advisers, 36 special assistants, Chief of Staff, SSG, and Head of Service, 57 chairmen and members of executive bodies and the bureaucracy below them of some 26,000 employees.” (Source: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/akwa-ibom-s-budget-of-infrastructural-development/119421/.)

According to the same source, while N33.28 billion was allocated to personnel, “Education, Science and Technology sub-sector gets N19.6 billion in the budget.” Included in this amount are renovation of schools, increase in teachers' pay and benefits, including a year-end bonus. There is no mention of teachers' training.

A careful scrutiny makes one wonder how this budget could be adequate enough for a state with the following statistics: a) Primary schools----1110; b) Secondary schools----230; c) Tertiary institutions----11. (Source: http://www.aksgonline.com/educ/default.aspx).

Running through an outdated website of the Ministry of Education, there is this posting: “In practice, Akwa Ibom's free education is 100% government funded with students paying absolutely no direct fees while government funds the entire education machinery in the state from budgetary commitments of about 60,000,000 USD annually to the free education scheme. As part of the policy, government pays subventions of 2 USD per student to 230 school principals and 0.75 USD per pupil to 1,110 primary school head teachers across the state to guard against back-door charges.”

It is doubtful how many people can comprehend the above statement or how many teachers can afford computers to access the website to read the statistics.

Also, what is not factored in the allocation are pilfering by corrupt officials, and a gross mismanagement of funds, such as we read not too long ago of how a Commissioner in the Ministry of Education had to pay members of the House of Assembly as a favor for them to pass a legislation that would benefit education.

What Mrs. Eunice Thomas needs to understand is that while it is convenient to point accusing fingers at teachers for the poor performances of the students, the blame-game can be equally distributable. The government has its own share of blame; parents can also be blamed; and yes, teachers have their blame. What is not right is to heap all the opprobrium on teachers, as if they are in total control of school funding and the background of the students that show up in schools.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Thompson Essien and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."