Teachers Need Constant Knowledge Upgrade – NTI Boss

Teachers Need Constant Knowledge Upgrade – NTI Boss
December 30 11:29 2015

Dr Aminu Ladan Sharehu is the Director General and Chief Executive of National Teachers Institute (NTI). In this interview with AHMED LAWAL, he spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the institute. Excerpts.

In its more than three decades of existence, what has NTI contributed to the education sector and what would you say are the challenges facing the institute?

The contributions of National Teachers Institute to the education sector of the country are enormous. The institute has done pretty well in producing unquantifiable number of teachers at primary, secondary and tertiary education levels.

One of the major challenges facing the National Teachers Institute is the need to ensure quality of our activities. That was what informed our decision to come up with our five-point target, when I assumed duty as the Director General of the institute.

We came up with the five-point target as a policy thrust of a robust management that is participatory, result-oriented and compliant with due process because our focus is to make a difference by ensuring that we reposition the institute to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerian peoples.

The purpose of the agenda is to look at the problems facing the institute and see how we can address them, especially the issue of quality of our training programmes. We are addressing them now and we are really seeing positive results.

First, the institute now has robust and effective training programmes that are student-friendly. We have streamlined all the institute’s activities such that all academic activities slated for the year will be executed within the stipulated period because when we assumed office in 2009, we discovered that the institute was facing serious problems in conducting examinations, marking scripts and processing of results.

So, all the departments of the institute were asked to prepare a comprehensive Activity Chart which we enforced religiously. This enabled the institute to conduct examinations for the 1st and 2nd semesters of 2008 academic year. The scripts were marked and the results were immediately processed and released. Examinations for the 1st and 2nd semesters of 2009 were also handled same year. Since then, our examinations and related matters are always handled promptly.

In order to facilitate speedy and accurate processing of examination results, we fully rehabilitated and upgraded the institute’s computer unit. Examiners Mark Sheets (EMS), scanners and Printronix Printers, servers and a number of accompanied software were installed at the computer centre to ensure standard, accuracy and timely release of examinations results.

We also introduced robust Information Communication Technologies in all the activities of the institute, which made it possible for us to have strong and effective online application for admission, registration and checking of results in all the institute’s programmes.

The essence of this initiative is to ensure that we are ICT-compliant because the modern world demands that we must strive to meet global challenges posed by the advent of ICT. I must say that this has greatly improved the quality of our programmes and activities. It has also helped in inculcating the culture of accountability and prudent management of the institute’s human and material resources.

The institute has, through my personal efforts and intervention, secured over 2000 free flat-screen computers and other accessories from a foreign donor agency, Computer Aid International. The computers are worth over N1 billion.

It is also to our credit that the NTI now has functional Centres for Educational Technology and a National Centre for Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education (SMASE). We have procured varieties of instructional materials and distributed to all the Centres for Educational Technology located at the NTI Study Centres across the country. These sets of instructional materials and NTI course books were also donated to sister institutions as part of our contributions to quality education delivery in Nigeria.

The National Centre for Strengthening Mathematics and Science Education, also known as National SMASE Centre, was established to enhance teaching and learning of mathematics and science subjects. The nationwide training of Mathematics and Science Teachers commenced in collaboration with the Government of Japan through its development agency, JICA.

Sir, there is a public outcry about NTI programmes, what are you doing to ensure that you address the concerns of Nigerians concerning your operations?

Well! As you all know, we inherited enormous challenges at the institute. But, we have made it clear that these challenges are not insurmountable, and we promised to make NTI a force to be reckoned with as far as teacher training programmes in this country are concerned. So, we brought in competent hands that are now working tirelessly to ensure that we reposition the institute to serve the interest of Nigerians.

Specifically, we secured the release of senior academics from Colleges of Education and Universities to spend a year in the institute on sabbatical leave and some of them have also been transferred to the institute.

As senior academics, they help in repositioning the institute to assume its role as a leading teacher education institute in the country. In addition, the institute engaged consultants in all the six geo-political zones of the federation. These seasoned teachers and sound educators assist the institute to discharge its statutory responsibilities conscientiously and diligently.

We also engaged the services of independent monitors and quality-assurance assessors in all its programmes and activities. These categories of professionals visit NTI field and study centres nationwide to evaluate our programmes to ensure that they are in line with the standard benchmark. As reputable academics drawn from reputable universities and Colleges of Education all over the country, their assessments and reports help the institute in terms of knowing genuine information about its strengths and weaknesses for future planning.

We always involve sister parastatals of the Federal Ministry of Education such as Universal Basic Education Commission, Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria, Nomadic Education Commission and National Commission for Colleges of Education in monitoring and other important activities of the institute. The aim is to ensure that we achieve quality and standard in all our activities.

Can you enumerate some of the key things that the institute achieved under your leadership?

Well. In an effort to provide a conducive environment for the institute’s field staff, we constructed permanent office buildings for many states across the six geo-political zones. We are currently working towards ensuring that all the establish model centres in the six geo-political zones, which will be manned by permanent staff of the institute who are seasoned academicians in line with the ongoing repositioning exercise aimed at improving remaining states and zonal offices get permanent structures.

Two, we have also redesigned the institute’s motto to sensitize the public and our staff on the role of NTI in the production of quality teachers. The new motto is “Quality Teachers, Great Nation.” It really depicts the mission and vision of the institute.

Three, we established a School of Education in 2011 in order to enhance and improve the quality and standard of our academic activities. The establishment of the school places the National Teachers Institute at par with other tertiary institutions in the country.

Three, in a bid to reach out to the larger population of its Distance Learners, the institute has installed new transmitter with a capacity to cover long distance while airing educative programmes on the NTI Teachers Radio 102.1 FM. This is aimed at helping our distance learners who grappled with the problem of isolation during their independent study hours.

Four, we also felt it was necessary to change the nomenclature of the Finance and Administration Department to Bursary in order to give an academic outlook to the department and ensure that all financial operations are being conducted in line with the tenets of educational organizations.

Five, we successfully registered the National Teachers Institute as a member of the International Council on Distance Education (ICDE), which is the apex global body that co-ordinates the activities and operations of Open and Distance Learning Institutions. The institute now interacts and shares idea with other ODL institutions on best global practices.

Again, the institute is now a member of the Consortium of e-Learning Institutions, which is being spearheaded by the Hamdan Bin Muhammad e-University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Our membership of the consortium will enable us widen our access to higher education and strengthen our programmes.

We also entered into partnership with the authorities of the Indira Ghandi National Open University (IGNOU) in India. By the terms of reference of the partnership, NTI will serve as IGNOU’s Study Centre for its programmes.

The institute conducts nationwide capacity-building training programmes for teachers across the country under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) intervention funds. How many teachers have benefited from the programme so far?

Well. Under this important national assignment, the institute successfully organized nationwide training and retraining workshops for 120,000 teachers in 2009 and 140,000 teachers in 2010. We also trained 125,000 teachers in 2011 on innovative techniques of teaching in four core subjects. The institute also conducted Special Training on Educational Needs and Disabilities and Faith Based HIV/AIDS Awareness on train the trainers basis.

Apart from the trainings under the MDGs, we also have a special training package called Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Under this scheme, the institute successfully conducted training for teachers in 24 states of the federation in the areas of pedagogical skills, mastery of subject matter and general improvement of teachers’ professional and academic skills.

Another area we are operating is the upgrading of the qualification of teachers. Teachers’ qualification needs to be upgraded from one level of education to another. Just like a worker stagnates in an office so also a teacher stagnates once his or her knowledge is not improved.

For instance, if our teachers remain with Grade II or NCE certificates, certainly there is no way you can ensure quality. There should be a way in which to support those that have Grade II to update their knowledge to have NCE certificate. In fact, not just for them to have the certificates but for the education to go through them and not them to go through the education.

Again, those who have the NCE certificates should be encouraged to have Bachelor of Education degrees and even Masters and PhD degrees. There is nothing wrong in having a number of our teachers in primary and secondary schools with Masters and PhD degrees. In fact, these are the kind of qualifications Nigeria need for its teachers in primary and post-primary schools to ensure sound and quality education for the citizenry.

Therefore, the National Teachers Institute needs to be supported by governments and all stakeholders in the education sector so that we can have quality teachers with Masters and PhD degrees in primary and secondary schools in the country.

The Department of Field Operations and Students’ Services (FOSS) is strategic to the institute. What is the management doing to strengthen it for efficiency?

Yes. The department in question is one of the oldest departments of the institute. It was formerly called department of Professional Field Operations, but, after undergoing a restructuring in 2000, it was changed to FOSS. This department is now responsible for the administration and management of all NTI programmes, such as NCE/DLS, PGDE, Advanced Diploma, among others.

Another function of the department is the recruitment of Course Facilitators; we go out to the universities and colleges of education, get some of these lecturers, who are experts in the field, screen them and subsequently employ them.

The department is also saddled with the responsibility of distribution of Course Materials. The department is pursuing this task with high level of efficiency and commitment. Since we assumed office, we have been having enough course materials. As our students register, they are immediately given these course materials. We give these students the services of Guidance and Counselling.

It would interest you to note that at the beginning of the year 2011, we had 308 Study Centres nationwide, but because of the fact that some of these centres were not viable, that is why we rationalised these centres to 218 for efficiency. We will soon rationalize them further because if a study centre is not viable, it will definitely not help the Institute.

We have enhanced the quality of our course facilitators. We assessed the course facilitators in all the programmes. We disqualified those that failed the test and retained those that passed. The minimum requirement is a master degree for anyone to be our course facilitators.

In fact, we now have qualified facilitators from universities and colleges of education with doctorate degrees and some are even professors taking post-graduate students. The institute was able to produce enough course and support materials to over 100,000 students. Previously these students complained of inadequate course materials, but it is now history.

But, I must say that the dwindling enrolment of our students is a very big challenge. This is as a result of the scraping of TC II, conclusion of Special Teacher Upgrading Programme (STUP), lack of understanding of the Open Distance Learning (ODL) method of delivery and the increased number of similar public and private institutions that award NCE. However, we are working with States Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) and NTI states Coordinators to overcome some of these challenges.

There is also the challenge of lack of enough delivery vehicles to distribute our course materials so that they can get to the centres on time. Though, we have tried in terms of provision of monitoring vehicles, we will strive to deliver more and more vehicles in order to address all the challenges because we are eager to keep uplifting the standard of education in the country.

You talked about Open Distance Learning (ODL) as the method which you operate. What differentiates it from conventional institutions?

In Open Distance Learning, the students are given course materials and they study on their own and see their lecturers during weekends. The students do not depend on their lecturers’ note. More so, it is also cost-effective and accommodate as many as possible. For instance, many people in India and Malaysia were given access to education through this method.

In the case of the conventional institutions, the students are accommodated in the school and meet their lecturers every day. This method cost higher and can only accommodate certain number of students because of the issue of availability of facilities.

Would you say that the institute is meeting the objectives for which it was established?

Given our track records of performance within the last few years, I will say with all sense of modesty that NTI under my leadership is now meeting the goals for which it was established. Our goal as contained in the institute’s vision is to enhance the professional skills of serving teachers for high quality education delivery at primary and secondary education levels with a view to uplifting the standard of the education system of the country.

Our mission is to ensure the continuous upgrading of teachers’ knowledge and skills in curriculum implementation while instilling in them the virtues of dedication, loyalty, commitment, discipline and resourcefulness.

We are pursuing those goals vigorously and the result is that the country now has more qualified teachers than before. These teachers were produced by the National Teachers’ Institute to improve quality of education in the country. So, if you look at our activities, you will discover that we actually run a transparent and effective teacher training programmes at NTI, and we will continue to do that.

What is your assessment of the institute’s staff welfare?

I would say so far so good because our workers are highly motivated and among the well-paid in the country. First, the institute migrated from the civil service salary structure to the Consolidated Tertiary Institutions Salary Structure. Considering the fact we offer academic programmes like other tertiary education institutions, we made a case for the change of the salary structure, and the federal government immediately approved a salary structure for the Institute known as CONTISS.

Presently, the institute pays CONRAISS to its staff similar to what is being paid to workers in tertiary academic institutions in the country. This heightened the interest of staff and boosted their morale, thereby making them to put in their best. In fact, our present salary structure attracts sound academics to the institute.

In addition to improved salary structure, we also paid monetization arrears which nearly became elusive to the staff. I must say that NTI staff now work hard because we reward them excellently in active service and in retirement.

It would interest you note that in response to the genuine agitations of the institute’s pensioners for payment of their accumulated pension arrears, we initiated a process to address their concern. Through that mechanism, we were able to settle all the backlogs of arrears of pensions from 2004. In fact, by May 2011, the institute commenced regular monthly payment of pension claims simultaneously with the salary of our employees on active service.

How do you run the institute as its Chief Executive Officer?

We run an open door policy. We are transparent in all our activities and we involve everybody in decision-making. We hold a weekly meeting with the Management Staff and a quarterly meeting with officers from the rank of Chief Education Officers to Deputy Directors and zonal coordinators because we are convinced that the expanded management meetings help to disseminate official information to staff and serve as avenues for involving officers in key decision-making processes of the institute.

There is also an annual congregational meeting with all staff from both field centres and headquarters where we rub minds and exchange ideas on how to move the institute forward. For me, meetings like these give everybody a sense of belonging and make them take responsibility for their actions or inactions.