Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu
THE Federal Government has acquiesced to the demand of teachers to increase their age of retirement from 60 to 65 years. A parliamentary enactment to this effect is in the works. The Nigeria Union of Teachers’ request for this headlined the 2012 World Teachers’ Day event, which compelled the then Minister of Education, Ruqayyatu Rufa’i, to reveal government’s inclination towards the idea.
Broadly, workers’ retirement in the public service is still governed by the rule of either 60 years of age or 35 years of service, depending on which one comes first. The Federal Government caved in to pressure from the Academic Staff Union of Universities some years ago when it raised the retirement age of professors to 70 years. This is understandably so because such calibre of manpower is unique. The training and wealth of experience of professors are not easy to come by. But lecturers outside the professorial cadre, non-academic members of staff and their counterparts in polytechnics and colleges of education had their retirement age pegged at 65 years.
The NUT apparently took a queue from these concessions. However, there is a need for restraint here. About 500,000 graduates are churned out annually from the universities, giving rise to millions of them being unemployed. In addition, there are graduates of 89 colleges of education, set up primarily for producing teachers. Again, virtually all our conventional public universities have faculties of education that also produce graduates primed for teaching.
With the latest youth unemployment rate put at 55.4 per cent by the National Bureau of Statistics, an extension of teachers’ age of retirement will undoubtedly worsen this scourge with its attendant social upheavals.
It could be argued that the extension of teachers’ years of service will motivate them; but giving them professional salary structure with its enhanced pay package would serve this purpose better. This will guarantee teachers’ better living standards and make the teaching profession attractive as it is in Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, Norway, Canada and China, among others. In Singapore, each teacher gets 100 hours of professional development annually and with competitive pay, teachers enjoy their job. This should be the trajectory of teaching in Nigeria.
Ironically, the clamour in Nigeria is quite the opposite of what obtains in the United Kingdom. The teachers’ union, in an annual conference in Birmingham in April 2018, voted against government’s desire to increase the pension age from 65 to 68 years. The 65 years pensionable age came into effect in 2007, whereas for members of the Teachers Pension Scheme, who joined before 2007, 60 years is “the normal pension age.” A teacher, Candida Mellor, from North Tynside, likened government’s action to “work until you drop” dead.
The physical and mental exertions of teaching are being underestimated, Mellor stresses, while Chris Keates, another teacher and general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said teachers were increasingly burned out long before they reached the retirement age because of workload. This, combined with lack of wage increase, has even driven more teachers to early retirement, which the UK National Audit Office put at 11 per cent in the three years to 2016.
Every country has a retirement age for its public servants and a reason for the choice. In Austria, it was 65 years for a male and 60 years for a female, as of 2015; Russia 60 years for a male, 55 years for a female as of 2015; that of France for a male stood at 62 years in 2018. Nigeria’s Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, has cited the increase of teachers retirement age in Canada, Belgium and India to justify the proposal. But our teachers should not trudge on amid the collapse of supervision and inspection by the inspectorate divisions in ministries of education, two quality assurance mechanisms of the old order.
It was not without reason that Nigeria’s retirement age was fixed at 60 years. Socio-economic variables and workforce dynamics differ from country to country, which are taken into account in determining when workers should retire. Therefore, it does not make sense for a country with a life expectancy of 53.4 years like Nigeria’s to have the same retirement age with Canada at 82.5 years and Belgium, 81.3 years, according to the UNDP 2017 statistics.
A survey carried out by the Universal Basic Education Commission revealed in 2012 that a state in the North-West had 50 per cent of primary school teachers who were incapable of reading textbooks supplied to pupils. This might not have been an isolated case. Extending years of service for such misfits, therefore, is doing violence to learning and irreparable damage to the lives of pupils, who are the country’s future.
Credit: The PUNCH.