World Teachers Day: Salute to African Teachers
By Segun Ogunsanya
There is no gainsaying the fact that teachers are crucial to the process of education. In appraising the nexus between teaching and learning, teachers rank highest in importance because they organically facilitate the most critical part of education.
Strictly speaking, the ecosystem, which comprises children, parents, teachers, government, writers, publishers, and now technology innovators, is brought to life by teachers. They not only facilitate learning, but also provide guidance and inspire learners. Some teachers have been known to exert greater influence on children’s development than some parents. They create a supportive environment within and outside the classroom for learning and development. At a personal level, I wonder where I would have been today without the caring and supportive intervention of my teachers, at various levels of my academic endeavour. Teachers are great mentors.
So, on this occasion of World Teachers Day, I remember and pay tribute to my teachers, and indeed all teachers in Africa and across the world, especially those who do great work for insufficient pay and, often, without acknowledgment and recognition. There is a common saying that “Teachers’ reward is in heaven”. This is an unfortunate statement, given that teachers, like other professionals, have responsibilities, including children who require shelter, food, clothing, healthcare, and other necessities of life. So, teachers deserve to be rewarded, both here and hereafter. This tribute, therefore, is my little token of appreciation and recognition of the important role that teachers played in my life, and continue to, in the lives of current and future political and business leaders.
Indeed, as American historian, Henry Adams rightly stated, “A teacher affects eternity; he (she) can never tell where his (her) influence stops.” I doubt that my primary school teacher, Mrs. Ala, could ever imagine that her effort in making me fall in love with mathematics would be the driving force for me to become a science student, an Electrical/Electronics Engineer, a Chartered Accountant, and the Chief Executive of a telecommunications company operating in 14 African countries. Such is the span and strength of the influence of teachers. As beneficiaries of their patience, dedication and support, we must never take them for granted, much less forget their service to us.
Over the years, teaching and learning have undergone seismic changes in methodology particularly with the advent of modern technology. This has completely transformed education, as we previously knew it. Modern education has embraced digital technology, which features the internet, data-enabled devices, and online resources. Digital tools and internet connectivity provide both teachers and learners with incredibly vast resources, which make research, teaching and learning a lot easier. Beyond the ease, it also bridges the educational gap between advanced and developing countries, as well as between privileged and disadvantaged children, especially those in hard-to-reach locations.
Emphasis has been disproportionately placed on empowering children with devices and internet connectivity to enable them to get on the superhighway of online education and catch up with their peers around the world. This is rather counterintuitive, considering teachers’ important role in supporting learners. So, teachers must also be provided with access to the internet and digital devices. More importantly, they must be trained (continuously) on how to use these resources because, as they say, you cannot give what you do not have. For effective and productive global collaboration between teachers and students in Africa and their peers across the world, teachers must be motivated, equipped and empowered.
I am proud to state that as part of our $57 million collaboration with UNICEF, Airtel Africa is empowering both children and their teachers in the countries we do business in. Aside from providing devices, connecting schools to the internet and zero-rating hundreds of online learning platforms, we are training teachers on how to utilize these modern educational resources to teach Africa’s future leaders. In Tanzania, for example, over 2500 teachers have been trained in preparation for the connection of 50 schools, besides providing desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smart television sets. The story is the same, in varying scale, in the other countries. Eventually, Airtel Tanzania will cover the entire 5000 schools in the country and train all the teachers!
During a recent visit to one of the schools adopted by Airtel Africa in Nigeria with some members of the Board and Senior Leadership, I was delighted to see how our contribution has enhanced teaching and learning. The teachers assisted their students to log on to the Nigerian Learning Platform (NLP) to access lessons. In fact, the NLP also contains an online training series for teachers, peer review and continuous assessment modules. This is the right, and only, direction that education should be headed to realistically transform the lives of children and promote innovation at early stages.
We acknowledge teachers’ crucial role in the ecosystem and we continue to seek partners for collaboration in expanding the scope of this intervention. The Covid-19 pandemic ironically did one important good: highlighted the deficiencies in our education systems across the African continent. These include infrastructure, funding and curricula, which are now being addressed by many governments, with varying degrees of success. As a matter of fact, the obvious gaps identified during the pandemic inspired Airtel Africa’s decision to invest in digitization of education with UNICEF, the most experienced international organization in matters affecting children.
A World Bank study on Learning Poverty rate in sub-Saharan Africa, indicates that only one out of every 10 children aged 1-10 years can write and solve basic mathematical problems. This dire situation cannot be reversed without highly skilled, trained, and motivated teachers. So, while I give a shout out to all the teachers on their day, I add my voice to the calls on governments to invest more in education generally, and teacher education, in particular. The annual budgetary allocation to education should aim to achieve the 20% recommended by the United Nations. Also, policy makers should consider removing all bottlenecks to digitizing education systems including exempting data and digital devices from duty and taxes. Countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi, and Madagascar have done well in this regard.
Finally, I call on other corporate organizations, especially tech companies to invest in teacher education and empowerment. Perhaps, we should also establish credible award platforms to identify and recognize teachers who excel in their call of duty. That way, teachers would feel a greater sense of accountability and pride in their work. Once again, I celebrate African teachers today and will always do!
Dr. Segun Ogunsanya, the Group Chief Executive Officer of Airtel Africa, contributed this piece from Dubai.