Nigeria: The importance of teachers’ well-being

22 October 2021

Beatrice (right) with her mother Elizbeth (left) receiving livelihood support from JRS: a sewing machine, sewing thread, a pair of scissors, a local pressing iron and a measuring tape
Beatrice (right) with her mother Elizabeth (left) receiving livelihood support from JRS: a sewing machine, sewing thread, a pair of scissors, a local pressing iron and a measuring tape. (Jesuit Refugee Service)

“I visit my farmland with my children during the farming season where we cultivate and harvest food crops for the family, but once the rains are gone and the land becomes dry, I find other small ways to make money,” explains Elizabeth Wafa, 34, who works as a head teacher in a primary school in Michika—the most populated and cosmopolitan local government area in Adamawa State, northeastern Nigeria.

The low teaching wage she receives has put her family (her husband is also a teacher, and they have five children) in a difficult situation. “At some point we hoped and prayed to God for a miracle,” she added.

The couple are not the only teachers in the country who struggle to make ends meet. The plight of teachers is weakening the education system in Nigeria, which threatens the future of the nation.

It is not news that despite being the richest country in Africa, Nigeria’s education system is far from being properly supported. One in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria. Yet only 5.6 per cent of the country’s annual budget has been allocated to education in 2021 –the lowest in ten years, and far below the 15 to 20 per cent recommended by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Teachers work with scarce and basic resources, lack of training, and inadequate infrastructures. They also receive low salaries and are sometimes not paid for months. Most teachers must supplement their monthly wages with other forms of income-generating activities, such as farming.

With the aim to improve the quality of education, JRS is retraining teachers in the country’s northeast, and distributing learning materials to students and education centres. Teachers who participate in the program can teach at JRS Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) developed for children who are out-of-school. From 2021, a member of each teacher’s family is also offered a course at JRS Youth Empowerment and Livelihood Program (YELP), to reinforce the resilience of the family.

Thanks to JRS training, Elizabeth has acquired additional work as an ALP teacher. Her 19-year-old daughter also learned tailoring skills in the YELP programme, and she received a start-up kit that included a brand-new sewing machine.

“As a teacher, JRS’s workshops have helped in capacity building. The livelihood training has been empowering and I now have extra-monthly income,” Elizabeth said. “My family feels better. We are all grateful.”

The financing of the project is provided by the Catholic Church, which allocates part of the eight per thousand share of total income tax revenue to charitable activities in developing countries.