Below is a copy of a comment I wrote on a WhatsApp group of my teachers’ union, ASSUS, this morning. After an introduction, I dwelt on the arrival of the handhled fingerprint terminal and how it will contribute to clocking our staff. Have a nice reading.
Me and My Teachers
Thank you all for inviting me here. Engagement with teachers and school administrators is among my strategies of improving education in our dear State. It is there on the board behind me in the office. It is there in my 23-page blueprint.
Being with you directly on WhatsApp is a generous privilege granted me by your union leaders, unexpectedly. It accords me first hand information about your service conditions and even personal ones. That is necessary if I must take the right decisions without relying on distorted reports and judgements of some others.
To you, however, it is an opportunity to communicate with me directly, relaying your suggestions to the myriad of challenges that education delivery is facing in the country’s public sector. I will be eager to pick any superior argument here, discuss it with my officials the next day, if I must, and implement it. This way, problems will be solved collectively, injustices will be redressed, efforts will be acknowledged, extra ones will be rewarded, etc. Effectively, this is an opportunity for you to participate in decision making of the Ministry.
It may delight you to know that I have always held teachers at high esteem. That is how I am brought up. Today, if there is an issue regarding me in my hometown, it is the people I respect most – my primary school teachers – that are sent to discuss it with me. In the Muslim tradition, a teacher is only next to the Prophet. So relax your nerves. You are dealing with a person who was – and is still a teacher ( I lecture pro bono at ATBU) and who enjoys the respect and benefits of teaching. Without the effort of my teachers, I would not be even half way to this position. Therefore, accept my salutations and feel free.
After the introduction, I will like to make a point as clear as possible. Dr., as you often call me (I know…🤣), is here to solve problems of education and not to invent new ones. If he will not solve problems, Dr has no reason being here.
To solve problems, one must find their causes and the best ways of solving them. No one is perfect or has silverbullets in his pocket. Yet, the outcome of our treatment always depends on the proper diagnosis of the ailment and the efficacy of the medicine we give.
There are challenges with various instruments, people and departments in education. So many. In the past three month and three days I have been in office, I have attempted to face some of them. Some will be faced later because they need wide consultation or their solutions are contingent on solving other problems first.
Cleansing education administration and upgrading it to new level are among those things I started with. Without a functional Ministry of Education that we all trust or school administrators we can all rely on, both the Commissioner and teachers will have nothing to achieve. Their efforts, no matter how hard, will be consumed by schemes of the dishonest, corrupt and self-serving gatekeepers. Handling this is very simple for me. I have no patience for inefficiency or corruption. The moment I see one or the other in an official and he is not ready to change, I substitute him with another immediately. He can sit there wailing to the end of his life. That is his business. But once an official will do his job, oh God, he is my man, any day, any time.
I also believe that change begins with me, not you. Whatever we will demand from others, let us demand it from ourselves. I cannot demand punctuality from workers while I enjoy morning sleep on my bed and appear in my office at 11am or 1pm, if I ever report there. This would be stupid and selfish of me. I cannot demand that principals and directors be transparent with direct feeding funds if I will partake in the looting of the treasury. Etc. Change begins with me. I repeat.
In the same vein, the Ministry must live up to the same standard it wants its subordinate officials and teachers to live up to. If you blame a teacher during inspection for late coming or absence from lessons, have you, as his superior, been punctual and hard working yourself? Do you report at 8am for work as you would like the teacher in Tulu or Futuk to do? So I make the Ministry to set the pace in everything. That is the logical thing to do. I arrive at my office latest 8am, my Permanent Secretary is always ahead if me, coming few minutes after 6am, always. I remain on my desk until 4pm unless when I go out on inspection or for a meeting in Government House or another Ministry. The permsec closes always after 8pm… That is over 12 hrs of work a day. It pains me to remember that he is retiring this February. It is therefore easy to demand other directors and all ministry staff to report on time. And they have no problem complying with that so far, except a few.
I set this standard in the Ministry knowing very well that teacher-child contact is one of the most important component of education administration. I knew I will go to any length to support my teachers but I will also demand from them at least the minimum that their job requires – be in their schools and classes and teach. Nothing more. Without contact between the two most important elements in education – teachers and pupils – there will be no delivery. Poor contact leads to poor delivery. Good contact improves the chances of good delivery. Common sense, not rocket science.
Thus knowing the relevance of contact, the first thing I did was to measure it as it affects teachers. I called for your daily attendance registers immediately I assumed office last September. I picked the month of June and tallied the attendance of every school against the total number of teachers in the nominal list of the Ministry. There was a gap, as expected, that needed to be filled. Some teachers need more priming than others, while many are just fantastic and wonderfully conscientious, firing their engines to the best of their abilities even in the absence of a vigilant system. The exercise was not a witch hunt as it is clear now since nobody found wanting was punished. It was a research for a data that will be used in planning for the future.
I thought of the various ways that we can monitor staff attendance because that is all it takes to pull those lagging behind such that all of us – from the Ministry to the classroom – will be on the same page: giving our people what we are paid to do, delivering education to our children. I had the fingerprint idea in my Blueprint but I thought it would take some time and a fortune to acquire. So I started with the idea of receiving WhatsApp messages of attendance register pages sent to the Ministry, collated and analysed by ICT officials and getting the reports two hours later, daily.
But on putting a call to one of the founding companies of Education Management Information System in Nigeria, I found out that the fingerprint tool is cheap and affordable. I can buy it for every school. Later, I challenged them to write a program that will pool the data from every school and collate it in one spreadsheet or analyse it for different outcomes. They said it is possible and did it. I said, wao! I’m in.
That is how The Devil – the fingerprint terminal as I like to call it – was chosen as our clocking device. As I thought deeper into its benefits, I realised that hardly can we find a tool that will give us so much in education as it promises – apart from the computer, of course. Both the Ministry and the teachers will not like to part with it, once they embrace it.
However, change begins with me, as I said before. So I started deploying it at the Ministry, exactly two months ago. Just thumbprint in the morning as you come in and thumbprint in the afternoon as you check out and, behold, The Devil sends your information instantly to a secure database that is accessible to anyone that is officially allowed to access it, including the yourself.
Monthly, I call for a summary of the attendance record and it is there within a minute or less by clicking on my computer. I ask reasons why someone is habitually late or absent, and know what step to take next depending on the reasons given. For those who are punctual it goes into their records and they stand to be rewarded for it. A chance may come for a conference, a promotion, an appointment, a prize, etc, and he or she will be among the first to be considered and will get it except if barred by other performance indicators.
And it happened. A senior official once came to tell me that there is a national conference. I said, good, write the memo. The memo was written but I cancelled the name of the official and approved others. Why? I said he will be sleeping all morning and decisions at the conference will be taken in his absence. The Devil says the official is late everyday, 3 to 5 hrs. That’s how The Devil worked. It is even. It is just. It is good. Any fair-minded, progressive mind will love it.
Satisfied with The Devil’s performance and promises, I wrote His Excellency, the Governor, who approved of using it in our offices and schools. The 240 Devils arrived Bauchi last Tuesday. Almost everyone that I informed of its use, including House of Assembly members, leaders of ANCOPS and ASSUS, UNICEF, USAID, NEIPlus, UNFP, PTA, etc are thrilled by it. I show them the SAMS application on my phone which as soon as I open it, a dashboard appears showing different categories of data for that time: Absentees, Present, Late comers, checked out, etc. (See picture attached). I click on late comers and all their names appear with the latest first and then down to the last that may be late by just some seconds.
Now the benefits of The Devil are many. One, the issue of database of staff for the registry in Head of Service’s office, payroll in the treasury and postings in the Ministry of Education is solved forever. Every staff under the Ministry of Education, from Commissioner to its teachers, will be definitely known, who they are, where they are and so on. No more ghost workers. No more unknown placements. Etc.
Two, the Devil will also help to record punctuality in schools and classes – the first requirement of productivity at that level. No matter how good is a teacher, if he doesn’t come to work, his work will remain poor. The Devil will help us know his punctuality, every day, every week, every month and every year, each time telling us how many times he went to school or entered the class.
This data will be useful in knowing who to pay each month and who to retain as staff each year, who to be considered for promotion and who will win a prize. Automatically, it has wiped out godfatherism, tribalism, etc., from the system. Nobody in Nigeria has control over your data and it will stand for you anywhere, any time. Your data is your godfather.
Therefore, cut off marks will be placed for retention of job, promotion and prize. I am pasting here a picture of the graph I have drawn in my office for it. With each fingerprint you make, a point (or mark) is added to you and so it continues until the end of year as I explained to your union leaders. If a teacher has only 2 marks in a year, nobody will support his retention because he must have reported to his station for only a day in the whole year. Some report four times or twelve times, etc. Yes. There are staff like that. How do you retain those people that are destroying the name of the profession and the future of our children whom they are entrusted with? Some may have just 150 fingerprints. All these will be adjudged too low, in the absence of any valid reason like sickness, by any reasonable person. A minimum of 800 marks a year is not too high for job retention, after our calculation with your officials.
Then comes promotion. You know better than I do how most staff are shortchanged in promotion due to lack of godfathers. No more. The Devil is there for you. Once you reach 1000 fingerprints a year your chances for promotion are vey high, other things being equal – like fulfilling your waiting period. 1000 points will be fair enough as arrived at with your leaders.
Then, as I was doing for my teachers in Special Schools, after a productive year, we will celebrate the performance of outstanding staff with awards that includes commendation letters, gift items that will even include a car or some cars – depending on what the Governor will approve – refrigerators, LCD TVs, motorcycles, etc. This category is for those that have hit the ceiling mark of 1064 marks and even went beyond – those who have met the minimum of 18 lessons per week and even more. They will compete among themselves for the different prizes. Those with the highest punctuality, other things being equal, will take it.
We have also considered the case of teachers of some low turnout subjects like CRK in Zaki or IRS in Bogoro and will come up with a grading that is commensurate with their situations. High turnout subjects like Mathematics, English, Civic Education, etc will accord their teachers advantage as they teach so many lessons a week, well beyond the minimum of 18. Allah zai saka musu. Amma mu ma za mu saka musu.
That is how The Devil will work for all of us, not against us. As you enter the school premises, it will register you, just as you leave at closing time or when you leave earlier with a written approval from the principal for a valid reason. As the bell rings for a period, the ICT staff will start going round every classes to enable every teacher to thumbprint his lesson, and so in the next lesson and so in the next, until closing time.
Thirdly and finally, The Devil will also come into play in future appointments. There is no need appointing a person that is habitually absent on his seat as a vice principal or director when there is an equally competent person with better punctuality. The vacancies that are there will be many but we need some standard form of assessment to fill them in order to enable justice.
That is The Devil, our new friend in town. He is here for justice. He is here for productivity. He is here for reward. He is not a visitor. He is here yo stay.
On my part, I promise all teachers that I will do whatever is possible to make their job easy, as we move together to place Bauchi on the top in education delivery in Nigeria. Like with any other solution, new problems will arise that if tackled will make it more perfect. We will solve them together. Take my words to the bank.
We intend to put The Devil to work early next term. All staff in zonal and area offices and schools will be captured during the first week as we did ours already in the Ministry. Already, their details are on the server. It is only their fingerprints that are not registered.
Bauchi State government is looking forward to our successful takeoff. The Ministry of Education should lead, and others will follow.
I am confident that together we will succeed. Thank you for hosting me here. I will surely read your comments and answer some given that time is not always on my side. On things that I will need further information I will keep mute, shutting up my wide mouth until I am in a better position to comment on them.
I hope to be addressing you this way on other topics as we move towards a better Bauchi State.
Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
Commissioner of Education
15 December 2019