World Teachers Day, a day dedicated to celebrating and appreciating the invaluable role of teachers in shaping the future, has been overshadowed by concerning practices in some rural areas. These practices involve teachers exploiting their students as personal farm labourers, raising questions about the welfare and education of these young minds.
This distressing practice prevalent in certain rural schools, particularly in Benue State, Nigeria, has brought to light that some teachers and school administrators are using students as unpaid labourers on their farms.
These educators often engage in large-scale farming, producing various crops such as maize, beans, yams, guinea corn, and cassava. Shockingly, nearly all the labour required for these farming endeavours is provided by the students themselves. This includes clearing the land, making ridges and heaps, weeding, and harvesting. This exploitative system has disrupted students’ educational experiences, consuming the time meant for their lessons and other extracurricular activities.
An ex-student from one of the community schools in Benue State revealed that a single student can be tasked with creating up to 200 heaps in a day. When questioned about the benefits of this labour, the student lamented that they receive nothing in return, nor are they compensated in any way. Students, it seems, have no choice but to comply when selected for farm work, as it has become an integral part of their routine. They even carry farm clothes in their school bags, ready to change into them whenever it’s time for farm duties.
The primary schools experience a slightly lesser degree of labour compared to the secondary schools. However, even in the lower grades, students are subjected to exploitative practices, particularly in creative art practicals. Pupils as young as grade two can be tasked with producing 20 brooms or 10 baskets.
A former student of one of the village primary schools, Emmanuel Igwe, described the challenges faced during termly handwork presentations. Pupils often find themselves wandering in the forest, gathering palm fronds to produce these brooms and baskets. Sometimes, this burden even falls on the parents, highlighting the extent of the exploitation.
Disturbingly, investigations have revealed that even public schools in urban areas, including the nation’s capital, Abuja, are not immune to the misuse and abuse of students. Some female teachers keep their students busy by assigning them the labour-intensive task of breaking melon seeds, which can extend over significant portions of the teaching period.
In an attempt to justify these practices, a teacher from one of the community schools cited the lack of prompt payment of salaries as the reason for resorting to student labour. Many teachers, it seems, depend more on farming than their meagre salaries, which often arrive late and fall far short of their needs.
In Nigeria, the teaching profession is considered one of the noblest, yet it is one of the most neglected and abused. The common slogan that “the reward of teachers is in heaven” shouldn’t be an excuse for neglecting their welfare and rights. It is high time that the government and the Ministry of Education take decisive action to address these issues, ensuring that teachers are adequately compensated and students’ rights to a quality education are upheld. The celebration of World Teachers Day should serve as a reminder to prioritise the well-being and dignity of both educators and students in the pursuit of knowledge and a brighter future.