With an estimated 20 million people and still counting, it will naturally be a challenge for Lagos, Nigeria’s smallest state, to provide education of good quality for all its children of school age. With just 1,700 public primary schools, over 500,000 pupils and limited resources, the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LSUBEB), which is saddled with the task of managing the basic education level, has a huge burden on its shoulders indeed.
Although, the state government has, over the years and especially under the out-going governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, been spending huge sums of money on primary education, critics still accuse the government of not spending enough. There are allegations, for instance, that the state does not have enough qualified teachers and facilities. Some even describe the state’s free education policy as “a sham” because the pupils, they further alleged, are still required to pay some money for particular things.
But in an exclusive interview with ROTIMI LAWRENCE OYEKANMI, the Executive Chairman of LSUBEB, Mrs. Gholahan Khadijat Daodu debunked many of the allegations. She spoke matter-of-factly on the various efforts embarked upon by the state government to reposition the basic education level.
Daodu, a 1977 University of Ibadan Economics graduate, is an astute civil servant who has served Lagos state in various capacities. She became a Permanent Secretary far back in 1999 and has been in charge of the board since 2008. Excerpts:
What is the current situation with primary education in Lagos state, in terms of enrollment, number of teachers and instructional materials? How is the relationship between Lagos and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), in term of access to counterpart funds?
For us in Lagos state, I can say without any fear of contradiction, that we are on course in the sense that the normal registration of pupils into Primary 1 is an ongoing thing.
For the number of pupils in our primary 1 to 6 classes, it’s around 500,000 at the moment.
If one looks at the trend, one might have this illusion that, probably, people are withdrawing from (public) schools. But I don’t think so. I would rather think that it’s because we are more painstaking and we have developed a more robust instrument to really get the actual figure, unlike before, when some of the figures were cooked up and that is why we think they were higher then.
There is a tendency, and we have a lot of evidence, that many are clamoring to bring their children even from the private schools to public schools at the primary level, but more importantly, at the junior secondary school level.
The population of our teachers in our primary schools is about 14,000 now. With respect to training and instructional materials, the state government since 2009 had embarked on the release and supply of instructional materials (textbooks) in four-core subjects to the primary schools. The four core subjects are English, Mathematics, Introduction to Technology and Science. It’s an ongoing thing and we expect that parents will support with some other books, although, that wasn’t part of the initial free universal basic education thing, however, the state government and the federal government have been supplying books at different levels.
During the end of last year or early this year, they bought ICT textbooks for pupils in primary 4 – 6 and Yoruba alphabet for pupils in primary 1-3. A large quantity was supplied. Evans Nigeria Limited supplied the ICT books. Books on three subjects were purchased, running into millions of naira. Almost N35 million was spent on the ICT books supplied by Evans and almost N7.9 million or thereabout was spent to purchase Yoruba books for the primary schools.
Almost in all areas, we can say that the state government, through SUBEB (Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board), has been spending a lot of money to make sure that we put our pupils on the right course. Also, with the support of the DFID’s (Department for International Development) Education Sector Support Programme in Nigeria (ESSPIN), we have been able to supply lesson notes to primary school teachers, those in primary 1-3, to guide them on the best modern techniques to deliver lessons to the children. Those notes were printed. It was a tripartite arrangement involving ESSPIN, Oando and SUBEB.
The first set was produced and financed by Oando. The second batch was financed by ESSPIN and the third batch, which is about to be printed, is being financed by SUBEB. All of these things have been helping our teachers to be on course.
But the new significant areas for me, and I want to say for the state government really, is the realisation that infrastructure alone cannot give our schools the quality that we want. More importantly, it is the human beings, particularly the teachers that matter. The quality of our teachers is germane and very important to the (state) government and that is why we have spent and are still spending a lot of money on their training.
We pride ourselves in the fact that our teachers are qualified. I can tell you without mincing words, that we have over 99 per cent (qualified teachers). The small percentage that couldn’t make it a hundred percent, are those that are about to exit the system. They are still with their Grade 2 certificate, despite the fact that we have encouraged them to go on.
So, within the next two years or even less, we would hardly have anybody with a Grade 2 certificate in our schools. We can pride ourselves that our teachers are qualified in terms of the basic requirement needed to teach in primary schools. Some of them have university degrees and even Master’s degrees.
But beyond that, ability to deliver is more important to us if you want to get the right quality of teaching for our pupils and that is why a lot of money is being spent for their training.
As far back as 2010, we conducted the Teachers’ Development Needs Assessment, with the technical support of ESSPIN, for all teachers, not only in primary schools, but also in junior secondary schools. That was done to determine if there is any deficiency in their ability to teach. And without making public the outcome of that exercise, we just went ahead and designed appropriate skill enhancement capacity building programmes, courses and training, with the support of ESSPIN for our teachers and huge sums of money has been spent on that on a yearly basis.
ESSPIN started just in 100 schools as a pilot scheme and before they started it, they told us we must partner with them and make sure that we can cascade into the other schools. The following year, we added 500 schools and by the third year, we now covered all our schools. We had about 1400 primary schools then, but right now there are 1700 schools.
All the teachers, head teachers and assistant head teachers have, within the last three to four years, had to undergo series of training in leadership, management of their schools, pedagogical skills, subjects and what have you, and we have been supported by UBEC.
Actually they (UBEC) give some money to each SUBEB within the federation for this, but specifically, we didn’t give it out to external consultants to do. Rather, through the ESSPIN supported programme, wherein we used our in-house trained officers, because the whole programme is called school improvement programme, about 22 of them were selected from secondary schools and tertiary institutions. They sat for examinations, qualified, were trained by the technical experts from the United Kingdom and they too became master trainers. They are the ones who have been training all of these teachers. So, a lot of money is spent on that on a yearly basis.
The Quality Assurance Officers, those we used to call Inspectors years back, their capacity was enhanced so that they too would be on the same page with the teachers that they want to monitor.
Outside of that money for the School Improvement Programme (SIP), we have series of other training programmes by other external Human Resources (HR) experts and consultants. I can also cite the example of a GFR education-consulting expert, that was specifically engaged to train over 3000 teachers, teaching primary 1-3 and it was done in phases. We have completed two phases and the last phase is about to commence. All of these things, put together, have given us the hope and we have seen the results. Things are better; teaching and learning are becoming more effective in Lagos state.
With all these investments and efforts, do you have a way of measuring performance across all the classes, from primary 1-6 and from JS 1-3?
Thank you for that question. It is one area that has been a source of concern to us too. Like I said, we have our Quality Assurance Officers that go round the schools and do whole school evaluation.
But beyond that, our international development partners, ESSPIN, has been assisting with respect to that, because almost on a two or three-yearly basis, a monitoring exercise on learning achievements is carried out, using some of our officers in the Schools’ Support Services Department, both in SUBEB and at the LGEA (Local Government Education Authority) level along with them, to have some samples, selecting certain schools and some pupils to do that sort of thing and the results are assessed and monitored.
The last one was done last year. The results are being collated and would be shown to us. We have seen that there is improvement; there will always be room for improvement.
Specifically, the school improvement team, those handling the training of our teachers, do not just conduct training for teachers and head teachers, they support each school as well. Each of the SIITs has between them, eight schools that they are expected to support and monitor. They are expected to go there and see what they (teachers) are doing in classes and to correct them. That one is ongoing and it’s a permanent kind of thing.
They also made a submission that they want to go to some of these schools zone by zone collectively, beyond what they have allocated to each SIIT member; to now jointly go out and do this exercise. They are able to do this because our 2014 training for the school improvement programme has not fully taken off.
About two weeks ago, the UBEC raised some issues that we ought to have included details of the training that we are going to give the School Based Management Committee (SBMC), the volunteers within the community that have been partnering with government to see to the effective running of teaching and learning in schools. A certain amount of money was earmarked for SBMC training and some amount out of that amount was also earmarked for Quality Assurance Officers. But they (UBEC) said the details were not supplied and that is why we have not started the 2014 training.
Beyond that, we in SUBEB believe that all the efforts government has been putting in within the last few years have been yielding results. Why do I say so? Before now, and I think it was a misconception then, that the system was such that, since it is universal basic education and since it is a 9-year scheme, then, naturally, all children must just spend nine years whether they passed or not. So, they were just moving the children from one class to the other, with automatic promotion.
But since 2012, we reviewed that and we said it cannot go on in Lagos state specifically. I remember that we discussed it with other SUBEBs at our meeting and I am sure other states have also keyed into it.
But specifically in 2012 in Lagos state, the Commissioner for Education set up a committee of which I was the chairperson, and since that year, we have now been conducting, on an annual basis, a placement test. We didn’t want to make it an examination thing, so we just said placement test, because the law said you must transit. But we are saying that you will not transit unless you pass.
The result has been quite revealing and cheering and it’s not just meant for public schools alone, but for all pupils including the private primary schools. It’s just primary 6 that is allowed to sit for the examination and in 2012, we had about 72/73 per cent pass rate.
Pass rate was pegged at 50 per cent and above, including passes in Mathematics and English, and we had almost 73 per cent pass rate when we first did it in 2012. When we did it in 2013, we had 95 per cent pass rate and when we did it in 2014, we had 96.7 per cent.
So, we believe that if the tempo is sustained and if all hands are on deck, if government continues to provide the wherewithal and if those of us administering the teachers; if everybody is conscientious, ready, willing and painstakingly doing what he or she is supposed to do, we have no doubt that the result would be quite rewarding at the end of the day.
Once the foundation is solid, then automatically, it would transit and reflect in the result at the junior secondary level and the senior secondary level over time.
The point I am trying to make is that, we might for now say that the result of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the like are poor. This is because of some of the lapses; decadence, ineffectiveness and what have you that had been in the system over time. But with the tempo in the effort that government is putting in within the last few years, come two to four years time, it would begin to reflect in performance, as the students move to higher levels. The replacement test is for primary 6 going to Junior Secondary (JS1)
But critics say the Lagos state government has not been providing enough money for its public primary schools in its budget and that your schools don’t have enough teachers. How would you react to that?
There is nothing like the government is not budgeting for primary schools. What would ever be enough is now the issue. We must realize one thing, and I always say this: the very first thing for the development of any nation is for that nation to develop its human resources and essentially, basically, education of its citizens, particularly the young ones.
Even the education of adults, because one of our main problems in Nigeria, is even adult education. If our adults were educated, it would reflect very well on even our youths. We need to also spend more money on adult education.
Essentially, a larger chunk of our budget at the national, state and local government levels needs to be allocated to education. It is a basic problem in Nigeria. But what makes it worse for the states and for local councils, is that the percentage of funds that is given to the federal government, that is available or at the disposal of the federal government is unduly lopsided and at the detriment of development at the state and at the local government level. The truth must be told, they are just playing politics with it.
Three quarters of the money with the federal government need not be with the federal government. It should be more with the states and the local governments. That is basically what it should be.
Fiscal responsibility is needed, whoever is in government. It’s not about party politics or anything. There is need for a review of the present allocation system, because when the chips are down, that is what is affecting everybody.
It’s one thing, however, for money to be made available, it’s another things for it (money) to be judiciously utilized, and that is why it is also important for whoever is at the helm of affairs to know this. What is the money (meant for education) being spent on? We might say it’s for education and half of it would be for jamboree.
For instance, three quarters of the time, you will hear that they are launching instructional materials. Now, what is there to launch in instructional materials? And millions of naira would be spent on that! We get that on a regular basis from the federal government. I hardly attend. Those are areas where we are wasting funds. The money we are using to launch….why is there even the need to launch? This is because we are playing politics with all of these things. That is why I said, it is one thing to make the money available, it’s another thing to spend it appropriately.
But I don’t agree that the state government is not spending enough on primary school at all. The money is given to sectors, divided on sectorial basis and like the (Lagos State) governor would always say, ‘I can’t say because you want to go to school, the roads should not be there, hospitals should not be made available’ There is agriculture and all the other sectors. Ultimately, it is the allocation that is not too robust in the first instance that is affecting that and there is a limit to it.
Another thing. I have been made to realize again, that yes, primary education is even for local government councils, but that notwithstanding, the state government is also involved in it. The local government is doing it and even their salaries and all that are being paid from the local government allocation. Recruitment of teachers and their salaries are also supposed to be taken care of by them, but SUBEB is there as an umbrella body to coordinate all of these things and make them work effectively.
Can you give the figures of how much the state government allocates to public primary schools?
There is an allocation for the education sector, but it is supposed to be distributed among everything that makes up the sector, with the Ministry of Education, six education districts, the SUBEB and what have you.
Beyond that, government revisits our own counterpart funds on a regular basis. Gone are the days when we were in arrears for years. The only one we have not accessed is our 2014 and it’s not because government is not ready to pay, it is because of the slowness in finishing or completing the ones you have accessed.
Everybody claims they are contractors. They are good when you advertise; you assess them, but once they get the money, they would be dragging their feet. So, we are always on the neck of the contractors. Although there has been a great improvement on that, gone were the days when projects were abandoned. That does not happen anymore.
Beyond the agreement, the fact that you have to sign an agreement on it, we have three levels of monitoring apart from UBEC coming to monitor. Even within SUBEB – board members, chairman, the technical people; we have another team that also looks into it and you can’t get a kobo as a contractor unless you have really done the job.
We awarded our 2013 (projects) just in October (2013). Most of the projects are ongoing on that is why we are yet to access that of 2014. Although, even if we don’t present a scorecard, our overhead is N1.19 billion and it includes training of teachers and others, while capital is N846 million. All of this money does not include the counterpart fund. If the federal releases N1 billion, we release 1 billion. Whatever they release, we have to match it.
What would you consider your major challenge?
The major challenge, really, is the fact that we have a large number of schools that need attention but there aren’t sufficient funds because we get requests on a daily through text messages, letters. There is no lost period in SUBEB.
The only time we have some lost period is probably when the schools go for the long holidays. But we have enough to do before they resume. So, that is one big area where there is a big challenge.
The influx of people into the state also makes nonsense of our planning purposes. We need to have enough money to be able to cater for those things to provide for all. At the primary level, we don’t have that much problem, although it’s still there in some areas of the state, in terms of over population. But still, it’s not as significant as it is at the junior secondary school level, where we still have some areas where we have over populated classes and in some areas you don’t have up to 50 people in a class.
The challenge at the junior secondary level is more of population, not enough classrooms and all of that. Although, the law says SUBEB should be handling junior secondary schools, but we don’t. There is another law (in Lagos) that gave that mandate to the Tutor General, because the state is divided into six education districts, so each Tutor General/Permanent Secretary is in charge of junior and senior secondary schools in the state.
But SUBEB still supplies furniture, builds classrooms, rehabilitates blocks of classrooms and provides some necessary materials for the junior secondary schools. We don’t pay salaries. The local government councils are in charge of paying salaries, but managed by the state. Under the oracle system, and that is what has reduced the issue of ghost workers, we don’t handle salaries.
What about the subject specialisation of your teachers? Do you, for instance, have enough teachers for Mathematics and English?
I would say that we still don’t have enough and that is why we have not been able to do subject teaching specifically at the primary level. We can’t do subject teaching at the primary level because we don’t really have that class of teachers
The problem is more at the Colleges of Education. Three quarters of the teachers (trained at the Colleges of Education) are usually in Yoruba and English, Religious Knowledge and something over the years. But now, the Colleges of Education have been mandated to place more emphasis on getting teachers that would be teaching Mathematics, English and the rest. So, at the primary level, it is still usually a general teacher at that level.