By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
There is no hiding place for children who are unwilling to go to school in Lagos State. In order to ensure that no child is found on streets of Lagos during school hours, the stateMinistry of Women Affairs has passed the Child Rights Law which stipulates sanctions for truant school children.
In this interview, the stateÂ Commissioner for Education,Â who alsoÂ doubles as the Deputy Governor, Princess Sarah Adebisi Sosan speaks on this initiativeÂ and the on-going efforts of the state government to widen access to education in the state. She also speaks on theÂ efforts at rehabilitating derelict schools in the state as well as onÂ LASU crisis. Excerpts:
OnÂ repair of dilapidated schools
On our rehabilitation effort, we have a long way to go in that area because a lot of the schools are really inÂ high state of decay.
Even with the intervention of the last administration, I was part of the team that worked on rehabilitation of many of our primary schools then and immediately Asiwaju came in, the degree then was so terrible and it was the intervention that ameliorated the state of things.
When we came in, it was as if nothing has been done even with the intervention at the primary and secondary school level. But we are all aware of the School Committee on Rehabilitation of Public Schools (SCRIPS). We had to bring up that committee to intervene and a lot of money was pumped in there and manyÂ of the new schools we had during this period was built by (SCRPS).
We also intervened in rehabilitation but all this was not enough, We didnâ€™t feel any impact. We saw that as a major challenge, that we really have to do a lot of massive rehabilitation. Being an insider, I know the way most of our schools look like. When I got to the ministry I requested to know how far they have gone and I was not very impressed because they were just intervening on some sort of rehabilitation or the other.
Even schools that didnâ€™t even need to be touched at all, schools that should have been demolished were being rehabilitated and I felt that was not the best way to go about it. So when we came on board, we sat down with SCRIPS and I told them its better they face construction of new schoolsÂ while the ministry that has not been so much involved should now come up with rehabilitation of most of these schools and make it a continuous thing.
That is how we started. And to save most of the schools, we built a lot of fences as well,Â we had to provide science materials, make it a complete package in most of the schools, but you knowÂ even if we have the whole budget of the state, we cannot do everything at once. We are doing as much as possible to intervene by spreading it around all partsÂ of the state and I think our effort is very obvious now, from comments of people, from the commendations people are giving us.
On rehabilitation of schools inÂ 2010
Like I said, it is a continuous thing. Rehabilitation is something we cannot finish in a year. We have over one thousand primary schools and over six hundred secondary schools, so there is noÂ way we can finish all that at a go when about fifty percent of them are inÂ realÂ bad state. We have to processÂ itÂ before the budget gets here,Â we have to think of the weather itself.
Normally we put pressure on the contractor, sometimes the rain disturbs them and they have to stop. So we take all these things into account.Â EvenÂ Â the ones we have rehabilitated already we have put strategies in place to continue maintaining them so they donâ€™t go back to that state that they were before. Like the Technical Colleges, we have five but they were inÂ terrible stateÂ by the time we took over.
We rehabilitated all the five, we equipped them with laboratories and everything they needed there and what we are now trying to do is to improve on their equipment those key areas where they donâ€™t have equipment, those are the areas we are looking into now. We appointed an SSA, somebody that has worked in technical, vocational area for over the years, even abroad, we had to bring him in to come and add value to our technical and vocational education, so itâ€™s a continuous process.
For the furniture aspect, as part of the improvement for schools, the state government has decided that we are going headlong into providing furniture for all our schools and we have started that now. We are doing it in phases, the first phase will soon be given approval, and we have almost completed that. We will be providing furniture for the primary and secondary schools and even furniture for the principals and teachers,
On why rehabilitation efforts are concentrated on secondary schools
In the education sector, the ministry of education focuses more on the secondary schools because we have another body in place that manages the primary schools. They have the local government as well. If you go out now there are lots of improvement in most of our primary schools.
The localÂ governmentÂ chairmen, a lot of them have rehabilitated most of these schools, they have provided furniture, and they provided uniforms, books and lots of other things. So they have been assisting the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in that area.
Also SUBEB, as an agency have their own budget, apart from the intervention from the Universal Basic Education (UBE), they have their own budget from the state to intervene in some of the schools. However, there are still some challenges they face in assessing some of the money. I worked in SUBEB, when the UBE law came into being, in LagosÂ State, we did not pass our law immediately, we had some issues even with the intervention that initially came.
When they asked us to build three classrooms, we said no, we donâ€™t have land in Lagos so we canâ€™t build those kind of classrooms. You cannot compare land in LagosÂ State with some other state. So if you say other states should build three, we will if possible build twelve because we want to go up, there is no land to make it horizontal, we have to go vertical.
The bill came into being in 2006, we had to carry out action plan, we had to put up the action plan and it has to be approved. The processes itself is challenging and before that one was approved, we couldnâ€™t do anything in year 2006. Meanwhile, there is money already from 2005. The bill was passed into law in LagosÂ State because each state had to passÂ itsÂ own law, along the line of what the UBEÂ stipulated.
By the time they were through with all the process, 2006 was completed so it was by the end of that year that they were able to start doing a few things. Following the normal process, UBE has to come in and see what you have done, that went into 2007 and what they were supposedÂ to do in 2005 was started in 2008. Another challenge was that those conditions given, like you have to spend 15 percent or 25 percent on an area, needs are different.
In this state, the major problem they have is infrastructure and they give condition that we must spend a certain amount on instructional materials, on training and maybe I can do my training on my own and I can use that money to upgrade structure in the schools and when we are not allowed to do that, those are the kind of things that really affect implementation.
Level of implementation of the 9-Year Basic Education Curriculum in the state
First and foremost, 9-Year BasicÂ Education is that every child no matter your background is entitled to access 9Â of education free. That is the national policy. In the state even before the compulsory nine years weÂ wereÂ running free education in the primary and secondary level. We are establishing more schools to bring more children into the school system.
We are committed in that area to make sure that children come to school and that they have access to education. If you go to most of our Junior Secondary Schools, they are bursting because it isÂ atÂ thatÂ levelÂ that we have a lot of students. Because of the proliferation of private schools in the state, most pupils in primary schools attend private schools butÂ they come to our secondary schools and we still accept them.
To ensure that this policy is properly implemented, part of the students law is thatÂ for any child that is not in school, there is a sort of sanction but who is to enforce that sanction is what is not properly stated in the law. But thank God for the Ministry of Women Affairs that have taken up the challenge as regard issue of children.
Through that Ministry, the Child Rights Law was passed in the state and part of the law is that every child has the right to stay in school. It is compulsory and if any child is seen in the street when they are supposed to be in school, they are picked up. A lot of sensitization is going on especiallyÂ forÂ parents to allow their children access education.
On facilities on ground to implement what the ICT and Vocational education
It is goodÂ we are inÂ ICT age and everybody should learn, but it is challenging to have in each school a laboratory, We do teach ICT even at the primary school level. We have our computer centres where our pupils come on rotational basis and they access these facilities, so we do teach computer education.
Even before the law was enacted we were teaching our students computer education, I headed that department then and we had about twenty-two centers where I normallyÂ wentÂ to ensure that the centers are effectively utilized. But at the secondary school level, through the Ministry of Science and Technology we are putting in computer laboratories in the school right now. It may not be in large quantity yet but we will get there because it is something that really requires a lot of funding.
On the challenge of providing teachers for schools in the Riverine areas
It is a challenge but what we are doing is to encourage teachers to stay in those areas. We have embarked on building teachers quarters in the riverine areas. We are also providing generators and other modern facilities that will make life easier for the teachers.
We try as much as possible to put in place and give them all the necessary things they yearn for in the cities and apart from that there is a sort of rural allowances. Itâ€™s not easy because nobody wants to stay there, even the children there run to the city. What we are trying to encourage is that during teaching practice teachers areÂ posted to those areas to share experience and life with them.
On the position of Lagos State government on LASU
We all know how LASU was and how LASU is now. What every well-meaning stakeholder should do is to ensure the peace and stability of the institution. A situation where students will write exams and donâ€™t get their result is no longer acceptable. People may often times resist change but we must all strive hard to bring out that change as long as it will be for the good of the institution.