BY JOSEPHINE IGBINOVIA
Barr. (Mrs.) Olayinka Oladunjoye, the Honourable Commissioner for Education in Lagos State, is the visionary behind the mind-blowing reforms on-going across the state’s education sector. In this exclusive chat with Vista Woman, she talks about her ministry’s strides since 2011, and also its plans for the future. Excerpts:
How has it been since you assumed office?
Interesting! I came into office in July 2011, and till date, we’ve been doing our best and have been able to surmount most, if not all, of the challenges.
What were these challenges?
The result of WAEC was a major challenge. In the past three to four years, we’ve been having steady progress, though not the very best. From 2007 to 2009 for instance, we were between 8-9 percent up. In 2010 also, we were between 16-17 percent up, but in 2011, we had a sharp nosedive down to about 9%, and this got us really worried. We put heads together, and then embarked on several reforms, as well as a long-term strategy for better performance. This involves instilling firm examination culture in the pupils, very early.
To the glory of God, our 2012 WAEC result sky-rocketed to 19%; including credits Mathematics and English! Like I said about catching them young, to be admitted into Lagos state junior secondary schools, every child must sit for a firm examination. This is because once the foundation is solid, WAEC results would continue to get better. Apart from the fact that they have to score at least 50% in English, Mathematics and in their continuous assessments cumulatively before they can be eligible to go into JSS1, this eliminates the culture of parents putting their children in JSS1 from primary four because a child must be in primary six to be able to have the complete continuous assessment.
This also applies to pupils coming into our state secondary schools from private primary schools and we’re strict on it; every child coming to Lagos state schools must meet the stipulated criteria. Another benefit of this to us is that we are able to plan because we are sure of the number of children coming into JSS1, and we have an idea of how many will be in SS1, SS2 and SS3 so we could plan for infrastructure, teachers, furniture, etc. Another policy introduced is that students must ‘come to school’ and ‘stay in school’ 90% to be eligible for promotion. I’ve involved parents and stakeholders in this, by organizing a stakeholders’ meeting in our various educational districts, and I’ve emphasized the importance of their coming to school to see their children’s work.
Parents have a role to play in inculcating morals and values in their children, and I’ve made it known to them that if they do not fulfill 50% visitation to their child’s school, the child will not be promoted. These are part of the things we’ve introduced as reforms. Also, if you’re a student and you’re seriously undisciplined, you’re leaving the system. Another thing we’ve introduced is Competency Framework for ensuring competence in teachers so that they can develop into core professionals. We’re working on this in collaboration with the Education Sector Support Program in Nigeria-ESSPIN of the Department for International Development-DFID.
The number of poor standard schools across the state is on the increase; what are you doing to check this?
Well, you’ve just pre-empted me because even this morning, we are assessing three hundred schools as pilot schools. Because we want to meet our MDG goal- education for all, we cannot just close schools arbitrarily. What we want is for these schools to at least be able to meet up with the minimum standard. Presently, we’re grading and categorizing all schools in Lagos state in collaboration with ESSPIN, and at the end of the process, those ones that fall below the minimum standard will be closed.
We’ll have grade A, B, C, and D schools, and we’ll let the world know the actual grade of each school. Grade D which is at the lowest rung of the ladder should have the basic standard, infrastructure, teachers, etc. It now left to the parents to decide where to send their child to. Mind you, our own schools, including the model colleges, are also involved in this grading exercise.
But how successful can this exercise be when we have thousands of unregistered schools scattered all over the state?
That’s the beginning of the exercise. Right now, we’ve called on all schools in the state to come into our data-base. We gave them the end of April 2013 as the deadline for registration, and all schools not found in our data-base after this exercise are ‘deemed’ to be closed. We however might consider reasons why they could not meet up with the deadline. We want to know how many schools we have in the state and this data-base is what we need. After the grading exercise, Grade D schools can aspire to go to C or B, C can aspire to go to B, and B can aspire to develop to A by letting us know when they upgrade their facilities. Like I said, those schools that cannot meet the barest minimum standard will have to be shut down.
What are these minimum standards?
We’re still fine-tuning them; they’re not for public consumption yet. However, before the end of the year, that is, by the new school year, we would have put things in place.
But don’t you think some officials might, for one reason or the other, grade schools wrongly?
No, there’s credibility. Like I told you, we’re doing this with international agencies and I’m sure it will be difficult for them to compromise. I also want to humbly remark that in this ministry, to a large extent, we have our integrity and we do not compromise standards. I won’t even allow such to happen.
What I’m even thinking about is how we could help schools that do not meet the barest standard access loans from banks; if infrastructure is their challenge. We need as many schools as we can, with basic infrastructural facilities, so that every child will be in school since we’re campaigning that we do not want any child to be out of school. That’s why we are encouraging private schools.
To be continued next week….