August 2, 2018

Education sector in dire need of intervention — Oando Foundation

Mrs. Adekanla Adegoke is the Head of Oando Foundation. She is a development practitioner with over 14 years experience in programme management, advocacy, monitoring and evaluation gained across North America, Europe, Bangladesh and Africa.

As one of the pioneer staff, she was instrumental in the establishment of Oando Foundation in 2011 and has successfully led teams at various levels of development cooperation and worked with donors and charities on conservation. In this interview, she spoke on sundry issues bordering on basic education and revamping the sector. Excerpts:

By Dayo Adesulu

WHAT is Oando Foundation (OF) all about?

Oando Foundation is an independent charity with a mission to improve access to quality basic education by empowering millions of children in public primary schools in marginalised communities across Nigeria. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to the achievement of SDGs 4, 5 and 17.

Through our signature project, the Adopt-a-School initiative, we are committed to providing a holistic and integrated approach to basic education which includes creating better learning environments, leveraging resources through partnerships, utilising best practices and cross-cutting solutions to improve the overall learning achievements of children in our adopted schools. Since the Foundation was established by Oando PLC in 2011, we have adopted 88 public primary schools across 23 states in Nigeria spanning the six geo-political zones.

The Foundation’s core area of intervention is basic education, why is this so?

It goes without saying that this sub-sector represents the foundational stratum upon which all other tiers of our educational system are predicated and nurtured. When we allow, by design or default, the malformation of this crucial sector, we compromise the integrity of our socio-economic existence.

Youth unemployment rate in Nigeria increased to 33.10 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 from 29.50 per cent in the second quarter of 2017. We believe education is the greatest investment to secure sustainable development in the continent

You will agree that with me that the Education sector in Nigeria is in dire need of intervention at all levels, we cannot fold our hands and leave the government alone to fix, hence the Foundation’s commitment to improving overall learning outcomes of children in public primary schools.

Over the years, we have doggedly demonstrated our commitment to achieving the right of every child to quality education in Nigeria; working with multi-layered stakeholders, using integrative and participatory approaches to increase learning opportunities for children.

We have over 10.5 million out-of-school children, OOSC, in Nigeria. What is the Foundation’s strategy in reducing this?

We are aware of these figures and it is quite unfortunate. The most worrisome issue is the Out-of-School Children phenomenon. Informal figures range from 8.7- 13.5m children, the highest in the world.

We need to understand the dynamism of innovation in rapidly changing times, the definition of schools and learning has shifted radically; where brick and mortar schools are being challenged by borderless learning, the internet has become the world’s number one classroom and educational curriculum must change in response to the current dynamics. Therefore, the notion of traditional classroom needs rethinking.

According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, one in two persons under the age of 35 are unemployed. Demographic trends reveal two out of seven people on the planet are below 25 years. For Nigeria, and Africa to leapfrog and benefit from the fourth industrial revolution, loosely referred to as the digital revolution, we have to start with digital literacy for children and their educators.

The Foundation has successfully mainstreamed 42,193 OOSC into adopted schools across 23 states, leveraging existing platforms at the state and local levels, and utilising contextualised mobilisation plans from the School-Based Management Committees (SBMC), Community Coalition Groups, State Universal Basic Education Boards, and development partners such as the USAID Education Crisis Response programme, to mobilise and enroll OOSC.

In the North-East and North-West Nigeria, 58 and 51 per cent of pupils, respectively, have never attended or attend only religious schools. OF has supported state education agencies with the enrolment of OOSC through donation of Back-to-School kits – uniforms, school bags, sandals, textbooks, writing materials etc, and profiling enrolled students for ease of tracking and retention.

We have also established seven  Walk-in-Centres, WIC across five school communities, built the capacity of 32 WIC teachers. Our approach is holistic – we believe in a multi-faceted strategy in reducing these numbers. The Foundation through its implementing partners, Nigerian Civil Society Organisations,   extensively engaged with various community coalitions, including the SBMCs, women groups, traditional councils, religious groups, etc. to drive the OOSC mobilisation process, working with the existing government education agencies and development partners, especially in areas with increased number of internally displaced persons. In addition, the commencement of the school feeding programme in some states where we have adopted schools provided an incentive for children to return to school.

From your experience, what strategy has been the most effective in bringing Out-of- School Children back to school?

A major strategy we have deployed in states where we have adopted schools is deploying participatory approach to garner community ownership of schools. Through periodic trainings, OF strengthens the capacity of SBMC who play a key role in community mobilisation and enrolment for OOSC as well as contribute to the school improvement process. For example, in Local Government Primary School, Itori-Ewekoro, the SBMC successfully secured a reduction on pupils’ registration fees from the LGEA, having observed that most OOSC enrolled were unable to pay the registration fee.

We recognise that effective stakeholder management is critical to the success of our work; engaging the right people in the right way improves the quality of our interventions, increases ownership and drives sustainability. Community/Stakeholder engagement goes beyond people simply being informed and consulted. It includes people participating and being involved whilst striving for a greater focus and commitment to improve the overall outcome of our work.

What is the Foundation doing to ensure that students get the best quality in terms of classroom experience?

Beyond providing support to relevant government agencies in ensuring we create a conducive physical learning environment, it is also leveraging support for school improvement by strengthening teacher’s capacity, providing teaching and learning materials (TLMs) including textbooks in local languages, charts and writing materials to support learning among OOSC. Furthermore, the adoption of 21st Century techniques which emphasize change in teacher-centred techniques to child-centred learning encourages critical thinking.

To reap the benefit from the fourth industrial revolution, loosely referred to as the digital revolution, we have to start with digital literacy for children and their educators. Till date, OF has supported 33 ICT centres with content for learning and capacity- building, trained 2,169 teachers and awarded 1,123 scholarships to students.

How does OF fund its interventions and activities?

The Foundation derives its support from various stakeholders. Oando Plc is our key partner and the Foundation leverages on shared services provided by them. Over the years, we have collaborated with   Educate a Child Initiative of the Education Above All Foundation,  Global Business Coalition for Education, USAID’s Education Crisis Response (USAID-ECR), North-East Regional Initiative (NERI), DFID’s Teacher Development Programme (DFID-TDP), Sumitomo Chemical Japan, US Consulate and Theirworld UK, etc.

What approach would you consider effective in retaining OOSC in the classroom?

One of the approaches we consider very successful is the school feeding programme.

Enrolment andretention

The re-commencement of the programme has proven to be a winner; poverty remains a key factor influencing OOSC enrolment and retention, especially in rural communities where over 80 per cent of our adopted schools are located.

We provide community support through continuous engagement with members of the SMBC who assist in sensitizing, mobilising and re-enrolling OOSC. The ancillary costs of education (registration fees, school uniforms, textbooks, feeding) are key drivers for the increased drop out or non-enrolment of children of school age. For example, in Local Government Primary School, Itori, Ewekoro, Ogun State, the SBMC successfully secured a reduction on pupils’ registration fees from the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA), having observed that most OOSC enrolled were unable to pay the registration fee.

Has the free basic education scheme helped in bringing OOSC back to school?

An emphatic Yes! In 1999, the Nigerian Government introduced Universal Basic Education, a programme designed to provide free primary and secondary education in the country.

This was given further credence when the Universal Basic Education bill was passed into law in 2004. Since then, we can argue that major milestones have been achieved in this sector, but a lot still needs to be done, especially with regards to reducing the number of OOSC.

How is the Foundation engaging with other Stakeholders to scale and increase sustainability of your programmes?

The Foundation thrives on progressive partnerships with Government and other private sector actors both local and international. We engage all government bodies responsible for basic education in our communities.

We will continue to prioritize participatory approaches in programme sustainability, working with our implementing partners, key government structures at the state and local level, and community groups to ensure sustainability of projects executed.

Leveraging our strategic partnerships with key organizations including the Educate-a-Child (EAC) Qatar, USAID’s Education Crisis Response (USAID-ECR), North-East Regional Initiative (NERI), DFID’s Teacher Development Programme (DFID-TDP), Sumitomo Japan, and Their world UK, etc., the Foundation is poised to consolidate on our joint partnership, thereby further deepening the overall programme quality, and utilizing evidence from our theory of change and early outcomes to advocate for improvements in the basic education sub-sector.

This necessitated our joint effort with the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) in bringing together under a roof, key players in the organized private sector to explore opportunities for scaling up support for the basic education sub-sector in Nigeria.

If you were to advise the Federal Government on what approach to revitalize our crippling Education sector, what would you tell them?

Increased funding of the education sector. The allocation of 7.04 per cent to education in the proposed 2018 budget is unacceptable. Increased funding of education in the country will have a ripple effect on other sectors. Even among countries in sub-saharan Africa, we are lagging behind less endowed nations in terms of our investment in education. The Government needs to do more in this regard.