Dr Kunbi Wuraola, Director, Policy and Partnerships – Africa

Those in charge of basic – or primary – education in Nigeria meet together four times a year. Their gathering in Benin City, Edo State in November was actually their 23rd gathering. But it was also arguably their most important.

It brought together the 36 chairs of Nigeria’s State Universal Basic Education Boards (SUBEBs) as well as Nigeria’s national leaders in primary education, the executives of UBEC, the Universal Basic Education Commission, tasked with raising primary education standards across all of Nigeria.

The location was significant. Edo State is home to EdoBEST, the flagship basic education transformation program led by Governor Godwin Obaseki and his SUBEB.

The visiting SUBEB chairmen and UBEC officials were able to witness for themselves the progress being made by their hosts in radically improving education outcomes for the children of Edo State.

As Hon. Mal. Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education for Nigeria commented:

“With the launch of the EdoBEST scheme, primary school teaching and learning has now been digitized, with remarkable improvements in curriculum design and delivery. This silent revolution has massively reduced digital poverty among primary school children.”

The Federal Minister went onto announce an increase in basic education fund saying that: “States who have not accessed their UBEC intervention funds should do so without delay to address the challenges of basic education”

Governor Obaseki spelt out exactly what had been achieved, in the three years since the launch of EdoBEST – in a CNBC Africa interview.

“We used standard tests to examine fluency, literacy and numerical skills at every age. The outcomes, which are independently measured, showed that the children in EdoBEST now are learning at about 70% of the rate of their counterparts in Europe and Asia. That same review of the average situation in Nigerian schools measured them at about 30 percent. So while the average Nigerian is 30 percent, Edo State is at 70%. It took countries like Singapore, like Korea, two to three decades to achieve these speeds.”

Nigeria’s SUBEB leaders were impressed with what they saw firsthand in EdoBEST schools. Teachers and school leaders showcased technology that has improved school management; teacher performance and importantly, outcomes.

Hamid Bobboyi, Executive Secretary UBEC, noted that “It is a tribute to EdoBEST that the theme of our meeting here in Benin is: Enhancing Access, Equity and standards through technology-driven initiatives.”

Lagos State has already copied – as its Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu admits freely – Edo State’s lead, through the launch of its own basic education transformation initiative, EKOEXCEL.

As with EdoBEST, results have been fast and impressive. A midline study of learning outcomes in Lagos State found that in just seven weeks, students in EKOEXCEL public schools advanced in numeracy twice as fast and in literacy three times as fast as their peers. It now runs across more than 1,000 schools, embracing around 300,000 children.

In recognition of the success being shown by EKOEXCEL, the Chair of the Lagos SUBEB, Hon, Wahab Alawiye-King, was elected the new Dean of all of Nigeria’s SUBEBs, with the intention of leading the charge in Nigeria as further states come on board with basic education transformation.

Governor Sanwo-Olu has urged his fellow Nigerian leaders to learn from the education success stories within their own country, as he learnt from fellow Governor Obaseki.

“You can see that indeed, we have started doing peer review. You don’t need to go to another country to copy what is working well in our country already. He brought the initiative, and we said we also need to start with basic education. We have copied that from Edo; it’s working well in Lagos, and we’ll scale it up.”

So last week’s meeting was a chance for other state leaders and national education officials to debate and discuss how they too can begin to transform their own education sectors at speed and at scale.

Kwara State is already following suit, having recently signed a transformation program of its own.

For both Edo and Lagos States the basis of success has come through the application of data-driven learning improvements across every aspect of their education systems.

Teachers are supported with scientifically-developed training and lesson plans delivered to them through handheld tablets, designed to work where connectivity may be low and power not constant.

The same devices also give the education authorities something they have not had before – access to precious real-time data

As Governor Sanwo-Olu explained: “We can check from the tablet what attendance we have in our schools; which teacher has come in; what time they clock in and what are the lesson notes. You can design the same curriculum, irrespective of which part of the state the schools are in. So, you can have the same quality in terms of input and the expected outcome from education.”

The tablets also allow teachers to upload test scores and other indicators for each and every individual student. The ability to track outcomes currently makes Edo and Lagos States rarities in sub-Saharan Africa, let alone in Nigeria.

A recent UNESCO study into the reporting of education data in Africa was stark.

“Comparable measures of learning proficiency, in particular in developing countries and over time, remain scarce, and their reliability is often questionable. This reflects the fact that many methodological, funding and political hurdles stand in the way of progress.”

The World Bank’s Education Director, Jaime Saavedra, has described attempts to improve education without access to such data as “flying blind.”

“ If we don’t have data it’s impossible to know where systems are and it’s impossible to know if the policies that we are implementing are working or not. So we need to focus on the outcome and make sure that kids are in school that they are learning,” he said.

A visit by senior World Bank leaders just days before UBEC arrived in Benin reinforced the global view that in education, EdoBEST is a program to learn from. International funding follows success and EdoBEST has been singled-out as the only non-national education initiative included in the World Bank’s accelerator program.

A determined focus on outcomes and the use of data and scientifically-developed training and lesson planning have enabled success in Edo and Lagos States.

Crucially, that success has been driven by the political leadership of their two Governors. In calling on his fellow leaders to follow his example and learn from what already works in Nigeria, Governor Sanwo-Olu has echoed the words of a new “Social Contract” for education, released by UNESCO at its recent annual meeting. It states:

“We have to reframe international cooperation away from the historical focus on replication of ideas and institutions from the industrialized world. We need to foster South-South and triangular forms of deliberation.”

If his fellow Nigerian leaders do decide that they too must replicate the success of EdoBEST and EKOEXCEL in their states and indeed across all of Nigeria, then the recent UBEC meeting will indeed prove to be a historic one.

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