By Lateef Raji (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), is passionate about the youth and their future. He believes that the way out of poverty, want, ignorance, diseases and the like is access to good and quality education. He subscribed verbatim to the dictum of the illustrious icon and legend, Nelson Mandela (Madiba), that ‘’Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world‘’. Considering that an investment in education in any polity gives the greatest dividend, the Fashola administration has accorded education the attention it deserves. At a time in the state, the problem was that of access to educational facilities, the quantity and quality of such a facility and the distance to the home of the students. However, in the last few years, the problem has been substantially surmounted with Lagos now having a literacy record of over 84 percent.
Like the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Fashola administration believes that education remains the best way to empower the youth and prepare them for future challenges. Fashola himself sees it as the greatest engine of personal development through which the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor while the son of a fisherman can become the head of a multinational, and a child of a farm-worker can become the president of a great nation.
The effort of Fashola’s administration in lifting the educational level of the state towards an enviable height need not be overemphasized. Students in the public schools in the state, irrespective of their state of origin, received free text books thereby providing a relief for their parents and guardians. Similarly, the challenge of infrastructure in some of the schools is being tackled headlong by the administration as more blocks of classrooms are being constructed and furnished while laboratories and school libraries are also being equipped. To further encourage the youth to improve on their reading culture, this administration has embarked on massive rehabilitation of State libraries while it has equally stocked them with more books.
As part of measures to ensure qualitative education that stands the test of time, the Lagos State government recently approved a new curriculum for public Senior Secondary Schools (SSS) in the state. With the introduction of the new curriculum, students of SSS One to Three are expected to offer nine subjects. The nine subjects would include five compulsory core subjects made up of English, Mathematics, Civic Education, Biology and one trade subject. Apart from these compulsory subjects, is the newly introduced trade subject from which the students could choose; these include Catering, Craft Practice, Garment making, Dyeing and Bleaching, Data Processing, Store Keeping, Book Keeping, Animal Husbandry, Fisheries, Marketing and Salesmanship. This approach to trade is to inculcate the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-reliance in our students. Under the new curriculum, all SSS one to three students are also expected to take three subjects from the various specialization groups. The groups are Science and Mathematics, Business Studies, as well as Humanities and Technology. However, students will also offer one elective subject from any subject group other than the specialized subjects. In order to ensure sound implementation of this policy, District’s Guidance Counselors are already abreast about the guidelines in the new curriculum, and the information has been communicated to school counsellors and year tutors in schools.
Similarly, Lagos State Government has put in place measures to harmonize calendar, curriculum development and time-table for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) in Junior Secondary Schools in the state. The need to align calendar, curriculum and time-table for schools become imperative in order to standardize the process and ensure Lagos S to align with Best-Case Practices.
The State in the Last six years has built 5,204 new classrooms to cater for the growing student population which has increased over the years to 1,198,624 (578,504 in primary and 620,120 in secondary schools). All these are housed in the 1,668 schools spread across the State. It has also rehabilitated 6,666 classrooms within this period, provided 197 schools with science laboratory, built ICT laboratory in 120 schools, supplied 212 schools with science materials and installed intro-tech laboratories in 73 schools. Furthermore, 1,409,476 textbooks were distributed freely to students while 387,133 furniture was provided to students to make them learn in a conducive environment.
Presently, seven multi-lingual laboratories, proper toilets, five Government Technical colleges and 21 vocational centres were provided for the use of the public during the period. The government has also recently recruited 1,772 teachers.
Similarly, the government through the innovative ‘Lagos Eko project’, an intervention program with which it has fast-tracked the development of schools and training of teachers in order to improve learning outcomes in all junior and senior secondary schools. The project, recently rated by World Bank as being “highly satisfactory,” has helped to reduce the usual bureaucracies in government and improved the process and time of intervention in education through direct grants to schools.
All these have resulted in the rapid rise of students to pass level in the West African School Certificate examinations which moved from a dismal 7 percent pass with five credits, including English and Mathematics in 2008 to an encouraging 41 percent pass at the credit level in 2013. Out of these, 85 percent passed English; 84 percent passed Mathematics, and 84 percent were successful in Biology. This performance exceeded the World Bank benchmark.
To help indigent students, government recently doled out a total sum of N95.4 million as the bursary award to one thousand, two hundred and forty-six [1, 246]] students of Lagos state origin in universities across the country. Beneficiaries got entitlements ranging from N50, 000.00 to N80, 000.00 to cushion their tuition fees. In the same vein, students of Lagos State origin in Law School and Maritime Academy received N200, 000 each as the bursary. It is worth noting that this government been fair and sensitive to the plight of Lagosians. The government has not shacked in its responsibility of paying the WAEC fees of all SSS III pupils in the public schools, thereby providing quality education and reducing the financial burden of parents to the barest minimum.
In ensuring that the rate of literacy rate in the state is improved, The Lagos State government has taken bold steps to further reduce the level of illiteracy to the barest minimum by the year 2015. According to the statistics made available by Lagos Bureau of Statistics (LBS), the literacy rate in Lagos State is 87 percent. The state is strongly determined to get to 91 per cent against the 60 per cent 2015 Education for All (EFA) target set by the United Nations. As a result of this, the government has designed more programmes to make sure that the less than three million illiterate residents become literate. Against this backdrop, the state during the year through its Agency for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education in conjunction with the National Mass Education Commission (NMEC), UNESCO and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Office, organised a six-day workshop for facilitators. These are people who supervise instructors and at times, teach adult learners at various centres in their respective local council areas with the Theme, “Revitalizing adult and youth literacy in Lagos,” the event had a total of 111 participants drawn from three local government areas-Epe, Ifako-Ijaiye and Apapa- in attendance.
It was a pilot program, and will be extended to facilitators in other council areas of the state in the future. The facilitators were taught the effective ways in catching and encouraging students not only to come to class but also to be focused and committed to learning. Specifically, they were also advised to always come down to the level of their students, a majority of whom were older and had never been to school in their lives. These students were made up mainly of market women and men, artisans, traders and people from diverse vocations.
In a bid to pride itself as a pace setter in innovation, the government recently introduced Astronomy and Space Science in its public secondary schools. This announcement was made after the week-long yearly Summer Science and Technology Camp, held at the Lagos State Model College, Igbonla, in Epe Division of the state. The 300 students, who were selected across the schools in the state, were picked on merit. During the program, they were exposed to Digital German Equatorial and Alt-Azimuth Mounted telescopes, Mobile Planetarium Domes and projectors, as well as another astronomical software.
In order to make the learning environment more interesting, character building and to equally ensure the overall development of the youth, the government recently re-launched uniformed voluntary organisations in the State’s public schools. Prominent among the groups are: the Boys’ Scout, Girls Guide, Sheriff Guards, Boys Brigade, and the Red Cross among others. A core part of the project is the provision of the organization’s uniforms to pupils and students at no cost. Through the resuscitation of these organisations in public schools, government hopes to encourage the youth to develop their various talents in order to become self-reliant. It is also an avenue for both professionals and aspiring youth to interact and impact the skills and knowledge acquired.
In its characteristic innovative style of governance, the state government, with a view to involving other stakeholders in the funding of education in the state, instituted the now popular ‘adopt a school policy’. Through this policy, well meaning individuals, corporate organisations, and religious bodies among others are encouraged to pick and develop a school in their choice location.
While I believe the Lagos State Government is not resting on its oars in the process of transforming the state, this administration would always do everything to ensure it provides qualitative education to the citizenry. On this note, the quote of George Washington Carver which says ‘’education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom’’ rings right for all Lagosians and particularly to the youth, this dictum of Malcolm X that “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,” is your own memory verse, Please seize the opportunity afforded you by this administration.————————————
Hon. Lateef Raji is Special Adviser to the Governor of Lagos State on Information & Strategy.