SYNOPSIS: As the world focuses on building back better after COVID-19 and mitigating learning loss, the impact of the transformational education intervention is being assessed, and applauded,worldwide. In a 2011 paper entitled ‘Private Responses to State Failure: The Growth in Private Education (and why) in Lagos, Nigeria, highlighted why parents embraced private primary schools and shunned public ones.
The paper, the result of a 2010-2011 census of private schools in the State, found that despite public primary schools being fee-free, most shunned them because of overcrowding, poor/decaying infrastructure and poor quality of instruction where children were not learning. Other reports have added to the traditionally poor outcomes of public schools, especially in underserved neighbourhoods and slums, scarce learning materials and poorly supported teachers as two of the reasons.
Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who became the state governor on May 29, 2019, had his job cut out for him. Fittingly, he was aware of and committed to the challenging task of restoring public schools long before he assumed the position and was intentional about it. Education underpins the ability to fulfil the economic ambitions for Lagos, as not only the powerhouse of Nigeria but of West Africa.
In light of wider development ambitions, he included education as a crucial pillar of his development plan for the megacity under the acronym THEMES. Education and technology are the third pillars of this development plan. The others are Traffic Management & Transportation; Health & Environment; Making Lagos a 21st Century Economy; Entertainment & Tourism and Security & Governance.
On the campaign trail, Sanwo-Olu had solemnly promised: “We will invest in the education of our children and young adults. By increasing the budgetary allocation to education, this Government will empower teachers in every local government and strengthen their capacity to deliver quality education to our children.
Recognising that education improvement is a marathon, not a sprint, the Governor began his remediation efforts by tackling the infrastructure problem; hoping to deal with the overcrowded classrooms across the city. When his Government marked its second-anniversary last year, it had completed more than 1,097 school projects, upgraded and rehabilitated 322 dilapidated public schools, and furnished primary schools with 87,000 dual composite units of chairs and desks. These were some of the issues parents had complained about in the above mentioned paper. To the Government’s credit, infrastructure upgrade is ongoing.
To tackle quality of instruction and learning, a key shortcoming parents gave for choosing private primary schools instead of the public system; the Governor launched the innovative and transformational EKOEXCEL (Excellence in Child Education and Learning) program. It was launched in 2019 to provide quality education to both the rich and the poor in the public system and upskill teachers by leveraging technology. It is managed by the Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). Since its formal take off in January 2020, it has achieved remarkable results, including accelerating pupils’ learning, better classroom culture, and more robust lesson management. Parents are slowly returning to the public system
Like many education systems, the outbreak of Covid-19 impacted education in Lagos. However, the EKOEXCEL programme and the Governor’s vision enabled children to continue learning unlike many of their peers across Nigeria. In response to the school closures across the state, EKOEXCEL launched blended learning with the adaptation of the EKOEXCEL@home initiative to ensure learning continued even in the hardest to remote and most poorly connected communities. The @home programme consisted of self-study activity packets, learning guides, interactive audio sessions, virtual classroom experiences and WhatsApp quizzes. The State government continued to be innovative and during the pandemic distributed of 450,000 mp3s with pre-recorded lessons; by far the largest technology roll out in the continent for remote learning.
At the heart of the Governor’s EKOEXCEL programme are teachers and the need and desire to strengthen the capacity of the workforce. The THEMES pillars have seen huge investment in teaching; strengthening the classroom and school management; embedding technology and using data to underpin decision making and training.
At the graduation of the EKOEXCEL Pre-service Professional Development and Technology Training Programme that trained over ten thousand government teachers that preceded the commencement, Governor Sanwo-Olu reaffirmed his administration’s plan to transform the education sector, increase the Government’s investment and adopt a novel approach when his term began.
“We resolved to solve these problems through combining innovative technology, scientifically-based pedagogical approaches, effective training, support and closing the learning gap such that all school-age children in Lagos State build a better and brighter future for themselves, their families and the teeming people of Lagos State. We resolved that this Government will empower teachers in every local Government and strengthen their capacity to deliver quality education to our children.
Commendably, the recently released EKOEXCEL 2020-2021 Endline Fluency and Numeracy Evaluation has further justified the investment and affirmed the strategic intervention’s impacts. The evaluation showed that EKOEXCEL pupils are making substantial progress in oral reading fluency and foundational numeracy compared to their performance before the initiative’s commencement.
It further showed that an average Primary 3 EKOEXCEL pupil is now reading at nearly the same fluency level as an average Primary 5 pupil from before the launch of the EKOEXCEL programme. The evaluation also affirmed that EKOEXCEL is significantly improving learning over what existed before.
The assessment found that pupils have made outstanding progress across all grade levels since a baseline oral reading fluency evaluation in Lagos State public schools in 2019 (before the launch of EKOEXCEL). 2021 pupils are reading an average of 311% more correct words per minute than their 2019 pre-EKOEXCEL counterparts, with the most significant gains among Primary 1 pupils.
The study also found that “EKOEXCEL Primary 2 pupils are significantly outperforming their pre-EKOEXCEL counterparts on simple addition, simple subtraction, and addition/subtraction with borrowing. It also showed that pupils who consistently receive the ‘full’ EKOEXCEL programme perform far better than pupils in the general sample.
Despite the impressive outcomes, the study holds that there is room for improvement compared with international fluency norms and also on some foundational numeracy outcomes. Pupils are still behind international fluency benchmarks while pupils struggled with some foundational numeracy skills compared with 13 other countries (specifically more complex skills like multiplication and division). Expecting children to compete at an international level is a mark of the successful transformation taking place across the State.
Impressively, the EKOEXCEL intervention has also recorded successes in reducing the number of over two million out-of-school children in the State. Supporting the State’s Project Zero, the program is placing children in classrooms; helping them to fulfil their potential and protecting them from daily violence, abuse, neglect, exploitation and exclusion they face.
Fittingly, these achievements have not gone unnoticed, with global and national bodies and individuals acknowledging the impressive strides. EKOEXCEL shone brightly at the 2021 mEducation Alliance Symposium organised by The Mobiles for Education (mEducation) Alliance, a global not for profit focused on using sustainable technology to enhance quality education. Its achievements were lauded at the meeting themed ‘EdTech for Accelerating Foundational Literacy and Numeracy in Low-Resource Contexts’ and held from September 27 to 30.
Also reviewing EKOEXCEL’s impacts, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution of Stanford University, Professor Eric A. Hanushek, awarded the 2021 Yidan Prize for Education Research, lauded its impact on Lagos’ economic transformation.
The recent Ekiti Investment Summit saw Governor Sanwo-Olu highlighting the program’s success to other political leaders across the country; advocating the use of his ‘home grown’ solution in other states.
The eminent scholar whose work helped shape the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education) by reframing targets for learning outcomes and has shown that it’s how much students learn—and not how many years they spend in school —that boosts economies praised it fulsomely.
The EKOEXCEL early results point to the kinds of transformational educational experience that can dramatically change the future economic outcomes for Lagos State. In educational interventions, it is seldom the case that positive results are apparent so early in the program. We now have strong research from around the world that shows that economic growth is directly related to the population’s skills. If the EKOEXCEL improvements are sustained across all of the primary schools in Lagos, the future labour force of the State will be significantly enhanced, leading to a new economic era.
Underpinning the Government program is the use of data. The continent is often held up as not knowing and being unable to measure learning and improvement in education. The Word Bank is often talking about the data back hole; without measurement there can be no analysis and no improvement. Lagos is at the front of the technology revolution using technology to drive the changes that other Nigerian states are seeking to emulate.
EKOEXCEL schools are monitored real-time by a digital and data driven electronic dashboard that displays the data of all 1009 primary schools under the programme, 13,673 teachers, 10,085 classrooms and the almost half a million pupils across all the local government areas in Lagos State. This dashboard is accessible on-the-go to all the relevant primary education stakeholders across Lagos State. Data is underpinning decision making,
This article appeared originally on The Independent December 14, 2021