Adetokunbo Wahab is the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Education. In this interview with selected journalists, including Funmi Ogundare, he highlighted the efforts his office has made to ensure that it puts education on a good pedestal through investment in information technology and partnership with other government agencies. He said with consistency and eyes on the goals, and the result would transform the country’s economy. Excerpts:
Considering the various initiatives by the Office of the Special Adviser on Education, which you head, how were you able to bridge the gap on infrastructure?
There is a fund under OSAE called Education Trust Fund. The trust fund is an intervention such that where there are gaps in infrastructure in our public schools, you can intervene using the fund in question. So what we did last year was see how we could help bridge that gap. It is not something we do in isolation, but it requires us to go to EXCO to seek their approval with respect to infrastructure in some of our schools. We also carry along with the Lagos State Infrastructure Asset Management Agency (LASIAMA). This is to augment what the ministry and Special Committee on Rehabilitation of Public Schools (SCRPS) are doing on their own. Interestingly, we also intervened in Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), which means we touched technical colleges, which has to do with equipment and creating more physical infrastructure for them. I know that is almost completed now because it is supposed to last for 18 months. For that of SCRPS, it is supposed to be 11 or 12 schools, while for LASIAMA, it is about nine. In total, it is about 25 that we covered. SCRPS is a special agency for the rehabilitation of public schools. LASIAMA is for upgrading and maintenance of schools. So we had to get the three involved through OSAE using the education trust fund to intervene.
What interventions have your office carried out so far?
We are very deliberate in our approach. The governor wants Lagos to be a 21st-century economy, and he is laying the fibre optic across the state. Fibre optic means there will be internet infrastructure. OSAE do have the mandate with respect to the library. We have done our study, and we found out that over time, the reading culture has dropped drastically, and if we don’t create an enabling environment, we will not have any moral justification to blame these children for not having a reading culture. So we decided on two options. The first one is to have 11 libraries which we have made 12 now across the state.
Are they enough?
No. We have over 700 public secondary schools, and we decided to go directly to the public secondary schools to revamp the library infrastructure by giving them new ones and equipping them with books and IT infrastructure to complement the books, as well as make it conducive for them. That is why you see us putting air conditioners and generators. The governor has increased the maintenance for each principal to N250,000 a month from the paltry N25,000 we met. We have not been able to cover all the schools. In two and half years, we have covered 198 schools across the state.
Hopefully, before the end of the year, we are going to add about 45 to it to cross the over 200 line. This is still a far cry from the total number of schools we have to do, but a journey of a thousand miles starts with a step, and we are very clear in our minds. The second leg of it is the Eko Digital Skills which is to prepare students and pupils for the fourth revolution which is IT. Covid has shown us that it is here already. That will give you the skills set you need for that revolution. The language of the revolution is Cloud, Coding, Python and digital skills language. We were targeting a million.
Under the Eko Digital, a total of 194,161 youths, students/ pupils have benefitted in the last two years, but it is still a far cry. As it were, we are ploughing back the space and preparing the students for that. We are giving them a library intervention with computer infrastructure, we are also giving them the know-how with Eko Digital where we are covering the 700 public schools, we ramp them up even with private schools, and we don’t want that gap to be too wide. We have students at a young age who are ready for the future. To complement that, we have our Job Initiative Lagos (JIL) for those in tertiary institutions. The skills set is also being taught in our job initiative Lagos. It used to be called ‘Ready Set Work’. We rebranded it and put it in the proper contest. We now added penultimate year for the final year students because we have a large number in our school. So far, over 60,202 undergraduates in their final year and penultimate classes have benefitted. The earlier you start putting them into the system, the better for all of us. That is where we are so far.
The schools you covered, do they have the fibre optic?
When the fibre optic is fully ready and launched, it now becomes a plug and plaything for them. They will go live with it.
How do you intend to match the digital skills initiative with the high unemployment rate in the country?
Ordinarily, the government should not be the employer of labour. The government should just set the tone and enabling environment for the private sector to offtake. So what we are doing is giving them the requisite skills and knowledge that would enable them to be employable in that market. Don’t also forget, thousands of people also come to Lagos to chase their dreams. Each day they come, they add to the numbers. Most of them that come have nothing to do. For us, let’s keep ramping up the infrastructure in terms of human capital and giving them the platform to enjoy it.
What are the programmes students can learn under the Eko Digital skills programme?
We have two streams. We have the e-school for our pupils in secondary schools and private. We also have the hybrid. The hybrid is if you are out of school and you need a skill set, you can register for that.
How would you rate the outcome of these programmes in the lives of the youths?
Are we improving a lot? Yes.
Investment in human capital, especially in education, you don’t reap the result overnight. It is a long term investment with a long-term gestation period. When the results come in, they should come in phases, and then you can start taking stock. You can’t take the stock within the first few years, and it will not stop you from doing the right investment. We will have the report by the end of this year. The Eko Digital initiative is ongoing as we speak. The final phase for the year is that they will give us full data on completion, item by item.
It’s one thing for the state to invest in such a project. How would you describe the acceptance rate of those you are investing in?
It’s very high. In fact, it’s usually oversubscribed, which is the interesting part of it. This is why we have to increase it to three sessions in a year. When we started, it used to be one. We now realised that when we had the subscriptions, a lot of people were not happy because they could not be taken on board as there is a limit. So last year, we made it two. This year we made it three sessions to cover everybody. The level is that if you were not able to come in for the first one, you could come in for the second one after the hybrid. So the subscription and over-subscription give us the conviction that people are so conscious of it, they are waiting for it, and they are enjoying it. The next phase is that how do we now take stock of the impact? That will come with time.
How long does a session last?
It’s for three months. And once we are done for the first session, we now go to the hybrid, which is another three months for those that are out of school. We now go back to the school again for phase three, which is in-school.
What do they learn?
They do clouding, Phyton, coding, digital analytics, among others.
The CBN recently came up with an intervention on schools and students. Is the Eko Job Initiative getting its participants to tap into the project?
When the information came out, I made sure I sent it to our tertiary institutions and ensured that the mandate was there. But if you look at the publication, it’s also limiting it to certain institutions. It is not generic. It is not all our schools that can take benefit of it, but those that are allowed to take benefit of it are fully involved, and that is where our Job Initiative Lagos (JIL) comes. You can’t go outside your school. That is why we are using the school, and they are fully involved in the JIL. So we are on top of it.
How do you prepare the students for the work environment?
What we did with that is using our Lagos State Employment Trust Fund to create a platform in which they can access the facility and single digits. For those that are ready, we refer them to the LSETF. Though we have a lot of issues with the number of defaults, the governor believes that it will be remedied as time goes on. You can’t say because they are defaulting, then you will not empower the citizens.
Is there any effort by your office to expose older people to digital literacy at that level?
The mandate of the Agency for Mass Education is to increase the literacy number. Are we limiting to just reading and writing, which is their main goal. No. We have told the agency to give us a platform for them to put this into their curriculum. Digital literacy is a curriculum thing, and that is ongoing too. You can’t do it on your own, else it will not be recognised, and they will not certify them.
What is the correlation between digital skills and education?
The two go hand in hand. If you look at the THEMES agenda of the governor, both enable each other. If you just limit yourself to reading and writing, with no IT knowledge, you will only limit your options. So technology will enable education a lot, and the governor is very clear. That is why the THEMES agenda shows the pillar of education and technology standing in the middle and marrying each other strongly. In that ecosystem, if you get it right as the governor has gotten it right, in the next few years, the result will be awesome for the state. People talk about Rwanda, with a population of more than 20 million that they are using the IT platform, but they didn’t get there overnight.
If we are consistent with this IT investment, we can achieve these number of goals. There is a programme by the state. We are going to give seed money to innovators that are in that IT space that I know. We are going to fund incubators with over N400 million. We are not just funding regular education. We are also funding people in the IT space because that is what happens in developed climes. They can have ideas, and not the money, we are putting money behind them strongly, the same way we are putting money behind education, and by the time we get this balance right, you will be shocked what will happen. You have a lot of people that will come out to nourish the system. When this happens, then the economy can move forward because the prosperity of Lagos is the country’s prosperity.
How do you evaluate the projects and get your results at the end of the day?
For each of the projects, we also have our own objectives. It will determine the success. More so, there is an office that independently takes stock of the projects for each of the MDS, so for me, I have a target to enable a million people to have digital skills, but I have only 350,000. This is a far cry, and hopefully, we should cross the 500,000. It is a long term projection. That is what we are working towards. Like I tell everybody, when there is an infrastructure deficit, you don’t remedy it overnight. Just be consistent in your plans and work towards them. So it’s in the long term that you can start taking stock of it.
Are primary schools left out in the library and digital skills initiative?
They are not left out. Now you also have to be very strategic in your approach. For the primary schools, what the commissioner of education has done is that they are giving the teachers pivotal roles with the EKO Excel project, and she has also enabled them to have the tools they need. Because of the level of the children, they can go to the library and read? As it were, the teachers across the state have been given the same skills set, the same content and curriculum, and they can be monitored from the office of the commissioner. We have been able to put those kids on a pedestal to prepare them for secondary school. The secondary school is now where you have the library interventions. That is where you also have digital skills being deployed. At that time, they can appreciate what their teachers have taught them.
What is your advice to the students considering the efforts of the government?
Education is life. It may not give you material gain overnight, but it puts you on a pedestal to achieve something. Things are changing globally. Even if you choose not to use your certificate, but you are educated, there is something you can bring to the table. So education gives you the opportunity to push that door. The state is doing so much in the area of education. We have 12.6 million in our budget for 2022 in education. They should take the opportunity and maximise it.