The Double Twist that Must Not Happen – Ex. Gov. Fashola’s Eko Project by Dr Ibilola Amao

The Double Twist that Must Not Happen - Ex. Gov. Fashola's Eko Project by Dr Ibilola Amao

I spent a week sitting at the back of a classroom in Dowen College, observing the brightest Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Students that had been short-listed from over 1000 students in Lagos State. This was a free one-week STEM focussed summer camp for deserving students following a rigorous test administered to the top two SS1-SS2 students from public and private secondary schools who had attended the Vision 2020: Youth Empowerment and Restoration Initiative workshop at the Shell Hall, Muson Centre on the 21st of May, 2015. The programme was sponsored by Lonadek in collaboration with the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) and supported by the Nigerian Content Development and Monitoring Board (NCDMB).

44 of these 46 students were the products of state secondary schools. A very unlikely statistics compared to when the programme commenced in 2006. It dawned on me that the academic performance of students from highbrow and private schools may not necessarily be superior to those of their state counterparts in STEM related courses. This is find quite worrisome in terms of value for money. Why is this happening I pondered?

The Lagos Eko Secondary School Education Project (LESEP) is a World Bank supported public-private partnership. An initiative focused on education improvement (renaissance) and has contributed immensely to the enhancement of teaching as well as the competing of top performers in state secondary schools. The education policy inaugurated by the administration of Babatunde Fashola in 2009, has aided in the training of over 12,000 teachers in leadership and core subjects such as English, Maths, and Science. Consequently, students in targeted schools have shown remarkable improvements in learning.

The Lagos EKO project has built a critical pathway for students from low-income background to gain access to good-quality secondary education, showing that where there is a will, there is a way. The successes that the Project has brought to the state’s public school system, includes the improvement in academic results from 7 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2013, as well as creating an educational environment and terrain that stimulates healthy competition amongst schools and students. According to the then Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on the Eko Project Ms. Ronke Azeez, the project helped the public schools to procure 839 projectors, 753 Internet modems, 3,441 software and 656 generators. The investment, she said, has also led to the provision of 525 libraries, 305,000 textbooks, 10,899 reference materials and facilitated the training of 16,832 teachers and 2,609 principals and vice-principals, adding that the personal benefits of the project was equally enormous.

Describing the Project as a major intervention created by the Government to transform performance of all the 620 public Junior and Senior Secondary Schools and the technical colleges, Governor Fashola said the project is a four year programme developed with the multiple objectives to improve the quality of both Junior and Senior Secondary Education in Lagos State, improve grants to educational institutions, support technical and vocational education as well as sustain institutional reforms. The project also supports, participates in, runs or recognises the contribution and in most cases is partnered with other competition based initiatives such as:

Cowbell National Secondary Schools Mathematics Competition
Red Cross Academics Competition (Senior Category)
New Era Foundation Spelling Bee Competition among Secondary Schools in Lagos State (Senior Category)
TheNational Information Technology Whizkids Competition
Lagos State Schools Debate Competition
The PZ Cussons Chemistry Challenge for Nigerian Secondary School Students
the Lagos Empowerment And Resource Network (LEARN)
Electricity/Power Kids Club
The Lagos State Governor’s Award for deserving students.
Voluntary clubs and Societies like the Boys’ Scout and Red Cross
The Lonadek promoted Vision 2020: Career Counselling, Industry Awareness and Youth Empowerment Initiative

Children from Lagos State Secondary schools come from a diverse type of homes with most of the promising students having mothers who are entrepreneurs (traders, market women, SME business owners).  At least one parent interfaces with the child at a level that promotes motivation to win prizes in competitions and stand out for academic excellence. Quite a few of them had engaged in some form of entrepreneurship (directly or indirectly) prior to the camp.

Furthermore, the Governor’s Education Award, aimed at encouraging the improvement of academic performances in public secondary schools through competitions has become a yardstick for measuring performance across the six Education Districts of the State. Without falling into any trap or error of issuing grants and promoting complacency, Lagos State has deployed competition to improve productivity. Every school gets its annual grant; but by the Governor’s Award the successful schools get an extra grant. The grant would also help to increase the number of poor children accessing quality secondary education. It would also help technical college graduates from low-income backgrounds to find well-paying jobs.

The major concern is the available jobs in Nigeria and ensuring that there is a meritocratic system that can absorb these extremely bright, self-driven and intelligent children from poor backgrounds.

It is important that their performance is measured, and their soft, employability or entrepreneurship skills enhanced so that they can access extremely engaging and rewarding opportunities upon graduation. Additionally, they need to be mentored and coached so that they are usefully engaged. If this is not planned for, then we may be breeding a new set of cabal that may not create positive value for money in our society after all.

Over and above seniour secondary school empowerment, going forward, there is a need to define and develop a support system for the best brains irrespective of their parents’ economic situation, their back ground and environmental challenges so that Lagos state evolves into a harmonised economy that does not discriminate race, creed or tribe. If two of the top 46 students hosted at Dowen College for a week were from private secondary schools, it is now necessary  that most children whose parents pay for private education, are two income professionals who leave home early  and return home late (because of the poor travelling infrastructure in Lagos State) need to audit their lifestyle. These children may not be properly supervised or may be exposed more to house helps, aunties and domestics who are not in a position to instil the right discipline and moral values in these children.  We have also noted that children from well to do homes are more distracted with gadgets, games, social media (Facebook, twitter, snap chat, Instagram). Their value system is in many cases is warped as they listen to conflicting commentaries from their parents and domestics.

Ambitious students from singe income families or the poorer parts of Lagos who depend on Lagos State for seniour secondary education are very hardworking, disciplined, focussed, self-motivated, self-driven individuals and have an exceptionally competitive spirit. These are the new breed of achievers that are achieving recognition through their educational performance.  Most of these children have not only developed themselves intellectually and through extracurricular activities, they also want to excel, and would practically do anything to enhance their chances of winning. They have cultivated entrepreneurship capabilities as a pastime, look up to successful entrepreneurs as their role models and can quite easily real out a list of successful role models that they desire to replicate.

To ensure that this competitive spirit and restless energy is not converted to a destructive force, it is important that the best brains are hot housed with deliberate exposure and opportunities created for them in the future. A road map to successful leadership through management training and leadership programmes is advised. Lagos State cannot afford to let these brains go to waste and must look critically at how best to ensure that they create maximum return on investment for themselves, their families and immediate community.

It is important to establish a local government, state and national youth award system so that a critical mass of highly cerebral youths who would become the strategic thinkers and planners for local governments, states and the nation are identified meritocratically. Furthermore, a personality profile analysis should be conducted to identify the sectors of industry and government that their potential, talent and passion can be unleashed upon to create maximum value for the nation.

If Lagos state must maintain her position as the leader of states and the centre of excellence it is important that a road map to success is defined and well-articulated so that these individuals that have stood out in the various catch-them-young programmes are consistently encouraged to achieve the success that they rightfully deserve.

We recommend that the Eko Project is sustained and seek urgently to encourage further partnerships that would ensure STEM entrepreneurs are developed from these crop of potential leaders created by the Fashola Project lest they convert their potential to destructive or wasted energies.

Dr. Ibilola Amao is a social entrepreneur, a STEM educator and the Principal Consultant with Lonadek Limited, a firm of local content consultants with their core competence in the area of Technical Talent Identification, Development and Engagement. To reach Dr. Amao, you can email her at lolaamao@lonadek.com and for more information visit www.lonadek.com, www.vision2020-ng.org and www.thecedarcentre.org.  

Follow her on twitter @Ibilola_Amao and follow us on twitter @myengineers

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