‘Our Comprehensive schools are designed to empower out-of-school children’

Folashade Adefisayo is the Lagos State Commissioner of Education. In this interview with KEHINDE OLATUNJI, she speaks on plans by government to make education available to all through its Comprehensive Schools Programme.

Tell us about the Lagos Comprehensive School Programme?
Lots of factors are responsible for high rate of out-of-school children, which is put at between 10 and 14 million in Nigeria. However, not all out-of-school children were never in school, many dropped out due to challenges beyond them, mostly financial. There has been preasure among our senior secondary school students. Many were not resuming in SS1 after JS3 – and even throughout senior secondary school, there was a steady reduction in enrolment. What is the fate of these children, with lots of untapped potentials? This kind of situation requires urgent intervention, especially in a nation that ‘hypes’ its children as the future.

The Lagos State government, through the state’s Comprehensive schools programme as set up by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, decided to bridge the gap and ensure that a good number of out-of-school children are empowered. The Comprehensive school is an attempt by the state government to make sure that we provide fit for purpose education that suits the needs and requirements for every child in the state and that means that within one school, we provide for that child who wants to be a doctor, that child who wants to be a teacher, that child who wants to be a lawyer and that child who wants to be a plumber and a photographer within the same school and at the highest possible quality. Lagos State Comprehensive Schools Programme is a model that considers all children as capable of learning and also recognises that children are not gifted equally in dealing with academic stuff. Each child has its own area of strength, and every child should be given the opportunity to thrive. The programme provides would-be dropouts an offer they shouldn’t refuse. Instead of going into low quality training, stay with us and we will give you first-class training and skills in vocational trade.

What is the scope of the programme?
The programme is incorporated into the formal academic structure and offers training such as those in the technical colleges. When they complete their time in senior secondary school, they either go on to the university or polytechnic, gain an employment or remain as entrepreneurs and put to practice what they learnt in the Comprehensive Secondary Schools. The programme has a two-pronged approach of general academic education, and vocational training in fields such as: animal husbandry, fashion designing, software development and theatre arts, among others. The programme has a vision to help students, who may not attain Olympian heights in academics to pave their way through life by equipping them with trade skills. We are raising children who will be truly useful to themselves, their immediate families and the communities where they find themselves.

What is the uniqueness of the school in the area of curriculum, teaching method, and teachers?
We develop the curriculum ourselves, working with the private sector. Over the years, the private sector has said graduates from many of our institutions are unemployable, this is because the curriculum is primitive to the realities of the workplace. What we have done is to work with the private sector to develop a vocational curriculum that is in line with what they want. So, whoever they get from us, they are certain has the skills needed for immediate work. The programme is incorporated into the formal academic structure and offers training such as those in technical colleges.

Some of the teachers of the programme recently went to Finland for training. What motivated that and what’s the training about?
The state government recently sent a group of selected teachers and co-ordinators in the comprehensive school programme on a two-week training course at Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) in Finland. During this time (18th April – 1st May, 2022), the group was immersed in the workings of an education system long ranked the best in the world. The aim is to pick up on teaching methodologies and strategies, which could be incorporated into the State’s Comprehensive Schools Programme for the best possible results. Everybody knows that Finland is top in terms of quality of education. Their vocational education is also highly regarded. We have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a city called Tampere, they invited our teachers for training and indeed, our teachers were given quality training. So what we have done for our teachers is to equip them with a variety of strategies, and vocational practical in the classroom so that they can teach the children effectively.

Your students have started going for their excursion or internship, what has been the experience so far and why was this infused into the curriculum?
The students haven’t started the internship yet, what they are doing now is excursion visits. The internship is part of the curriculum because we realise that our subjects are practical and therefore they need to go out to the field to learn, practice, and get a feel of what it is like to work before they graduate

We noticed that Tablets are currently being distributed to students. What is the tab for and how will it enhance the programme?
We are giving the tablets to the children in the v-tech program that is the vocational tech because like I said, the school is divided into three. We have the academic section, where you have the science students, art students, commercial students and then the v-tech students. So we are giving the v-tech students tabs and on these tabs, we have put a totality of their curriculum, which includes sub-skills as well as the normal technical skills that they will need and a lot of their work is going to be online. Their teachers also have access to the tabs as well and that will help them teach the students. From our own little research, we have seen that students love learning this way and they generally do better when they learn with devices and technologies and that’s what we are doing

What are your overall expectations regarding the programme?
You know what it will do? It will give a child hope. I am not cut out to be a doctor, a lawyer or I don’t want to go to university necessarily to learn these things, but I am also someone who is clever when it comes to fashion design and so why can’t I specialise in it. So, rather than our students leaving school and going to learn this trade they can stay with us and we will teach them to meet the standard that is required out there. It is also part of our free education policy. Centrally, we are preparing the students around employability skills. We are also looking at life skills around leadership, personal development, financial literacy and others, beyond the core subject matter. We want to ensure Lagos State becomes the state of choice when it comes to employability and support for students going through the programme.

What are the successes recorded so far since its launch in February?
We launched in February and we haven’t graduated any students but what we have seen is that the tone and atmosphere of many schools have changed because many students who were not enjoying school, whose thinking was quite different from what we were providing are now seeing that we are providing something that suits them, excites them, and speaks to their skills and so you see many schools are saying school is quieter because the difficult students are now engaged and learning to love what they do.

Regarding stakeholder engagement, how are people reacting to the programme?
The stakeholders engagement covered many people; as a community, parents, and even teachers because this was new to them and of course, their own experience was teaching students to go ahead and do WAEC and so on, but we had to tell them that everybody have their own inherent gifts and so this program is to speak to the gifts of those who are vocationally inclined and so we keep them in school and they can do well for themselves in life.

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