Update on School Closures in Ekiti – Commissioner’s Response

Anything published in the press and which remains unchallenged is a notorious fact               – Reno Omokri, The Great

 

A friend of mine sent my last post on the closure of schools in Ekiti to the Commissioner for Education in that state, Dr Eniola Ajayi. 

She responded by email and asked me to get in touch with her. We’ve exchanged a few emails since then and I have found her to be polite to a fault and a remarkably decent person to the extent that you can measure such things over an email exchange.

Here’s her response

Thank you for forwarding the story. I do not blame the writer for writing from the perspective he did. It’s because of the angle in which it was reported in the first place.

It seems truly absurd to close a school simply because it’s not registered or it’s not on zillion hectares of land. The truth is that no mention was made of the other criteria used. One main component is the issue of having a certain number of qualified Teachers. Some of the School have a School Certificate holder as Head teacher. There are several other criteria.

In other to make this exercise as thorough as possible, we engaged the help of the National Association of Private Proprietors in Ekiti State.

In their words, ‘we have no apologies for the schools you wish to close down’. The truth is that many of them do not merit being called a school.
The structures are truly alarming. Some are near collapse. If we wait until someone dies in those contraptions, I will be blamed even more.

More importantly, it’s an implementation of a well thought out decision of the State EXCO over 7 months ago. 

She also sent me the requirements for opening schools in Ekiti State which the closed schools presumably did not meet. Both are attached below

GUILDELINES_EST_JSS_in_Ekiti.pdf
Download this file

GUILDELINES_EST_NURS-PRY_Schools_in_Ekiti.pdf
Download this file

 

It was a relief to read that not because I agree with everything but mainly because it’s clear that it wasnt just a rampaging government going about bullying private schools while ignoring its own failings. 

I still think the requirements are rather onerous and dont take into account people who might only want to start on a small scale but if everyone was subjected to this criteria, then I am fine with it. The issue then becomes how to make the criteria better so that it guarantees better outcomes for students. 

A couple of points to note

1. Before writing my last note, I checked at least 3 different online news websites for the story and they all seemed to report it from the same angle so I went with the version in Channels but you can check the Punch version or ThisDay one and you see that the reports are almost identical in what aspect of the press briefing they focused on. 

It got me wondering – how do Nigerian newspapers source their news? Or was this a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report? I am not sure how things work so I am genuinely curious. Or do newspapers now share journalists outside Lagos? 

I suppose we can conclue that the reports in the papers on this story qualifies as a notorious fact if the Commissioner is to be believed. 

2. Where two or three Nigerian business(wo)men/businesses are gathered, a cabal is soon formed. So I am wondering if this National Association of Private Proprietors in Ekiti is not another ‘nascent’ cabal.

I am pretty sure the schools that were closed were not members of this body which might mean the NAPP has just been made stronger to the extent that anyone who doesnt join them (and pay dues) can easily be eliminated as competition.

The thing with cabals is that they always start innocently so in this case private school owners may have come together to form a body to share knowledge and best practice etc. But as Adam Smith presciently said ‘people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public‘.

What if you dont want to be a part of this body and you just want to do your thing on your own? Hopefully the govt will take such scenarios into account and protect people who are genuinely trying to deliver education and run a business at the same time…on their own merit.

But all in all, it’s always good to hear govt’s side of the argument.

 

FF

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An Example of a Non-Solution to the Education Problem

Here’s an example as to why education is not working in Nigeria and is unlikely to work anytime soon.

This story was widely reported in the papers yesterday. It’s a short news report so I shall reproduce it in full. The gist is around a press conference (I think) that was held where the Ekiti State Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Eniola Ajayi triumphantly declared that her ministry had closed down 131 brothels, sorry schools (I get confused easily these days) that were operating in the state illegally. Read on

 

The order which was given by the state Ministry of Education, affected both primary and secondary schools.

The directive followed the expiration of the six-month ultimatum given to their proprietors to regularise their operations and upgrade their facilities.

The Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Dr. Eniola Ajayi, who disclosed this to journalists in Ado Ekiti, said that owners of the affected schools had been warned severally to properly register them.

She said the schools were given a six months deadline to meet the standard set by the state government for the running of private schools.

Ajayi, however, said that the proprietors of the affected schools remained indifferent to the directive.

She reaffirmed the state government’s commitment on the provision of a conducive learning environment that will enhance the performance of students.

The Commissioner also declared that the government will not compromise the future of the children in the state under any circumstance.

Dr Ajayi advised proprietors who did not have the wherewithal to run a standard school to bow out of the venture gracefully, stressing that government would no longer allow sub-standard schools to function in the state.

She said that the minimum acceptable standard for schools in the state was the ability of the school to function from its permanent site after three years of operation.

Reeling out the conditions to be met for a standard school, the Commissioner stated that the permanent site at inception must consist of a minimum of three standard and well ventilated classrooms as well as an administrative block consisting of a minimum of two rooms and a store.

She added that the site must also occupy a piece of land of between two and three hectares of land for future expansion.

“Other facilities expected in a standard school included a functional library equipped with up- to -date books as well as qualified teachers,” she said.

In his reaction, Mr. Babatunde Abegunde, the chairman of the state chapter of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, pleaded with the government to rescind its decision on the matter for now.

He appealed that as a result of the downturn in the nation’s economy, the proprietors of the affected schools should be given another three months grace to enable them meet the prescribed standard.

 

 

I found this very fascinating as an insight to how people in government tend to think. What is remarkable about this story is what the Commissioner did not say at all. 

In determining the suitability of a private school to continue operating, Dr Ajayi did not say anything about the quality of education the affected pupils were receiving. None at all. Can you see why money meant for education will always disappear between the budget and implementation? To those in government, a ‘good’ school is one that has good buildings. By extension, it is impossible to receive a decent education in one room ergo, every year money will be voted for the construction and renovation of classroom blocks and ‘ultra modern e-book libraries’. 

And if after 3 years, the school has not managed to move to its ‘permanent site’, then it is a bad school and cannot possibly be legal. The woman was clearly in the mood for big talk and bluster even going as far as telling anyone who did not like it to ‘bow out of the venture gracefully’. 

What if you want to remain a small school and want to focus on having say only 6 classes? Well you need to bow out of the venture gracefully because the Commissioner says you must have between 2 and 3 hectares for future expansion. It does not matter if you want to expand or not. But even if you do wish to expand, why do you need to have the 2 or 3 hectares today? Is it now a crime to start something small in Nigeria? Did harvard start on 3 hectares of land I wonder? 

It is important to note that the only thing that makes these schools illegal is because the government has said so. Now, I dont want to draw a tedious link but bear in mind that once upon a time, apartheid was also legal in South Africa as obviously stupid as it was. This then begs the obvious question – is it all government schools that operate on 2 to 3 hectares and have a functional library ‘equipped’ with up to date books, not forgetting the qualified teachers? If this was the case, then there couldnt possibly be any demand from parents for private education.

As obvious as it seems, we cant forget that these illegal schools were fee charging. They were not free. But the government provided schools are free of charge. Yet the parents of these children have figured out that the free education on offer from the government is actually more expensive than the private ones. The anxiety over the poor quality on offer in state schools has led parents to seek out private alternatives and yet the government pursues them there as well. Mediocrity or nothing. 

This is the nastiness of government in action fuelled by a combination of arrogance and ignorance. Only government has a right to (mis)educate its citizens and if anyone wants to try to solve the problem through the private sector, then a series of obstacles must be placed in the person’s way to frustrate. What is so illegal about educating people really? 

This is the kind of foolishness that got Nigeria to where it is today. The belief that a piece of paper given to a school as a ‘licence’ to allow it to operate is what makes it a good school. This licence then becomes a source of power to the person issuing it and even a currency that can be traded for favours or just cash.

A few months ago I wrote about how a report into education in India showed that while the government of the state of Bihar in India was recording 350 schools in the state, the researchers found another 1,224 private schools meaning that according to the state 238,767 students did not exist at all. That is where the similarity with Ekiti ends because the Education minister in Bihar managed to show some humility and promised that the government was not going to harass those schools or force registration on them. In other words admitting that government had failed more than a quarter of a million children and the least it could do was not make life any harder for them.

Coming over to London, one of the policies introduced by the coalition government when it came to power in 2010 was the concept of ‘free schools’. These schools are quite popular in Scandinavia and are essentially state funded private schools. They can be set up by parents or interest groups and will receive state funding provided they can find a site (it could be an old church or library or even a warehouse not 3 hectares) and they can get a certain number of applications from students. They are also not allowed to charge fees. 

An organisation called Redeemers Educational Services Limited (hint: the founders name is Funmi Gbadeyan) applied to open one of such schools in Newham and got provisional approval from the government i.e. it could open and receive funds provided it managed to fill 180 places for the first year. Now given that the school was being promoted by Nigerians, its possible that they overestimated the school’s appeal. You know we like to ‘dream big’. Nevertheless, guess how many applications they received? Click this link to find out. It goes without saying that the school has been scrapped and its preliminary approval withdrawn.

Understand this – this proposed school was going to be free of charge and funded by the government yet it could not find people who could be bothered to attend. Newham isnt exactly the richest part of London but it does say something that parents were not willing to leave the state schools to try out something new no matter how bad those state schools were. 79 free schools have so far started across the country meaning that they were able to fill their spaces so it does suggest there was something wrong with the Redeemers proposition that did not appeal to parents.

Contrast this with what is happening in Nigeria – from Ekiti to Makoko, parents are abandoning the free state schools and chancing their luck at fee paying private schools even with poor facilities or private after school lessons delivered by Camerounian teachers at N50 per day. State schools need to be exceedingly poor or non existent before people will be left with no choice but to pay for private education. 

Is it so hard to figure out where the problem is and how to fix it?

 

FF

 

 

Look What They Did To Education

I have always known Nigerian education was in a very bad place. But this report shocked me. 

It’s not so much that we have a crisis on our hands but that, even though we’ve been in a crisis for a while now, all the evidence suggests that we are moving backwards. There is no other way to describe this other than an outrageous disaster. And a timebomb waiting to go off even.

What does one make of this as an example?

 

Twelve countries account for 47% of the global out-of-school population (Figure 1.12). Nigeria, which heads the list with 10.5 million out-of-school children, has experienced the highest increase since 1999

 

Or this?

 

 

In Nigeria, the number of illiterate adults has risen by over 10 million between 1991 and 2010

 

What is the plan? What is a country supposed to do with an increasing army of illiterates? These people can vote you know?

 

It gets worse. The glaring inequality we see in our society is now a structural problem which is firmly hardcoded into our society’s fabric 

 

In Nigeria, about two out of three children from the richest 20% of households attend pre-school, compared with less than one in ten from the poorest 20% of households

 

Recent research has shown that the money spent on a child’s education in the first 3 years of their life delivers the best return over the child’s life. In other words, the worst thing you can do in Nigeria is to be born poor as that smell will follow you all your life. 

 

No matter how bad you think it is, it is worse

 

In Kano state of northern Nigeria, a test of some 1,200 basic education teachers found that around 78% had ‘limited’ knowledge in English after an assessment in which they were asked to take a reading comprehension test and correct sentences written by a 10 year child for form, content and punctuation

I remember getting into a debate with some ACN folk earlier this year over what I considered to be the daft plan to introduce Yoruba as the language of instruction in South West primary schools. Part of my point at the time was that the problem of incompetence and poorly trained teachers does not disappear when you switch the language of instruction. Here’s evidence suggesting the same thing

 

 

In Bauchi and Sokoto, two states of northern Nigeria, 4,000 grade 3 students were assessed in Hausa, which is the language of instruction and the lingua franca as well as the mother tongue for the vast majority of students. Just 29% of students in Bauchi and 18% in Sokoto could read full words. These students were given a reading comprehension test: less than one-fifth of them achieved a score of 80% – accounting for only 6% of all students in Bauchi and 3% in Sokoto

 

I was planning to write something about education today when this report got passed to me. It’s a very detailed report so perhaps you might want to run a search on Nigeria to get a flavour about it before settling down into it. I found it to be very disturbing.

 

And you know, my biggest fear in all of this is that by ignoring education for so long, we may have debased it to the point where it has been completely stripped of those things that make it an aspirational commodity. We may have so badly damaged it to the point where, in the eyes of an uneducated man, it has absolutely no value and is no more than a cost to him while he could be doing something better with his time. The quote below seems to lend credence to this

 

Nigeria, which heads the list with 10.5million of out-of-school children, has experienced the highest increase since 1999

 

Afterall when you look at a lot of people in government and the elite of our society, it’s not obvious that they got to where they did by virtue of their education is it? 

 

The signalling power of education is gone. 

 

What on earth have we done? Given how bad the problem is, can we even trust the government to tell us the truth let alone fix the problem? Well, education is being voted huge sums of money in the budget. Who knows where the money is really going….


 

The report was commissioned by UNESCO and was carried out by the Education For All Global Monitoring Team and it is titled ‘Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work’.

 

 

 

If you prefer I have it here as a Google Doc as well (click on ‘download’ and then ‘download anyway’ on the next page). You will need to download it as its too large to be viewed in a web browser. 

 

 

Education_For_All_Global_Monitoring_Report.pdf
Download this file

 

Unhappy reading

 

 

FF

 

 

Sovereign Wealth Fund Gist

Nigeria’s Sovereign Wealth Fund kicks off tomorrow (October 2nd). 

You can read the bill establishing the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority below. I have had this document for more than a year now and I am assuming it is the latest one or perhaps has only had minimal revisions to it. Nevertheless, the document is watery enough for anyone to understand.

Sections 29 – 31 give the gist of how the NSIA will be initially funded (initial $1bn seed) and subsequent funding. This is all still subject to the Governors allowing the thing to proceed and not torpedoing it as they are threatening to do. Their position is somewhat understandable because recent experience has shown us that whenever the Federal Government takes a top line charge on govt revenues, the results are usually ‘interesting’ to put it mildly (fuel subsidy as an obvious example).

As announced in September, the fund will be run by a chap by the name of Uche Orji. His LinkedIn profile is here. Sadly you can no longer view it except you are ‘connected’ to him. More on his background can be found here. He’s a Harvard MBA which is never a bad thing but it is interesting that his very recent experience is in semi-conductor investment research. I am not entirely sure how this is relevant experience for a wealth fund especially as in the Business Week link above, he already seems to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to prove that he will know what he is going to be doing. 

“I’m actually very close to many of the sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East; I’ve known many of them for many years and I’ve watched them grow,”

I can say the same thing above (I’ve interviewed with one of the biggest ones) but I doubt that makes me capable of running a wealth fund. Moving on.

There’s a lot of money at stake here and given high oil prices, it could very quickly accumulate to multiples of the $1bn seed it has been started with. As I type, the wealth fund has no website anywhere I can find on the internet. Perhaps the website will be ‘launched’ tomorrow at the same as the fund. Perhaps. 

Examples of other countries’ wealth fund websites include the following

Singapore http://www.temasek.com.sg/

Abu Dhabi http://www.adia.ae/En/home.aspx 

Norway http://www.nbim.no/en/ (there have been complaints that this website is in fact ‘too transparent’) 

The State of Alaska http://www.apfc.org/home/Content/home/index.cfm/ 

The point of pointing out all of the above is that there can be no excuse for Nigeria’s wealth fund not having a detailed and up to date website. None whatsoever. This should not be tolerated at all. Not only must the website show how much the authority has under management on any given sunday, it must show where these funds are being invested and on what terms. Anything less than this will be the equivalent of a handshake that has gone beyond the elbow. Again, absolutely no excuses, e no go beta for ‘Nigerian factor’. Since this is a new thing, we must start as we mean to carry on.

Sections 39 – 48 of the bill give the gist of how the fund will be structured. There will be a Future Generations Fund [FGF] (sections 39 -40). You can see how ‘watery’ the wording here is. One trick that politicians in the west learnt a few years ago is how to steal from the future. The people to be affected by such stealing usually havent been born at the time of the theft not to talk of being able to vote. So it’s a very convenient heist indeed. From the wording of this bill it does look like the future generations have entered the proverbial ‘one chance’. But let’s wait for the fund to kick off and see what’s up.

There’s also the Nigeria Infrastructure Fund [NIF] (sections 41 – 46). This evidently more detailed and some thought at least went into drafting it. It’s also the part that should give much cause for concern given that in Nigeria, voting money for infrastructure does not always mean that said infrastructure will appear. 

Finally there’s the Stabilisation Fund (sections 47 -48). That sound you are hearing as you read this is the sound of politicians rubbing their hands together in delight. To put it in much simpler language, this is the ‘allocation’ segment of the bill. Again you can see how alarmingly watery section 48 is as to how these funds can be disbursed. It looks like it can be done by a text message from the Finance Minister to the Managing Director of the NSIA even. Dont laugh – when things are not clearly spelt out, expect the unexpected. 

All told, a minimum of 20% of the fund will go to the FGF subject to some other formulas. Another minimum of 20% will go to the NIF, again subject to other formulas. While the Stabilisation Fund will get 20%. In between the FGF and NIF, the remaining 40% will be allocated. 

Finally finally, I draw your attention to section 8, subsection 2 of the bill. This is the section on ‘Membership of the Governing Council’ of the fund. It does not disappoint on the comedy front. There will be ‘4 reputable individuals from the private sector’ there. Should I name them for you or I shouldnt bother? I shouldnt bother? I thought so too. It will be packed full of the usual suspects – Mr President as Batman and the Vice President as Robin. The CBN Governor, of course, and not to forget the most important minister in the whole of Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, the minister for ‘national planning’. It is my earnest prayer that, given the amount of committees these people are already on, no one will die of committee in Nigeria IJN. 

Since my readership on this blog is a young one, I cannot help but point you to point J in the same section. Ah yes, there it is, ‘two representatives of Nigerian youth’. Up Youth!

 

Happy Independence anniversary. I woke up this morning to start a course I am taking online along with millions of other people worldwide on Development Economics. The course is being run by Professors Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University. I am a big fan of Tyler Cowen and it is impossible for me to go 6 hours in any day without checking out his blog. 

The course is being delivered through www.mruniversity.com and is completely free. I urge you to get started on it. Just register and follow at your pace.

Did you know that in 1950 Nigeria was richer than South Korea? That was one of the things I took away from the introductry video this morning. You will do a lot worse than signing up for the course.

That is the end of today’s gist.

FF

 

 

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