One of the qualities of great leaders, particularly elected ones, is the ability to spot and pick the right talent to help them fulfill their electoral promises. Some elected officials with great vision and goals have failed in their quest to positively turn around the lives of the electorates because of misfits in their cabinets. They put round pegs in square holes and fail to deliver the goods.

Happily, this is different with the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who promised a comprehensive education overhaul while campaigning for his soon-to-be-over first term in office in 2019. The then-candidate Sanwo-Olu had included education as the third element of his comprehensive development plan he labeled the THEMES agenda.

“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. New educational infrastructure will cultivate a learning environment that prepares our children for a new world that demands creativity, intuition and critical thinking. We will ensure technology is integrated into our school curriculum and empower our youths with the much-needed skills for the jobs of tomorrow,” Sanwo-Olu promised in 2019.

But then, his words won’t just fulfill themselves. Someone had to give life to that vision and drive the transformation. His choice of Folasade Adefisayo to drive this mission was inspired. A daughter of educationists, Adefisayo is an education activist whose professional focus includes teacher training, leadership training, school set-up, and school transformation. She had written about the learning crisis in Nigerian schools and attended conferences in Europe and Africa. She married theory with praxis by serving as the Executive Director and CEO of Corona School, Agbara, for eight years.

As the curtains fall on the first term of Governor Sanwo-Olu, Adefisayo can rightly be hailed as one of the stars of his cabinet. Knowing where the shoe pinches, it was not surprising that the Amazon hit the ground running and, to a large extent, successfully transformed education in Lagos with the generous support of her principal. Under her watch, staff training and welfare were prioritized. Infrastructure and transformation also took centre stage, while learning outcomes have recorded tangible growth with empirical facts attesting to the efficacy of EKOEXCEL, launched by Governor Sanwo-Olu in 2019.

Having realized the extent of work that needed to be undertaken in primary schools and the fulfillment of his electoral promises, Governor Sanwo-Olu launched the innovative digital learning solutions with support from its ed-tech partner, New Globe, under the supervision of the Lagos State Basic Education Board, led by Hon. Wahab Alawiye King. The initiative has since led to a radical transformation of public primary schools in the state. EKOEXCEL has recorded tangible gains among teachers and pupils, leading to improved learning outcomes for pupils and more professional teachers.

Though she doesn’t have direct oversight over EKOEXCEL, Adefisayo embraced it with good synergy and regular updates from Lagos SUBEB. She was one of its fervent promoters because its success was more important to her. She also adopted the EKOEXCEL method for the whole state to ensure no child was left behind. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the commissioner applied some of EKOEXCEL’s methods for the generality of students in Lagos. Rather than allow students, particularly those in secondary schools to idle away at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Ministry of Education, under the leadership of Awofisayo, became innovative by deploying technology to instruct students right in their homes.

The ministry’s practical response saw it release a schedule of radio and television broadcast lessons for students in public schools. Still, additional technology-driven interventions were put in place too.

Junior secondary school students were taught English, Mathematics, Basic Science and Civic Education. Senior secondary school students were taught nine subjects. 36,000 mobile devices were also procured for students and teachers by the government to encourage digital learning. The state also used the Nigeria Education Sector COVID-19 Response Strategy of the Federal Ministry of Education and the Universal Basic Education Commission, which saw the deployment of technology to support children’s learning.

Last year, through the Ministry of Education, 13 Lagos State public school teachers were awarded brand new cars at the 2021 Lagos Teachers Merit Awards for their passion and deployment of modern techniques to teach students. Out of the thirteen teachers, four teachers were basic education teachers under the EKOEXCEL programme.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Adefisayo said that teachers’ rewards were no longer in heaven but here on earth and urged the teachers to continue to put in more effort, as they carry out their duties.

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An apostle of EKOEXCEL, Adefisayo showcased the impact of EKOEXCEL at the two international conferences in the United States of America earlier this year. At The Brookings Institute Education Systems Transformation Symposium themed ‘Collaborative work, local contexts, and false dichotomies’ on February 17, Adefisayo highlighted how the Sanwo-Olu-led administration has been addressing issues bedeviling the state’s education sector.

The commissioner titled her presentation ‘Education Systems Transformation: The Lagos Story’ and recounted the challenges the government met on the ground and how it solved them.

She disclosed that Lagos has more children in private schools, with 18,000 private schools compared to 1,017 public primary schools. The state also has 698 public junior and senior secondary schools and five public technical colleges.

Highlighting the government’s initial challenges, she said, “We had a high attrition rate because many of the students enroll but then see a form of hopelessness and go into informal training by learning to be a carpenter or hairdresser. We also have a significant out-of-school population due to the heavy migration to Lagos from other parts of the country by parents who don’t enroll their children.

“We had low numeracy and literacy skills among the students, with some spending six years in our system unable to read. It was quite scandalous, I felt. We also have a national challenge with security and the high cost of building schools because Lagos is waterlogged.”

She said that because Governor Sanwo-Olu made education one of the critical focuses of his administration, there have been improvements with enrolment rising in primary schools, improved learning rate, and 40 per cent growth in literacy, 80 percent success rate in terminal exams after SS3. She attributed the successes in Lagos’ education sector to the introduction of EKOEXCEL.

She also showcased EKOEXCEL at the Comparative International Education Society’s (CIES) 2023 annual conference held from February 14 to 22 in the US.

Back in April, during the launch of the EKOEXCEL Control Room at the LASUBEB office in Maryland, she again noted how the initiative has helped to vastly improve pupils and how the control room would further strengthen the system.

“We are very proud of that fact as they will understand and be able to apply technology and innovation. There is so much data that this situation room will give, which will make us make informed decisions. There won’t be guesses; we will know what is happening and how it is happening to develop solutions.”

As the sun sets on Governor Sanwo-Olu’s first term in office, the immortal words of Albert Einstein ring true about Adefisayo, one of his able lieutenants. “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value,” noted the philosopher. There’s no doubt that she has added value to Lagos’ education.