Six in 10 people in Nigeria’s Edo state live on or under the poverty line, and a poor education system has been a stumbling block to growth, development and prosperity. Now, all this is changing.
The governor of Edo state is becoming an international symbol of successful public-sector education transformation. Godwin Obaseki has become a trailblazer, quickly and dramatically lifting the quality of government schools and upskilling teachers in his low-income state. He has described his reforms - known as EdoBEST - as a means of boosting the economy and improving people’s life chances. Institutions such as the World Bank and the IFC have been looking at how Obaseki has so effectively reformed state education in only one year.
As of mid-June 2019 there were almost 12,000 newly re-trained and resourced government teachers across the whole of Edo state. By September 2019 this four-year programme - currently celebrating its first anniversary - will impact more than 300,000 children. Eventually every single public primary and junior secondary school in Edo will be part of this statewide public system transformation.
Education experts around the world and across Africa in particular are paying close attention to EdoBEST. It has become a beacon of light to other education ministries because it is improving learning for marginalised children and upskilling both novice and experienced teachers at scale, within existing state budgets and without western aid. Importantly it is happening within the existing system and been delivered by existing teachers and school leaders. Plus, it is happening fast. This is a Nigerian solution to a Nigerian problem.
The changes have been embraced at a grassroots level, with both teachers and union leaders celebrating the investment in their work. Government teachers are at the heart of the transformation and are being coached in some of the latest instructional and pedagogical approaches.
The adoption of a new teaching philosophy and associated classroom techniques has left teachers emboldened and empowered in the classroom. They have been through intensive retraining that focuses on developing their teaching techniques and classroom management to create positive learning environments. They are returning to work more motivated, with new resources and knowledge around how to create a more child-centred classroom. They are also returning to the classroom as part of a consistent support network - underpinned by technology - that will see them benefit from ongoing coaching and training as they implement this new approach.
The government of Edo state claims that since this transformation programme began, 20,000 extra children have returned to their public primary schools.
Nigeria has among the world’s worst out-of-school numbers. Official estimates estimate that 11 million Nigerian boys and girls are not in school. Its education crisis is partly an issue of access, but it is also one of quality. Transformation at scale has previously seemed beyond reach.
The impact on children’s learning has already been significant, even over a period of only three months. An initial study, commissioned by the state government in the first term of the programme, showed learning gains were positive. Pupils learned more, spent more time learning, worked harder and experienced a more positive classroom environment. Girls in EdoBEST schools outperformed all other pupils.
The initial analysis of boys and girls suggests that being in an EdoBEST school equates to nearly three-quarters of a year more maths instruction and nearly two-thirds of a year more literacy instruction compared to a normal Edo primary school. To put it another way, children are learning in one term what they would normally learn in one year.
The approach being used by Edo’s technical partner, Bridge, has been seen to improve learning gains elsewhere in Nigeria. A study by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) found equity of learning in Lagos schools, regardless of socioeconomic background. The newly released federal common entrance exam results have seen children from some of the most impoverished communities in Lagos excel, placing them among the country’s top performers.
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Over the past 18 months, there has been an increasing shift towards using the private sector in the education space to support the delivery of public sector transformation. The World Bank, DFID and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have all published new frameworks and strategies advocating this approach.
But it’s not only policymakers and government officials advocating non-state engagement. New US public attitude research shows eight out of 10 Americans think there should be more educational public-private partnerships in countries where the local government struggles to provide quality education for all. Edo is one of the first places in the world delivering it at a state-wide level.
The governor deserves the praise and attention he is receiving for his leadership and his determination to tackle intergenerational poverty and poor learning outcomes. Teachers are rightly delighted that their vocation is the central pillar of the governor’s transformation efforts.
The children of Edo are flocking back to the classroom because they and their parents know something of real value has arrived in their schools - learning. Other African leaders are watching with interest. EdoBEST could be a programme that not only changes the future for the children of Edo, but for children throughout Africa.