In this interview with Funmi Ogundare, the Director-General, Office of Education Quality Assurance, Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mrs. Ronke Soyombo highlighted the efforts of her office in monitoring, evaluating and ensuring standardisation of schools in the state. She said school owners must work hard to be creative and ensure that students take ownership of learning that will impact their lives in future. Excerpts:

At the resumption of the new term last week, your team went out to monitor schools, what was the outcome and how prepared are they for the academic calendar?

I must say a big thank you to most school owners, at least 98 per cent of our schools opened on January 8 which is very good. A lot of schools were prepared. However, we still have problems where parents are not sending all their wards to the school. That is something that parents have got to work seriously on and should they need a clarification on when they are actually coming back to school, they can get that online as well because we want all children to return to school.

Quite a number of schools that we visited did baseline assessment on their first day back at school; and Mathematics and English Language, which was a big credit to a lot of schools. In our public schools, they did a lot, they tested the students on baseline assessment in Maths and English Language, few private schools did that too and at the same time, most of the private schools that we visited, teaching and learning were going on from the first day. I say thank you to private school owners and the public schools leaders and at the same time, parents will still need to do more concerning their children.

So far, your office has been involved in standardisation, monitoring and evaluation of schools in Lagos State, would you say you are satisfied with the quality?

I will say I am satisfied with the improvements we have made. However, we still have a lot of room to do better, though not fully satisfied yet because there are quite a lot of schools that are underperforming. We must also note that there are a lot of schools that have improved tremendously. How have they improved? You will see that we have a clear assessment template that every school can download from our website which tells them what schools should do satisfactorily and what they should do to be good and outstanding. As a result, quite a number of schools have filled the form online and are assessing themselves to see where they are and identifying what their targets are.

Some of them have actually emailed it to us. It is telling us that people are actually on the right track with us. To me we still have very low percentage of schools that are seriously underperforming, but we are not going to sit on our oars because what we are doing is to make sure we intervene. In terms of intervention, when we have schools that are performing well, we work out how they can work together with schools that are underperforming such that at the end of the day, it is about the children and not the adults.

What is your office doing to ensure that underperforming schools are up to standard?

What we are doing is to ensure that we visit them for evaluation, but there is no way we can cover over 20,000 schools that we have in Lagos. What we have been doing is that we are very transparent with all our resources so people can actually access it online:, they can assess their schools and also contact us. Now there is a big awareness out there where people can petition schools that are underperforming, so people have been writing to us and we have been visiting those schools and doing monitoring and investigation of Lagos State schools. In terms of standard, we have also been having stakeholders’ session where we have been enlightening people on the things we do and what they actually need to do to get better.

How do you categorise the schools?

If you go on our website, you will see that we have an evaluation schedule that easily categorises according to the standard that is being maintained. So easily, if a school has been able to achieve the seven important areas to be outstanding, then it goes a long way. For a school that has not been able to meet up with everything but had been able to meet up in five different areas, it can be categorised as a good school and with all that, you easily see it online.

What is your message to schools as they resume for a new term?

School owners should work hard, students should work harder as well and also they should work more because we are looking for creativity in our schools. Students should be more innovative; we are looking for where students can actually take ownership of learning and not just listening to teachers alone, but take ownership of learning when teachers can become better facilitators to our children so that they can become great learners for tomorrow.

Your office recently organised leadership training for your directors and officers, what are the objectives?

It has been a brilliant professional development for all the officers in quality assurance because at the end of the day, we don’t want to continue to do the same thing and get the same result; we need to ensure that the leaders are actually aware of what they are supposed to do. Leadership is about developing great leaders so the fact that it has impacted on quite a lot of people today, it is going to impact on all our evaluators in all our 20 local government areas in Lagos State. For me, I think it has being a very brilliant programme.

What are your expectations from your officers?

We are expecting all our officers to still continue to work with great integrity and ensure that the code of conduct is adhered to strictly, and at the same time to ensure that standard is maintained in schools because if they don’t keep themselves abreast of changes, how can they make corrections? How can we intervene in schools? We are working with the ministry of education to improve standards in Lagos State. We need to keep abreast of changes because at all times, they must know what is expected in different schools. I would say thank you to them, they have been working hard, but at the moment we are expecting more.

So far what has been the achievement of your office?

We have achieved a lot, but not just by ourselves, under the leadership of the deputy governor of Lagos State who has a clear vision and because she drives everybody well; this has really helped the system. As a result, we have worked collaboratively with tutor general/permanent secretaries of secondary schools; we have also worked with the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to ensure that standard is maintained in our primary schools. To me with all the things we have achieved, standards have gotten better in most of our schools moving from 40 per cent in 2015 to 50.4 per cent in the previous year and to 66 per cent this year, it is a drastic improvement. What my office has been able to do on our own is that we have worked collaboratively with other agencies of government.