A cross section of teachers at the EkoExcel training held recently

EKOEXCEL has democratised knowledge acquisition, writes Abolaji Adeyeye

From the times of Lateef Kayode Jakande as governor, Lagos has been fortunate to be among the progressive states in terms of leadership. Whether under democracy or military rule, the state has enjoyed a high dose of excellence in service delivery among other states in Nigeria.

I can’t but remember LKJ’s revolutionary strides in the space that is currently tagged ‘Centre of Excellence.’ Like someone possessed, he went on developing schools, housing, public transportation among other public goods. But for this piece, I am more interested in the spark the man fondly known as Baba Kekere brought about in public education.

His critics were loud that he minimised frills but splurged on the basics. Yes, they said the classrooms he built were like poultries, lacking aesthetics. But school children, particularly children of the non-elites, had schools to attend. The government also employed qualified teachers to impart knowledge. In addition, the students got free books. They learnt, added value to their lives and kept abreast with the world. As LKJ built primary and secondary schools across Lagos, he also built higher institutions. All this he did in just four years. Little wonder that more than 40 years later, beneficiaries and followers of that scheme heaped praises on him at his recent passing. His legacy lives in the minds of the students he empowered.

While there may be little need for the crazed construction of schools Jakande did in the 80s, the state did not reduce its pace for quality education. Though Jakande has been long out of governance, I see another revolution silently creeping in public education in Lagos. But it is a digital affair this time around. Enter EKOEXCEL, a government intervention to introduce e-learning in public primary schools.

Started last year, EKOEXCEL, which means excellence in child education and learning, is aimed at bridging the gap in quality education delivery, through the use of technological devices such as teaching tablets and smartphones in public primary school pedagogy. It was deployed in the 1016 primary schools in the state to ‘drive excellence in learning’ for over 500, 000 pupils. But the beauty of the programme derives from the fact that over 14, 000 government teachers and 1016 head teachers are being re-trained and upskilled with digital skills.

In addition, there is a rollout of digital tools for the pupils which have been integrated into the classrooms. The gadgets are preloaded with audio learning aids for mathematics and literacy according to grades. Accompanying them are textbooks. And combining both, the pupils can follow up lessons from the book by listening to instructions already preloaded in the gadgets with the aid of an earphone.

In this age where knowledge is key and the computer is central to life and living. It’s on its backbone the future rests. And no child should be left behind. And while such learning experience may still be a novelty for even some Nigerian adults, it’s a way of life that has come to stay. Pupils in affluent schools really enjoyed e-learning during the lockdowns brought about by coronavirus. It was sad watching their poor peers wasting away, hence the joy I found in the introduction of EKOEXCEL. For the scheme, in addition to textbooks, the primary school pupils are given small electronic devices preloaded with audio-academic content according to their grades.

A neighbour whose child attends a public primary school in Agege told me of the impact of EKOEXCEL on his six- year- old son. “He likes to use the device most times that he is free and will not forget to charge it when the power is depleted,” he said of his son’s enthusiasm. “The gadget compensated for lost school time when Lagos introduced attendance schedules for public schools because of coronavirus precautions.”

Indeed, the EKOEXCEL devices ensured the students could still study at home and with minimal supervision too. My neighbour also said that his son now understands his English and mathematics better. That is exactly the intention of the Lagos State government.

And as reported by The Nation newspaper of March 26, 2021, that was what Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu expressed to some lawmakers and other stakeholders. In the audience were members of the House Committee on Basic Education led by their Chairman, Professor Jullius Ihonvbere, Commissioner for Education, Folashade Adefisayo and Chairman, Lagos State Universal Basic Education Board (LSUBEB), Wahab Olawale Alawiye-King.

“In the last couple of years, we have built strong foundations and this fiscal year, we increased our budget on education from eight to 12 per cent,” Governor Sanwo-Olu said.

“We invested in curriculum development through EKOEXCEL to change learning outcomes from our schools. We believe a solid foundation for our children starts with qualitative primary education hence our deliberate focus on primary school education and reform. Our administration will continue to increase investment to bring up the standard of education across the board.”

I think EKOEXCEL is a right way to go by focusing on primary school education as it forms the bedrock for all future academic learnings or life pursuits. And by deploying technology to this, the children – future workers and leaders – will be earlier exposed to confidence-building technology. Also, the teachers would be more empowered to help the children learn more, faster and in an interesting manner.

Basically, what EKOEXCEL has done is to democratise and simplify knowledge acquisition. Now, there is no excuse why a child in low income areas cannot study and aspire to be greater than his or her surroundings. It would also boost their confidence to know that all they need to learn is within easy reach – a plug and play – always at their disposal anytime of the day.

Without quality basic education guaranteed for everyone interested, the quality of Nigeria’s fortunes – her people – would continue to diminish. But this is not what progressive-minded Nigerians want.

But the Lagos State government must not see this as a one-off. It’s a given fact that once people embrace technology and experience the ease it brings, they hardly revert. Personally, while I don’t despise people that use the basic mobile phones, I would find it difficult to revert to it, considering my experience with intuitive smart phones. That is also a reality for many people. As Lagos journeys to retain its spot of envy in Africa, the government must continue such interventions in basic education. We cannot afford to raise children deficient in relating to modern life. Also, other governments would do well to copy Lagos in this regard. At least, they owe the children a good education.

Concluding, I commend the Lagos State government for providing this timely digital access for students in public primary students. And to Sanwo-Olu, for birthing EKOEXCEL, I say, you’ve just written your name on the hearts of these impressionable children. They won’t care about you now but in the future, just like LKJ, you’ll be loved and fondly remembered by them.