OEQA: Enhancing Quality Through Stakeholder Engagement, Creativity

Abiola Seriki-Ayeni is the director-general of the Office of Education Quality Assurance. She served as the Senior Special Assistant (Education) to the former Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode. Her office has continued to uphold several special programmes in line with its mandate. These include Spelling Bee Competition and One Day Governor Celebration, a flagship programme in the state in collaboration with the New Era Foundation; United Nations Drug-free Day, School’s Invention Programme (SIP), World AIDS Day Celebration and the commemoration of World Literacy Day. In this interview with Ugo Aliogo and Kehinde Lawal, she highlights the efforts of her office in enforcing quality in schools, among other issues. Excerpts:

Can you give us an overview of your office?

The Office of Education Quality Assurance (OEQA) was established through an executive order under former Governor Babatunde Fashola in 2013. There has always been an inspectorate department in the ministry of education, but he realised the importance for an agency outside the ministry but still relating with the ministry. But, it will have its own leadership and help to regulate schools in the state, not just government schools but most especially private schools. As we move forward, we are working on being backed fully by law, so that we can operate optimally. OEQA has offices across the state. We have an office in each local government, and we are housed either in public schools, campuses or in local government offices. We have officers across the state that monitor all schools within Lagos state.

We do take a need-based approach to what we do because we have to have a plan to navigate. The evaluation that we do is basically like grading a school, and that occurs every three years. We look at certain thematic areas within a school like students’ achievements, care guidance and safety, teaching and learning, environment, administration and finances. We look at everything that makes the school what they are. We visit these schools for two or three days. We observe their lessons and talk to students, parents and teachers. It’s a very holistic evaluation and we come up with a grade of outstanding, good, fair or poor. We have made the provisional approval process much simpler than it was in the past.

What is the role of the private sector to elevate the quality of education, and what is your office doing to ensure this is done?

The government has its standards, and the government regulates, but of course, we don’t have enough schools for everybody, so private schools play a huge role in driving the quality of education for students, but it is important that they are working with the government and that is why we prioritise stakeholders’ engagements. We have numerous meetings with our different stakeholders, who include the examination board and private school associations, to buttress the importance of collaborations and understand how government policies are executed. Sometimes, there are some policies that need to be changed. For instance, we have a harmonised calendar that all schools are supposed to adhere to. During one of our stakeholder engagements, some of them requested some sort of flexibility. The question is, how do we give flexibility without moving away from the standard? We have to be more creative. So, we came up with ideas that work for everyone without reducing the government’s standards. However, some things cannot be changed. For instance, it is compulsory to have the same resumption date and public holidays with the state government schools. There are things that are flexible, like a mid-term break or third-term holiday.

You served during former governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration. What project did you assist the governor with?

As senior special assistant to Governor Ambode on education matters, I focused heavily on teachers’ effectiveness and parental engagement. At the time, the former deputy governor of Lagos, Senator Idiat Adebule, was overseeing education and it was something that she had passion for. During that period, we engaged parents across the districts and held quarterly stakeholder engagement with parents. That was really a big deal, especially since there was no commissioner of education. The parents felt a connection between them and the government and we got about 85 per cent satisfaction rate as feedback.

In addition, I focus on training about 1,000 public school teachers on effectiveness and a framework for teaching; I focused on the major components of effective teaching, which include planning and preparation, professional responsibilities, classroom environment, and teaching and learning. These things are to determine and evaluate the effectiveness of teachers. The teachers were graded in four levels. Either a teacher is highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective. As a result of this framework, we were able to train teachers and also understand their knowledge gap and where they needed more help, they were upskilled accordingly. It was a huge achievement.

How do you follow up to ensure that the standard is sustained?

 With the government, there are different jurisdictions; everyone has their mandate, and my mandate presently is to ensure quality through standards, evaluation and monitoring. When it comes to the effectiveness of teachers, one of our key programmes is our partnership with HPIDA, Innovation and Digital Education Academy. This is focused on upskilling our teachers, with focus on how they can proffer solutions to the problems they see in their classrooms in real-time. This takes a mindset shift. As a result of HPIDA, we got international certified coaches and mentors working with the cohort of about 60 teachers in government schools who were nominated by their districts. They had the responsibility to create an HPIDA associate. Lagos State did so well with the government school teachers. Initially, government school teachers weren’t considered, but someone suggested the government schools for consideration, and they agreed. Surprisingly, the government school teachers did very well to the amazement of everyone. They did so well that when they were doing the documentary that the facilitators would show the Secretary of State in the UK, HP came to Lagos specifically to interview our teachers.

We worked with them in the beginning to assess what their level was: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective. We monitored how they were working with their students and all of those 60 teachers moved by at least one step. If you are under-developed, you move to effective; if you are effective, you move to highly effective, and that is within one academic year. All of those teachers improved in terms of the standardisation of teacher effectiveness.

What is the state government doing to ensure that issues like harassment and bullying in schools are being addressed?

 In collaboration with DSVA, Lagos State actually has one of the most comprehensive and best safeguarding and child protection policies in Nigeria. It is very comprehensive and based on roles, responsibilities and activities. It’s not just saying we are going to ensure safety. It’s saying, how? Safeguarding and child protection is a primary mandate of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development but of course, the unique opportunity we have by working with children in schools allows us to be a key stakeholder. So, when we have cases like that we go with DSVA to the school. We are not just reactive or responding to issues. We are also being preventative and sensitising. We also sensitise the students on what to do when faced with such an incident.

L’explore Literacy Assessment and HP–IDEA (Innovation and Digital Education Academy) are part of your initiatives as DG. Can you explain more about them?

L’explore Literacy Assessment began on November 16, 2020, and was aimed at capturing the current literacy status of students, benchmarking them against global standards in literacy education and providing a structured intervention programme to students who are experiencing reading difficulties. It was conducted for 500 students across various schools in Lagos State at the initial stage. A smooth and successful completion of the exercise has encouraged tremendous impact on the education landscape and set the course for implementation of more innovative trends in education across the state. The exercise was carried out by RAOTECH and MIRAI Partners in collaboration with my office.

For HP-IDEA, OEQA partnered with Hewlett-Packard (HP) an American multinational information technology company designed to support schools’ commitment to transform their Digital Pedagogies to flourish in the 21st century and keep schools agile and inventive during challenging times. The programme aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) to ensure an inclusive and equitable quality education. In addition, it promotes life-long learning opportunities for all. Now in its second year, OEQA has 130 public school teachers who have graduated as either fellows or associates.

You have bagged a lot of awards and honours. What do they mean to you?

For me, it’s just the beginning. The honours and awards, even though I am the recipient, I wouldn’t have been deemed worthy if not for the backing of those who work with me and other stakeholders. Though I am the driver, it’s an award for the office and the state government. However, it challenges me to want to do more, even when I may feel that my impact is not enough or fall short of my expectations. It encourages me that I am moving in the right direction, but it also challenges me to want to do more.

Looking at your background and places that you have worked so far, what influenced your choice of career?

My choice of career has been strongly influenced by my upbringing, experiences, and the values instilled in me by my parents. Both my father, an educator, and my mother, a successful businesswoman, taught me the importance of education, integrity, hard work, and perseverance. As the eldest child, my parents stressed the significance of excelling and instilled in me the belief that anything was achievable with determination.

My passion for education was further nurtured by my early exposure to communication and literacy skills through writing letters and a home environment that encouraged reading. This laid the foundation for my career in education.

A mission trip to Haiti provided me with a significant perspective on the power of education in transforming lives, especially in adverse circumstances. Witnessing the dedication and desire of children to learn ignited a fire within me to make a difference through education. Education is not just about transmitting facts, but about equipping individuals with the skills and mindset to be independent thinkers and contributors to society.

My teaching experience and involvement in education fellowships further solidified my commitment to the educational sphere. Seeing firsthand the transformative impact of effective educators on student outcomes motivated me to excel in my own teaching and pursue opportunities to enhance educational systems.

Understanding the complexities of the education system, I pursued a graduate degree in International Educational Policy at Harvard to gain a comprehensive understanding of the interconnected elements in education systems globally. My professional experiences in Nigeria and the United States have equipped me with the skills necessary to navigate bureaucracy and ensure strong teacher evaluation and development systems. Ultimately, my career in education is driven by the belief that education can empower individuals and societies to overcome challenges and achieve their dreams. By improving education, we can create a more equitable society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

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