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How Sanwo-Olu is tackling unemployment – Wahab

Barrister Tokunbo Wahab is the Special Adviser to Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Education, in this interview with MURITALA AYINLA, he reveals how the state government is reducing unemployment through the training of youths and graduates on employability skills, among others. Excerpts…

 

The unemployment rate in the country, particularly in Lagos State, is alarming, so what is your administration doing to address this challenge?

 

You will agree with me that lack of employability skills is exacerbating Nigeria’s unemployment problem. Not a few employers have complained about the skills mismatch in the employment market, and they lament that graduates of our institutions of higher learning come out lacking both technical and soft skills to fit into the workplace. The Lagos State government, having realized this gap, sought the collaboration of the private sector to work with the Office of the Special Adviser on Education to develop a programme that would bridge the skill gap and empower its teeming young population, thereby preparing them ahead for workplace challenges. Therefore, private consulting firm, Loftylnc Allied Partners Limited (LAPL), was considered most suitable among firms that showed interest in working with the state government in building youth capacity, such that they would be suitable for the labour market demand. The organisation has been collaborating with the state government to provide training to 12, 000 youths across the selected eight higher institutions in the state. The beneficiaries of the traininghavebeenengagedinfourcriticalareas, which include: entrepreneurship, work readiness tools, soft skills and market aligned courses. ‘Eko Digital’ is a programme designed to benefit students and pupils in Lagos State with the right coding and technology skills that will enable them to complete successfully with their counterparts from any part of the world. The consultants are currently collaborating with the state government to train students/ pupils in 720 schools across the state in the areas of computer basics, scratch, use of the Internet, cloud services and web designs among other computer programming. The Eko Digital initiatives will among other things, help curb youth restiveness as it would provide them with the right skills that would enable them to get valuable jobs after completing their education. He added that the initiative will also equip young people with the industry certified skills needed to get instant employment both within and outside the country. What happened to similar initiatives, for instance the Ready. Set. Work and CodeLagos, introduced by the immediate past administration? The government is on a continuum and that is why we renamed the CodeLagos to Eko Digital. This administration will not throw away the baby with the bathwater. After assuming office, I read the handover note and reviewed some of the programmes initiated by my predecessor, Fela Bank-Olemoh and we realised that the programme can  be improved upon. And that is why we called it Eko Digital. Part of the innovation we added to the programmewastohanditovertoTG/ PSwhowebelieveweretheownersof secondaryschoolsacross the six educational districts. We did not make them partners rather owners of the programme and we added other courses to the initiative. Digital coding was just one leg of the programme. We have added more to it including python, Cloud analysis and others. Also, the Ready. Set. Work is what we now call the Eko Job Initiative. We have now extended the programme beyond the final year students to the penultimate ones. We believe that before they get to the final year, some of them would have been taught. This way we also have the opportunity to do more for the students. There have been overwhelming complaints about falling standards of education, how committed is your administration to the improvement in the standard of education? The budget for last year is less than the one for this year. I have said to people that investment in education is like a Chinese bamboo tree analogy. After planting, it goes into the soil first and after holding its root in the soil, that is when it begins to spring up for the world to see. And people do not see it until, unlike the physical infrastructures that are noticeable immediately. Roads and other physical infrastructure are quickly seen by everyone across the state. To ensure the development of the education sector, this administration introduced ‘Eko Excel’, and through this, all the teachers have uniform handheld gadgets that can work for over two weeks without charge and other facilities. On the gadgets, the entire curriculum for the state is on it. This has ensured uniform teaching across the state. It also has time to check when the teacher logs in to prevent absenteeism. And that is on-going. The result of all this will not start manifest-  ing immediately but later it will become obvious. And that is when the schoolchildren complete their primary education and proceed to the secondary level. A generation is what we are investing in and that is when the results will begin to manifest across the state. So, people need to be patient with development in the education sector. For dropouts, what are you doing on the Alternative School system? The administration of Mr Babajide Sanwo- Olu, in line with the National Policy on Education, has remained committed to the provision of qualitative and quantitative education to the people of the state. This is realizable through effective and efficient implementation of education and technology as an important pillar of the state government’s development agenda, of which the development of both formal and informal education remains crucial. The Alternative School was set up in Agboju, Amuwo-Odofin Local Government and the plan was to replicate it across the state. We plan to upgrade the schools soon. The upgrade is aimed at attracting and reintegrating school dropouts as well as those who may have shunned education earlier in life. We are pulling them, the girls, back to give them new hope and a chance to get back. Some of them have gone ahead to do great things after leaving the school. The school recalibrates and allows them to write their WAEC which is the basis for them to get their life back on track they wished to go through. After WAEC, they have two options, either to go and study further in tertiary institutions or go to LASTVEB technical colleges, which we are giving wider scope. We are trying to ensure that we pull in the youths to learn new skills through these technical colleges and to ensure that they realize that not everyone needs to be at the university, some can be better using their hands to achieve their goals. Even the Eko digital initiative is designed to achieve that purpose across the state. For instance, we teach anyone coding, python, and others at the primary and secondary levels. This is to give them skills and after that, they could decide that with the knowledge and skills acquired, it is time to move on the path they wish to follow. They could decide that they want to create their app and later sell it. We are seeing this in the last few months; with that, we are aiming to deepen the curriculum to ensure that it is all-encompassing. We are trying to introduce alternative skills for them so that they can move beyond the after WAEC; I have to write JAMB and others. Still on vocational training, how come the state government seems to have relaxed on LASVEB unlike during the administration of Babatunde Fashola? I will admit that the ball was dropped before the administration assumed office and that was why the governor and that was why the governor brought back Mrs Ronke Azeez, who did the job under the BRF administration. I can assure you that in a few months, Lagosians will see the wonders they saw during Fashola’s administration. I know for sure that there is so much going on in LASVEB now. She told me last week that enrollment has jumped by over 80 per cent. I remember that after the #EndSARS protest, we all sat down and decided that there is a need for her to do something and that is what we want to see and we will not stop on the achievement    recorded. What is the state government doing to beef up security in Lagos schools and prevent invasion by kidnappers? I remember that the Ministry of Education briefed the state’s Security Council a few weeks ago. After the briefing, the governor mandated all principals, headmasters and mistresses to have the number of the closest DPO to their schools. We will not wait for what is happening in other states to occur in the state. We are proactive and that is why we are taking all measures to ensure that such does not happen. What strategy is Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu embarking on to ensure no one is left behind in the education sector? The commissioner is working seriously on it because she believes in inclusive education. She is working tirelessly on their curriculum to ensure that we have better education for them in Lagos State. But while there is a shortfall in human capital, it is not done overnight. One will have to train people to fill that vacuum. It is a unique set of skills and that is why we said our AOCOED AND MOCPED will need to do more on this task. We looked into the curriculum and checked what was not there, which we need to include addressing this shortfall in human power. We all know that teaching toddlers is a unique set of skills and not a regular teaching that anyone can just jump into. One will need to have a relationship skill to understand their needs. These are some of the issues we are working on. The House of Representatives on UBEC visited the governor recently and they complained that space for physical activity in schools across the state was lacking, what’s your take on this? I was at the meeting and for those that know the Committee Chairman, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere very well, since his days at the Ford Foundation and other members will know what they are capable of, particularly Julius will know that he has a passion for education and it is unprecedented. While he said that some of the facilities do not have a playing ground, he said the obvious because of the landmass of Lagos. And basically, we do not have enough land. We have to maximize the land that we have by providing infrastructure that will enable them to express that energy inherent in the youths. We cannot do this across the state because of the proportion of land available. The land that will be available for such a facility in Badagry may not be available in Ikoyi. However, for those that have space, we need to do it and maintain them. I am glad that the Lagos State Chairman of SUBEB understands what they said and also believes in that. Many of our schools need upgrades. Many of us attended public schools but now many are not ready to do that because there was a drop of the ball at some certain time. And once the ball is dropped at a particular time, it may not be able to get back that time wasted. And to get back, the person will have to plan properly and see how he or she can catch up with the wasted time. There is so much that we have to do for our children and education and that is where we can give the youths more hope because it is the ticket for the future.

 

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