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Modupe Adefeso-Olateju on how public-private partners can come together to solve Nigeria’s learning crisis
Episode 1417th May 2022 • The RISE Podcast • Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE)
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In this episode, Onyebuchi Ajufo, an advocacy and communications specialist and former Director of Communications and Advocacy at Africa Practice, speaks to Modupe Adefeso-Olateju, Managing Director of Nigeria’s pioneering education partnership organisation, the Education Partnership (TEP) Centre, where she leads the LEARNigeria citizen-led assessment and advocacy programme. They talk about the inspiration for Mo’s work to improve foundational learning in Nigeria; the importance of data for understanding the extent of the crisis, and as a tool to inform policy; and the role of public-private partnerships for improving children’s outcomes. Mo also speaks about Human Capital Africa’s recent call to action for African policymakers to make foundational learning their top priority.


Guest biographies

Modupe Adefeso-Olateju

Dr. Modupe (Mo) Adefeso-Olateju is a recognised policy expert specialising in public-private collaboration in education and with keen interests in education innovation and foundational literacy and numeracy. She is Managing Director of Nigeria’s pioneering education partnership organisation, The Education Partnership (TEP) Centre, where she leads the LEARNigeria citizen-led assessment and advocacy programme.  She co-established the annual pan-African education innovation summit, NEDIS, which is now in its 7th year. 

Mo supports policymakers, international think tanks, and corporations, and leads workstreams on a range of education sector support initiatives funded by government agencies, multilateral organisations, and corporate funders. She drafted a section of Nigeria’s 2011-2015 education strategy and is a member of the technical team which is developing Nigeria’s Medium- and Long-Term Strategic Plans. She is a Commissioner on the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges (Evidence Commission) at McMaster University. She provides advice and guidance on technical review and advisory committees convened by UNESCO GEM Report, Education Cannot Wait, Global Partnership for Education (GPE), Global Schools Forum, Lego Foundation, and Lever for Change. Mo has also offered technical advice on scaling education innovation to the Millions Learning 2.0 Programme of the Brookings Institution Center for Universal Education (CUE). She serves on the boards of Malala Fund, Human Capital Africa, Slum2School Africa, and Unveiling Africa Foundation Nigeria. She is also a member of the advisory board of the People’s Action for Learning (PAL) Network, Nairobi. Mo works to improve the employability of young Africans as a Mentor on The Global Grid of Nexford; an innovative online university.  

As a Centenary Scholar, she graduated from University College London’s Institute of Education (UCL-IOE) with a PhD in Education and International Development, and holds a Masters’ degree with distinction from the same university. She is a Fellow of the Asia-Global Institute in Hong Kong.

Onyebuchi Ajufo

Onyebuchi (Buchi) Ajufoi is a Partner at Hudson Sandler and is in charge of its West Africa Business. She is an Advocacy and Communications specialist, helping public and private sector players navigate complex stakeholder ecosystems- galvanising support and building coalitions, improving the policy environment, raising awareness of critical socioeconomic issues while building the capacity and the trust required to deliver socioeconomic impact. She has over 15 years experience working across Africa, the Middle East and the United Kingdom. 

In her previous role as Director, Advocacy and Communications at Africa Practice, she managed a team across the continent working to dismantle many of the barriers impeding sustainable development across Africa, in areas including education, nutrition, financial inclusion, access to water, and gender equality. This work has seen her collaborate with organisations including The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CDC Group, World Bank, Co-Impact, Human Capital Africa, Coca-Cola, and more. 

Buchi has a first degree in Psychology and a Masters in Business Analytics from The University of Warwick.


RISE is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Programme is implemented through a partnership between Oxford Policy Management and the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford. The Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford supports the production of the RISE Podcast.

Africa Practice, the Education Partnerships Centre, and LEARNigeria are members of RISE’s Community of Practice, a group of practitioners and implementers who work on the frontlines of education in countries around the world, and come together to share lessons to improve learning outcomes for all children.

Producers: Joseph Bullough and Katie Cooper

Audio Editing: James Morris


RISE Programme 0:04

Hello and welcome to the RISE podcast series, where we aim to explore the stories behind education, research and practice. As part of the multi-country Research on Improving Systems of Education endeavour, funded by UK Aid, Australian Aid, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Buchi Ajufo 0:22

Hello and welcome to the RISE Podcast. I'm Onyebuchi Ajufo, Director of Communications and Advocacy at Africa Practice. Today I'm speaking to Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju, Managing Director of the Education Partnerships Centre, and a policy expert specializing in public private partnerships in education. She is leading the implementation of LEARNigeria, she is also on the board of Human Capital Africa, and PAL Network. In this episode, we talk about Mo's passion for and work in foundational learning and education more broadly, the LEARNigeria assessment and the successful interventions thereafter. We also explore the role of public and private partnerships in improving children's outcomes and a whole lot more. Stay with us. Welcome Dr. Mo to the RISE podcast.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju 1:12

Thank you so much, Buchi. It's wonderful to be here. Thank you for the invitation.

Buchi Ajufo 1:17

You're very welcome. I think we're going to have a very interesting hour. So maybe we can start by exploring your journey to education. Did you start in education? And what drove your passion?

Mo Adefeso-Olateju 1:30

Right, thank you. Thank you very much, Buchi. In terms of my academic journey, the answer is yes, I did start in education. All my degrees have also been in the field of education. But I cast my mind back to the late 90s. I remember teaching in a state school, state public school. I was about 20 years old, I had 55 children in my class, and it was a grade seven class, they were just starting secondary school. And I was assigned to be the English teacher. And I remember that they're very bright and eager faces were in such sharp contrast to their soiled uniforms and their broken sandals. And there I was eager young person I wanted to do so much. I wanted to work with each of them. Every day, I wanted to do more than I realized I could do for this children. Because I just didn't have enough, I didn't have enough hours in the day. It would mean the night to prepare. I didn't have enough capacity, I didn't have enough support, I would cry so much. And as a point, I realized that if I continued on that trajectory, I would probably have an emotional breakdown. Because I really wanted to do a lot for these children. And so, I made a decision. At that point I was still, you know, completing my first degree, but I made a decision. One was, I didn't want to teach in a privileged primary or secondary school like it just wasn't my thing. I get to support these types of children who have come from serious contexts of disadvantage. And I made the decision that when I called, I would focus my energies on fixing the system that produced this children. Because at that point, it wasn't about 55 children in a school anymore, if I could support 5 million children across Nigeria. And so that really, I think, began the proper journey, you know, into the work that I do today. You know, working in the area of education, policy, and also implementation. My journey has been eclectic, it hasn't been a smooth sail. I've always had many interests, very divergent at some points.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju 4:10

So, my earliest interests were in the creative space. But my mother my parents, I think were huge factor for me in deciding a career choice in education and what I did in education. My mother and her sisters were educationists. My father was more unconventional. He was a cook. He was a baker confectioner. And he was a stickler for excellence. My dad used to measure his salt, very strange. But the thing is, they also both lived these incredible lives of service. They were members of this social club, or that social service or Rotary International or the inner wheel service club. Our home was like a refuge of sorts. You know, my mother’s school was run like a charity. And so, she grounded me in a career path that was about people but more about young people and helping young people to find their way to navigate their path in life. And my dad, he brought in the flexibility and the agility. I remember when I finished my undergraduate studies and I wanted to make a decision on what to do next. And my father said to me, that the world is your oyster. If it makes you feel fulfilled, go for it. And there began this crazy journey. I worked in banking, I worked in management consultancy, I was in marketing communications at a point. Then I went off to get a PhD in education. And then I ran a company that was making greeting cards, because I'm also an artist. But my parents also gave me the opportunity to lead when I was young. I was an acting Managing Director of my father's business when I was 16. I think it was a rite of passage in our family, you have to do it, and you have to do it young. And so, you know, meticulously accounting for all the spend calculating profits, negotiating with clients at the ridiculously young age of 16. And then later on, as a young person being invited to be a young trustee of the Commonwealth Youth Exchange forum in the UK. You know it for me, it's a pointer to that saying, isn't it, there's a quote that not all who wander are lost. And I think that on my 22 year career journey, I've wandered a lot, but not because I was lost, but because I was following a true north. I think that was really infused, you know, by my parents. And so, where I am today is really focused on being a mission driven, professional, living a purpose filled life, and I find myself in the education sector, achieving this. And that helps me sleep at night. So, I think, I think that really is, you know, in a nutshell, my journey in education, it's a continuing one, obviously, but this is, this is where I am today.

Buchi Ajufo 7:10

Thank you, Mo. And I think education is lucky to have you, but you said so very many interesting things. And a lot of the conversation we're going to have today will touch on some of these things. So, at the beginning, you started off talking about really wanted to be situated within somewhere in education, where you could drive impact somewhere where you're, where there was a need. And then you talked about really fixing the system that was failing children when it came to education, and how you would be able to do that at scale. And I think that for me, I think that is important. And you went on to talk about all the opportunities that you had access to the reporting to where you are today. And if nothing else, I think that's just telling about the importance of these types of opportunities for children, and how we fill them when we don't give them those opportunities. So, I was going to ask you, what keeps you motivated, but I think that you've answered that question for me in your initial answer. So, let's talk a little bit about TEP Centre. So, the Education Partnership Centre, let's talk about the LEARNigeria household assessment survey, how did it begin and how has it continued to evolve?

Mo Adefeso-Olateju 8:20

y of LEARNigeria began around:

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

We also had the academic community, and of course, the NESU, representing the private sector. And we sat together, and we find the tools, a steering committee has technical committees, we designed a survey methodology, we defined the sample, citizens would collect the data, and the validation would be done in person by these committee members. And so we had directors and senior officials, you know, government traveling to other remote locations of the country, and ensuring you know, that the data collected was accurate, and in a few instances themselves actually going to households to collect that data themselves, so that they would have a first-hand experience of what it meant to collect data on children's performance at the household level. And then we trained the community members, you know, on how to use the tools, we recruited about 1200 of them, and we trained them on how to administer the survey. And by so doing, they became familiar with the issues on the ground, they became familiar with the struggles that their own children were facing in their communities. And they became more fired up and passionate about making change happen within their own spheres of influence at the community level. And so, they decided, you know, well, now we have access to this data, it's open source, they had access to it, they would then decide what they wanted to use the data for, what sort of advocacy did they want to carry out? You know, and so it was really quite interesting because on the one hand, the advocacy was very grassroots driven. And we would have a community members decided that they wanted to set up learning hubs. They wanted to set up reading clubs. And they wanted to set up a volunteer corps within their own local government area. But then the data was also for policy advocacy, and sort of holding a mirror up in front of governments to say, for all of the trillions that are going into the education sector, this is what you really look like. This is really where it begins. And why the data on foundational literacy and numeracy is important is because it's an indicator and a very powerful indicator of how the system is faring. What all also, it's powerful, because it represents an opportunity. And that opportunity is one for course correction. Some people refer to that as remediation. Very often we focus on examinations, when it is rather late to remediate. So, in Nigeria, for example, we do have standardized examinations when children children are in grade nine, and when children are in grade 12. But how do you help a child who's 15 or a child who's 17 to develop foundational skills and literacy and numeracy, it's not impossible to do. But it is so difficult to do.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

And so being able to, you know, provide this data also represents hope for the government, you we can do something, we can still do something, you know, at this stage. And so, we piloted you know, in Canada on illegals in 2015. And then we rolled out fully in 2017-2018 to six states, but these six states represented Nigeria's geopolitical, you know, breath, we visited 21,600 households, we surveyed 49,000 Children, we tested 41,000 of them, who were within the five to 15 age bracket. We also visited 2000 schools in total, because it was important for us to identify some of the predictors of learning that are based at the school level. And altogether, we mobilized 1200 volunteers, who, Buchi, very interestingly, many of them then went on to secure employment as enumerators based on the certification and the training that we provided, that was a positive externality that we didn't plan for. But we were very happy that that happened. And what's happened since then, since then, we've developed higher grade assessments not just at the primary two level, but all the way to grade 12. And we're looking now for partnerships that will enable us to scale the assessment to all 36 states, rather than just the six proxy states. We've also evolved the LEARNigeria remedial program, where we have customized the towel methodology, which is essentially about effectively differentiating, and targeting children targeting educational material and strategies at children based on their level of competence, and not based on their age or based on their grade. And that's been hugely successful. We're also scaling the approach directly through a new program, funded in Nigeria by the UK Government. It's called the Partnership for Learning For All (PLANE), where we are consortium partner in a consortium that's led by DAI. And we will immediately be implementing this approach in three states in the north of the country. And then we also work very closely with PAL Network, we're beginning to deepen a new initiative, which is focused on improving the salience of foundational literacy and numeracy, but now at the regional level, so for us, it's West Africa, and not just about Nigeria. So, I think this, this really has been our journey thus far. It started with a problem. And you know, our response to that problem. And it's, it's almost taken a life of its own. But it's pretty exciting. It's also heart wrenching. And when we look at the data, it's really heart wrenching but maybe later on, you know, we'll get an opportunity to talk about, you know, what exactly people are doing with that data. But this is our journey. This is our journey thus far, Buchi.

Buchi Ajufo:

Thank you, Mo. And it's been a very interesting journey. And you started off talking about the importance of accountability. And it reminded me of a conversation you and I had when we first met, when we talked about the invisibility of the learning crisis. So, when we talk about access to education, you can count the number of bottoms in a seat, you can count the number of teachers in a room, the number of schools in a town, the number of classrooms, but how do you track learning? And so, when when you're talking about accountability of children's learning, you've answered it by saying well actually we need to be able to have data. So, we need to be able to make the learning crisis more visible. And I loved what you said about Yes, it shows you where you are, it's a mirror. But the thing with a mirror, especially when you're going out, you know, you're leaving your house in the morning, you step in front of your mirror, you see yourself, but it's an opportunity to fix your hair or to you know, put your lipstick on just right. And that was such a great example. Because it is that and I think it isn't, you know, we use words like crisis, and it sounds like doom and gloom, but actually these opportunities to course correct, like you said, to say, well, what can we do to intervene, and it sounds like we're doing all of those things. And I love that the citizens are, the citizens that got involved are actually getting employment from it. That's what we call an unintended consequence. But you talked a lot. And actually, what really was the strongest theme to come out of what you said, is really partnerships, right? Even from the start, you're talking about the Ministry of Education getting involved, different civil society organizations getting involved, different donors and practitioners getting involved. And it's something people say, you know, you go further when you go together. But actually, we know that for anything to really be successful, you need to get both private and public sector together at a table and really collaborate for anything to be sustainable. And so, I know that the work that TEP is doing is really focused on public and private partnerships. And you started talking a little bit about that in your last answer. But I want to double click on that and ask, so in what ways have you seen these types of partnerships where both public and private sector and for us, we're including all the other different groups within that, that that bucket, how they move the dial on on education, but actually foundational learning in particular?

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

That's a great question, Buchi and, you know, I guess for us at TEP Centre the P in our name is Partnership and partnership is in our DNA. In fact, the lens of partnership is one that I look through when I'm considering whether to lend my support to a particular effort or to join a particular initiative. So, when I look at other organizations that I'm part of like Human Capital Africa, of the PAL Network, the Malala Fund, and other organizations that I'm part of, on vetting Africa, slum to school, that thrust around partnership is vital. Because in therein lies the recognition that we can truly go further if we go together, as you say, isn't it? And so, within our context, not just in Nigeria, but as we're observing across a lot of Sub Saharan Africa, there tend to be a lot of ideological clashes in the education sector. There are schools of thought that believe that the public sector should provide and fund education. There are others who believe that no, education is a shared responsibility. And sometimes it's easy to underestimate the value in just being able to bring stakeholders to a table to achieve consensus on the way forward, it is a monumentally difficult feat. And once that feat is achieved, the initiative has a fighting chance. And that's what we have observed. And so, this is where we usually start from, because when that consensus is achieved, who wins the child wins the children in the classrooms win, the teachers who are teaching win, the parents win. So that's what we're gunning for. And I can give a few examples from some of the work that I've supported, and that we have supported in TEP Centre. I think, with LEARNigeria, which I just spoke about this assessment, advocacy and action program. We've come to a place where many development programs don't actually land on and especially smaller development programs led by civil society organizations that are local. And that's the point where government is using the term "us" to refer to the program. They are referring to the program as "ours", "our program", "our perspective", they are "our tools", we designed it, we did this together. And that is powerful. We've gotten to a point where governments are defending the data, and Buchi, this isn't pretty data. This is data that shows us that on average, only 55% of children in grade nine that is GSS three are competent to read a simple story that an eight year old should be able to read. It's not pretty. It's not nice. But governments are defending that data, because they know that they were part of the process of unearthing that data. And so, we're able to move beyond: Is it reliable? Is it valid? Can it be trusted to the real issue is we have a problem, how do we fix it. And that is where we want to start from. And that's what we've been able to achieve, I think, you know, on this ongoing journey of LEARNigeria, and sometimes, you know, the movement is in terms of how the government's think about inputs, oh dear, we have to change how we budget, or it's at the level of activities, we have to do more, we have to do better with teacher training. Sometimes it's the level of community activities where the community has determined themselves, we want to do this, we've written a paper actually, on a very interesting case study, where the community came together and developed a volunteer corps found volunteer teachers, and decided we can't wait for any government, these are our children. And we have to do something. And so, we find that that sense of urgency is then taken on board, it's owned by all the different stakeholders. And that sense of urgency creates momentum, it creates agency, they are able to do something, we're moving from paralysis into action. And that for us, it's very powerful.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

I think another example, is an offshoot of the LEARNigeria program, which is the left Nigeria remedial, which draws very heavily on the teaching at the right level methodology for which we have customized, you know, for our own context, and we implement this in partnership with we've implemented this in partnership with governments in Kano and Akwa Iborn state. And I remember when we first tried the program we said, “You know what, let's just go into a pilot, let's see if it even works.” Proof of concept doesn't even work. And we intervened for 24 days in Kano state. And at the end of 24 days, the share of children who could not even identify a simple letter dropped from 70% to 33%. Right. And the children, the share of children, who were at the highest level of foundational competence in reading moved from zero, there were none to 7%. We said this is a fluke, we need to go to a Akwa Iborn state and do this as well. So, we went to, we trotted off, you know, to the Akwa Iborn state, which is in the south. And what we found after 25 days of programming was that the share of children at beginner level who could not identify simple letters fell from 36% to 9%. And the share of children who are competent to read a simple story, which they should be able to read at the age of 8 increase from 17 to 25%. Buchi, that's not a fluke. That is actually hard evidence that proves that this approach works. And who is benefiting. Ultimately, it's the child that is benefiting. It's their skills that are being improved. It's the teachers that are benefiting now they know that their children can learn. It's the parents that are benefiting, because now they recognize that their children have capacity, and that there is something that is being done to help those children. Another example is the Korea project, which were literally just completing. This is in partnership with the Kano state government,, local education authorities, parents and caregivers, we started to ask ourselves a question during the pandemic: How are we going to get children to learn if they're not able to go to school. And this began the thinking around what sort of low tech solutions could possibly help, particularly in a rural, heavily rural context, with very limited access to high tech. And we developed this methodology, very basic methodology. We paired a workbook we developed a workbook and we paired it with basic phones, very simple phones that cost very little. And we began to send SMSs to parents and caregivers curated to help the children learn. None of us went into the field TEP centre wasn't in the field, it was the caregivers with their parents with the children in the field, and we were communicating via SMS. And what we found was really, I mean, we're still analyzing the data, but it's astounding that we only did this through an eight week period. And in some of the local governments, the share of children who have moved up a level is as high as 15%. This is indirect support. This is caregivers being supported to support their children. Absolutely phenomenal. And these are, you know, when we're talking within the realm of foundational literacy and numeracy, they're not teaching the children geometry or algebra. You know, this is really foundational stuff. And finally, I can also talk about our integrated teacher capacity development program, which is a partnership with the Kaduna and the Akwa Iborn state governments, Open Society, TEP Centre and Oxford University, we brought them into that program as well. And here, we were trying to help teachers to understand how to use data on learning to make decisions at the classroom level. And what we found was that these micro changes, ultimately deepen the competencies of teachers at the classroom level, make them more confident to support their learners. You know, there's so many examples. But I think that the main thrust of the argument here is that Nigeria is a large and complex country, we know that many countries of the world are. But we need to focus on the question you asked, which is moving the dial, we need to think about where we can make incremental gains happen. And then where the opportunities present themselves for monumental reform shifts, we must seize those opportunities as well. So, it's really about a pragmatic approach. And it's about a combination of efforts. It's about partnership, it's about each partner, recognizing that they have agency and they can do something. So, the journey continues, alootah continua, the struggle continues as well. But we're very optimistic.

Buchi Ajufo:

Thank you, Mo. I mean, you, you went into a lot of detail on the types of partnerships you had. And I found it just so very instructive how you ended. Because when you think about data that isn't pretty, as you said, data that shows that actually, we're failing our children. And while I think we take the success of having carried along all of the relevant partners to the point that they become code offenders in the courtroom for this data, you can be paralyzed by the sheer size of the problem and the scale of the problem. And so, this idea that you can make incremental changes, you don't have to solve everything on every, you know, for everyone at the same time. But small changes can become big changes. And you can then do those, those big ones that then, you know, really scale, any kind of solutions that have worked on a smaller scale. But it's also very amazing to see, you know, 24 days halving illiteracy in a, in a rural area, just to show you that it can be done. It's not an insurmountable

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:


Buchi Ajufo:

And that it just requires all hands on deck, as they say unto the question of our partnerships, I think it's just important that everyone is sitting at the table, and that they're agreeing that the only reason why they're there is in the interest of the child, and that everything else is not inconsequential, but certainly secondary to the real issues at hand. And so just on that, because we started off this conversation today talking about accountability. And I think that we all accountable in all in different ways. I think parents are accountable. I think civil society is accountable. I think certainly our government and our policymakers are accountable. And I know that human capital, Africa, one of your core, one of the core objectives is really about driving accountability in our government and a policymaker level. So maybe you can tell us a little bit about what Human Capital is trying to do. And this recent call to action for policymakers in Africa, what exactly is that?

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

Great, thank you very much for that question, Buchi. So Human Capital Africa, is an organization that is committed to advocacy around foundational literacy and numeracy. We understand that building human capital in Africa must start at the very foundation. And without that foundation, we're not building on anything that's solid at all. And so that is really the main premise for the work that we do. At HCA. I sit on the board. And we've come to an understanding that the difference that we bring to advocacy is really around leveraging the power of high level political leaders. And the impact that we hope for these ensuring that the countries in Africa will begin to prioritize foundational literacy and numeracy more in terms of budgets, budget implementation, evidence, and just a commitment, you know, to rigorous evidence on foundational literacy and numeracy, not just in terms of the indicators of how children are doing, but also a commitment to outcomes and making sure that children are building these skills. Now, there's a lot of evidence and out there about, you know, foundational literacy and numeracy. What we know now is that if a child cannot read by the age of ten, that child is significantly less likely to learn other subjects at school as well. And when we think about the impact of this, on their progression to higher levels of schooling, when we think about the ability of children to gain valuable life and professional skills that help them to become productive members of the community, we recognize that not building the skills early, is doing children a disservice. And so, we recently developed a call to action. And in that call to action, we're highlighting the magnitude of the problem, you know, across the continent, and what the implications are for the future of Africa. And then we're inviting policymakers to take steps to improve the learning gaps in their respective countries, we have, you know, five main thrusts in the in the call to action.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

First, country leaders need to simply acknowledge and accept that there is a crisis in their countries, this is the first step, you go to a doctor, the first thing you need to acknowledge is there's a problem. Because if we don't acknowledge that there is a problem, we can't even begin to think about treatment or solutions. So, country leaders need to acknowledge the crisis, and also acknowledge that there is an urgency to respond to it, it is time bound. We're losing these children by the day, Buchi, were literally losing them. So, there is an urgency to review the current state of foundational learning in different countries, and to accept the magnitude of the challenge. And then to put hand on heart and commit to resolving it. The second is around priorities, whatever is prioritized is what's going to get done. So, we want the key actors in national education systems to formally and clearly consider learning at the foundational level to be a top priority in their countries. And we don't just want this to be in talk, we want this to be reflected across the entire system. At the top level, when we think about education budgets, but also at the micro level, when we think about how teachers create their work plans, how they create the lesson loops, how they deliver the curriculum, in the classroom. The third area is around data. And this is where very often we fall short. So, collecting, reporting data, using data. We know that for any reform efforts to work, we must have data otherwise, how are we planning? So, we want countries to begin to set up systems that collect data on the children, the learners, the teachers, how the system is performing, education management information systems to be strengthened, we want all of these to be in place so that we can track progress. And on the basis of that inform policy, and practice. The fourth area of priority for us is now reviewing and implementing what is working. So, we know that very often, we've come to a lot of our countries in Africa, I can speak about Africa, where implementing solutions that simply don't work or don't work at scale, right, because there's no proof that they actually work at scale. Now, when we think about shrinking education budgets, when we think about the devaluation of currencies, when we think about really difficult economic times that we have entered into and may continue to be in for a while, national leaders are having to make decisions on what's really important. And so, we want them to commit only to implementing interventions that have been proven to work. In order for them to do that, they have to know what's working, they have to be familiar with what is actually working. And they have to be able to commit to equipment, education teams, education ministries, the departments, the agencies, even the private sector, with information on what works, and finally, stocktaking. Right.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

So, we're going to have, we're at a certain point in time. We're going to miss it, aren't we, we're going to fall on our faces. But what are we learning as we go about that journey? You know, sometimes you'll win, other times you will learn they say. So, we want country leaders to take stock regularly of efforts that are being conducted in their countries to review progress to create structured routines that will enable all the key stakeholders to continue to be motivated on this journey. Our board of advisors is a remarkable group of people made up of leaders, experts, people who have committed to this course, and they have said that they will, personally and that's what they're doing, personally delivering this call to action to policymakers. What do you do like the last question, you asked me around partnership, it's not just about them, delivering the call to action, personally, to policymakers, it's also about partnership. It's about amplifying this message across the entire region. We want to create such a momentum around this, that policymakers realize that we can't ignore this problem anymore. The time to act is now. And I know that, you know, they're, they're significant investments in, you know, different types of programming, you know, across different regions, and within countries. But it's time to go back to the foundations, it's time to ask ourselves, are children really coming away from the education process with the basic skills that they require? And are they coming away from that process, having acquired those skills at the right time. So, it takes a village, Buchi, it really does take a village. And this is what we've committed to do to equipping that village, supporting that village, and continue to amplify that voice at Human Capital Africa.

Buchi Ajufo:

Thank you very much for that answer. As you were talking, Dr. Mo, I'm reminded that, I mean, both of us are Nigerian, and we're very entrenched in election commentary at the moment, because we have multiple gubernatorial elections happening in the next year, but also our presidential election. And we're seeing the themes emerging. And the key messages they're around job creation and an employment and power. And even when it's education, and I saw I won't mention the state, I saw a state highlighting the increase in enrollment. And it was one of the things that they've done, right. And I think it's so important that the salience of these issues increased to the point where it's something that they have to mention they have to talk about, we won't allow you to get away with just telling us how you're going to create jobs in the future, without telling us how you're creating a pipeline of people that will take those jobs because you've educated them. And I think that this, this call to action is one of the ways that we can do that. So, I'm very excited to see the impact that it will have. But there's one question we ask everyone that comes on the RISE podcast. So, I'm going to ask you that as a final question. What is the one thing you wish other people knew about the education system in Nigeria?

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

Okay, so, Buchi, I'm going to request very humbly, that I give two responses to that question; that I'd be permitted to give two responses to that question.

Buchi Ajufo:

I grant your request.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

The reason is because, you know, you've made such a powerful point. And that is that we focus a huge amount of our energies and our resources, on building programs that help people to develop TVET skills, technical vocational education skills, and also help people to access tertiary education, universities, etc. Now, that's important to do, right. But the reality is that we are actually losing out on the huge potential that continues to lie dormant when we don't lay the foundations of literacy and numeracy for children before the age 10. So, we may invest heavily in large scale tertiary education programs, and we may massively fund TVET. In fact, we might massively fund the education to employment pathway because we see the direct impact on economic growth, don't we? Well, the truth is without a focus on foundational literacy and numeracy as well, we are losing out. It's not about upholding the rights of children. It's not just about that. It's about preparing economies for significant growth and competitiveness. And so, there is a real need for us to ask ourselves, how much are we really losing? And let's quantify let's put a number around it. How much are we really losing as economies by not investing in this pipeline that you're referring to, by not investing in foundational literacy and numeracy? So, I think that's the first thing that I wished the sector knew and spoke more and about and chewed more, you know, on. I think the second thing is that in the work that we do, working very closely, you know, with different stakeholders across the public and the private sectors, we have come to the realization that the public sector can work. It can actually work for children. And we wish more people realized this. I have witnessed first-hand commitment capacity in the public sector. Now, we often disparage the institutions because the truth is they failed. If we're going to judge any institution by its outcomes, many of our public institutions have actually failed. But within those institutions are seeds of greatness, there's capacity in there. We have seen how incredible policymakers, incredible civil servants have gone the extra mile, have leveraged the platform of the public sector, to create remarkable transformation in the lives of children. And I'm reminded of a quote that is attributed to Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." And when I think about the public sector, I can't help but remember, that small group of thoughtful committed citizens who are making significant change happen. And if their partnered appropriately, that impact can become massive. So, I guess it's an appeal to not write off the public sector. The private sector will never replace the public sector, the private sector should partner the public sector. That's what we really should focus on. And then leverage the capacities and the capabilities of each sector. Again, I say it, if we do this, well, who benefits? The child ultimately benefits, the education system benefits, the parents, the teachers they benefit. So that's one thought that I'd like to leave everyone with.

Buchi Ajufo:

And what a powerful thought it was. I mean, that quote is a good note to leave on, never doubt that a group of small group of intentional actors have the power to change the world. I think you're one of those actors, Modupe, and the education system in Nigeria is lucky to have you. Were on the RISE Podcast have been lucky to have you for the last hour or so. It's been a great session. Thank you so very much to Dr. Modupe Adefeso-Olateju for your time today. And for the all the great work.

Mo Adefeso-Olateju:

Thank you, Buchi. It's been wonderful

RISE Programme:

Thank you for listening to our podcast today. And if you liked it, be sure to check out our research at or follow us on social media at RISE Programme. You can find links to the research mentioned and other worksheets under the description for this podcast episode. The RISE podcast is brought to you by the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme through support from the UK's Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.





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