Iyela Ajayi’s MIDAS Touch Revamps Senior Secondary Education Commission

By Toye Fawole

With exponential increase in the number of senior secondary schools nationwide by over 40 per cent in five years and the corresponding rise in enrolment of pupils by 25 per cent over the same period, the pressing need to introduce and enforce standards, more than ever, came tops on the agenda of the Federal Government for the education sector in recent years.
Going by data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the total number of senior secondary schools rose from 17,739 during the 2014/2015 academic session to 24,937 during the 2018/2019 session, representing an upsurge of 40.6 per cent. Broken down by ownership, the number of public schools grew from 8,008 during the period to 10,651, representing a 33 per cent increase, while private schools increased from 9,731 to 14,287, up by 46.9 per cent.
Correspondingly, enrolment of pupils in private senior secondary schools increased from 911,561 during the 2015/2016 session to 1,425,629 during the 2018/2019 academic session, a stunning growth of 56.4 per cent, while the number of public schools increased from 3,563,748 to 4,185,779 – a growth of 17.5 per cent. Altogether, the total number of senior secondary schools in Nigeria increased from 4,475,309 during the 2015/2016 session to 5,611,408 during the 2018/2019 academic session.
Yet this tremendous growth was bedeviled by shortage of qualified teachers, inadequate infrastructural facilities, dearth of instructional materials, lack of purposeful supervision, lack of the political will to do the needful, as well as other human factors. On the one hand, therefore, the surge in the number of schools and pupil enrolment was a welcome development but on the other hand, it was a nightmare to government in terms of supervision, monitoring, regulation and enforcement of standards, among others.
Even though other educational levels – basic/junior secondary, polytechnics, colleges of education, and universities – are overseen and supervised by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), National University Commission (NUC), and Tertiary Education Fund (TETFund), respectively, the senior secondary education sector was still growing without a clear regulatory body to control it. In that situation, establishment of senior secondary schools was left in the hands of individuals and organizations both in the private and public sectors, many of them setting their own standards while others had no standards at all and could not be bothered.
To stakeholders, therefore, it was a welcome relief when the Federal Government established the National Senior Secondary Education Commission (NSSEC) in 2021 to fill the vacuum. However, the Commission groped in the dark and did not find its feet until six months ago when Dr. Iyela Ajayi took over the mantle of leadership as its Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer.
Coming highly recommended as a seasoned educational administrator, it is on record that the former two-term Provost of Federal College of Education, Okene, Kogi State, had posted superlative performance at his former duty post and was voted overwhelmingly as best-performing Provost in the country. When the associate professor assumed office six months ago, he hit the ground running.
There was no doubt that the key mandate of the Commission was to prescribe and enforce minimum standard in all senior secondary schools in Nigeria and to serve as a regulatory and intervention agency within the sector, yet before him, it was like a case of knowing where one was going but without the clue of how to go there. So, demonstrating clear understanding of the terrain and the mandate of the Commission, he came with sleeves well rolled up and, even within four months, it seemed a chasm had opened, separating everything that just started happening from everything that went before.
To start with, he knew that sitting in Abuja and dishing out standards and memos without adequately carrying the states along and replicating the Senior Secondary Education Commission in the states would amount to nothing. What Dr. Iyela did was to embark on advocacy visits to the states. He started meeting with the state governors for their buy-in into the vision of the Commission, to enable the various states access the NSSEC funds for the development of Senior Secondary Education.
The Governors were advised on the need to study the Act establishing the Commission and to establish State Senior Secondary Education Board that would synergize with NSSEC to achieve its mandates. It is on record that the process has already commenced in some states.
Towards developing minimum standards for senior secondary education in Nigeria, which is a core mandate of NSSEC, the Commission organized the first critique workshop in Bauchi on the draft Minimum Standards for Senior Secondary Schools in Nigeria in July 2023 and it was well attended by stakeholders in the Northern Zone. The critique workshop was replicated for the Southern Zone in Uyo two months later.
Under his watch, NSSEC has hosted a capacity building workshop for teachers, featuring 200 selected English Language and Mathematics Teachers of Senior Secondary Schools on the enhancement of Pedagogical skills with emphasis on student-centred teaching and learning approaches. This took place at Grand Central Hotels, Kano, in July.
In addition, the Commission has developed a National Strategic Plan/Road Map for the revitalization of Senior Secondary Education in Nigeria.
To promote administrative efficiency, he initiated a draft document on the restructuring of the Commission and introduced a Committee system for effective administration of the Commission, deploying ad hoc committees to handle different areas as a conscious attempt to ensure that members of staff are part of the decision-making process of the Commission. Some of the Ad hoc Committees created are Security and Sanitation, Staff Welfare, Staff Training and Development, among others.

Draft documents on both the Conditions of Service and Scheme of Service for the Commission are already in place while NSSEC Staff Performance Tracking System has been designed to measure and analyze staff performance on quarterly basis.
In the pursuit of its mandate, NSSEC is collaborating with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Commission (NERDC) on validation of Senior Secondary Education Curriculum. Along this line, the Commission prepared and presented the NSSEC Policy Proposals to the two-day Critical Stakeholders’ Workshop to validate the Senior Secondary Education Curriculum Framework at Wetland Hotel, Abuja, on the 21st and 22nd August, 2023.
Although the NSSEC Act had been passed several years before the Commission was actually established, yet it was not gazetted until the assumption of office by Iyela, who also made it a point of duty to introduce due process, accountability and probity in financial matters, especially ensuring that due process is followed in line with the Procurement Act in the award of all contracts in the Commission.
In addition, he initiated the preparation of Accounting Manual and Internal Audit Instructional Manual for the Commission and swung into action by also initiating the idea of a Journal of Senior Secondary Education, which will be published by the Commission annually with the sole aim of harnessing wide range of scholarly ideas for the revitalization of Senior Secondary Education in Nigeria. Up his sleeves, he has rolled out the plan to host an annual NSSEC National Conference to enable members of the academia, educationists and policy makers to come together, brainstorm and make far-reaching recommendations on how to take Senior Secondary Education sub-sector to the next level in the country.
Determined to end the lack-lustre existence of NSSEC, Iyela has put in place the machinery to introduce the Distinguished Public Lecture Series (DPLS), aimed at inviting distinguished scholars/elder statesmen who have made a mark in the field of education. This is being designed as a forum for them to share their thoughts on educational developments in the country in general and Senior Secondary Education in particular.
The guidelines for the policy of ranking Senior Secondary Schools in Nigeria are already being prepared.
The development of an NSSEC Unified Portal for online data capturing of all aspects of Senior Secondary Education in Nigeria is in progress, thanks to the collaboration with Stable Shield Solutions, which comes at no cost to the Commission.

Still on collaborations with development partners and non-governmental organizations, NSSEC has submitted a proposal to UNICEF in the area of gender education and is in league with President Schools Debate Nigeria (PSDN) to organize the final debate among students of Senior Secondary Schools in Nigeria. Under the watch of Dr. Iyela, NSSEC has initiated discussions UNESCO, USAID and World Bank, among others.

According to a stakeholder who opted for anonymity, “when it comes to sourcing for funds outside budgetary allocations, Iyela knows where the corpses are buried and how to exhume them. This was why he stood head and shoulders above peers as Provost of Federal College of Education (FCE), Okene, turning the fortunes of the college around and upgrading it to the status of a degree-awarding institution within his first tenure.”

It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that he has held successful discussions with and is following up on Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE) on collaboration and support from the World Bank in the area of increasing adolescent girls’ enrolment, retention and completion rate and also to encourage inclusiveness of special needs male gender.

The Commission under his watch has held several meetings with the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on areas of collaboration.

Meanwhile, NSSEC’s draft National Policy on Senior Secondary Education, which has gone through different stages, was discussed at the one-week plenary meeting of the Joint Consultative Committee on Education (JCCE) at Umuahia from 4th – 8th September, 2023 and is believed to have been on the agenda of the recent meeting of the National Council on Education in Lagos.

Within the first six months of Dr. Iyela’s administration, the Commission has conducted Monitoring of Learning Achievement (MLA) in English Language and Mathematics across Federal Unity Colleges, Technical Schools, Private and Public schools in the thirty-six states and the FCT and has embarked on the monitoring and evaluation of selected senior secondary schools in Sokoto and Anambra states.

Not one to be caught napping, the Commission has already prepared a Guideline for Accessing, Disbursing and Utilizing the FGN/NSSEC Intervention Fund for Senior Secondary Schools in anticipation of the take-off of the Fund.

The Commission has developed the NSSEC Monitoring and Evaluation Manual for senior secondary schools in Nigeria and has organized the National, Science and Technology Innovation Exhibition for Senior Secondary School Students (Science and Technical Colleges) within the FCT on a pilot scheme.

Reporting on the first three years of Dr. Iyela in the saddle at the Federal College of Education, Okene, in 2013, Campus News, an independent monthly magazine which focusses on Nigeria’s higher institutions, with emphasis on physical and infrastructural development, creation of conducive learning and teaching environment, general welfare, management/staff and management/student relationship, had said: “… far beyond what the passer-by can see is a silent revolution in the management of men, money and materials in that college, a mini-city which sits on a 400-hectare parcel of land. Until a few years ago (before Iyela became its Provost), this re-discovered teachers’ factory was more known for crises, which reverberated beyond the four walls of the ivory tower.”

Seven years earlier – in 2006 – the Governing Council of the Federal College of Education, Katsina, had given him a letter of commendation for worthy and laudable achievement during the 10 months that he acted as Provost of the college.

He was therefore well-tailored and adequately prepared for the task at NSSEC and, going by his antecedents, can only be likened to King Midas of Greek mythology whose touch turned everything to gold. He started almost from the scratch at the Federal Government agency which, in two years of its existence, had kept neighbours at its Maitama head office guessing, until Dr. Iyela came to adorn it with a sign board which reads: NATIONAL SENIOR SECONDARY EDUCATION COMMISSION (NSSEC).

During a recent media interactive session in Abuja, he told journalists that everything he was doing was in tandem with the Renewed Hope Agenda of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu Administration.

Like all other research and development (R&D) agencies, NSSEC has its fair share of challenges, with paucity of funds topping the list. The earlier the funds statutorily prescribed for its operations in its Establishment Act started being made available to the Commission, the better not only for NSSEC but also for Nigeria. Its office accommodation is grossly inadequate.

With the Commission staff being placed on Consolidated Research and Allied Institutions Salary Structure (CONRAISS), the salary structure for research, training and allied institutions in the Federal Public Service, the Federal Government expects the agency to function as think tank on Senior Secondary Education for the nation, formulating and enforcing standards, monitoring and intervening with funds where necessary. There is no doubt, therefore, that NSSEC is a welcome development. The cap of Executive Secretary/Chief Executive Officer, indeed, fits Dr. Iyela Ajayi who stakeholders see as the round peg in the round hole.

• Toye Fawole, who publishes R&D WATCH (www.rdwatch.net), contributed this report through fawoletoye@gmail.com

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