Professor Chris Ogbechie Speaks at The Business of Education Summit

Importance of Leadership in Improving Outcomes for Schools and Students

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to be here today to join the all too important conversation about our country's education sector. I'd like to say a big thank you to the conveners of this forum and thank you all for making time to be here.

If you browse through the media today, the prevalent news about our country seems to paint Nigeria as "a bag of problems". From poverty to insecurity and high youth unemployment, how did we get ourselves into this ugly situation? Nigeria's leaders seem overwhelmed by the fires we have to put out or manage. It is my humble opinion however, that Nigeria is not a "bag of problems" but a "nation of opportunities". We are the world's most populous African nation. The National Population Commission (NPC) has said that Nigeria's population is currently 182 million, with more than half her people under 30 years of age. Apart from the enormous labour force, which our size provides, it also provides an ever growing market of potential consumers who have several needs that have to be met.

The State of Education in Nigeriai

Nigeria is practically the largest economy in Africa, although our growth is forecasted to be slow due to dependence on international oil and commodities prices. We are expected to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050, but we face high levels of regional and gender disparity. In our country today the lack of formal education is at the rate of 38% among women and 21% among men. Youth unemployment rates even reached 50% in 2015 and it is rising.

Our school-age population is forecast to grow at 2.5% annually to 84 million by 2021, and the country is home to 11.4 million out-of-school children. Although the education market presents a significant demand-side opportunity going forward, political and economic stability, combined with infrastructural development, are essential to unlocking growth potential. Nigeria has an acute shortage of teachers and will require 400,000 more primary school teachers between 2012 and 2030.

Today, businesses in the country consistently point out that we have „unemployable graduates‟ – a lack of competent and effective graduates to employ, unemployment is at an all time high and we continue to experience brain drain as competent youths travel abroad to be educated and gainfully employed.

Pre-primary, Primary and Secondary Education

All public schools are now mandated to offer one year of pre-primary education, which drove public enrollments from 1.8 million to 3 million from 2009–2013. Private provision of primary education in Nigeria has been spurred by capacity constraints in the public sector, where the number of primary schools decreased from 67,000 in 2010 to 62,000 in 2014. Although Nigeria has achieved high levels of primary enrollment, secondary enrollment has remained low. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of public junior secondary school students declined by 40% to about twelve million. The share of private enrollment was nearly 60% in Lagos State in 2014, where as many as 1,000 small unregistered private schools open each year. However, the public sector struggles with low funding, teacher shortages, inadequate monitoring, and low parent awareness. With public capacity constraints, private provision for pre-primary has grown.

Higher and Continuous Education

Higher education in Nigeria has several capacity constraints, 1.6 million students appear for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), competing for about 650,000 University and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) places. Nigeria sends about 71,000 students abroad annually, the highest figure in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA). The private higher education sector in Nigeria has seen growth in the last five years, with the emergence of 20 new private universities. However, most remain small and average scale is 2,500 enrollments. For continuous education, ,many also enroll in online courses such as University of Liverpool Online Programs while there are currently no private universities approved for distance programs and the National Universities Commission (NUC) maintains that online foreign university degrees are not recognized in Nigeria. Growth has been tempered by high infrastructure and financial requirements, coupled with low affordability of private higher education for most Nigerians.ii No Nigerian university is ranked within the top 500 universities in the world and that says a lot about our education system.

This ugly situation has arisen because proprietors of schools do not see that running a school is similar to running a viable business. Being a good teacher is not a recipe to be a good school leader or administrator. Just like being a doctor doesn‟t mean you can run a hospital effectively.

A School as a Business

A school should be seen as a business whose main purpose is to deliver consistent high quality education and satisfy all the key stakeholders. These key stakeholders are Government (Federal, State and Local), Religious organizations, Private school owners, Teachers and Parents. Businesses and schools have similarities in their journeys. Just as the Chief Executive Officer is the head of a business organization, the Principal is the head of a school.

Successful businesses consider the following in their journey:

  • Purpose
  • Core values
  • Customer imperatives
  • Value proposition and pursuit of excellence
  • Dealing with limited resources
  • Making strategic choices
  • Managing people as they provide competitive advantage
  • Structure and Processes
  • Organizational Climate and Performance
  • Leadership Development

My focus will be on leadership development because leadership is a critical variable in the success of schools.

Leadership Matters

Great schools do not exist apart from great leaders. The state of education in Nigeria has heightened expectations and principals are in the hot seat to improve the outcome for schools and students. For this to happen, principals need to be educational visionaries, instructional and curriculum leaders, assessment experts, disciplinarians, community builders, public relations experts, financial analysts, facility managers, management experts, and expert overseers of legal, contractual, and policy mandates. They are expected to broker the often-conflicting interests of parents, teachers, students, and owners. They have to be sensitive to the widening range of student needs. This is an overwhelming job description and we therefore need to take a hard look at the quality of school leaders.

School leadership is all about school’s continuous improvement, more specifically, it is about establishing agreed upon and worthwhile directions for the school in question, and doing whatever it takes to groom and support people to move in those directions. We will therefore need effective leaders at every level in a school.

Education Leadership – the Roles of Principals and Teachers

Effective school leadership is essential to improve the outcomes of students and school.

Five key functions of principal leadership have been identified:

  • Creating a vision of academic excellence for all students, based on high standards. Effective principals have a clear mission or purpose for the school and identify goals that align with that mission. They communicate the purpose and goals in a clear way such that all stakeholders understand what they need to do.
  • Creating a conducive atmosphere for learning
  • Developing leaders that will help run the school effectively
  • Improving teaching and learning through staff motivation, commitment and working conditions. Good principals know how to attract, support, and retain high-quality teaching staff.
  • Managing people and processes to foster school improvement.

Investing in good principals could be a cost-effective way to improve school performance. Principals do not influence children‟s performance directly, they create conditions that support effective teaching and learning and build capacity for professional learning and change. They promote teamwork among teachers and engage in teacher monitoring, evaluation and professional development. They enable their staff to perform well and, as a result, student outcomes improve.

An effective principal will focus on building the right culture and environment, engaging parents and the community, and addressing behavior and teaching. Improved student outcomes will likely follow. School leaders must lead by example, give staff freedom within a framework of high standard, and develop strong lines of communication. Collaboration with other schools can also lead to improved school performance.

Coming to the role of teachers, the kind of teaching needed today requires teachers to be high-level knowledge workers who constantly advance their own professional knowledge. But school administrators should note that people who see themselves as „knowledge workers‟ are not attracted by schools organized like an assembly line, with teachers working as interchangeable widgets in a bureaucratic command-and-control environment.

Teachers are leaders in the classroom, while traditionally, teaching had been practiced as a solo art by individual teachers alone in their classrooms, in today‟s fast paced „Google it‟ world, teachers have to adapt to the changing pedagogy and ways of learning. Teachers have to support the schools in building a system that places much greater emphasis on enabling pupils and students to become lifelong learners in order to manage complex ways of thinking and complex ways of working.

Leadership Priorities in Education

A recent report by Mckinsey & Company titled „How to improve student educational outcomes‟ found that Students‟ mindsets matter much more than their socio-economic background and that Students who receive a blend of teacher-directed and inquiry-based instruction achieve the best outcomes. These findings point to the pertinent approaches, which I believe should be most important for leaders in education. They are

  • Family Centeredness
  • Value Driven
  • Partnership between school and parents and government

Family remains the bedrock of society so the support and role of parents cannot be over emphasized. The parents and guardians are co-leads in the building of our educational system. While the school administrations and teachers will play their role, they are only partners to parents who have the primary responsibility of grooming the talents and potential of the younger generation for the benefit of themselves and society.

William Jeynes, a senior fellow at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, and a professor at California State University conducted a study and found that; Students in faith based schools enjoy a significant academic advantage over their counterparts in traditional public schools. He also found that these schools had less behavioral problems among students. v

While the complaints of government's inadequacies or inefficient policies have continued to trail practically all sectors in Nigeria, government remains a key stakeholder in advancing education and building a better future. Education leaders should therefore strive despite the challenges to build a tripartite partnership between school, parent/guardians and the relevant government bodies. Ayeni Joshua of the department of Educational Management, Adekunle Ajasin University researched Partnership for Sustainable Quality Assurance in Nigerian Secondary Schools‟ and found that “the provision of quality education is a collective responsibility of stakeholders while the attainment of the educational goals in terms of students" academic achievement and standards is undoubtedly determined by effective partnership between the principals and parents. This synergy is necessary to create conducive learning environment and promote empowerment of students for effective learning process and quality outcome. The inclusive management by stakeholders in education sector is necessary for a proactive periodic needs assessment to determine the existing gaps and make the needed adjustment in instructional, facilities and manpower capacity for effective curriculum delivery.”

Developing Future Responsible School Leaders

Visionary school leadership works with leaders at all levels to develop specific skills and competencies they need. The skills and behaviours for effective leadership can be learned. Unfortunately, many schools in Nigeria do not invest in high-quality development of the leaders they need. Schools should grow and retain aspiring middle and senior leaders to ensure they have a sustainable supply of leadership talent at all levels. There is the need for continuous learning and development for educators to enhance the success of the school.

The demands of the modern principal are practically impossible to meet and many of them cannot therefore devote enough time and energy to school improvement. There is the need to develop other leaders amongst the teachers and administration staff to assist in the effective running of the school.

Positioning and Branding

Every school proprietor and principle must have a marketing mind set for success. Good academic performance is not the only criterion for success. It is important to define the primary target customers of the school as this will influence the choice of location, the environment and the type of facilities that will be put in place.

Every school has a brand, whether they like it or not, and the brand is not about choice. The issue is how to actively manage the brand.

Conclusion

As proprietors of schools you have to set high expectations. You must refuse to accept a low-aspirational mindset for your students just because of the state of the country and the complex issues we currently face.

Schools should develop systems where teachers are supported and challenged to search for more effective ways of enabling all students to learn.

Our approach to educating the future leaders of our country obviously has to evolve to reflect the current opportunities and challenges which we face. It is our collective responsibility to do what we can. I would like to conclude by saying that sacrifices where made to develop the systems that work well in countries where we now pay huge fees to educate our wards. Perhaps it is time we sacrifice to build our own system so that we do not only change the narrative about our country but we equip our youth to build a country we can all be proud of.

Thank you.

Prof Chris Ogbechie

Lagos Business School

  1. The Business of Education in Africa Report https://edafricareport.caeruscapital.co/thebusinessofeducationinafrica.pdf
  2. World Education News & Reviews (WENR) https://wenr.wes.org/2017/03/education-in-nigeria
  3. Preparing teachers and developing school leaders for the 21st century– LESSONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD © OECD 2012 https://www.oecd.org/site/eduistp2012/49850576.pdf
  4. IMPROVING SCHOOL LEADERSHIP, VOLUME 1: POLICY AND PRACITCE – ISBN 978-92-64-04467-8 – © OECD 2008 https://www.oecd.org/edu/school/44374889.pdf
  5. http://www.capenet.org/pdf/Outlook385.pdf
  6. Principals and Parents Partnership for Sustainable Quality Assurance in Nigerian Secondary Schools by Ayeni Adeolu Joshua. http://www.ipedr.com/vol81/023-ICERI2014-R10009.pdf

 

 

 

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