Supplementary readers distributed to learners improves reading outcome
Strengthening Education in Northeast Nigeria
The oldest school in Yola; Central Model Primary School is nestled in the heart of Jimeta, Northeast Nigeria. Here, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the American University of Nigeria (AUN) established the first Teacher Resource Center (TRC).
The TRC soon became the star attraction for the Central Model Primary School with a fresh coat of green and cream paint, new desks, chairs, books, and teaching aids including Hausa supplementary reading materials developed in 2017 by the American University of Nigeria.
The TRC could not have been established at a better time, with 6.9 million Nigerian children out of school, and only 53% of children in the country’s northern region attending school, education in Nigeria is in dire straits. The Bokoharam insurgency, insecurity, and a barrage of school kidnappings worsen the situation in Northeast Nigeria.
That is why USAID and AUN established a revolutionary project to save education in the Northeast. The Strengthening Education in the Northeast Nigeria States (SENSE) project began in 2019, with the ambitious goal of helping 200,000 children improve reading and equipping 5000 teachers with the skills to impact education in Adamawa and Gombe states.
SENSE adopted the Hausa language widely spoken in Northern Nigeria, as the language of instruction to enable students to learn in their mother tongue with the hope of seamless transfer of literacy skills to English. SENSE Books were written for northern Nigerian learners, by authors who understood the culture and depicted a realistic portrayal of the lives of the learners.
USAID SENSE Impact
To date, USAID’s SENSE project has funded:
- 788 boxes for 335 target schools in Adamawa and Gombe states. Each box contains 1,250 decodable and leveled readers
- SENSE distributed books containing 30 to 35 stories to each of the 200,000 learners in target schools.
- Trained and supplied 5,000 Supplementary Reader Teacher Guide to 5,000 teachers
Children in Adamawa and Gombe states are the biggest beneficiaries of the SENSE intervention. One such child is eight-year-old Ibrahim Idris who recites stories from his favorite reader “Ina Son Karatu” by heart.
He dreams of becoming a phone technician one day and knows he needs to learn English to improve his chances. “Our Auntie reads to us and I enjoy it. English is my best subject because I want to learn how to speak it properly and also so I can read anything written in English, said Ibrahim.
Due to cultural and religious beliefs, western education is not popular in northern Nigeria. Many fear their children will be influenced to discard their religious and moral upbringing in English-speaking schools.
Even though Ibrahim’s father Isa, teaches the Quran to children in his neighborhood, he believes western education is also important. “ All knowledge is good. It is good for children to learn both Western education and the Quranic knowledge. One will benefit you in this life the other in the afterlife,” said Isa.
“Of all my eleven children, Ibrahim is the brightest. During the Corona lockdown, I always saw him listening attentively to the SENSE radio lessons. He told me they were given books for free to learn at home and I have noticed a huge improvement in his reading. I think he understands better because it is written in Hausa. This will make it easier for him to read in English.”
Ibrahim was also motivated to improve his reading for a highly anticipated occasion. The 28th of June 2021 was a special day for him. It was the day SENSE hosted the finals of a reading competition for schools in Adamawa state. Ibrahim was one of a team of 5 students who represented his school.
“When he entered the reading competition, he goes to bed early so he can wake up to read. I told his siblings to do all the chores so he can focus on reading.” Ibrahim’s father explained.
On the day of the competition, Ibrahim outshined his teammates, identifying letter names, sounds, syllables, and blending to form words.
It was a close race but the team from Michika Local Government Area proved their superior reading skills. Despite Ibrahim’s best efforts, Michika won with just one point.
Even though Central Model Primary School came in second place, Head Teacher Auwal Saad was proud of the team’s effort and Ibrahim’s performance.
“Our pupils could not read in Hausa, but now they have improved. So much that they try to translate to English. SENSE trained our teachers. That’s why I say SENSE makes sense,” said Mr. Saad.
Even though Head Teacher Saad is responsible for 83 teachers and 1,333 pupils, he was not too busy to notice Ibrahim’s special talent and potential.
“Ibrahim is always first to arrive early to school. I realized he was gifted when we organized a reading competition between his class and another. He was the best in primary 2A. I then became closer with his father, telephoning him to check Ibrahim's progress.”
“Partnerships are important for education because government alone cannot do it all. We do not have running costs to fund schools. We only have PTA fees of 160 Naira per child per term. We pay for electricity, water, medicines, chairs, and desks, with SENSE our teachers have learned so much from workshops. They are now motivated to teach. I hope the SENSE program continues. I hope they continue to train our teachers because they are the best so far.”
During SENSE workshops specialists help teachers develop self-worth. The emphasis is on socio-emotional learning to ensure that cognitive development is in sync with the emotional well-being of children. Lifelong learning skills training includes how to make the classroom a happy place, the use of supplementary readers, how to develop flashcards and other teaching aids.
Given the geographic propensity for conflict, the teachers are also trained on what to do for safety and security in emergencies. Teachers also learn Water Sanitation and Hygiene skills.
Notwithstanding the extensive training, Head Teacher Saad knows one intervention cannot change deep-rooted decay. He believes an issue as complex and sensitive as education in northern Nigeria requires multifaceted intercessions to make any appreciable gains.
“Looking at the problems in the north, the insurgency for instance, when Bokoharam attacked some local government areas in Adamawa, many families and children fled to the state capital. Many parents were scared to send their children to school because they didn’t want them to be kidnapped or attacked. Poverty is another big problem. Culture is another factor, especially for the girl child. Some people would rather marry off their daughters. They think sending girls to school is a waste. But now the numbers are improving. We have 630 girls in school. We now have a rolling admissions policy to encourage year-long admissions people’s idea of school is changing. Our religious leaders are now preaching about the values of education and Non-governmental organizations have helped a lot. In the past children did not like coming to school. SENSE’s radio program made it that young children who weren’t enrolled in school started to tell their parents they wanted to come to school.” The Head Teacher said.
SENSE’s approach to improving learning outcomes is supported by research by the Educational Quality Improvement Program 1 (EQUIP1) with support from USAID and the American Institutes for Research (AIR).
“ From when Ibrahim was much younger he always liked to build with sand. He would say ‘Baba I have built you a house.’ What USAID is doing is helping the poor. We now have hope that the future is bright for our children” said Ibrahim’s father.
Ibrahim’s precocious performance and exponential improvement with the help of the SENSE project is proof that the USAID and AUN strategy for education in Northeast Nigeria can be scaled for better impact. Ibrahim’s family like millions of others in Northeast Nigeria can now anticipate a brighter future with great expectations.