Mr. Nurudeen Lawal, the Chief of Party USAID Northern Education Initiative spoke to Funmi Ogundare and explained the various strategies used and how the agency had partnered with different stakeholders at the state and federal levels in the last five years. The objective is to provide basic literacy opportunities to out-of-school children especially in Sokoto and Bauchi States, to enable them find their feet, among other issues. Excerpts:
USAID is implementing the Early Grade Reading across Nigeria, what led to its introduction?
For learning to take place, it must start with reading as reading is the beginning of learning. USAID is leading the support across different countries to improve reading outcomes. The USAID’s Education Strategy Goal one is focused on improving reading skills for 100 million children in primary grades worldwide. USAID is focusing on reading because it is a critical path towards human development. Mainly, when a child can read, then that child can continue to succeed in education and will not get frustrated as she/he progresses. The learner would develop confidence in himself or herself to succeed. When a child cannot read before getting to primary four, then that child becomes frustrated in learning. The level of frustration is so high that she/he would blame herself for not being able to read, for not succeeding. But the major problem is that the child was not taught to read and the failure is not self-inflicted. The solution is to concentrate on early grade reading and ensuring that children can read at early primary grade especially in their mother tongue. The reason for mother-tongue is because this is the language that a child has accumulated vocabularies (about 6,000 of them) before coming to school. So when you teach this child to read in that language, the child would build on the previous knowledge as anchors. But if you start teaching the child to read in a language he does not have a vocabulary, it is like speaking gibberish to a child. So the idea is that if you want children to succeed in their education, then teach them in their mother tongue. This is also contained in the National Policy on Education (NPE) that early primary grade should be taught in their mother tongue. Following all of these factors, USAID funded the Northern Education Initiative (NEI) Plus project in Bauchi and Sokoto states. We are all familiar with the Nigerian context especially the low learning outcomes. Over time, the country has been struggling with poor results, across the different education levels. If we look at critical studies that have been done, we will see that Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. And 10 Sub-Saharan countries have the lowest literacy rates for both children and adults in the world. Seven out of 10 children in this region are likely to become dropouts. This is a disturbing trend. Studies also reveal that Nigerian children have little access to books. Nigeria is also saddled with low-quality teachers who are supported by weak systems. Recently, the issue of banditry and insurgency has worsened the situation, leading to further poor learning outcomes in schools. Working with critical education stakeholders at state and federal levels, early grade reading materials were developed in Hausa (Mu Karanta!) and English (Let’s Read). Recently, more titles were added in Igbo (Ka Anyi Guo!) and Yoruba (Je Ka Kawe!). The project was able to train over 12,000 teachers in early grade reading who are teaching close to 1,000,000 pupils. Although every teacher is a reading teacher but every teacher would need to be trained to teach reading because it is a specialisation. Children would not just read, they need to be taught using evidence-based reading strategies. Presently, there is a strategy termed MATTERS proposed by USAID which means Mentors, Administrators, Teachers, Text, Extra Practice, Regular Assessment, and Standards. So what that is saying as a strategy is that teachers need to be mentored. Teachers need to be supervised and coached, that is the administrator’s part of it. And then the teachers need to be trained and then they should have access to books which is the Text, and that they need to have a community of practice which is the extra practice. Regular assessment means that reading should be assessed and then standard means that you need to have a certain benchmark for reading. So that is the strategy that everyone is supposed to align with when implementing a reading program. Before now we used to have what we call 5Ts plus C. What that is saying is that, for a successful reading program one must have these 5Ts in place, which is Time, Teaching, Text, Testing, and Tongue. Time here is saying that one must give sufficient time for reading on the time-table. If we go to most schools now, we will see that there is no reading on the time-table and so there is need to give sufficient time for reading. We also need to have teachers that are trained and knowledgeable in the teaching of reading. The children need to have books and the teachers must also have books. Then the tongue is the language, we must teach them in the language they understand and our curriculum must cover the main parts of reading, which are the five reading skills including phonological awareness, alphabetic principles, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension, then usually we add the concept of print and writing. So the reading skills are critical when it comes to the teaching of reading. Some activities don’t cover those five reading skills and every reading program must cover these aspects.
Having institutionalised it, who are your partners and those you worked with?
The project works closely with the states because the objective, is to strengthen the systems of the state to be able to increase reading outcomes and improve educational opportunities for out-of-school children. If we look at the structure of that objective, we will see strengthening the government system is in itself an objective. And why that is important is because all we have implemented and achieved with the states need to be owned and sustained. The project started in 2015 and was supposed to end in 2020, but was extended to May 2021. So the question is how are the states going to sustain what we have been doing together? So NEI Plus works with the government partners, communities, stakeholders, and community structures to achieve those two objectives. At the Federal level, we work with the Federal Ministry of Education, National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE), Nigerian Education Research and Development Council (NERDC), Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria (TRCN), National Teachers Institute (NTI), National Institute for Nigerian Languages (NINLAN), BUK/ Nigeria Center for Reading Research and Development, and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC). These are our critical planning and implementation partners. At the state level, we work with the entire education sector, the Ministry of Education in Bauchi and Sokoto, State Universal Basic Education Boards, and State Agencies for Mass Education. Then the project supports three colleges of education and in Sokoto one college of education. These four colleges of education have successfully modeled pre-service early grade reading programs. And this has led to the integration of early grade reading into teacher training minimum standards in the country. The project works with the LGEA, that is Local Government Education Authorities (LGEA) because they are the one that manages education at the local government level. The project relied on community structures to succeed, these include Community Coalitions, Women Groups, School-Based Management Committees (SBMC), Center-based Management Committees, and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). In Bauchi and Sokoto, we work with 41 CSOs, notably the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN) and the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria.
Having worked with these various groups, states and federal agencies, what impact has that made over the last five years?
The greatest impact is that NEI Plus has successfully placed reading on the national agenda. The two states; Sokoto and Bauchi are a model to other states. Appropriate grade, leveled, decodable EGR teaching-learning materials are available for the teaching of reading in the three main Nigeria languages and English Language. The NEI Plus project distributed more than 9 million books to children across Bauchi and Sokoto states reaching about 1,000,000 children with improved reading skills. But this is not even capturing the fact that right now the states have replicated the project intervention in the non-focus local governments. And, also six more states (Ebonyi, Gombe, Yobe, and Borno states), inclusive of Bauchi and Sokoto are replicating the project early grade reading approach with funding from the World Bank Better Education Service Delivery for All. Also, about 269,000 learners including adolescent girls have been provided basic literacy opportunities, of which some have progressed to higher education. The assessments conducted show a significant reduction in zero scores across the key reading competency areas. The two states (Bauchi and Sokoto) have expended more than N1.4 billion towards improving the reading outcomes and increasing access following the NEI Plus approach. The project has provided educational budget planning tools to the states and supported the integration of early grade reading and access into the state educational planning documents. Other tools provided for the states include the Teacher Management Information System, the State Education Account, and the Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool. The project has developed local capacity in all of these areas including training of 42 early grade reading specialists by Florida State University. The project has thus developed experts in the two states and at federal level, over the last five years to manage early grade reading and access related educational activities for the country.
USAID also inaugurated the Early Grade Reading in the Yoruba language in Lagos, how would you describe the effort?
The project recently introduced the Yoruba EGR books to the Lagos government. In the last five years that we have been working, Lagos has not been part of it. So we produced the Yoruba books, which is a sort of an expansion of the project mandate, based on request to also develop the Igbo and the Yoruba early grade reading materials to make the project have a national reach. After developing materials in English and Hausa, NEI Plus developed the early grade reading materials in Igbo and Yoruba and expect that the 11 southeast and southwest states including Kwara state would print sufficient quantities of the books for pupils and teachers, and also train the teachers.
How would you describe the success rate in those northern states?
The project has been able to increase reading time on the timetable from around an average of 660 hours in a year to more than 1300 hours per year. A child should have at least 1,000 hours of reading in a year according to UNESCO. Specifically, the project has been able to encourage the states to increase this to 1,350 hours of reading instruction in Bauchi and Sokoto. One of the things I mentioned under the 5Ts is that there must be time for reading. So the project worked with the government to increase the time for reading. And then, provided the text which is the early grade reading books called, ‘Lets Read’ and ‘Mu Karanta’. These texts meet international best practice in reading following the principle that I outlined earlier, and contextualised to local factors with cultural relevance and at the right level of the children. The project also provided what is known as Supplementary Reading Materials (SRM). We provided this in Hausa and English and there are more than 200 titles.
How has the project been able to ensure access for out-of-school children?
The project’s objectives are to increase access and improving reading through non-formal and formal education. The formal education part of the project takes care of primary one to three children and provided them with books, reading time, and trained and coached teachers. The project ensured they are taught in their mother tongue, and conducted reading assessments. Whereas, the access part of the project which is the first objective, targeted out-of-school children by going into communities, working with community structures, conducting community mapping (which identified where children are not going to school, identified where children do not have schools because their schools are very far away and identified where girls do not go to school). The project partnered with CSOs and community structures to establish Non- Formal Learning Centers and Adolescent Girls’ Learning Centers within those communities. This was achieved working with the 41 Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and the State Agencies for Mass Education. So the CSOs manage the Non-Formal Learning Centers. The project provided the CSOs grants to be able to perform this task. The learners are exposed to six to 9 months of the basic literacy program. And after these six to 9 months according to the government’s non-formal education guideline, they can be mainstreamed into public schools. The schools conduct tests and place learners in appropriate classes. This is an important strategy towards ensuring that out-of-school children are provided an educational opportunity. Over the last five years, the project has been able to reach more than 269,000 learners in Bauchi and Sokoto.
courtesy : This Day (lagos)