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Highlighting Progress in Nigeria for International Literacy Day

Posted Tue Sep 08, 2015 by Adamu Bulama & Tara Stafford

As you begin to read this article, take a moment to consider the skill that enables you to do so – literacy. For many of us, it’s something we have long taken for granted. Something we started to learn as babies when our literate parents read to us at bedtime, with the print and visual media surrounding us all produced in our native language. Now imagine a child learning to read in an environment where her mother never had the opportunity to learn to read, living in a society where multiple languages are spoken, and few media exist in the language most familiar to the child. These challenges are a big part of why 757 million adults in the world remain illiterate today, two-thirds of them women. Even as more and more children worldwide are enrolled in primary schools, 250 million children of elementary school age still fail to acquire basic literacy skills.

On September 8th, International Literacy Day is calling attention to this issue with the theme Literacy and Sustainable Societies. Whether or not a person can read and write underpins that person’s access to the many other basic necessities and opportunities that make up sustainable societies. The ability to read and write can enable someone to fill out a job application, to learn the policy positions of candidates running for office and fill out a ballot, to understand the dosage instructions when taking medication, and to read bedtime stories to their children, building a foundation of strong literacy skills for the next generation. It is no coincidence that many countries and communities with the lowest literacy levels are also those with the highest instances of violence – South Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali and Burkina Faso are among those countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world. Without the economic opportunities that literacy skills bring, individuals are more likely to turn to desperate measures to ensure survival.

While much work remains to be done, there are great examples of organizations doing the complex work of improving the quality and reach of literacy instruction in their communities. In Nigeria, where 21.4% of the population is still illiterate - about 37 million people – the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) team working in the Pampaida community of Kaduna State is honing more efficient and effective methods for building students’ literacy skills.

Nigeria started to monitor student learning in 1996. Students’ learning was monitored and assessed through a Monitoring Learning Achievement (MLA) tool conducted for children in Grade 4 to determine their performance in literacy, numeracy and life-skills. The results from the MLA exercise showed low achievement across the board. In 2011, ASER learning tests were used to determine the reading capabilities of primary school children in Pampaida. The reading results showed that only 19% of children were able to read a simple paragraph. In 2014, the Pampaida Education team collaborated with the Ikara Local Government Education Authority (LGEA) to develop standard literacy and learning assessment tools using the UWEZO guidelines. The tools are used in measuring children’s learning achievement on a monthly basis. The result of the first learning assessment conducted in September 2014 indicated that only 12% of Pampaida children acquired basic reading skills. These disappointing results called for more consolidated effort by all stakeholders.

In Pampaida, a stakeholder meeting involving parents, teachers and government education staff is held monthly to discuss progress in education. Following the dismal results, the group emphasized identifying the key factors responsible for children’s poor performance in reading and how to address them. It was discovered that children’s poor or irregular attendance, inadequate and unqualified teachers especially for English and mathematics were major factors behind the children’s poor performance in literacy and numeracy. It was also discovered that teachers were teaching based on the curriculum with little or no consideration to whether the children were capable of learning at the prescribed level, therefore many of the things taught were a time waste because the content were beyond the level of students' abilities to grasp.

Having identified the impediments to children’s literacy and numeracy development, the following strategies were developed and implemented:

  1. The community education workers (CEWs) were asked to support teaching activities to address the shortage of teachers in schools. Because all the CEWs are secondary school graduates and they have not acquired the required teaching qualification and skills, their capacity was developed through a number of in-house trainings while some of them were admitted to undergo a distance learning training with the National Teachers Institute (NTI) and the Federal College of Education Zaria (FCE). After completing this training they become professional teachers with the required teaching skills and experience.
  2. Following the realization that most of the reading materials provided by the schools were too difficult for children to read, the Education team developed and produced localized, short supplemental reading materials. The supplemental reading books were developed in both Hausa and English providing opportunities to children to obtain the most rudimentary reading skills, beginning with letter identification and letter sounds, using letters to form words, to sentences and then paragraphs.
  3. The CEWs were requested to organize reading clubs in various settlements and identify convenient meeting places and time (after school) for all the club members to meet and help one another in reading their supplemental reading books.  This has helped in inculcating a culture of reading among students and has helped in improving their reading capabilities.
  4. To ensure that children get the required support for education from their parents, younger brothers and sisters, we partnered with the LGA coordinator for adult education Ikara to establish more adult literacy classes in many communities. The idea behind this initiative is that when the parents in households are literate, they will encourage their children to go to school and will support their learning progress.

Having put all the strategies discussed above into practice for the past several months, the team in Pampaida has started to record a very remarkable improvement in children’s reading capabilities. In the last learning assessment conducted in June 2015, it was recorded that 96% of the children have attained basic reading skills.  


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