At two different but related events in Yola last week, new milestones were reached as Nigeria grapples with the challenge of converting its burgeoning population from a nightmare to a national asset. The Strengthening Education in the Northeast Nigeria States (SENSE), facilitated by the Northeast’s leading development agency – the Atiku Institute for Leadership (AID) of the American University of Nigeria, was successfully concluded on September 22, at the end of its three-year mission cycle. A day after, one hundred pupils – 50 boys and 50 girls – graduated from the Feed and Read Program. The graduation ceremony occurred at the Waziri Adamawa Hall, an ultra-modern learning facility dedicated to educating and empowering vulnerable groups in the Northeast region. The pupils, drawn entirely from communities in the Yola/Jimeta areas, received certificates after receiving basic literacy and numeracy education and one meal per day.
The two events represent a private educational intervention model with potential for national transformation. The latest UNESCO data on out-of-school children shows that Nigeria alone accounts for 20 million of the 244 million globally. The Northeast region, which has suffered from years of insurgency and attacks on schools, accounts for a disproportionate part of the national figure. While the various governments are doing their bit, a significant intervention in this area has come from the direction of Atiku Abubakar. Through the Atiku Institute for Development, an agency of the American University of Nigeria, founded by Atiku Abubakar, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children who cannot access formal education are getting the opportunity to live their dreams. The Feed and Read program is one such intervention. Relaunched earlier this year, the Feed and Read Program, which took off in January 2015, has incubated other impactful interventions that have, in total, been changing the educational narrative in the northeast region.
The faces of the young boys and girls who graduated from the Feed and Read Program last Saturday radiated the hopes and expectations of the Program’s impact. The Northeast region needs urgent interventions, especially in education, and the AUN Feed and Read program is doing exactly that, changing lives. Pupils enrolled in the Program undergo a thorough literacy and numeracy learning course. In many instances, content and delivery methods are more rigorous than in public schools. The Program’s coordinator and Executive Director of AUN Schools, Mrs Nkem Uzowulu, is optimistic that her wards will ease seamlessly into the formal educational system after graduation. A comparative evaluation of the baseline and end-line performance in Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) and Early Grade Mathematics Assessment (EGMA) between pupils in the Feed and Read Program and those in public schools has shown that the Feed and Read Program is more effective.
One lesson for policymakers from the Feed and Read Program is that addressing a seemingly complex problem like low school enrolment needs a simple, inclusive and sustainable solution with local support. While the world owes Atiku Abubakar a ton of gratitude for providing the vision and enabling environment for implementing educational remediation models that benefit thousands in the Northeast region, the local community deserves commendation for keying in with enthusiasm. The Feed and Read program example is illustrative: the boys and girls receive one meal per day after their classes, and women in the local communities prepare the food. Sometimes, mother and daughter enrolled at the same time. Last Saturday, Amina Bello, told her story:
“Initially, I was jobless, I could not feed my family, and my children were staying at home. However, because of this Feed and Read program, I can now feed my family and educate my children. I now have little understanding of English and arithmetic, and I have learned other life-supporting skills too”. Her counterpart, Amainatu Marafa, also has a similar story. Both women entered the Program as food vendors but received the same education and support skills as their little girls. Around these activities, local women have formed cooperatives, received loans, and attended financial literacy classes — the programme, which began as an educational intervention, is growing into a livelihood support scheme.
The Feed and Read program inspired the development of a pilot education programme in 2016 – the Technology Enhanced Learning for All, a blended radio, tablet, and in-person educational programme through over 60,000 IDPs children and numerous others from vulnerable communities accessed numeracy and literacy programs. USAID funded TELA and the succeeding Program, SENSE, and both programs have become a model for tackling Nigeria’s educational challenges. While the Feed and Read Program focuses on identifying and reaching boys and girls outside the formal education framework and gradually blending them into the formal learning system, SENSE promotes reading in early grades and strengthens teaching and learning capacities. In three years of funding activity, SENSE, which the Atiku Institute coordinated through the agencies of the Adamawa and Gombe States’ Ministries of Education, their Universal Basic Education Boards, Colleges of Education, and public universities in the affected states, successfully delivered high-quality teacher professional development to 10,000 primary school teachers in the two states. According to the Head of the Atiku Institute, Audu Liman, it was a very successful intervention. He listed other benefits of the SENSE intervention:
strengthening teachers’ capacity to teach learners to read in the Hausa language
supporting over 500 state education managers to supervise educational activities in their schools
providing teaching and learning materials to over 400,000 learners
Over 5.2 copies of the Teaching and Learning Materials (TLMs) in the Hausa language were developed and produced by AUN to set thousands of children off on a lifetime of reading using the USAID theory and guidelines for reading and learning in indigenous languages. About 9,700 primary school teachers across 335 Adamawa and Gombe states also received training to develop their teaching skills. SENSE ensured the equipment of Resource Centers across local governments in the two beneficiary states for professional development.
All the stakeholders who witnessed the SENSE closeout ceremony agree that the Program’s activity met and surpassed all its targets. Liman confirmed the Program’s legacy, listing three critical innovations that promote reading which education authorities in Adamawa and Gombe states have already incorporated into their systems:
A data-driven and evidence-based teacher professional development system to support teachers’ self-improvement
The establishment of 39 Teacher Resource Centers (TRCs) in Adamawa and Gombe states where teachers can access learning aids
The establishment of a School-based Management Committee (SBMC) strategy that institutionalizes emotional support to girls and vulnerable children within the school system
There is no shortage of sniveling anytime new data confirms Nigeria’s progressive decline in education, but who else is doing anything meaningful to change the depressing narrative? Atiku Abubakar’s vision and educational investments are delivering results that are changing the narrative. Through the inclusive intervention projects of Feed and Read, TELA, and SENSE, thousands of school-age children are receiving life-changing education and a fresh opportunity to chase their dreams. The mass production of educational materials for the SENSE project improved teaching and learning capacity in the pilot states’ primary schools. The incremental, brick-by-brick approach yielded an unexpected positive impact on the recipients’ lives thanks to the vision and unrelenting commitment of the region’s most illustrious son Atiku Abubakar. In the words of little Amina Umar Mohammed, one of the girls who graduated from the Feed and Read Program last Saturday: “I can now read and write in Hausa and English, and I want to thank my teachers, AUN, and especially His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar for giving me this opportunity.”
Daniel Okereke can be reached through email@example.com
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