By Omorogbe Omorogiuwa
If Nigeria is to progress, the population must be educated. While Nigeria now has an exceptionally high illiteracy rate, that may soon change.
Nigeria has been projected to overtake the US as the world’s third largest country by 2050 and there will be a rapid increase in the number of children under the age of 25, doubling by 2050. Even now, Nigeria has the world’s highest number of out-of-school children. What will happen in the next few decades?
The challenge in Adamawa State is particularly acute. With an illiteracy rate of 77 per cent, and the Boko Haram insurgency uprooting much of the population, the future was looking bleak. Situated in Yola, the capital of Adamawa State, the American University of Nigeria, Africa’s first “development university” turned its sights on the problem. With few teachers and few schools and few books, what could be done?
President of AUN, Dr. Margee Ensign, believes that innovation in teaching methods could very well be the solution to this educational challenge. “With the way the education system is now set up, we can’t educate the children unless we use something new. That’s why we are using technology.”
“Technology Enhanced Learning for All (TELA)” is a new child-centered literacy and numeracy program that has both an information technology component (with apps loaded on tablets that the program provides) and a radio component that broadcasts four times a week. The project presents a low-cost initiative for improving literacy and numeracy among vulnerable children, at-risk children, orphans, IDP children, and adolescent boys and girls. The goal of TELA is to create a cost-effective way to educate students all over Nigeria.
The new TELA program was launched in Yola on February 1 by AUN Founder and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and the Adamawa State Governor, Mohammed Umaru Jibrilla, accompanied by Adamawa State commissioners for education and health, Dr. Kaleitpwa Farauta and Dr. Fatima Atiku Abubakar.
The project is being coordinated with the Adamawa State Government to ensure access to and use of public facilities and schools as non-formal learning centers. There are 750 non-formal learning centers in 88 communities in Adamawa in four local government areas.
Funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to the tune of USD $801, 000 as part of its North East Regional Initiative, the TELA project is designed to expand the scope and activities of AUN’s successful community literacy and numeracy programs. This pilot project targets an estimated 22,000 disadvantaged children. However, it is expected that the program will reach more than 22,000 beneficiaries in Adamawa State since radio is a common medium of mass communication in the north.
The scope of the pilot project is currently just Adamawa State. It could be replicated across Nigeria if it is successful.
The lead facilitator of the radio literacy program, Dr. Jacob U. Jacob, the Interim Associate Dean of AUN School of Arts & Sciences, explained, “Each location will have between 5-10 people and a facilitator to assist the children’s work. We have also provided radio sets; the numeracy program will broadcast on Mondays at 4:10 pm and the literacy program on Thursdays at 4:10 pm. Repeat broadcasts will air on Tuesdays and Fridays.”
AUN is partnering with Radio Gotel to air the programs. Dr. Jacob said that it was meant to make learning fun and exciting. “It is a radio play, but there are of course instructions that are built into the radio play…We decided to make it like drama so that students will like it and love to come back again and again. And there are lots of songs in the program. You would be amazed that the children will pick up the song really quickly because it is easy to remember and it is easy to sing along. At the initial stage they may not know the song or the words in the song. But, believe me, over time, they will.”
Addressing the 750 community facilitators at a training session before the program kicked off, Jacob stressed the importance of self-preparation for all the trainees and promptness to the learning venue.
“It all starts with you. Because you’ve got to prepare, to believe in the project, and know that this isn’t so much about the money you’re paid or what you hope to get out of it, it’s about the future of Nigeria–and it starts with your preparation for this.”
TELA addresses the missing link between the home languages as a medium of instruction for these early grade primary school children and later use of English. It also addresses the current lack of appropriate reading materials available for use in instruction. For the creation of such materials, it engages American University of Nigeria students.
Dr. Grace Malgwi, an Assistant Professor of English, spoke on the underlying pedagogy of TELA and what they hope to achieve. She explained that the focus for literacy is letter sound recognition, non-word reading, teaching students how to blend sounds, and the ability to read a short text. For numeracy she listed the ability to identify numbers, number discrimination, missing numbers, as well as simple addition and subtraction, as the priorities.
At the facilitators training session that took place at the University, all trainees, from 88 communities in Yola North, Yola South, Girei, and Fufore local governments listened to the first episode of the radio program during the break-out session. They signed a Memorandum of Understanding, and each of them received a package of lesson materials, including radio with extra batteries, pencils, and workbooks for the project.
Another set of volunteers are those from within the University community, including students and some staff members. Some help in tutoring while others help in the daily monitoring and evaluation of all 750 centers.
Dr. Malgwi outlined how AUN students play a fundamental role in the literacy program. She said AUN students who are enrolled in AUN Community Development courses are the trained tutors in the after school program. Students enrolled in the course in the last few years prior to TELA had already written teaching materials translated into Hausa and Fulfulde.
“Within three years of its inception at AUN, we have produced more than 50 children book titles, Fatima Can Count, Mango Mania, The Disobedient Watermelon, Gambo da Giwaye, Kwao Ya Tafi Birni, Yaron da Mayar da Rashi Ya Zama Alheri Defugo bee Inna, and Minyiraawo Meereejo. Hundreds of copies have been printed and distributed. And we have tutored more than 1,000 school children in local schools in Yola and Jimeta. Within this period, the program has been able to assess short-term impact by using the Early Grade Reading and Math Assessment (EGRA/EGMA) to pupils before and after tutoring.”
Mrs. Lilian Ayuk Tabe, who is in charge of Monitoring & Evaluation in the TELA program, said some of the parents of the potential students who didn’t quite know how the program might benefit their children were reluctant to enroll the children at first. They changed their minds after seeing the results, and now these children are among the first TELA program participants.
At a visitation to one of the Radio listening centers on March 8 at St Theresa Catholic Church, Mr. Genesis Fonyuy said all children are very excited about the program. This location is a camp for IDPs and the participating children are those displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency. Mr. Fonyuy, a teacher with a Catholic missionary school, said that the children are always on time and look forward to the program. He said they love the workbook a lot and see it as a daily gift as they are being distributed. His centers originally had 18 children but there are now six extra who were later accepted following their interest. He said that they sometimes get discouraged because they do not get workbooks like others; the demand for the program has outstripped the supply, for now.
The TELA program is also being implemented in another two local literacy programs that the AUN Center for Community Development coordinates: Feed & Read for Boys and Girls. Both of these programs target especially needy and vulnerable children, and the beneficiaries get a free meal every day. The boys’ component of the program targets street begging, male children often called Almajiri.
Following the huge success of the Almajiri Feed & Read program, the University kicked off a similar program for vulnerable girls, some of whom are orphans and IDPs. The Feed and Read program is funded from a small grant by the Irish Government and the university’s own resources. The Feed and Read program for Girls is coordinated by the AUN Academy, whose students and staff members have volunteered to mentor the young girls.
The program’s Coordinator and Executive Director of AUN Schools who oversees the Academy, Mrs. Nkem Uzowulu, said that it is an opportunity for the students of the Academy to touch the lives of the needy in a much more personal way.
Thousands and thousands of children and youth of Adamawa State are beginning to learn to read and write and do basic math for the very first time. They will pave the way for a better future for all Nigeria.
–– Omorogbe Omorogiuwa