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Community learning hubs spark change in northern Nigeria

January 24, 2024

Malam Musa, a retired teacher of 30 years, leads a lesson on addition and subtraction to students at a community learning hub in Kano, Nigeria.

Malam Musa, a retired teacher of 30 years, leads a lesson on addition and subtraction to students at a community learning hub in Kano, Nigeria. Photo credit: Bukola Bayo-Philip for FHI 360

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Kano, Nigeria, and Malam Aliyu Musa is walking to the mosque. He carries writing materials and posters filled with letters, syllables and words. Along the way, he is joined by children of all ages — some as young as 3 years old — excitedly running up to him with their siblings and friends in tow.

Musa is on his way to teach at a community learning hub, an informal classroom established under the Partnership for Learning for All in Nigeria (PLANE) program, which is funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). Led by DAI and supported by FHI 360, PLANE works to improve access to basic education in a country where half of children between ages 6 and 16 cannot read and one-third of all children are not in school — one of the highest rates in the world.

Nigeria’s rural and remote regions in particular lack adequate infrastructure such as schools, classrooms and educational materials, and there is a widespread shortage of trained and qualified teachers.

“Poverty remains a significant barrier to education,” says Alhaji Umar Sharif Ibrahim, the assistant director of teacher development for the State Universal Basic Education Board. “Families with limited financial resources struggle to afford school fees, uniforms, and other associated costs of education. Lack of awareness of the importance of education among parents is also a challenge in our rural communities.”

Through PLANE, community learning hubs provide a space for both in- and out-of-school children to learn basic literacy and numeracy skills and build a foundation for continuing education.

“Community learning hubs provide a localized and accessible alternative to formal schools, especially in areas where infrastructure is lacking,” says Alhaji Iliyasu Danjuma, the education secretary of Minjibir Local Government Area in Kano State. “These hubs can adapt to the specific needs of the community, offering education that is relevant to local contexts and challenges, and most of the hubs are facilitated by experienced retired teachers.”

In Musa’s community, the learning hub is located just within the walls of the local mosque. Every week, over 100 children find their place on mats and excitedly pull out their exercise books, ready to learn their next lesson.

“[The children that attend the hubs] are punctual, and they enjoy and understand how and what they are being taught,” shares Musa. “And their progress can be seen in how [well] they read, write and calculate numbers.”

Musa is a retired teacher of 30 years, but his love for the job hasn’t expired. He has an enduring passion for helping children learn to read and write. When you ask him about his decision to volunteer as a hub facilitator, his face lights up with a smile.

“I became interested in teaching at the hub having seen the impact they have had on children who would otherwise not have access to a formal education system,” he says. “This encouraged me to assist in the learning hubs — to improve the learning and teaching skills in not only [my community] but also in the country.”

Teacher Malam Musa uses leaves to visually demonstrate counting; he often has students come to the front and participate in examples using leaves, too.

Teacher Malam Musa uses leaves to visually demonstrate counting; he often has students come to the front and participate in examples using leaves, too. Photo credit: Bukola Bayo-Philip for FHI 360

Each week, Musa comes prepared to teach hour-long lessons covering a variety of topics including writing letters, identifying syllables and improving reading comprehension. To support him, PLANE provides a simple facilitator’s guide for each week’s lesson, and also encourages him to source his own local materials and come up with activities that meet the unique learning needs of his students. This assistance has been essential to Musa’s success, as has the ongoing and growing support he’s felt from parents and the wider community. The head of the village pays regular visits to the hub, while the chairman of the School Based Management Committee Chairman and Mothers Association provide supplemental learning tools and advise the children on the importance of education.

To date, PLANE has provided training and support to 200 facilitators like Musa, sparking community interest and improving basic education for children across Kano, Kaduna and Jigawa States. While many challenges remain, the hubs offer a model for communities to take ownership of education and sustainably expand learning opportunities for Nigeria’s youth.

“The learning hubs under the PLANE program are more than just educational centers — they are the nexus of community empowerment and parental involvement,” says Abubakar Umar, PLANE technical officer in Kano State. “By actively engaging parents and community members, we foster an environment where education extends beyond the classroom walls, creating a cohesive support system that is essential for sustainable learning and development. This holistic approach is the cornerstone of our mission, ensuring that every child has the support they need to thrive — academically and personally.”