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Local initiative in Nigeria shows promise for sustainable literacy growth

September 07, 2016

Literacy development in Nigeria is starkly uneven, with northern states lagging far behind the rest of the country. According to the 2010 Nigeria Education Data Survey, only about 14 percent of children in the northwest region can read a complete sentence, while that number jumps to almost 63 percent in the southwest. Similar regional gaps exist in school attendance, perceived teacher effectiveness, exposure to print media and parental involvement.

Any initiative designed to sustainably increase literacy in the northwest region will require looking beyond current teaching practices to build far-reaching support in communities and the education system overall. The Nigeria Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) is doing just that: RANA’s objective is to improve reading outcomes in 200 schools in two northwest states. The initiative is funded by the U.K. Department of International Development through the United Nations Children’s Fund and is implemented by FHI 360 and its partners, the Achieving Health Nigeria Initiative and the Hogg Robinson Group.

teacher reading to studentsIn its first year of implementation, RANA has trained more than 500 teachers in an evidence-based reading methodology for Hausa, the primary language spoken in the north. RANA has also established a rigorous support program for teachers, which includes weekly school follow-up meetings and monthly visits from trainers.

Despite RANA’s quick start-up, the project has emphasized building local support. Before rollout began, project implementers selected a tested Hausa literacy program and asked education officials and teachers to review and revise it. This gave reviewers a direct stake in the project. In an effort to build understanding of the project’s implementation, education officials and local authorities were also invited to RANA’s training of trainers and teachers.

FHI 360 worked at the community level with the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria, one of the strongest community organizations in Nigeria, to conduct two project launches for the wider community. Each launch drew about 150 attendees, including local royalty and dignitaries. During one launch, the first lady of Zamfara State read a story aloud to school children, highlighting the importance of RANA’s read-aloud component.

RANA has also engaged education officials, local royalty, community leaders and chairs of Parent Teacher Associations in discussions about reading policies, thus promoting an environment conducive to reading that extends beyond the schools in which the project is being implemented. “We are very grateful to RANA for the rescue mission on our education system,” stated Abubakar Dogo, chairman of a school-based management committee in Zamfara.

Several literacy sustainability initiatives have also sprung up organically in homes and local communities. Zamfara Commissioner of Education Mukhtar Lugga stated, “Since I got the RANA books, I make my children read them every day after school, even though they are not in RANA schools. It is important for them to be able to read in Hausa.” And, a community in one state independently made photocopies of RANA materials and trained volunteers to use the materials outside of RANA schools.

These signs of local adoption of project materials show great promise for sustainable growth in literacy. Even more than evidence-based teaching practices, it is this far-reaching support that will improve literacy impact that will last.

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Photo credit: Kunle Lawal/FHI 360