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Reading instruction in mother tongue inspires entire communities in Nigeria

February 20, 2017

Nigeria has 510 living indigenous languages, and more languages are spoken within its borders than in any other African country. This linguistic diversity represents a rich cultural heritage, but it also poses challenges for education. The Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education mandates that local languages be used for instruction in the early primary grades. Yet, research has found that teachers are not prepared to meet this requirement and that textbooks on the subject of language are scarce.

Class in Sokoto State, Nigeria, participates in an exercise from RANA project materials.The Reading and Numeracy Activity (RANA) project, funded by the U.K. Department of International Development through the United Nations Children’s Fund and implemented by FHI 360 and its local partners, is providing the materials and trainings necessary to teach literacy in the mother tongue. The project works in two northern states — Katsina and Zamfara — where the dominant mother tongue is Hausa. Now in its second year of implementation, RANA has provided teaching and learning materials in Hausa for almost 800 teachers and 51,000 students across 199 schools. Hausa materials include a step-by-step teacher guide, a read-aloud anthology and student workbooks. To ensure that teachers know how best to use the materials, RANA provided an initial teacher training and continues to conduct monthly follow-up visits with classroom observations and weekly school-level meetings. These meetings create opportunities to mentor teachers on things they learn in training and provide them with support to overcome challenges.

The project has not yet completed a midline evaluation, but results so far are promising. For example, at Bardayya Primary School in the Rimi local government area of Katsina, teachers are enthusiastic about their RANA lessons. Lead teacher Mu’awiyya Kabir told project staff, “I wish all the subjects we teach had a teacher’s guide like the one provided by RANA for Hausa language. This would really make teaching fun for us and the students.” Upper primary teachers, who used to observe that children had reached grade 5 without being able to read, are now reporting much faster literacy gains in lower primary grades. Yusuf Abdullahi, the head teacher of the school, commented, “some parents now come to our school to inquire what the school is doing differently that has led to noticeable improvements in their child’s reading performance.”

Teachers also noted that the style of RANA instruction greatly enhances the lessons. The lessons include interactive activities for the students, such as “letter sound movements,” which asks students to chant a letter name while doing an action associated with the letter’s sound. In a conversation with a head teacher, one father reported that when his child returns from school, he teaches the father the letter name and sound movement he has learned, demonstrating all the actions and insisting that the father copy them.

Enthusiasm for RANA has extended beyond teachers, students and parents. Dr. Surajo Dalhatu, the Rimi Local Government Education Secretary, stated, “The RANA intervention comprehensively addresses the problem of reading in the community through the use of mother tongue in the development of literacy materials, provision of continuous in-service teacher professional development, active engagement of the community to support reading and a robust monitoring system to track progress.” Dr. Surajo plans to replicate the RANA project in nearby schools, and he is putting in place a sustainability plan to ensure that children in Rimi continue to learn to read in their mother tongue long after RANA ends.

Photo caption: Class in Sokoto State, Nigeria, participates in an exercise from RANA project materials.

Photo credit: Nurudeen Lawal/FHI 360