Radio and phones mobilize parents to support children’s reading in Nigeria

By Boco Edet Abdul

ABUJA, Nigeria- It’s a few minutes to wrap up the Let’s Read! live program on Vision FM in Sokoto state of Nigeria and a listener calls in to affirm that indeed all parents, whether literate or illiterate, can support their children to become better readers.

He is re-echoing the message of a five-minute drama skit he had listened to earlier on radio where an illiterate mother reaches out to another illiterate neighbor for help after her daughter persistently asks her to help with her homework from school.

The illiterate neighbor explains to the mother that she may not know how to read or write but there are a number of ways she could help her daughter read better. She tells her she could make the home conducive for reading, ask about her day in school, encourage the child to read to her and exchange stories and she could teach her cultural songs. She teachers the mother a song which they sing together and she leaves feeling more empowered to help her daughter.

“I want the children in our community too to learn how to read. This program should reach my local government too,” says another listener who called into the live show on Globe FM this time in Bauchi state.

She is excited by how fluently a young boy in third grade has read a passage from his Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! textbooks on the segment of the show demonstrating the impact of the Northern Education Initiative’s Plus early grade reading program in schools.

The live program on radio provides opportunities for listeners to phone in and ask questions or comment on the drama or discussion segment. Experts are on hand to address issues that need clarification.

Outreach to the community is critical to the success of the Northern Education Initiative Plus project which is seeking to improve the reading skills of more than 2 million children in Bauchi and Sokoto states.

“The project researched into how best to sell education to parents in a way that they learn of its benefits not just for their children but also themselves. We learnt that though many people agreed that education was good they had to learn of its benefits in very practical terms like how educated children could help them on a daily basis as farmers, artisans, herdsmen or even housewives. This was the foundation of all our media campaigns,” said Boco Abdul, Communications Officer for the project.

While live programs, dramas and Public Service Announcements are being aired on radio, the project dispatches monthly voice messages to very targeted groups of literate and illiterate fathers, mothers, older siblings and community leaders enlisting their support for education.

They listen to the messages on their phones at night after the day’s activities and are able to opt out afterwards or refer the message to a friend or family member further promoting the campaigns.

Both radio and voice messages align with calendars for school and non-formal learning centers centering around themes of enrollment, retention, transition and early grade reading.

All campaigns were derived locally from the community and created through a collaboration with religious leaders, school representatives, government partners, women leaders and an expert team versed in behavior change communications from the African Radio Drama Association.

“We made sure we used characters that the communities of intervention could easily identify with like a butcher, a teacher with children, a community nurse or village head to speak about the benefits of education in a conversational and appealing manner,” said Abdul.

The live shows on radio are anchored by widely recognized presenters within the states and are hyped on the stations before airing so listeners can anticipate the program.

Zainab Gwani, a teacher from Darazo local government in Bauchi state is appearing as a guest on the program. This is her first time speaking on radio. Gwani feels children in school are getting all the support to learn to read with the early grade reading curriculum but it needs to be complemented by parental support.

“This radio program is a very good platform to reach out to parents to tell them why it is important to be more involved in their children’s schooling. We will like to see them monitor teaching and learning in school, help with their homework and get them ready for school every day. I tell them every day in school but now I can emphasize this message to thousands more,” Gwani said.

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