Sokoto State government in Nigeria extends USAID’s reading program to more children

A USAID early grade reading initiative in Northwest Nigeria is extended to millions of children, beginning with an innovative teacher training for 1,350 educators.

SOKOTO — Safiya Usman comes from a family of teachers, including both her grandparents and parents. It felt natural to continue in her family’s teaching tradition, but neither family experience nor her initial teacher training fully prepared Usman to handle a class of over 100 pupils.

Thousands of teachers in Sokoto State can relate and are eager for additional training.

The Sokoto state government will provide a unique professional development opportunity for 1,350 teachers to grow into their roles as reading teachers to young learners.

In 2016, the U.S Agency for International Development’s Northern Education Initiative Plus trained approximately 7,000 teachers through the early grade reading program, Let’s Read! (Mu Karanta!in local language of Hausa). In addition, more than 4 million reading textbooks were distributed to students and teachers, improving basic literacy skills for 400,000 children in Bauchi and Sokoto states. Teachers from throughout Sokoto have heard about the impact of the program and are excited to be involved.

For Usman, this is her first training in four years of teaching.

Improving education quality through professional development and new materials

Many schools in Sokoto state are overcrowded, with student-teacher ratios of 100 — or more — to one. The quality of teaching is also a cause for concern. Many teachers have not benefitted from in-service training since taking up their posts. Thanks to the expansion of Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! this is all about to change for Usman and thousands of teachers like her.

“This training is useful because I have learned different child-friendly approaches to engage the learners,” says Usman. “I can also put them in groups and engage them in several activities with songs, stories and the use of flash cards.”

In her third-grade class, Usman says there are hardly any students that can read or write in Hausa and English fluently. This is poised to change with the introduction of new teacher guidance materials for pre-planned lessons, as well as reading and writing workbooks to support learners.

“These materials provide children with opportunities to practice reading, listening and writing every day. The illustrations and stories are also very relevant, and if I follow the lessons, I should see improvement in my pupils,” she says.

Findings of the recent Early Grade Reading Assessment conducted in 2018 indicated a significant improvement in reading outcomes among learners in both Bauchi and Sokoto states, where the Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! program operates. Grade 3 learners in particular showed a marked improvement in their ability to read and understand grade-level text following the first three years of this five-year program.

Based on these gains and the warm reception the program has received from learners, parents and teachers, the Sokoto state government is replicating and extending the early grade reading program to schools in 13 other local governments not covered by the Northern Education Initiative Plus.

Now a statewide program, the Sokoto government is working to meet commitments made in a five-year Memorandum of Understanding signed with USAID to support basic education.

Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Professor Aishatu Madawaki Isa, says having more children gain basic literacy skills remains a priority for state government.

“We have decided to adopt the Northern Education Initiative Plus reading model because it helps build a strong foundation for our children. Our intention remains to cover every school, every child and every teacher with the Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! Program,” Isa says.

Guiding teachers to success in the classroom

In a state where conditions are challenging for learners and their families, there is renewed excitement as teachers learn new techniques for developing learners’ reading skills.

For many teachers, having a guide where all lessons are scripted for the whole school year is a welcome addition to their classroom work. Each teacher’s guide contains daily lessons in reading and writing, in English and in Hausa, which provide activities and step-by-step instructions to support effective teaching. The Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! teacher’s guide helps teachers integrate reading activities in a way that provides pupils with a rich and well-structured learning experience.

The lessons contain songs, stories and encourages the use of flash cards, charts and posters to explain concepts, such as how to teach letters and sounds in English.

For Abdullahi Omeji from Bodinga local government, the teacher’s guide will help him prepare adequately for his class.

“It is clear what the objective for each lesson is, what materials I could use to teach sounds and letters and how I can guide the pupils to learn effectively with the songs and stories,” he says.

In 2016, USAID’s Northern Education Initiative Plus developed 750 lessons in Hausa and English for Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! while partnering with more than 100 international and local curriculum developers, linguists, primary school teachers and other educators.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund has adopted the reading program and materials to train additional teachers on early grade reading, working in local governments in Bauchi and Sokoto that are not covered by the program.

Year-round support through coaching and mentoring

Beyond the training, teachers require support and supervision at the schools to continue learning and growing through exchanges with peers and supervisors.

The Northern Education Initiative Plus coaching and mentoring model provides these opportunities for teachers by training school support officers in early grade reading to conduct regular classroom observations and provide feedback to help the teachers to improve.

Sokoto state government adopted this coaching and mentoring system in its own yearly planning. Teacher trainers who lead trainings in the 13 expansion local government areas are school support officers. These school support officers received five days’ training to not only train teachers, but also to provide coaching and mentoring support on a regular basis.

Lubabatu Mohammed was a teacher for almost 20 years before transferring to the Sokoto North Local Government Education Authority as a school support officer. She is one of the 104 teacher trainers selected to train the teachers in the expansion areas. For her, the skills gained will also be useful for classroom observations when she visits schools.

“Now I know what to look out for when I visit a school and observe a teacher teaching early grade reading. I want to see how the teacher follows the sequential steps in the lesson, interaction with learners, use of teaching aids, pronunciation of sounds and pupil practice time,” Lubabatu says.

In all, the state has distributed early grade reading materials, trained teachers and supported school monitoring and supervision with an investment of $497,000 in 2018.

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