‘Sustaining reading activities will improve education quality in Sokoto state’

Yabo Local Government Area in Sokoto state is one of the focal local governments where the USAID funded-Northern Education Initiative Plus (the Initiative) project is implemented. The immediate past Education Secretary of the Local Government Education Authority (LGEA), Ibrahim Muhammad Yabo, in this interview, bares his mind on how the LGEA under his two-and-a-half year leadership met the teaching and learning needs of primary school pupils, despite several education challenges. He also highlighted how the Initiative supported the LGEA to improve reading outcomes.

Give us an overview of the education standard in Yabo LGEA since the USAID Northern Education Initiative Plus intervention?

The intervention of the Initiative has been impressive. Before now, many teachers did not receive any kind of training. However, the intervention has facilitated the training of more than 60 percent of teachers across 78 primary schools in Yabo LGEA. These trainings have positively impacted teaching methods and encouraged delivery of effective lessons in the classrooms. The trainings have also resulted in making our teachers to positively impact the pupils. Before the project, teachers usually run away from School Support Officers (SSOs) fearing criticisms during school monitoring and inspection. This happens because the SSOs still use outdated methods of monitoring and inspection. Today, SSOs now coach and mentor instead of just monitoring or inspecting schools. Teachers now have a better understanding that SSOs are friends who offer them additional support. That is why the name — school supervisors was changed to School Support Officers. It was the Initiative that introduced this new name to the state government. The SSOs now understand that their primary responsibility is to support and not only supervise. This change has also encouraged teachers to give SSOs a warm welcome because of the coaching and mentoring support they are offered. In addition, this project has also helped our teachers to improve in writing and planning lessons. In the past, teachers usually find it difficult sourcing for teaching and learning materials that will help them deliver lessons to pupils. But with the introduction of the Initiative Mu Karanta! Let’s Read! Teachers Guide and Pupils Book, teachers now have all the resources they need to engage pupils in the classrooms and deliver impactful teaching.

“Today, SSOs now coach and mentor instead of just monitoring or inspecting schools. Teachers now have a better understanding that SSOs are friends who offer them additional support.”

Are there any other noticeable improvements?

Another noticeable improvement after the intervention is the high rate of attendance in classrooms. In the past, absenteeism was very high. The provision of textbooks for pupils has however increased attendance in many of our schools because pupils know that they will be given learning materials when they are enrolled in P1-P3. The creation of Non-Formal Learning Centers (NFLCs) has also improved education in Yabo in the past four years. Before the intervention, we did not have any NFLC for school-aged children and girls that are out of formal school system. We only have adult education centers. But with this intervention, the Initiative in collaboration with the Sokoto State government established more than 200 learning centers in Yabo LGEA. And in the past four years, more than 3000 children have been enrolled in all these centers. Every year, we mainstream children that have graduated or received the NFLC certificate after nine months training to primary four. This initiative has encouraged many parents who never thought their children will be educated to send them to both Islamic and modern education at the same time. Some of them are in primary six preparing to gain admission into secondary schools. This is another development we achieved in Yabo as a result of the  intervention. 

For us at the LGEA level, we contribute our quota by joining hands with all the non-governmental organizations (NGOs), especially the Initiative. We also organized a local training for 60 teachers that could not receive earlier training from the project. We used the Initiative-trained Teacher of Trainers (ToTs) to train teachers to fill vacant positions or replace those who transferred their service from the local government to the state government.

How have all of these developments translated to improved reading skills of children?

Well, with the results we are getting from our schools, there are positive changes in learning activities. In the past, there were several primary six pupils who could not write their names or even differentiate between alphabets or numbers. However, with this intervention, a primary one or two pupil can confidently answer a question that a primary six pupil cannot answer. The learning materials distributed to pupils have eased their writing and decoding. A child that cannot read or identify a letter cannot read a story. But now, the results of the several tests conducted for the pupils to test their writing and reading abilities show that many of them can read and write and we are very proud of this feat.

In spite of all these achievements, recent evaluation results showed teacher and students’ absenteeism is still prevalent in some schools in the state and in Yabo local government. As the Education Secretary of this local government, are there measures you have put in place to ensure students and teachers come to school regularly and punctually?

Actually, in March 2019, the 10 focal LGEAs were invited to a meeting with the State Universal Basic Education Board management and the Initiative team to discuss the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) results. The results were displayed for everyone and each LGEA saw where it performed well and areas that needed improvement. After the meeting, I invited all the stakeholders in my local government which included the LGA management, Area Education Officers, Quality Assurance Officers, School Support Officers and head teachers to discuss how we can improve on students’ attendance and teachers’ absenteeism. I told my staff that it is our duty to ensure that all our teachers are in school before 8am in the morning. If a teacher is having a lesson by 8am and he or she gets to school by 9am, delivering quality lessons in the classrooms will be difficult. Even if the teacher comes late for just two minutes, it means a lot for the pupils. If the two-minute lateness are compiled together per month, per term and per year, the results will be alarming.

We discussed all of these issues and pleaded with all SSOs to be very vigilant in their respective schools. Each SSO monitors about two or three schools. They should therefore carry out their duties with due diligence, meet with the teachers, discuss with them and provide coaching and mentoring support. I also mandated the SSOs to ensure all their teachers are in schools before 8am and that those who flout these rules should be ready to face the consequence. Appropriate actions were taken against teachers who were not in schools at the stipulated time.

On pupil attendance, we also mandated our headteachers to organize meetings at the school level with School Based Management Committees (SBMCs) and community members to discuss the issues hindering students from getting to school on time, and we are happy that most of our schools have organized these meetings. These are some of the measures we have set up to address absenteeism in schools.

You talked about teachers facing consequences, are there particular sanctions issued to teachers?

Yes, there are very effective. For instance, if a teacher is living and teaching in Yabo metropolis and he or she cannot get to school in time, we can swap that teacher with another committed teacher that has been trained. The other teacher who usually comes late will be taken to a farther school while the committed teacher will be deployed to a closer school. The erring teacher must have been served queries on incessant lateness which he or she must answer. If the lateness persists, the disciplinary committee of the LGEA will then invite the affected teacher to defend him/herself before the panel. The committee will then decide to either effect or put on hold the teacher swap measure.

Last month, the Northern Education Initiative Plus trained SSOs in the state on how to use ICT mobile-based classroom observation tools to coach and mentor teachers. What is your take on this and how will these tools aid better learning among pupils?

I must say that this is about the best thing that has happened to our education in the state and in Nigeria. Globally, digital communication is becoming a lifestyle. It, therefore, becomes imperative for us to adopt these changes. In the past, SSOs visit schools with paper and several documents, most of which get lost in transit. However, these ICT mobile-based observation tools will facilitate effective documentation of coaching and mentoring sessions. Teachers will receive efficient support and SSOs will carry out their duties smoothly.

“In the past, SSOs visit schools with paper and several documents, most of which get lost in transit. However, these ICT mobile-based observation tools will facilitate effective documentation of coaching and mentoring sessions.”

Yabo local government is a model to other LGEAs despite facing similar challenges within the school systems like shortage of teachers. How have you been able to overcome some of them?

Actually, shortage of teachers is one of the major problems in all LGEAs in the state. Last year SUBEB advertised vacancies for about 2000 teachers. Most of the successful applicants have been interviewed after writing a test. The list was sent to respective LGEAs and we have contacted the applicants to go to SUBEB for another screening. So, in about two or three months from now, we are expecting the deployment of teachers to schools in Sokoto State, which we will use to fill the vacuum we have in many of our schools. We are lucky to have some N-Power teachers. We deployed them to areas they were needed. We also collaborated with SBMCs and community members to use volunteer teachers in some of our schools. We usually contact students who have graduated from Colleges of Education to volunteer for us while they await their dream jobs, and surprisingly, many of them have been very supportive. We also hold enrollment drive campaigns through which we employ some of the volunteers.

You have been an Education Secretary for almost three years and have nearly three decades of experience as an educationist, what would you say has been your greatest challenge and what kept you going?

One thing I have learnt as a leader is that if I cannot go out and visit schools, I will never know what is happening in the schools. When I was a head teacher in Yabo Primary School, the oldest primary school in this LGEA, I usually check on teachers who are in the class and those who are not. Some teachers will quickly enter their classes when they see me coming and as soon as I leave, they will go out of the classes. So, I will have to go into all the classes again. Sometimes, it is difficult, but I see it as a sacrifice. The head teacher that is not punctual cannot know when teachers come late and the best time to visit schools is before 8am during assembly time. There was a time I went out with some of my staff to visit about nine schools before 8:30am. In all of the schools we visited, none of them started lesson at 8:15am. We went again the next day to see if there would be a change, but there was none. After three days, we went there again to see if there was any change, but disappointingly, the story was the same. I was not happy about it and I called all my staff, the head teachers, Quality Assurance Officers and their SSOs for a meeting where we discussed extensively the issues of teachers’ lateness to classrooms. After that meeting, punctuality of teachers improved.

Holding an Education Secretary position is not easy because you have to be going out almost all the time and provide needed support. You will be surprised that non availability of chalk in a school will be the reason why some teachers will start discussing politics under a tree. This, for instance, is what motivated the LGEA to be providing teaching and learning materials worth N500,000 every year for primary schools within the community. Each year, the SUBEB Chairman flags off the distribution of the materials. We do this to support the materials received from the state government and to ensure teachers do not have excuses not to teach pupils.

Do you have any suggestion on how the government and all relevant stakeholders can ensure the delivery of quality education to pupils in the state?

I will like to call the attention of the state SUBEB to ensure the sustainability of the Initiative project in Sokoto State. The project is doing all it could to support education in the state. They are visiting schools almost everyday with a comprehensive report that is shared with the LGEA and state government. Without the Initiative, I know we won’t be able to compile these reports. They are not our staff, yet they call our attention to issues in our schools and show more concern about education even more than some of the staff employed by the LGEA.

I therefore, urge the state government to ensure sustainability of this project. All LGEAs should also ensure that all their teachers are properly trained by the Initiative Trainer of Teachers. These measures need to be put in place so that our teachers do not rescind to their previous habit of lateness and lackadaisical attitude.

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