The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses and organizations all over the world, including development activities. International development organizations are now using alternative ways of carrying out activities. The Northern Education Initiative Plus conducted a series of virtual roundtable discussions with federal- and state-level ministry of education partners in May 2020. These focus group discussions provided key information to support the development of new teaching and learning materials in early grade reading in Igbo and Yoruba.
The new materials built upon the Initiative’s hallmark Mu Karanta! and Let’s Read! programs, which first introduced an evidence-based approach to early grade reading instruction in Hausa and English, respectively, in northern Nigeria’s Bauchi and Sokoto states.
The new materials, in Yoruba and Igbo, will reach millions more children, establishing early grade reading as a national priority. The expansion promises to improve reading performance on a wider scale than Nigeria’s education policy makers would have thought possible in 2016, when USAID launched the Initiative.
The roundtable discussions brought together 10 experts in Igbo or Yoruba language, curriculum, and teacher education in government and higher education from across Nigeria. These experts included experts, who had completed curriculum documents to guide subsequent materials development workshops prior to the pandemic. Given the issues with poor internet connectivity , the focus group discussions were significant because they were successfully held virtually, without any face-to-face contact among the organizers or participants.
NEI Plus IT staff and leading technical specialists in reading education selected the internet platform based on input from the participants themselves, who had varying levels of experience with internet communications technology. The Initiative provided technical support remotely to assist participants with installation of the software and guidance on its use. A test run of the roundtable forums gave participants the opportunity to experiment with the use of the software’s features (such as chat and screen sharing) before holding the focus group discussions.
The successful virtual roundtable discussions not only provided much-needed input to improve the quality of the planned materials. They also demonstrated that a variety of project activities, from research to training workshops, would be possible with existing technologies and a minimal level of technical assistance support. NEI Plus is now planning virtual activities on an increasingly large scale to meet the needs of students, their families, teachers, and other educators. Upcoming activities may include virtual training workshops for teachers and school support staff to improve their skills and provide quality support to learners when Nigeria’s schools re-open.
Written by Mark Hamilton & Christiana Ogbe
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