By Boco Edet Abdul
SOKOTO – Thirty-one-year-old Ezedike Nwabueze Fredrick walks down a narrow path to the school building and turns to wave at a group of women who greet him in Hausa as the “teacher that owns the school.” Fredrick smiles, asks one of the mothers about her son who was absent from school the day before and promises to pay the student a visit.
Fredrick is from Lagos but could pass for a local celebrity in the sleepy community of Kofar Giwa in the Wurno local government area. His ticket to fame was volunteering as a teacher in Aisha Gumba Memorial Islamic School after serving in a year-long youth program that requires Nigerian graduates to use their skills to support the development of the country.
A retired police officer had opened the Kofar Giwa school in 2013 when he realized many families would not send their children to the public school several miles away from the community because of the distance. He heard of Fredrick’s teaching and asked him to volunteer in the school.
“I was happy to teach here,” says Fredrick. “I saw it as an opportunity to impact the lives of these children. Many of them were not even attending school. I had to convince their parents to let them come and when we started they could not read or write anything.”
A year after he joined the school, in 2016 Fredrick was selected as one of approximately 7,000 teachers to be trained by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Northern Education Initiative Plus on an early grade reading program called Let’s Read! (Mu Karanta! in Hausa). The program teaches children to read in Hausa in first grade and builds their skills to transition to English by third grade.
Fredrick had to overcome a learning curve himself during the program. He was a graduate of Pure and Applied Physics with no formal training in education. Having lived most of his life in western and southern Nigeria, he could not read or write in Hausa, the dominant language in the north.
“I used these impediments as a learning opportunity,” he says. “The Hausa Reading textbooks helped me learn how to read and write in Hausa. The teacher guides also directed me on how to structure my lessons and plan adequately ahead of time.”
So how does a teacher who cannot speak, read or write Hausa fluently teach children in the language? “It made teaching fun. I was not afraid to ask the children for help with pronunciations and meanings of words and so we learned together,” he explains.
In his spare time, Fredrick enjoys farming. To appreciate his good work, the community gave him a piece of land where he grows garlic, rice and onions. He harvests the produce and sells it in the market to big traders. But teaching remains his first love.
“I feel responsible for these children and I want them to have the same quality of education I had growing up in a big city and attending private schools,” he says.
Fredrick does not seem to miss city life. He goes months without visiting the Sokoto township and is not in a hurry to return to Lagos. “I am here to stay and build this place,” he says.
His wish is that the Sokoto state government will expand and sustain the activities of USAID’s Northern Education Initiative Plus project in schools so many more teachers and children can benefit from the reading intervention.
“I enjoy the books, I love the stories and poems because they allow me to play with the children. I am able to come to their level and experience their world through these books,” he says.
In partnerships with more than 100 international and local reading specialists, the project developed 30 individual reading materials, including teacher guides and student books with 750 lessons that contain colorful and detailed illustrations and stories that communicate local cultural norms and values–but also encourage children to think critically.
To date, the five-year project has distributed more than 4 million reading textbooks to students and teachers, opening new doors for about 400,000 children in Northern Nigeria to improve their basic literacy skills.
For Frederick’s students, his hands-on approach and dedication to teaching is evident.
“I love how my teacher teaches us,” says eight-year-old Muazu Abubakar, one of Fredrick’s pupils learning to read in Hausa and English. “He plays with us during lessons and even if we laugh at the way he pronounces some Hausa words, he does not mind. We learn together.”
In this environment, surrounded by his young students, Fredrick does not feel pressured to get a corporate job. He believes all his dreams can be achieved in Kofar Giwa community as a teacher.
“They say a teacher’s reward is in heaven but I get my reward on a daily basis when I see my children learn to read new words,” he says.
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