Lead Writer: Muritala Abdullahi
SOKOTO, NIGERIA: On a hot Sunday afternoon in July 2023 at Gidan-yaro community in Wammako Local Government Area of Sokoto state, Lawal Umaru gets set to join his father in his kiosk where they will sell foodstuff.
Umaru, 15, had to drop out of school after finishing nursery school in 2015. He eventually started accompanying his father to his kiosk to help him with selling goods rather than continuing his education.
Due to low socio-economic status, religious cum cultural beliefs, and lack of educational infrastructure, there has been less priority given to formal education in Umaru’s community.
Parents often prefer to keep their children at home to work rather than sending them to school.
“When I finished nursery school my studies halted for a while because I always visited my father’s shop and also engaged in farming,” Umaru told The SolutionsPaper.
Last year, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), revealed that the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has doubled. Over 20 million children of school-going age are not enrolled into any learning institutions.
The Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (KADSUBEB) had also stated that 60% of out of school children in Nigeria are in the northern region, a local newspaper – Daily Trust – reported.
The Non-formal Learning Method
To implement a creative solution to the challenge of access to quality education, the Northern Education Initiative Plus (NEI+) program was implemented in Sokoto and Bauchi states for a five year period beginning from 2016.
Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the project utilised non-formal early grade learning with English and Hausa as the language of instruction to improve reading skills and increase access to basic education in these states. The program also supported public schools and teachers in both states with early grade learning resources, materials and training to increase better learning outcomes for students in formal schools.
The program set up non-formal learning centres across several local government areas of Sokoto state including Shagari, Wamakko, Yabo and Dange Shuni and replicated the same across LGAs in Bauchi State.
In the non-formal learning centers, classes are held for three hours, thrice a week. During these classes, students like Umaru are taught basic English, Maths, and other early grade learning subjects in both Hausa and English languages for six to nine months.
After completing this non-formal education program, students are transitioned into public elementary schools, where they can continue to build on the skills and knowledge they have acquired.
The program also trained interested locals as volunteer facilitators. These facilitators were equipped with the skills and resources needed to use the non-formal learning centres and engage with parents.
The training covered various aspects of teaching, such as the importance of parent engagement, child-centered teaching methods, tracking and reporting student progress.
Using Hausa, and employing methods like rhymes and songs, the facilitators conduct classes at the non-formal learning centres to improve students’ reading skills and reignite the interest of out-of-school children in formal education.
“We use objects to demonstrate arithmetic,” Babangida Abubakar, one of the trained facilitators explains, “one represents the sun, two the legs of a hen, three the stone used in cooking with firewood, and so on.”
So far in Wamakko LGA of Sokoto state, over 6,000 students have gone through the program and transitioned into formal and public schools after attending the non-formal classes.
Umaru is one of them. “the initiative brought back life to me with the classes,” he states.
“I picked interest in school again because of the ability to grab up things that have been taught in class,” Umaru says. “I started from primary one in a private school and I finished after advancing to primary five, and currently I am in JSS [Junior Secondary School] 2 in Government Day Secondary School, Dundaye.”
Nurudeen Lawal, the USAID Chief-of-Party for the program, told The SolutionsPaper that the program collaborated with the State Agency for Mass Education to evaluate the students before they transitioned into public schools.
“There is this basic literacy exam that is conducted by the State Agency for Mass Education for the students. They are given a certificate by the agency which is what is used in mainstreaming them into formal public schools,” Lawal said.
What Has Been Achieved?
From 2016 to 2021, over 31,000 children and adolescent girls successfully transitioned from non-formal learning centers to public primary schools in Sokoto and Bauchi States.
Muhammad Bello Abubakar, a graduate of Government Day Senior Secondary School Dundaye, told The SolutionsPaper that before the NEI+ program, he was reluctant about furthering his education as he only wanted to farm and trade.
But with the advent of the learning centres in his hometown he was motivated to re-enrol into secondary school and complete his education. Abubakar has also become an advocate for formal education in his community.
“In this community (Gidan-yaro), among the youth, only five of us obtained a school leaving certificate. But with the advent of this program, we have seen a significant increase in the number of young ones enrolled in school,” Abubakar said.
The impact of the program has been felt not only by the children but also by their parents especially in the Gidan Yaro community.
Ahmad Rufai, a father of 42 children, spoke to The SolutionsPaper about the impact of the non-formal learning centers in the community.
He notes that parents have come together to form an association that provides financial support to the centers and monitors the children’s progress. This has been critical in ensuring that the centers remain viable and that the children benefit from them.
“The inclusion of parents like me prompted others to join hands. Many of my children have graduated from these classes and are now attending school,” he proudly states.
Despite Successes, Challenges Persist
Despite the successes of the non-formal learning centers, the program faces several challenges that threaten its progress.
In some rural and conservative communities, cultural norms and practices still hinder access to formal education for children. In addition, some parents still do not believe in the value of education for their children, especially girls.
“One of the biggest challenges we faced during this program is that parents still resist girls going to school, that is still one big challenge that still exists in the northern part of the country,” Lawal, the initiative’s Chief-of-Party notes.
Abubakar Magaji, a facilitator from the Gidan Yaro community adds that some parents actively prevent their children from getting an education. “Some parents would rather use their children to hawk goods and earn money than send them to school.”
Ibrahim Shettima, another facilitator, shares that even though a large number of children have been enrolled in school through the program, there are still many challenges in ensuring that these children have the opportunity to continue their education. In particular, the lack of nearby secondary schools makes it difficult for children to attend school after completing primary education.
Currently, the USAID NEI+ program has been discontinued after the expiration of its initial five years contract and although the non-formal learning centres were supposed to be taken over by the state agencies for mass education, most are currently not functioning at full capacity.
Editor’s Note: Currently, the community’s parent association has been encouraged to continue their support for the non-formal learning centre in their various communities. Therefore, the State Agencies for Mass Education in Sokoto and Bauchi States must prioritize and invest in the non-formal learning centres under the NEI+ project in order to ensure their continued success. The benefits of such centres for out-of-school children cannot be overstated, and we must all do our part to ensure that they thrive.
Lead Editor: Chinonso Kenneth
Sub Editor: Precious Ewuji