Literacy spells brighter future for Nigerian student

By Jennifer Brookland

September 3, 2013

Fourteen year-old Ammar Muhammad was not a boy who was destined for success. The son of nomadic parents in Eastern Nigeria, he was enrolled at an Almajiri school—an informal center where boys memorize the Qur’an and learn self-discipline but are also turned out to beg on the streets and live in deplorable conditions. With their limited literacy and lack of broad-based academic knowledge, Almajiri boys are rarely able to transition into formal schools.

But when Ammar’s school in Bauchi State was selected by the USAID-Nigeria Northern Education Initiative (NEI) as one of the region’s 40 demonstration schools, Ammar was exposed to a whole new way of learning—and a way out.

NEI is a four-year project implemented by a consortium of Nigerian and international partners and the Government of Nigeria that enables vulnerable children to access basic education, provides teacher education and training and strengthens state-level systems. It has developed activity-based training manuals in core subjects including literacy, and trained 3,568 teachers on how best to teach them.

The project also encouraged the participating Almajiri schools to enrich their curricula with core basic education subjects like literacy and numeracy, and to periodically examine their pupils and graduate them into formal schools.

“(Ammar) was always in class reading his primers,” says Malam Salmanu Shehu, his literacy and numeracy tutor at Tsangaya Alaramma Magayaki. “He was always curious, reading ahead of the topics for the week.”

When Ammar’s school allowed him to take the examinations that would dictate his acceptance into a formal primary school, his newfound literacy and math skills set him apart. Ammar was admitted to a formal primary school, where teachers were stunned to learn of his background.

“I was surprised to learn that he was from an Almajiri school,” said Malam Usman Khalifa, head teacher at Central Primary School. “He performed better than other pupils that had spent six years in school and took first position in his class examination.”

He performed so well during his three years at the primary school that Ammar earned a seat at the 2012 Bauchi State Special Secondary Schools Examination—the entrance exam for schools for gifted students. Ammar was one of 40 pupils out of more than 250 from his local area who passed the exams and aptitude test. He was the only one with a non-formal school background.

Thanks to his encounter two years ago with NEI’s basic literacy program, Ammar is getting the education that he was never fated to have. Today, after three months at the Special Science Secondary School, the former Almajiri has adapted to boarding school life and is doing well academically, with continuous assessment scores of around 85 percent.

Ammar’s next goal is to graduate with flying colors and earn a university admission.

“I want to be a doctor, to help my people,” he says.

His dream of continuing his education may soon become reality: The school’s management has taken note of its first student from an informal setting, and is working to secure him a scholarship to see him through secondary school. If that comes through, Ammar’s success in formal school will be an inspiration to other pupils and teachers at Almajiri schools across the state, and an example of the dreams that can be realized when schools focus on teaching literacy.

Sign Up

For our mailing list