Nigeria: Program boosts enrollment, teachers’ skills

By Michael J. Zamba

March 17, 2014


The Nigerian Northern Education Initiative boosted student enrollment in the states of Bauchi and Sokoto by 33 percent, with girls representing an impressive 38 percent jump during the past four years.

Using a combination of modern pedagogy—in teacher training and contemporary curricula, community engagement and system strengthening—the Northern Education Initiative addressed high rates of illiteracy, low levels of school enrollment, poor quality of education and ensured that vulnerable children were brought into classrooms. It was developed and managed by Creative Associates International and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

At a ceremony marking the end of the four and a half years of the Northern Education Initiative, a wide spectrum of people recognized the immediate gains of students and the systems that were introduced for long-term benefits for residents in Bauchi and Sokoto states.

At the Feb. 19 event in Bauchi state, USAID Mission Director Michael Harvey described the Northern Education Initiative as its “flag-ship education program” that demonstrates the benefits of partnership between the Nigerian and U.S. governments.

“As partners, we work together to ensure that all of Nigeria’s children receive quality basic education,” Harvey said at the ceremony in the capital city of Bauchi. “This work creates a long-lasting impact by setting the foundation needed to support Nigeria’s continued development.”

Semere Solomon, Creative’s Senior Associate in Washington, D.C., who managed the Northern Education Initiative, told the audience that the credit for the program’s results are attributed to contributions made by many individuals and groups.

“Allow me to share with you the secret behind NEI’s success. It is community participation,” Solomon said at the Bauchi close out. “Community members, when fully mobilized, will not only ensure sustainability and ownership but provide avenues for their participation and contribution in improving their communities’ wellbeing as well as demanding for quality education and other services from the state.”

Creative’s Northern Education Initiative engaged government officials, civil society members and educators to identify basic education challenges and devised realistic solutions. It also helped education partners working in Bauchi and Sokoto to turn policy into action and to increase the effectiveness of related services that assist both schools and learning centers that support orphans and vulnerable children.

“Key” involvement by state officials and schools administrators

USAID Mission Director Harvey cited the Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board as being “a key tool for enhancing the learning achievement of our children. It is complementing the government of Nigeria’s effort in improving quality education delivery.”

State Universal Basic Education Board Executive Chairman Abdulahi Dabo said he was “elated” when the Northern Education Initiative approached him at the start of the program, particularly the teacher training activities.

After four years, he has seen the results among students.

“We have noticed changes in [student] performances and the examinations, standard examinations, secondary school examinations,” he said during an interview in January. “And, not only improvement in terms of examination writing and passing, but improvement in terms of enrollment, retention of the school children and then completion of schools. We’ve seen a lot of improvement there.”

At the Bauchi closing ceremony, Creative’s Solomon described the global development organization’s role in the Northern Education

“We defined our role as providers of technical support to the host government in order through its leadership achieve its developmental goals,” Solomon said. “Our reward was the success of the project; to achieve what the host government aspired to achieve. We saw ourselves as trouble-shooters, provoking thoughts and perspectives for real development work and promoting and sharing research and evidence-based contemporary thoughts in the education domain in general and how to better deliver the services.”

Through this strategy, state and local organizations were primed four and a half years ago to take over at the conclusion of the initiative. That required getting all the parties together at the table.

One Bauchi state official responsible for coordination with the 7,300 informal learning centers known as Quranic schools was one of the first to participate in Northern Education Initiative. He said that prior to the project’s arrival, “most of us were just operating in an island, everybody trying to see how he can achieve his own goal entirely.”

Suleman Osman, Special Assistant to the Governor of Bauchi, said in an interview conducted in January: “But, with the coming of this project, we were able to learn one very important thing, which is collaboration. We learn how to collaborate amongst organizations to see how we can achieve a common goal because the obvious issue is a multi-faceted issue. You need the help of different ministries, departments and agencies, including the non-governmental organizations.”

Addressing an acute situation

The USAID-supported initiative was designed to demonstrate best practices that could be scale up used elsewhere in the country.

Only 60 percent of school-aged children in Nigeria have access to basic education. Fewer than half will continue to secondary school. In the end, an estimated 10 percent will pursue advanced education. In a country of 168 million, tens of millions are educationally deprived.

In the northern states of Bauchi and Sokoto, the situation is more troubling. For those who attend school, pupil-teacher ratios are 93 to 1 and 60 to 1, respectively, compared to the national average of 42 to 1. Dropout rates are abysmal.

Only 26 percent of Bauchi’s teachers and 42 percent of Sokoto’s instructors are qualified by the National College of Education. Nationally, 62 percent of teachers are certified. Teacher training used out-of-date pedagogical methods. Poorly managed data collection system contributed to inefficient decision making processes.

The Northern Education Initiative took a three-pronged approach to addressing weaknesses in the education sector in Bauchi and Sokoto.

These included: building on what exists; effecting change through a three-pronged change strategy (build capacity, promote advocacy for acceptance and support transparency and accountability); and embracing a system approach (horizontal and vertical) that ensured comprehensive coverage of processes the project aimed to strengthen.

“We believed in high level performance and professional excellence,” Solomon said at the closing ceremony. “We laid emphasis on measurable outcomes. We succeeded in documenting where we started from (baseline) and what we achieved in both quantitative and qualitative terms at the end of the day.”

The results of the program are impressive:

  • 5,685 teachers were trained to use new pedagogical techniques
  • 461 administrators and officials received training
  • 1,400 members of parent-teacher organizations and school governance groups received training
  • 16,000 orphans and vulnerable children provided with services (education, health, nutrition and psychosocial information)
  • Thirteen project policies, guidelines and procedures were developed and adapted to improve equitable access to quality education services
  • Education Management Information System and Teacher Management Information System introduced in the two states

The Northern Education Initiative succeeded in strengthening education delivery systems in Bauchi and Sokoto states by building the capacity of relevant ministries, departments and agencies, Solomon said.

Today, school-level data are regularly collected and processed to inform a consultative decision-making process involving local government authorities, communities and civil society organizations.

This consultation follows a planning process that utilizes established tools and methods to set standards, goals and benchmarks for state-wide policies and procedures which in turn improved classroom instruction, teacher performance and supervision as well as supporting vulnerable children’s to access and succeed in school.

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