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Radio lessons in Northern Nigeria support reading during the COVID-19 pandemic

by Janey Fugate

For more information and updates about Creative and our programs’ response to COVID-19, click here.

With classrooms shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students in two Northern Nigerian states are seeking much-needed alternate methods to continue their basic education.

Many educators and parents have been concerned that the pandemic-related interruptions would undo much of the learning gains made in an already fragile environment, says Jordene Hale, Chief of Party of the Northern Education Initiative Plus (NEI Plus), a USAID-funded program designed to strengthen Bauchi and Sokoto states’ ability to provide quality education and improve children’s reading skills.

“My fear is that kids will give up their education without that structure,” says Hale. “School is a habit. It’s hard to get that momentum going again.”

To offset these losses, radio waves in Northern Nigeria are carrying reading lessons to children. 

NEI Plus is collaborating with UNICEF who developed more than 40 radio programs that will be aired throughout Bauchi, reaching 400,000 students and parents. The radio learning programs are designed to correspond to the lessons in children’s textbooks, produced by NEI Plus, for grades one through three, broadcasting twice a day during May and June. With World Bank funding, Sokoto state government is also producing radio programs to reach an additional 200,000 learners.

The radio lessons are in English and Hausa, most children’s mother-tongue language in those two states. NEI Plus will produce 40 radio programs to complement the already produced 40 radio programs by UNICEF. Allowing up to eight hours a day in Hausa and up to four hours in English. 

 “We want to stem the learning loss by having families re-engage with the process of learning,” says Hale. 

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A mother in Bauchi helps her kids follow along to the radio lesson with their textbooks. Photo by Yusuf Dahiru, reading coordinator.

During the last four years, NEI Plus has developed a broad network within the education system—including teachers, government representatives, religious leaders and families—and leveraged it to announce the new distance learning through radio. Tailored messages were broadcasted on government-run radio networks and sent to more than 20,000 WhatsApp contacts.

Radio campaigns are not new for the project. In 2017, NEI Plus successfully used radio programs to promote learning and reading among educators and parents called Interactive Radio Instruction in Yoruba, Hausa and English languages. Along with the radio skits that used culturally relevant scenarios to help promote education, the project also sent voice messages and announcements to parents’ phones who may be illiterate, involving them in the shift towards a greater emphasis on literacy for their kids. Some of the material developed in these programs is being repurposed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.  

Nurudeen Lawal, the Deputy Chief of Party for NEI+, believes the radio programs will put students at ease during the pandemic, which is compounded by the country’s attempts to contain an outbreak of Lassa fever.

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Children follow along to the radio lesson in their textbooks. Photo by Amina Musa.

 “Education cannot wait for the crisis to end,” says Lawal. “Because part of resilience is that when learning continues despite the crisis situation, it tends to reduce the level of anxiety and stress in the children.” 

Nurudeen Lawal

The radio lessons can continue to serve kids and their families even after the crisis is over and may complement other learning initiatives, he says.

Radio lessons in a vulnerable environment

Prior to the pandemic, the educational system was fragile. In Northern Nigeria, 30 percent of children do not have access to basic education, lack adequate parental support and schools suffer from insufficient funds, among other challenges. For girls, it is even more difficult since they have lower levels of enrollment and have a greater likelihood of dropping out. These factors made responding quickly to the pandemic with solutions even more urgent.

“The broader social implications for a setback in education are scary,” says Hale, emphasizing that remote education is critical for all students since the project does not know when schools will reopen.

Entering its fifth and final year, NEI Plus has made significant progress in bringing quality education to Nigerian students. 

A midline early grade reading assessment conducted by the project indicates improvement in most of the key reading skills for Hausa and English. Because of NEI Plus, up to 260,000 children in non-formal schools have gained literacy, numeracy, and life skills that enabled 20 percent to mainstream into formal schools.

“NEI Plus is well positioned to serve children and communities in unusual and unpredictable circumstances. The team’s experience working in Nigerian formal and non-formal schools and with vulnerable children gives us a greater sense of urgency as we respond to the pandemic and prepare for the future,” says Semere Solomon, Senior Director of Creative’s Africa Regional Center. 

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Kids watch a televised school lesson produced with UNICEF. Photo by Nura Faggo.

Interactive Voice Response programs are next

With an eye to further offsetting the potential losses brought on by COVID-19, the NEI Plus team is also producing Interactive Voice Response (IVR) programs for television, radio and cell phones, that focus on social-emotional learning. Designed for parents and teachers, the IVRs’ messaging will teach interpersonal skills and how to recognize and appropriately deal with signs of stress that may be a result of the pandemic. 

Lawal says that they are also beginning to think about structuring remedial classes for students to catch them back up on missed material before schools reopen, and teacher trainings. 

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