By: Mohammed Taoheed
Goodness Akwesa, was about 11 when she was enrolled in Central Epia Secondary School Opolo, a public school in Yenegoa Local Government of Bayelsa State. Her mother, who works as a cleaner in a local clinic, says it is the best school she could afford as a single mother. Despite attending several classes, Akwesa struggled to read and write without guidance. Her poor results were a constant worry until her friend suggested she joined a reading club.
At first, she did not take the invitation to attend classes for free seriously until her mum threatened to withdraw her from school if she kept failing.
“In May 2021, I was invited to attend one of the classes of Yellow House Initiative but I didn’t take it seriously because they said it was free. I decided to go later because I wanted to get better at my studies,” the 16-year-old told Social Voices.
After attending a couple of classes, Akwesa’s reading and writing skills began improving.
“All that I have learned helped me when I sat for my final exams,” Akwesa said excitedly.
In Nigeria, access to quality education is a challenge. In May, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Research Council (UNESCO) lamented that the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria has now risen to 20 million. Apart from the North, the situation is more worrisome in the Niger Delta region which has been plagued by incessant oil spills. The agrarian region has been battling with oil spillage and this has spelt low yields and poverty for the people, thus people struggle to provide basic amenities for their wards.
A Beacon Of Hope
At first, Yellow House Library was set up as a free book lending initiative, operating online only. Their target was to provide books to children from low-income households. However, online access was restricted for the class of children they wanted to reach.
To address this challenge, the management of the initiative invested in storage units and expanded their operations beyond lending books. According to Babatunde Babafemi, the Program Lead, it was important to impart knowledge beyond improving access to books for children. This notion led to the beginning of their Saturday free classes.
“Developing a healthy reading culture is beneficial to the student’s education and daily interaction, that’s why our Saturday Open Reading has been consistent,” Oletu Oghenenyore, the poetry tutor of the initiative said during an interview.
To test the impact, a monthly examination is conducted. The pupils are free to discuss their challenges with the tutors, and this strategy helps to ensure and improve learning. Since it started, the Yellow House Library has improved the numeracy and literacy skills of 120 students.
For students, the classes are interactive and each tutor uses board games and storytelling to teach different subjects including creative writing, music, and drama.
For 9-year-old Treasure Ebiaoko, classes in her school were difficult due to the methodological approach and the harsh learning conditions. But her interest in learning was rekindled when she attended one of the free Saturday classes organized by Yellow House Library.
“I have learnt many things from the Yellow House Library. I prefer Uncle Femi (one of her tutors) to my school teachers. When I grow up, I wish to be a medical doctor,” Ebiaoko, said in an interview.
While the initiative is hoping to build the next generation of brilliant minds, it has to deal with several obstacles. For example, its attempt to initiate reading clubs in some public schools has encountered bottlenecks.
“Some schools don’t allow us to engage the students, they believe that they are competent and in some cases, they ask for money. I remember one principal told me that I need to give him some money,” Babafemi said.
There is also the issue of space. As Yellow House Library gains more students, the space used for the free classes is at maximum capacity. “This is hampering learning,” says Babafemi, who hopes every local government area in Bayelsa can have a Yellow House Library.
Language is another major barrier to learning for many students. According to Babafemi, some of the students don’t understand the English language and this makes teaching in English difficult. At times, students are taught in pidgin but this still poses some challenges.
Anything to learn from this?
Reading culture is said to be a learned practice of seeking knowledge from written words. As a developing country, Nigeria still has a long way to go when it comes to the level of her education. But if a good reading culture could be well embarked upon, it will open the eyes of the younger minds to greater ideas that can transform better opportunities for the progress of the country.
According to a research project from the Global Academic Group, reading culture is posited to be a panacea to educational development hence experts argued if nonprofits could leverage on different means to promote it, it will help to develop problem solving skills in children. There exists a missing link in the Nigerian reading space as the educational system has been affected adversely due to a heap of problems.
“Although my first day teaching experience is not something to be proud of due to the challenges we face, I didn’t relent. The children wish to read but they’ve been accustomed to the Nigerian traditional reading system that goes with rowdiness and this means you need to have a kind of emotional intelligence to caution them properly. It is difficult, I know others would learn from this since education forms the societal bedrock, ” Babafemi said.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.