By Daniel Oyeniyi
The COVID-19 pandemic dealt a severe blow to education in Nigeria. According to the World Bank, an estimated 39 million Nigerian students were affected by school closures due to the pandemic. This crisis only magnified the existing educational challenges faced by marginalized students. One such student is Deborah Joshua, a learner from a public school in the Dawaki area of Abuja, who struggled to receive adequate attention from teachers due to the focus on high-performing students.
When the pandemic hit, it was difficult for Joshua and a lot of her peers to transition to online learning, due to limited access to reliable internet connectivity and digital devices. The Nigerian Communications Commission reported that only 46.6% of the population had internet access as of January 2021, further exacerbating educational disparities.
To address the learning gaps and empower disadvantaged students, Project Teach the Child was launched in 2020. This initiative aimed to identify the educational deficiencies of 100 students in the Dawaki community, employing the innovative Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) approach. Out of the initial cohort, 40 students were carefully selected to participate in a program that would revolutionize their learning experience.
Creating Learning Spaces
Project Teach the Child introduced the concept of “learning spaces” to facilitate unconventional teaching methods. These spaces became a haven where students could engage with board games, chess, Mavis talking pens, and interactive books that fostered literacy and numeracy skills. By harnessing the power of these tools, the initiative aimed to make learning more enjoyable, relatable, and effective.
Community Support and Individualized Coaching
The success of Project Teach the Child hinged on the enthusiastic support of community leaders, who recognized the urgent need to empower their youth. The 40 selected students were assigned trained coaches and organized into small learning groups, ensuring personalized attention and tailored instruction. The initiative began with eight distinct groups, each offering a nurturing environment for growth and development.
Pearl Utuk, the Project Lead, highlighted the impact of the initiative. “Leveraging board games and basic technology, we transformed the learning experience for these 40 students on the fringes of Abuja,” she exclaimed.
Through their commitment and dedication, the initiative successfully improved the students’ academic performance and overall engagement. Deborah Joshua, one of the beneficiaries, expressed her gratitude for the project, stating, “Teachers used to overlook students like me who struggled with basic concepts. But Project Teach the Child made learning enjoyable, and now I feel confident in my abilities,” she said.
Empowering Students Through Play
Solomon, a 10-year-old beneficiary of the ‘Teach the Child’ project, expressed his surprise at discovering that learning could be enjoyable. This testimony underscores the outstanding impact of the project on children who find joy in learning through play. By making learning feel like play, the initiative has fostered a love for education among students.
Mr. Peter Ogbaji, a teacher from Divine Grace Model College, emphasized that the use of chess had significantly improved students’ willingness to concentrate on their studies. By merging the elements of play and study, students found learning more interesting and engaging. This approach has been supported by a study published in Nature Human Behaviour, which reveals that properly designed action games can improve attention, reading skills, and academic outcomes.
Teach the Child Africa employs tools like talking pens to enhance literacy skills and digital knowledge among young Nigerians. Sharon, a 10-year-old student, expressed her enthusiasm for reading using the talking pen. This tool has become instrumental in promoting literacy and equipping children with digital skills essential for their future.
Extending Impact and Overcoming Challenges:
Although ‘Teach the Child’ has made a significant impact on the lives of 100 children, millions of Nigerian children still lack access to similar opportunities. The organization’s annual report highlights the challenges faced due to limited resources and financial assistance. Adequate funding and support are crucial to ensure that children across the nation can benefit from innovative learning approaches.
Addressing Competency Gaps Among Teachers
One research study conducted in Enugu State revealed that primary school teachers often lack the necessary instructional competencies to integrate games effectively in their teaching methods. To overcome this obstacle, teachers should receive in-service workshops and seminars that equip them with the knowledge and skills required to leverage games as academic tools. This recommendation aligns with the Department of Early Childhood and Primary Education at Nnamdi Azikiwe University.
Project Teach the Child serves as a shining example of how innovative teaching methods and community involvement can bridge educational gaps, even in the face of adversity. While the pandemic continues to pose challenges, this initiative demonstrates that with dedication and creative approaches, the educational needs of marginalized students can be effectively addressed.
To fully realize the potential of game-based learning, it is essential to address challenges, provide sufficient resources, and equip teachers with the necessary competencies. By doing so, Nigeria can create a brighter future for its children, where education becomes a joyful and transformative experience.
As Project Teach the Child continues to make a lasting impact on the lives of students in rural Nigeria, it stands as a testament to the transformative power of education. Through its unconventional teaching methods, community support, and personalized coaching, the initiative is breaking down barriers and empowering young minds. With its resounding success, Project Teach the Child serves as an inspiration for similar efforts to ensure that no child is left behind, even in the most challenging circumstances.
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.
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