By Ishaka Mohammed, Farid Suleiman
Fatima Abdullahi, 19, dropped out of school at primary five. Although she was already disadvantaged by starting at a relatively older age, her education was cut short at 17 due to the inability to afford the cost of transportation and learning materials. At that age, many children were progressing into tertiary institutions.
In Nigeria, women and girls have lesser access to basic education. In May, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that girls account for 60 per cent of the 18.5 million out-of-school children. The majority of these children are from the northern part of the country.
Despite being desirous of education, Fatima remained out of school for about a year until representatives of Yasmin El-rufai Foundation (YELF), a Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) that responds to the plight of girls and women who have not had the opportunity to gain formal education, introduced a Women Literacy Programme (WLP) to the residents of Rafin-Guza in Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria.
After hearing about the benefits of the programme, Fatima, who had turned 18 at the time, grabbed the opportunity and started attending lessons. “I only buy a pen sometimes. The foundation provides me with all the needed learning materials including notebooks, textbooks, dictionaries, and even pens,” she said.
The literacy programme
The WLP started with four centres in 2017. By the end of 2019, six more centres were created and over 250 women trained in numeracy, literacy, civic education, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
The 10 study centres cut across three local government areas, including Kaduna North, Kaduna South, and Igabi, with communities and districts such as Unguwan Sunusi, Rafin-Guza, Kakuri, Rigachikun, Kawo, Tudan-Wada and Rigasa (Rigasa 1, Rigasa 2, and Ragasa 3).
According to the community supervisor at YELF, Musa Jama’are, in addition to providing free learning materials, the foundation works with the host communities who provide them with the material and human resources to train the women.
This development started “when a team of the foundation paid an advocacy visit to introduce the WLP. The YELF team needed their [the community’s] acceptance and support, especially with regard to providing us with a venue which the foundation would later refurbish, prepare and make conducive for learning,” he said.
Interestingly, the community leaders welcomed the idea.
The community leaders were also in charge of identifying and recommending trained and experienced female teachers who would serve as instructors in their respective communities. Only one of those recommended was chosen after everyone being subjected to an aptitude test and interview. The selected instructor was then trained for the tasks ahead.
The foundation also conducts an examination for prospective beneficiaries, out of whom 25 are selected and then attached to the trained instructor. The 25 learners in each community are trained for a period of 13 months, with the last three months being exclusively for computer training. “Classes are held at weekends, usually between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.,” Jama’are noted.
There are also two key events, Spelling Bee and Inspire Someone Today, organised for every set of learners. Women who scale through all the learning sessions are invited to share their stories with the learners in order to motivate them. The learners are also made to do some presentations at the events.
Salamatu Muhammad, a 31-year-old woman who is married with children is one of their beneficiaries. She admitted that going back to school was never in her plans until she heard about the programme. Salamatu got married while she was in primary six and did not continue her education.
She says that apart from learning to read and write again, the programme has boosted her confidence, as she can now communicate in English with considerable ease. “Now I can go anywhere because I can read and write, and I can communicate in English.”
One of the programme’s instructors, Hauwa Musa, who is also a full time teacher at the Kaduna State Universal Basic Education Board (KADSUBEB), stated that sometimes she also uses Hausa (a predominantly indigenous language spoken by people in the northern part of Nigeria) to explain some topics or concepts if using English fails to grant her desired outcome.
Hurdles and obstacles
According to the founder of YELF, Hadiza Isma Elrufai, the foundation started the programme with a model of three terms per year, but this was later modified since it failed to allow the learners enough time to be well grounded in the subjects offered.
“Consequently, we decided to adopt a semester system. During the first semester, our learners will be taught literacy and numeracy. The second semester will focus more on Oral English with a view to improving our learners’ public speaking skills.”
The implication of the former method is that the first set of learners who have graduated from the programme cannot be re-enrolled to ensure correction. Nonetheless, the strategy did not completely fail. Now, the foundation has learnt from its mistakes, which benefits current learners and subsequent ones.
The COVID-19 pandemic also affected the smooth running of the project. Although the foundation thought of using radio, television, and ICT, the calibre of learners required face-to-face instructions for the desired goals to be achieved. “Besides, they lack some of the facilities needed for virtual learning,” she said.
Musa Jama’are, the community supervisor, also stated that the pandemic has led to the shut down of nine centres, “only Rafin-Guza centre is active currently, probably till January 2023.”
He said that each centre has only one instructor. Even though the ratio (1:25) is appropriate, one instructor may not be competent in all the subjects offered.
For instance, the communicative competence of the learners at Rafin-Guza centre, as evident during the interviews with these reporters, required significant upscaling, and such could be achieved if they were instructed by a competent English teacher.
“This story has been supported by Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems, solutionsjournalism.org”