How to reduce illiteracy in Nigeria
BY LAJU IREN
Despite free primary education in many states across the country, the number of Nigeria’s out of school children still stands above 10.5 million. The Ovie Brume Foundation, a Non Governmental Organization established in 2003 has worked hard, employing unique strategies to improve the situation. In this interview with Saturday School Life, Mrs. Lois Ekeleme, handler of education programmes at the foundation shares some ideas on how to improve school enrolment and quality across the country as well as the organisation’s achievements.
Tell us about the Ovie Brume Foundation?
Ovie Brume Foundation came into existence 12 years ago in 2003. The Foundation was set up originally as a youth centre. It is meant for after school products where children from the schools can stop by to take classes in literature, Arts, drama and dance. From 2003 to date, we have touched close to 5,000 lives and at least 60% of those touched have been responsible to the society at large.
In the foundation, we have two major pillars; the education pillar and the livelihood pillar. Under the education pillar, we run programmes that address issues around illiteracy and innumeracy. The livelihood pillar, on the other hand, does after school programme around source of development. It includes programmes around taekwondo, swimming, athletics programmes, dance, drama, music. Professionals come and select the best and enrol them for exhibition.
We also have a scholarship project called “scholarship no excuse”. We started out with about 12 children in 2012. But today we have about 24 children in that scheme. The scheme is just to provide a platform for children that want to go to school but because they have to support their parents at home to make some forms of income, they are not able to go to school regularly.
Apart from these, are there other things the foundation has done to help the youths?
There is a literacy competition that we do every year. We started last year with partnership with a private organization that provides the funds for these events. We had competitions across the states among students where the best from states will represent their States at the National level. The objective of the literacy competition is to showcase our children that know how to read and write. We do literacy interventions. Some of them at the beginning of the interventions are not able to spell their names.
We just did an assessment in Niger State and a lot of children there do not really know how to write their names and surnames. The copies of questionnaire we administered were objective questions and the options were from A to E but some children were writing Y, Z, etc, and these children were between 8 to 13 years. From field work experience, 90% did not know the year they were born and after discussing with their teachers, they also claim to face the same challenge because the children’s parents do not know anything. The government should do something about this because a lot of these kids do not know anything at all.
The foundation under the livelihood runs a programme called “Job prescription programme.” We get the children to tell us what they want to do when they grow up and we reach out to organizations that work in those areas. We send the children to do a month internship to help the child see beyond the ideas in his or her head in order to help the child make a decision. After the internship, the child will decide if he really wants to do that course or not.
How do you think the Federal Government can reduce the illiteracy level in the country?
The government started something in 2010 when the National Bureau for Statistics was asked to do a survey and they started running adult education programmes at that point. The point was that if the parents are educated, they would see the importance of education and send their children to school. Enrolments have increased at schools but there are still a lot of drop outs. It is not that people don’t enrol to go to school; it’s just that they do not finish.
The government should pay more attention to these adults’ education programmes they have started, monitor and evaluate the impact. It is not about setting up programmes, there is need for the programmes to be timely monitored to see if the objectives are being met and evaluate the impacts they are having.
Are parents enrolling their children from primary to university which is the finishing point? You know when you are educated, you have a sustainable society, and you are empowered. You may not be empowered financially but you are empowered to be able to take care of yourselves. If the objectives of this initiative are not met, they should re-strategize.
What is your idea about free education at the primary school level, don’t you think the government can do more?
Free education is effective and impactful. What we have discovered is that sometimes these children do not pay attention. Even when the teachers are there to teach them, they are not learning. The parents really don’t care because they are not sending any of their resources for the children to get the education. Sometimes, the teachers are not even empowered to teach these children well.
What will help more is not just the scholarship for the children; they should empower the teachers to be able to impact on the children. Government should work on the orientation on the people that they put the lives of these children in their hands because it goes a long way to increase literacy or decrease literacy. Some people are not doing what they should do. Government should design programmes that will empower the teachers. That is a bigger way to solve the problems.
What is missing is the education sector and what advice would you give to the Education Minister?
The passion of teachers is no longer the classroom. Now, children just go to school because they see it is an obligation. Not because they want to. Teachers’ training and retraining is the key. That is the missing link. Our teachers should be trained and retrained. When you train someone and invest in that person, the person will now invest in another person and the person that person invests in will invest in another person. That is the key for the education sector.
I would also want him to look at the infrastructure. Sometimes, they are buildings in some schools but no teachers. You will see a teacher teaching over 200 students in a class. Sometimes, the students sometimes sit under the tress to learn.