Nigeria: Early Grade Reading - Boosting Language Skills Among Pupils

3 March 2021

'Je Ka Kawe', was recently presented to the Lagos State Government. It is the Early Grade Reading, Teaching and Learning Materials in Yoruba language, developed by United State Agency for International Development in collaboration with other implementing partners. Stakeholders who spoke at the programme, explained that the move will go a long way in improving language literacy and reading outcomes among pupils. Funmi Ogundare reports

On February 28, 2021, United State Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC), inaugurated the Early Grade Reading (EGR) Teaching and Learning Materials (TLM) in Igbo and Yoruba Languages:' Ka Anyi Guo' and 'Je Ka Kawe'.

The effort by USAID follows the successful implementation of 'Ma Karanta' and 'Let's Read' versions across northern Nigeria, where the programme has supported learning to read and write in Hausa and English languages.

Developed based on scientific principles and socio-cultural considerations, the materials seek to improve reading outcomes amongst Nigerian children from primary one to three and promote the use of mother tongue in early grade education .

Its development is also premised on the language provisions in the National Policy of Education (FRN,2013) that the mother tongue or the language of the immediate community, should be the medium of instruction at the lower primary level of education.

It is designed to promote active learner engagement, comprehension and critical thinking through three levels of instruction that ensure learners develop critical skills necessary for all aspiring readers: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

The comprehensive curriculum package includes learner textbooks and workbooks, teachers' guides, and storybooks for practice in school or at home, all available at no expense for download.

USAID recently, did a formal handling over of the Yoruba Early Grade Reading Learning Material; 'Je Ka Kawe' to the Lagos State Government through the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) for immediate distribution into schools.

Speaking at the ceremony witnessed by officials of the ministry of education, SUBEB, teachers, implementing partners, among others, the Chief of Party , USAID Northern Education Initiative Plus, Mr. Nurudeen Lawal emphasised on the need to address the problem of learning outcomes by teaching the children in language that they will understand and succeed in; and complete their education.

He said this is very critical for national development.

According to him, " By teaching children in mother tongue, aside the fact that they will be able to read, they are going to transfer that knowledge into learning other subjects and be able to achieve a lifelong learning which is part of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs)."

He expressed concern about the quality of education in the country which is affecting learning outcomes, and the poor learning grade reading assesement, saying that if children cannot read at an early age, they may become fustrated, thereby dropping out of school .

"When you look at the learning outcomes in Nigeria, you will find out that it is not very encouraging . Nigeria is one of those countries that the quality of education is very low.

In some places, 95 per cent of children cannot read a word. It is a thing of concern and if children cannot read at early age, they become frustrated in learning , then they may end up dropping out of school ear!ier. No wonder the problem we are having today, is because of that frustration,"Lawal stressed.

He revealed that there will be a training programme for teachers on how best they could impact the children with the materials.

A Professor in the department of Language , Arts and Social Science Education, Faculty of Education, Lagos State University ( LASU) , Solomon Olanrewaju Makinde who was part of the development of the resources, explained how the initiative started in February 2020 when over 40 experts drawn from all the Yoruba speaking states were made to participate in purpose-driven workshops that brought about the reading materials for primary one to three, during the Covid-19 lockdown.

"They were developed with the full participation of representatives of Federal Ministry of Education, NERDC, National Council for Colleges, Teachers' Registration Council, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, language associations , SUBEB desk officers from the Yoruba speaking states, including Kwara State, " he said, adding that the materials were subjected to peer- review, field testing and post field-testing review before the final production.

Emphasising on the content of the materials which include the Pupils Book and the Teachers' Guide, the Don said the guide was written in such a way that the implementing teacher will not need to write a lesson plan for him to teach any of the lessons.

"Je Ka Kawe materials are evidenced based and meet global best practice in early grade reading as they are structured around 5 plus 2 reading skills namely; phonemic awareness, alphabetic principles, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, concept of print, and writing."

The materials for primary one to three are contemporary issues and development in science and technology including the Covid-19 pandemic. Makinde noted that texts presented in the pupils' books, are decodable and leveled with graded questions in the Teachers' Guide for continuous assessment of learners' performance and to provide the necprovide feedback for the attention of the teacher.

" In the Teachers' Guide, there are story read alouds which teachers will read to the pupils and ask questions afterwards to test their listening comprehension, as well as critical thinking, "Olanrewaju said, adding that the material meet the required criteria for reading which include; time, teaching, testing, text, as well as tongue( language).

He recommended that the government should embark on mass production of the materials and ensure that every library in the state, get copies.

" It is equally expected that teachers would be trained to understand the principles that underlie the development of the materials and the skills for teaching early grade reading for maximum performance, " Makinde said.

Earlier in his remarks, the Executive Chairman, SUBEB, Wahab Alawiye-King stated that the infusion of local languages into the education system, not only increase the chances of survival for the children, its introduction as a medium of instruction, will help them succeed educationally.

He commended the initiative by USAID, while expressing optimism that the resources will expand the availability of quality local language teaching and learning materials for reading among all Yoruba speaking pupils in primary one to three in the South-west, Nigeria and Lagos State, in particular.

The chairman stressed the need for schools' curriculum to be culture sensitive and relevant to our sociocultural traditions.

He said the educational resources will be put to good use to complement teaching and learning in local languages which is already in force in public schools.

The Commissioner for Education , Mrs. Folashade Adefisayo said children should be encouraged to learn the mother tongue, adding that this will increase their literacy level and expand the availability of quality local language teaching and learning materials for pupils within the state.

"Parents must encourage their children to interact and learn in Yoruba language as this will give them an in depth knowledge of their ethnic background," she said.

She commended the laudable initiative and the state's collaboration with USAID, noting that the gesture is a collective effort that would yield futuristic benefits.

Adefisayo assured that her ministry would recruit more Yoruba language teachers, while the teaching of languages, will be intensified in the curriculum.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Mrs. Abosede Adelaja said the society has a role to play using our language as an identity, adding that the state government will utilise its resources to expand the availability of quality local language teaching and learning materials for reading among pupils.

The Director- General , Office of Education Quality Assurance , Lagos State, Mrs. Abiola Seriki-Ayeni DG Quality Assurance said her office would help to scale up the reading programme by supporting the public school teachers.

"There is no reinventing the wheel. If we have resources available, the assessment is there, the book and teachers' guide are there. It is what we need. So if we use the existing system and helping to scale up, it will help in supporting our public school teachers. The private school teachers need to know that we need to take our indigenous langauge seriously. Sometimes, there is a culture within our indigenous languages, so the way we are presenting it, also matters. We need to go back to the drawing board."

A teacher from Maryland Primary School, Lagos, Mrs. Grace Okunola expressed concern about the dearth of language teachers in the school, adding that they are also faced with the challenges of not communicating in the indigenous language with the pupils.

She said as a result, sometimes, the pupils usually do not understand what the teacher is teaching.

According to her, "If you check our schools, we hardly have Yoruba teachers, so we are finding it difficult to teach the children, they usually tell us that we shouldn't speak vernacular to the children and sometimes, they find it difficult to understand you. If we try to inculcate Yoruba language into what we are teaching them, they will understand it better.

She said the introduction of the early grade reading materials, will go a long way in enhancing teaching and learning, adding that government should employ more Yoruba teachers that will handle the subject effectively.

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