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LEAPing Into Action

By Jennifer Nelson
 | Aug 30, 2016

LT341_LEAP1Many teachers in Nigeria were never taught how to encourage their students to read and write critically and creatively. It’s not often a prioritized objective in their country’s education system—but that’s changing.

“Some teachers simply assume that reading is all about English language, and others think the task of teaching reading and literacy is the business of the English language teacher alone,” explains Gabriel B. Egbe, president of the Reading Association of Nigeria (RAN).

Complicating matters, there are no Nigerian higher education institutions with degree programs in either reading or literacy, and the country struggles with limited access to books. Egbe notes that many teachers are also hesitant to collaborate with each other or pursue opportunities to develop their own literacy or teaching skills.

Enter RAN, which aims to shift priorities and improve literacy instruction in schools through teacher training and student reading programs. One of ILA’s more than 75 affiliates, RAN continues to face obstacles, ranging from a lack of resources to the inability of students to read and write even in their native language, but it is making significant strides.

RAN recently teamed up with the state government to institute the Literacy Enhancement and Achievement Project (LEAP) as a pilot program in Anambra State, Nigeria. Designed to empower teachers to develop their skills in the core subjects of English, mathematics, and basic science and technology at the junior secondary school level, LEAP is a school-based collaborative learning model created to promote literacy enhancement and achievement.

“We wanted to develop and implement a standard blueprint for enhancing the literacy empowerment of every child in the schools and colleges in the state,” explains Willie M. Obiano, executive governor of Anambra State.

LEAP, which began last September and wrapped up in April, was the first major collaboration between RAN and the state government.

“The LEAP proposal had two goals: to ensure that teachers themselves could learn to appreciate and enjoy reading and writing, as well as to empower them to teach their students how to effectively and efficiently receive, give, and use information through written texts,” adds professor Chukwuemeka Eze Onukaogu, chair of the board of trustees for RAN, who served on the LEAP implementation team along with Egbe, Irene Mbanefo, Irene Ossisioma, Chinwe Muodumogu, Gabriel Oyinloye, Grace Abiodun-Ekus, and Iroegbu Ahuekwe.

Encouraging meaningful interpretation

Three local government areas were selected for the pilot: Awka South, Anambra East, and Orumba South, and a toolkit with literacy materials was developed to assist the master trainers and trainees. In total, there were 478 teachers in 41 schools with a student population of 15,600 involved. The schools were divided into clusters on the basis of proximity.

One teacher for each of the three core school subjects was selected from the 41 schools and was trained as a master teacher for 18 days to flow his or her training to other teachers in each school. The cluster meetings were facilitated by master teachers and lasted for 16 weeks.

According to Alis Headlam, lead presenter for LEAP’s JSS Literacy Training Workshop, the teachers were first engaged in theoretical and scientific knowledge about learning and literacy, followed by practical strategies and techniques that encourage interaction, demonstration, and discussion.

“Literacy instruction in Anambra State tended to focus on blackboard lessons and government texts that students were required to purchase. Those lessons were often more about grammar and skills than meaningful stories and text,” Headlam explains. “For the purposes of this training, teachers were encouraged to use authentic, culturally relevant texts that would encourage meaningful interpretation and creative thinking.”

Broken into small groups, teachers participated in hands-on lesson demonstrations, role-playing, and more. Headlam notes that presenters aimed to find ways to incorporate small-group instruction, story writing, and activity-based learning—all beneficial elements when dealing with often large class sizes.

“One of the initiative’s greatest successes is that teachers started to find creative ways to make their lessons more interesting,” Obiano adds.

Changing practices

Pre-tests were administered to the students and teachers prior to the program, and post-tests were given at the end of the period. Only 4.3% of teachers indicated that they had effective strategies for teaching literacy skills and strategies at the pre-test, whereas the post-test results showed an upsurge of more than 62%.

Similarly, only 3.5% of teachers were familiar with journals at the pretest, compared with 46.4% at the post-test.

“The post-tests show that over 80% of the students now read at the independent level…but in the pre-tests, the reverse was the case, where over 80% of the students read at the frustration level,” Onukaogu adds.

The success is also evident in the testimonials from teachers who say the program changed their practice and changed their students.

“LEAP has successfully made teaching and learning fun,” said Frank, a teacher in Anambra State. Chidi, another teacher, said his students now believe in themselves and have a much more positive attitude toward school.

Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of LEAP is a new educational policy known as Drop Everything and Read. For the first time, the state government has made it mandatory for all schools to set aside one hour each week for uninterrupted sustained silent reading.

Schools are also promoting journal writing and encouraging teachers to incorporate opportunities to read and write in their lesson plans. “These are truly innovative policies in the Nigerian school system,” Egbe says.

However, the country still faces obstacles when it comes to satisfying students’ newfound desire to read—including limited access to reading materials. “The challenge is having stimulated students who want to read and write when we are unable to provide them with diverse reading materials that would be appropriate for their reading levels as well as sustaining their interest to read,” Onukaogu says.

To that end, many students are working with their teachers to write their own books, while RAN and the state government are working to freight books from outside the country.

RAN is also planning its first-ever Literacy Festival to be held in the Anambra State capital in July to showcase the impact LEAP has made in the lives of students and teachers. Egbe is hopeful that the project may be extended to all other schools in the state.

“Students are excited that class texts are no longer frightening to them. We are also seeing teachers collaborate among themselves in order to enhance the literacy performance of their students,” Onukaogu concludes. “We hope to replicate the entire program at the primary or basic education level so that when children begin their formal education at that early stage, they will receive literacy empowerment for lifelong learning.”

Jennifer L. Nelson is a freelance magazine writer specializing in education and parenting.

 

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