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Enabling Writers Workshop Program Bridges Book Gap

Note: A version of this article appeared on the Basic Education Coalition’s website in late January. An added section at the end links to a webinar on hosted by Reading within Reach (REACH) on November 29 about the Enabling Writers Workshop Program experience in Nigeria.

New books, written and illustrated for first and second graders in their native Hausa language, will soon reach thousands of Nigerian school children and positively impact their learning to read. The 200 books were created by more than 35 local writers, trained to develop high-quality books using Bloom book-producing software through the Enabling Writers Workshop Program (EW), an innovative initiative funded by the All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) partners—the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision, and the Australian government—and implemented by University Research Co.’s Reading within Reach (REACH) project.

According to 2017 statistics from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 387 million primary school-age children worldwide are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading, even though two-thirds of them attend school. One key factor is the lack of appropriate reading materials in a language the children can understand. The EW program demonstrates a low-cost sustainable solution to this challenge. Currently implemented in six countries—Nigeria, Haiti, Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Nepal—more than 2,000 titles have been created in eight languages. Work is currently under way to create an additional 1,400 titles in seven languages.

EW partner American University of Nigeria is working in the states of Bauchi and Sokoto to promote the Hausa book titles. EW Pedagogy Lead, Grace Malgwi, explained that “the plan is for the over 4,000 public primary schools in these two states to be the first beneficiaries of the printed version of the books. Additionally, with Internet access and the availability of computers and tablets growing, another 2,000 public schools where Hausa is a home language might receive the books in a digital form.”

Quality assurance processes are applied in every stage of book creation, including through a rigorous field testing process in schools. Before writing, the EW team works with the national ministry of education (MoE) to establish letter scope and sequence and book levelling criteria reflecting the national reading curriculum. Draft EW books are then subjected to multiple content reviews, including for context relevance, story sequence and illustrations, gender inclusiveness, and appropriate representation of individuals with disabilities. Teachers and students then provide feedback on the appropriateness of the books for the target group and for instructional use.

Primary school teacher Auwal Nasir says students and teachers at his Yakubu Muazu Model School in Sokoto are excited about the new books’ simple, interesting and level-appropriate language and text. “The books are bridging the gap, and the pupils can read and enjoy the books in and out of class,” he said, adding that teachers not involved in the field testing process of the book production have borrowed the books from him to read with their classes.

Books created through the Enabling Writers program will be open-licensed for sharing, electronic use and large-scale printing and uploaded to the Global Digital Library (an initiative of the Global Book Alliance with the Norwegian Development Agency), the Bloom library and other digital library platforms. Educators and families around the world will be able to access, use or translate the books to their own language.

The Nigerian Educational Research and Development Council (NERDC) and the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) are working to officially adopt the EW books. Garba Gandu of NERDC says EW received “a warm reception and positive recognition. It is very relevant and invaluable to the current reading initiatives in Nigeria.” There are budgetary, distribution and curriculum issues to iron out, but Gandu believes the “urgent need to get [the books] into the school system should not be downplayed. This can be hastened and achieved in under two to three months by special intervention.”

The Enabling Writers initiative has potential to provide access to large numbers of high-quality books in underserved mother languages throughout the world. Watch for further project updates on the Global Reading Network website.

On November 29, REACH hosted a webinar titled “Lessons Learned from a Structured, Leveled and Decodable Book-Writing Program Using Bloom Software—The Enabling Writers Workshop Experience in Nigeria.” Speakers included Audu Liman and Grace Malgwi of the American University of Nigeria and Salisu Ahmed Yakasai of the Nigerian government, who talked about his experiences with Enabling Writers and also shared materials on behalf of Garba Gandu of NERDC. Aristarick Lyimo of the REACH staff moderated.

Visit this webpage on the Global Reading Network’s website to access presentation materials from the webinar. Watch a full video of the event on YouTube.