The room fills with murmurs and the rustling of papers as everyone prepares for the activity. Each adult has a set of Elkonin boxes (boxes drawn onto a sheet of paper used to help learners segment the different sounds in words) and a handful of bottle caps sitting on the table. Dr. Marion Fesmire of Florida State University says, “The word is man. Move one cap for each sound in the word. Ready? /mmmmm/.” She draws out the sound, watching to be sure that everyone moves the first cap into the first box. Dr. Fesmire continues, “The next sound is /aaaaaaa/.” She watches as everyone moves the second cap into the second box. “And the last sound is /nnnnn/.” The participants each move a third cap into the third box. “How many sounds in the word man?” The participants answer, “Three.”
Dr. Fesmire has been leading a group of federal and state level policy makers, stakeholders and educators from the northern Nigerian states of Bauchi and Sokoto, as well as the Federal Capital Territory, through a sample phonemic awareness lesson for early grade learners. This group of individuals was selected from a pool of applicants to participate in the second cohort of a graduate-level certificate course titled Literacy Skills in the Primary School: A Course for Teacher Educators, Researchers and National Stakeholders.
Northern Education Initiative Plus is a USAID-funded education project being implemented by Creative Associates International and is focused on increasing access to education and improving early grade reading skills for children in northern Nigeria. In 2017, the project stepped up its education and capacity-building activities with federal and state stakeholders by engaging its partner, Florida State University, in developing and delivering the certificate course. A cohort of 24 individuals were selected for inclusion in the challenging graduate-level class designed by Dr. Adrienne Barnes at Florida State University.
Participants engaged in four separate class sessions between September and December in the two states and Abuja, each lasting 3-4 days. There they learned about the fundamental aspects of teaching literacy skills to primary school pupils, as well as assessment of teacher training programs and community outreach. Additionally, participants engaged in their own personal research on a topic of their choice by studying peer-reviewed journal articles and relevant reports from the field. Some participants even collected their own data through interviews, observations and interventions. At the end of the course, each participant delivered a 20-minute conference-style presentation of his or her research findings and the relevance for Nigerian children.
In 2018, USAID agreed to fund a second cohort, and 23 more applicants were accepted into the course. The anticipated graduation date for the second cohort is January 11, 2019. The certificate holders from both cohorts will be presented to the Government of Nigeria after graduation as a cadre of reading experts at the graduate level who are prepared to lead, expand and maintain the early grade reading program started by the Northern Education Initiative Plus. The Initiative is expected to demonstrate significant improvement in EGR for approximately 1 million children in schools and for more than 400,000 out-of-school children (OOSC) attending some 11,000 Non-formal Learning Centers (NFLCs), Adolescent Girls Learning Centers (AGLCs) and Youth Learning Centers (YLCs). In three years, the USAID Northern Education Initiative Plus improved reading skills for about 500,000 children through an innovative early grade reading program called Let’s Read! Mu Karanta! The program developed teacher guides and pupils’ workbooks and distributed about 4 million of these materials to pupils in first to third grade. About 8,000 teachers were trained and mentored to teach children to learn to read in Hausa language which is commonly spoken in Northern Nigeria while slowly transitioning to English in second and third grades.