Girls Education: Local NGO making impact in Borno State

Jibrin Kolo Adamu

Down east in Borno State, where the echoes of the Boko Haram crisis have lingered for years, 11-year-old Amina Hassan found herself in dire straits. Despite being in primary 6, the possibility of transitioning to Junior Secondary (JSS) 1 seemed daunting. Amina could not even spell her name, let alone keep pace with her classmates. Disheartened by this, she contemplated abandoning her education altogether and by implication, resigning to a future of early marriage.

“I don’t feel motivated at all to continue with school, besides, I don’t understand anything my teachers teach me, I have become a subject of ridicule in my class because I am very poor academically,” Amina said, her eyes filled with despair.

However, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon, a national NGO known as Unique Care and Support Foundation (CASFOD) that works to support and empower girls like Amina intervened. Their intervention, the ‘Adolescent Girls Read, Engage and Empowered (AGREE)’ project, sought to ignite the flames of learning in girls like Amina. Through this initiative, Amina and her peers are provided with a lifeline to catch up academically and remain in school.

Amina with her peers during a session of the learning circles in Bolori Primary School, MMC, Borno State, Nigeria. Photo: WalexJoe

Central to the AGREE project was the innovative use of the Nigerian Learning Passport (NLP) installed on tablet phones. Explaining how the project works, the Project Manager of CASFOD, Usman Idrisa said, ‘’the project aims to directly support 2000 girls who are in school and 3000 girls who are out of school across Borno, Adamawa, and Sokoto States of Nigeria.’’

The project focuses on vulnerable girls in primary 5 and 6, as well as those in Junior Secondary School 3, to improve their learning outcomes and enable them to transition to higher classes.

‘’For the purpose of this project, we utilised the Nigerian Learning Passport, which is a UNICEF-developed online learning module, beneficiaries are given access to tablet phones and a Remote Community Hotspot for Education and Learning (RACHEL) to support learning in clusters. These children will have access to the audio content of the NLP through mobile phones with the aid of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology,’’ Usman explained.

Usman Idrisa, Project Manager – CASFOD presenting a gift to one of the beneficiaries. Photo: WalexJoe

This digital tool became many vulnerable girls’ gateway to a world of knowledge, allowing them to learn at their own pace and grasp the fundamentals in reading and solving simple arithmetic.

Born in an IDP camp in Borno, 13-year-old Zainab Bukar’s early years were marked by hardship and uncertainty. Despite her love for education, formal schooling remained out of reach for her until the age of ten. This delay in starting education had proven to be a significant hurdle for Zainab as she entered JSS 1 without the fundamental knowledge of basic literacy and numeracy which she was supposed to get at an early age.

‘’I didn’t start school until I was ten, and I started from JSS 1. I didn’t have the foundational knowledge, not even the A, B, C. Other students have that knowledge because they were taught from primary school which I never had the privilege of, so I am left behind.’’

For Zainab, navigating the complexities of the classroom was a challenge. She struggles to grasp the English alphabet and solve basic arithmetic, she finds herself falling further behind with each passing day. The taunts of her classmates only compound her frustration, taking away her confidence and discouraging her from learning.

In the face of this challenging moment, hope emerged. Enrolled as a beneficiary, Zainab was offered a lifeline to bridge the gap between her current academic standing and that of her peers. Through the implementation of the learning circles, CASFOD provided Zainab and others like her with the support and resources needed to catch-up and thrive in the classroom.

Zainab’s story is an illustration of the challenges faced by countless number of girls across the Northeast region of Nigeria. According to a report by UNICEF, over 75% of school-going children in similar circumstances cannot read, write or solve simple arithmetic, an alarming statistics that underscores the urgency of action.

‘’We are aware of the education crisis facing this region, these children need to be supported and empowered to create opportunities for themselves and others. This is why we are implementing this project to support especially girls, so that they can stay at school and continue their education.’’ Benjamin John, Executive Director, CASFOD, said.

‘‘For now, we are targeting 2000 adolescent girls for this project, we believe that if we are able to engage and empower these girls, who would have dropped out, it is a plus for the community and society at large,’’ he added.

Right – Benjamin John, Executive Director, CASFOD. Photo: WalexJoe

Another beneficiary, Hafsat is another prove to the transformative impact of targeted educational interventions such as this. When the organisation carried out its baseline assessment in Hafsat’s school, it was found that her academic foundation was fragile, with very low literacy and numeracy skills. However, through this dedicated support provided by CASFOD, hopefully, Hafsat would be able to make progress in her academic journey.

This intervention will serve as a source of confidence for Hafsat, her educational journey will take a positive turn, opening doors for a better and promising future.

Beyond the individual impact of this initiative, this project serves a broader purpose in supporting Borno State’s recovery efforts in the aftermath of the decade-long insurgency. By focusing on providing targeted support for girls, the initiative addresses critical gaps in the educational landscape and contributes to the holistic development of the region.

Speaking to our correspondent, the Chairman, Borno State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Professor Bulama Kagu commended the efforts. In his words, ‘this is really a commendable effort, we believe that our children, who are academically backward will be able to learn and catch up with their peers, which will encourage them to continue their education.’

Prof. Bulama Kagu, SUBEB Chairman, Borno State. Photo: WalexJoe

“We are determined to sustain this project so that these girls can be assisted to continue learning,’ Benjamin John assured.

“The project contains three components, which are, read, engage, and empowered, for now, we are concentrating on the read part’, which involves organising spelling bees and mathematics quiz competitions which we have already launched the maiden edition, and the establishment of the Learning Circles which targets girls in transition classes that are unable to read and write,” He explained.

While several NGOs have made significant contributions in supporting children’s education, the persistent gap in learning outcomes underscores the ongoing need for innovative approaches such as this and sustained efforts.

The Principal, Kaleri Junior Secondary School, Mafa, Borno State, said, “with initiatives like this that focuses on quality of learning outcomes, children will improve academically, thereby improving school retention rate.”

Muhammad Dunoma, Principal, Kaleri Junior Day Secondary School. Photo: WalexJoe

The principal also alluded to the fact that many girls could not transition to higher classes (JSS3 to SS1 or primary 6 to JSS1) due to their low academic performance. ‘Every year, we have cases of girls voluntarily dropping out because they are discouraged because they are lagging behind academically.’

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