By Saater Ikpaahindi
The growing number of Out-of-School children (OOSC) in Nigeria is alarming. To better understand how two organisations are working to tackle this problem, I tagged along on CODE’s first field visit in its partnership with FlexiSAF foundation. FlexiSAF foundation is piloting an initiative on accelerated learning with OOSC in Rugga, a grassroots community in Wuye, Abuja.
FlexiSAF’s Accelerated Learning Programme aims to create a safe learning space where the most vulnerable Out-of-School children in grassroots communities are identified and provided with basic quality education within their communities. Connected Development will support FlexiSAF through its far-reaching influence in hard to reach grassroots communities by identifying children who will benefit from this programme.
My first thought as we drove through the community was that it seemed like a community the Government had ‘forgotten’. There were no standard structures in sight only sprawls of makeshift structures made from aluminium roofing sheets and plastic cement sacks. I wondered if the community had access to basic amenities like a school, a health centre and clean drinking water. iAlighting from the vehicle and walking down the dusty earth road towards a forest green three-room structure, I heard the voices of children singing a popular rhyme I learnt as a child. ‘My head, my shoulders, my knees my toes, my head, my shoulders, my knees my toes, my head, my shoulders, my knees, my toes they all belong together’. Peeking into one of the rooms, I saw children seated on mats as they learned in English, about the different parts of the body and their functions. Situated in front of the children was an enthusiastic Teacher whom I later learned was Miss Abigail and the class, Miss Abigail’s Space.
Speaking to Miss Abigail and Mr Nelson, FleixiSAF’sCommunity Liaison, they told me that classes were divided into three two-hour sessions in a day with different groups of children attending each session and a different Teacher leading each session. Each class (Safe Space) was named after the Teacher leading the session. I further gathered that they teach the children using the Montessori method and children are not only taught numeracy and literacy skills but life skills, etiquette, interpersonal relationship skills and hygiene. Both noted that there was a noticeable impact on the children, their parents and the community. Miss Abigail said that prior to attending the programme several of the children had very poor hygiene habits and could not speak a word of English. However, from learning about hygiene, t, many children took a bath and brushed their teeth before coming to class and now they understand the importance of washing their hands. She said it gave her joy to see these transformations within two months since the programme started.
Mr Nelson commented that because of the changes other parents had noticed in the children who attended the programme, several of them have approached him to enrol their children.
At some point, I sat with the children and asked one of them, Amina, what she had been learning and she began making /‘t’/ sounds and pronounced team, tick, tin. Surprised, I glanced at Miss Abigail and she explained that one thing they teach the children is phonetics and how to pronounce words using sounds. Following an exhilarating session of singing and dancing with the children, I asked them what they enjoyed most about coming to Miss Abigail’s Space and they all resounded that “they loved coming to learn”.
In a community with no school, the provision of a transition centre where children can learn and are supported to enrol in a regular school through accelerated learning is a step towards positive change. Many of the children in Rugga community do not go to school. This was clear from the number of children I saw roaming the streets, sitting around or playing. However, even without speaking to them, I could feel the enthusiasm and willingness of the children to learn as some perched by the windows and doors of the study centre listening in.
Collaborating this was my discussion with Mr Suleiman, a farmer and petty trader whose child is a beneficiary of the accelerated learning programme. He said that “many children are eager to learn but constrained because of the absence of a School in the community and household finances.” Mr Suleiman spoke of the initiative as a welcome development and called on the Government to assist the community with basic facilities like a school, a healthcare centre and water.
As the children bid us goodbye, one thing I take away is their eagerness to learn and that little rays of hope can make a difference. This makes it pertinent for the government to begin to think up sustainable measures to educate its young ones as a way to curtail the growing number of out of school children.