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Nigeria must get foundation literacy, numeracy right to address learning crisis — Saadhna Panday, UNICEF Chief of Education

Saadhna Panday, the Chief of Education at UNICEF Nigeria, in this interview, talked about the progress made by Nigeria Learning Passport, a digital platform created…

Saadhna Panday, the Chief of Education at UNICEF Nigeria, in this interview, talked about the progress made by Nigeria Learning Passport, a digital platform created to address learning challenges in the country and the out-of-school children problem among others.

What is the Nigerian Learning Passport (NLP) all about?

The Nigeria Learning Passport is a digital platform fully owned by the Ministry of Education, developed and supported by UNICEF and powered by Microsoft. It has about 15,000 curriculums available in English and local languages and it is a platform available for teachers, students and parents ready to boost their skills for education, classroom and homework support.

If schools are shut down, it will serve as a platform for continuity of learning. It is an incredible innovation developed in Nigeria to support and improve mental learning outcomes so that children will perform better in schools. Even those who are out of school will have access to learning be that it is a free-to-use platform. Anybody can use it. If you have an Airtel SIM card you will be able to use it data-free.

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What we see about the NLP is that it should be used across the length and breadth of the country. It is currently in use in 18 states and we have over 500,000 users on the platform which is good news for the country with massive education challenges and high number of out-of-school children and a learning crisis. 

Nigeria is in a unique position but it also has workable solutions, things that can solve these problems and the NLP is one of such solutions.

With 500,000 users on this innovation, it is an incredible milestone for Nigeria, which means there is hope for Nigerian children, teachers and the education system. We got victory, let us celebrate it and come together – both public and private sector – to grow this innovation across the country.

How can NLP be accessed?

You can access it through a weblink, www.nigeria.learningpassport.org, and it is available on the Play Store for download.

What are the challenges experienced so far with the app and have you surmounted them?

There are challenges with any innovation as you try to scale it. There are three key challenges with NLP; one is access to data, two is connectivity and three is devices.  We have implemented several solutions to address the challenges. Our private sector partners came forward, Airtel is partnering with us with VTU and Airtel SIM cards and they have also provided data packages to schools so that students will be able to use the internet.

Another partner also set up towers close to schools so that they will be connected. Then on the issue of devices, we partnered with the Global Partnership for Education last year to make about 13,500 devices. Thousands of smart projectors have been provided across the country and they are deliberate in their approach.

They provided them for rural schools and poor children and this has enabled increased access in the use of NLP though it is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed.

Is it open to private individuals or just schools?

It is open to everybody. It is a tutor in your pocket, on your mobile phone offering you step-by-step guidance on mathematics and online teachings. Many teachers are actually using it to prepare themselves for their lessons before they go into the classroom and students are using it for homework. So anybody can use it. If you have a web browser just go onto the site and you can use it immediately.

You can use it on your mobile phone and now we are bringing in offline devices, so that areas that do not have connectivity will also be able to use the NLP.

Is the curriculum different from the one used in school now?

It is the same as the curriculum used in schools. Together with the Federal Ministry of Education, we identified resources and went through the process of checking every single piece of material and making sure that it is aligned with the Nigerian curriculum.

Before the launch of the NLP, it was established that Nigeria had a learning crisis. Is there a mechanism to monitor if students are actually learning using the digital platform?

We have a backbone to the NLP and what it does is track the progress of every learner to know if they are progressing in completing courses or do they need additional support. So that is being collected in the background.

We have been training teachers to use that data to be able to assess what are the needs of individual learners.

How many teachers are targeted and how many have benefited?

The target is 750,000 teachers this year. That is the combination of teachers and students and parents and when we looked at the data on how it is being used, out of 500,000 the biggest users, about 350,000, are students and this is followed by teachers.

In terms of teacher training, we have trained about 50,000 but if you want to reach the scale you probably need to train many more teachers so this is a work in progress in terms of reaching the teachers.

Do you think NLP usage has reduced the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria?

It is too early to tell. What it will do is provide services to many more learners, but for this type of innovation to impact the number of out-of-school children, you need to scale up, so 500,000 is a big number but we have 109 million children who are out of school going age, and 30.2 million who are actually within the schooling system.

So, a lot more needs to be done to scale up such an innovation and if you want to see change in the numbers of out-of-school children, it is a combination of interventions in concert with each other that would reduce the number. NLP can’t do it alone, cash transfers can’t do it alone and community mobilisation can’t do it alone, but all these things are coming together and that is what UNICEF strives for: a combination of interventions to bring about change in the out-of-school population in Nigeria.

Aside from the NLP, what other things can Nigeria do to boost learning?

First, it has to get foundation literacy and numeracy right. Three out of four children in basic education in Nigeria cannot read a simple sentence with meaning or solve simple Maths problems and if you can’t read or write in the first three years of schooling it means you can’t learn further, other skills or access the rest of the curriculum.

Nigeria has tested models on what works on foundation literacy and numeracy. There are two fantastic models and one is called Reading and Numeracy Activities (RANA) for grades 1 to 3 and the second is the Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) for grades 4 to 6 and it is a remediation programme. What it does is train teachers and give them good quality lesson plans; it has supportive supervision, good quality materials in classrooms and it conforms to assessment. 

You can do a quick quiz and a quick test to understand what the children are learning so, that way, you can improve foundation literacy and numeracy.

There is another workable evidence-based model that is ready for scaling across the country. Right now we have about 13 states that are implementing this programme but UNICEF, the Federal Ministry of Education, UBEC and the Nigerian Governors Forum will convene a national conference on the learning crisis in October to talk about the scaling scope of the problem and also put these models on the table to see what works to solve the problem of learning and come up with the framework of action.

Nigeria is not short of solutions, it has the solutions; It just needs to align behind these solutions and work with each other to scale them across the country

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