Reading a simple text seemed a herculean task for nine-year-old Faith Imafidon until the EdoBEST Progressive School Model was introduced in her school last February.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Access to school was not the reason Faith could not read as she was enrolled and attended one for many years. The reason was because of the poor quality of education she was receiving.
Faith’s situation is similar to that of millions of children globally. According to the World Bank, a large portion of 10-year-olds, some from developed countries, can neither read nor understand a simple text, a problem it refers to as learning poverty.
In Nigeria, the situation is particularly dire as UNESCO puts the proportion of children suffering learning poverty at “an estimated 70 per cent…, varying from state to state.”
Like Faith, children in rural areas and those from minority groups are particularly affected, not because they are not enrolled in school but because in most cases, their teachers have not been retrained and equipped to handle the problem. In Edo state, things are different.
In February 2022, a model called the Progressive School Model was introduced into state-owned primary schools as part of the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation programme (EdoBEST) with the objective of dealing with learning poverty and reducing the number of out-of-school children in rural areas.
Designed to tackle these problems among underserved, minority communities, the model uses the same techniques and methods used in EdoBEST schools in cosmopolitan areas, albeit with slight modifications that address the peculiarities of remote environments.
“It took less than two weeks before the students in my school started responding to the new methods we introduced to them under the progressive school model,” Mrs. Helen Ojo, the Headteacher of Etinosa Idunmwunhigie School in Ovia North East said.
For Mrs. Ojo, the model is a great development that has helped improve academics among the children in her school. “The children are learning and improving. They have progressively begun to read and write better in just ten months of implementing the model,” she said.
Inside the Progressive Schools Model
The Progressive School Model replicates the EdoBEST model albeit to suit the learning needs of children in communities which are educationally disadvantaged. In most cases, progressive schools have less than 100 pupils. They are dispersed and are often attended by nomadic children who are consistently on the move.
What the model has done is to use the power of technology to bring the same lessons being taught in schools in the state capital to children in any hamlet or village in Edo state in real time.
Before the implementation of the model, a preliminary diagnostic test was carried out to better understand the literacy and numeracy skills, strengths and weaknesses of the pupils in the rural schools.
Afterwards, in January 2022 an initial set of 577 teachers and school leaders drawn from 148 progressive schools across 18 local government areas were trained at the EdoBEST Induction training to fill the gap identified among their pupils.
Their training not only introduced them to the methodology used by EdoBEST but also equipped them with the skills and tools to implement the progressive school model (which is an initiative of EdoBEST). The training specifically exposed the teachers to the technology behind EdoBEST and the way to gainfully use it to improve learning outcomes among pupils.
One of the methods employed by the model in improving literacy and numeracy skills is Cross-Grade Ability Grouping. This grouping is where pupils are sorted into their Ability Groups based on their results from the diagnostic test. Children in each group were then taught (literacy and numeracy subjects) based on their level of understanding until they were fit to be sent back to their rightful classes.
Mrs. Osato Omoba, Headteacher of Walden Iboro School in Ovia North East notes that the introduction of Cross-Grade Ability Grouping to her school improved pupils’ interest in learning after an initial period of hesitance both from the pupils and their parents.
She also noted an improvement in numeracy and literacy skills in just two terms of operating the Progressive School Model. “The use of charts and sounds has been effective in improving their literacy skills,” Mrs Omoba says. “The cross-grade ability grouping really helped them improve reading and numeracy skills and the evidence is everywhere in the school.”
“For Faith Imafidon, her improvement was remarkable. As a Primary 3 pupil, she had trouble blending sounds to form words and reading sentences. But with the cross-grade ability grouping, she now blends her sounds and reads at par with children in higher classes.”
For children in Ali Okhimo Camp in Ihievbree area of Owan East, receiving similar teaching to children in Auchi, Ekpoma and Benin City has helped them access quality basic education. Parents in the interior now send their children to school with the hope of accessing quality education.
Mr. Monday Ailoyafen, the Headteacher of Nomadic Primary School, Ihievbree noted that with the adoption of the progressive model in his school, children from the hinterland and neighbouring nomadic community now have access to quality basic education.
“Children in the camp are now reading, using the cheers and chants taught to improve their vocabulary”, Mr. Ailoyafen noted amidst smiles. “The government is not playing with educational standards in the state. Working with the support personnel assigned to our school, I am also taking education seriously in this area of Edo state.”
Sustaining a methodology that works
At present, education policy stakeholders have continued to put measures in place to sustain the Progressive School Model.
Working with a support system of Learning and Development Officers, as well as Quality Assurance Officers, the Edo State Universal Basic Education Board (Edo SUBEB) is relentless in its goal of delivering superior learning outcomes across all state-run primary and junior secondary schools in the state, especially schools in rural areas which have not been on the radar of successive policy makers for years.
In less than a year, the progressive school model has not only democratised the spread of quality education but has also shown promise as teachers and pupils have attested to its impact on their schools. The home grown solution has shown promise as Nigeria grapples with learning poverty.