Like many other African countries, Niger is severely affected by the learning crisis. And the scale of the problem becomes larger due to the continuous increase in the population size. The factors behind the crisis are complex and include: motivation and skills of teachers, readiness of learners, school management and school inputs such as textbooks, technology and infrastructure (The World Bank, 2018).
In 2018, over 3,500 schools and communities in the Tillaberi region collaborated to organize remedial extracurricular activities in basic mathematics by voluntary contribution of teacher, parents and community members under the “School for All” project. So far, about 300,000 students from 1st to 4th grades have been able to catch up in number recognition and basic math operations.
Doubling math test scores in 3 months
Since the start of remedial activities three months ago, test results in participating schools show that correct responses on tests have significantly improved, doubling from around 35% to 70% on average. This outcome is the results of efforts by various actors locally, nationally and globally, all working for a common purpose: to deliver better education for children in Niger.
At the local level, school management committees (SMC) conducted basic assessments of students and planned the remedial activities for each school. On average, each school organized 133 hours of remedial activities over 3 months (about 10 hours per week), on top of the daily class time. Teachers and community facilitators helped students study after class, and parents and community members backed up the organization.
At the national level, the Ministry of Primary Education, with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), conducted training sessions for headmasters and representatives of SMC to strengthen them. SMCs are key to ensure effective collaboration among teachers, parents and the community, but too often, they don’t function well because of insufficient communication among them.
The key role of school management committees
The training to SMCs offered practical methods to collect and analyze data on student learning. Teachers and community facilitators were also taught effective teaching methods for basic mathematics concepts with math workbooks. The cost of training and materials was covered by the multi-donor program supported by the current GPE grant to Niger of US$84.2 million, with the World Bank acting as grant agent (AFD and the Swiss cooperation also contributed funding).
Through the federation of SMCs and the local education offices, the ministry delivered information on the project, including the distribution of material, and encouraged them to organize the activities.
At the global level, JICA, GPE and the World Bank coordinated their actions and collaborated to ensure the children in the Tillaberi region of Niger improved their math knowledge and skills.
A two-step approach to implement the project
The methodology used by the ministry of Education with technical support from JICA has two phases. First, the ministry organized a training for headmasters to establish SMCs in a democratic manner. After the training, parents, teachers and community members gathered at a community general assembly to choose representatives for the SMCs by secret ballot. The ministry also organized another training for SMC representatives to build their capacity on participatory planning. After the training, SMC organized a community general assembly, where parents, teachers and community members discussed and elaborated an action plan based on the result of the assessment of basic math skills. The cycle of assessment–remedial activities–review has been adopted by SMCs in a sustainable manner.
Secondly, the ministry organized the training for teachers and community facilitators and distributed the math workbooks developed with JICA’s support. Based on the results of the assessment, children are divided into proficiency levels, so they can start learning mathematics using the workbooks at the right level, with the support from teachers and community facilitators.
Scaling up to more schools
The methodology used by Niger for improving the functionality of SMC is applicable in other countries. In fact, it has already been scaled up to over 40,000 schools in Africa (in Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Madagascar and with GPE grant support in Senegal) and its effectiveness has been verified by several impact evaluations.
We still need to explore ways to reduce the cost of materials to be able to reach to more children and improve their learning. It is also urgent to integrate effective methods for reading and writing, as these are other areas where children have difficulties. In Niger, the ministry is integrating the methodology of “Teaching at the Right Level” initiated by the Indian NGO Pratham.
The results in Tillaberi are encouraging. They showed us that it is possible to deliver learning to children on a large scale even in difficult contexts. They give us hope that we can actually tackle the learning crisis in Africa and achieve the Sustainable Development Goal for education.