IJEBU-MUSHIN, OGUN: Grace Kolawole's first-day experience as a teaching fellow was disappointing. "I asked my pupils to read from their textbooks, and only a fifth of them could read satisfactorily, and it broke my heart," she said.
"Every activity we held that day was one disappointing revelation after another; my pupils barely knew half of what they ought to as basic 4 students. I was angry at myself, the system, and everything and everyone responsible for its decay."
That was on February 4, 2021. Thirty-year-old Kolawole is a Teach For Nigeria fellow, serving at Moslem Primary School in Ijebu Mushin, Ogun State.
Teach for Nigeria or TFN is a non-profit using a network of teaching fellows to improve education quality in under-resourced public schools in poor and under-served communities in Nigeria. The fellows complement the effort of government-employed teachers in those schools.
TFN draws its blueprint from its global partner, Teach For All, a worldwide network of 40 partners who recruit and develop future leaders to teach in underserved schools in their countries, enhancing access to quality and equitable education.
TFN is looking to replicate in Nigeria the success of partners like Teach For America, Teach First UK, and Teach For Ghana.
For years, annual monetary allocations to the Nigerian education sector have been short of the 15% minimum recommended by UNESCO. For example, in 2015, Nigeria allocated 10.79% of that year's N4.5 trillion budget to education. The allocation has continued to decline: 7.9% in 2016, 6.13% in 2017, 7.14% in 2018, 7.12% in 2019, 6.5% in 2020, 5.7% in 2021, and 5.5% in 2022. This is unlike the reality in smaller countries like Ghana, where allocation to education has increased by 20% since 2016.
Poor education funding in Nigeria translates to poor learning environments, inadequate tools and understaffing. Parents who have the means send their children to private schools. But poor kids get below what they deserve in the poorly-funded public schools.
"What the education sector gets is not fair enough to cater for the resources necessary to enhance its growth," said Muhammed Ibrahim, a professor at the Department of Curriculum Studies and Educational Technology, Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto State.
Filling the gap
TFN recruits fresh Nigerian graduates and professionals who are vision-driven and willing to transform the nation through educational contributions. The fellows, who must be between 18 and 35 years, are selected through a highly competitive application process for the two-year full-time fellowship, with the minimum qualification being a Bachelor's degree.
Successful applicants are trained for six weeks to master the curriculum, plan lessons, classroom facilitation and student assessment, alongside other modules and sessions. After the training, the fellows are posted to teach in the most under-resourced public schools in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states.
A seven-man board officially started TFN on February 9, 2017. The classroom experience provides fellows with an awareness of the crisis in the education sector and broader issues relating to the educational imbalance in the country whilst arming them with tools and knowledge to proffer realistic solutions to these problems.
Over the two years, each fellow receives a monthly stipend of N68,000 naira ($165 at the current official exchange rate), which is close to the maximum salary of a level 8 teacher on the federal government payroll and two times higher than the national N30,000 minimum wage. This way, TFN is also providing employment.
"During my job hunt, I learnt [about] Teach For Nigeria…and considering that the vision aligns with mine, I took a blind leap and applied," said Abigail Ekot, a TFN fellow at Epiphany Anglican Primary School, Erunwon, in Ogun State. "Fortunately, I got in [and] joined other fellows for a virtual summer [training] institute. Although we did not start teaching until February 2021 because of the pandemic, I am glad I took the bold step of applying and have no regrets."
TFN's vision she referred to is: "To change this narrative [of lack of access to quality education], break the cycle of ignorance and impoverishment which dwindles our national development and denies us the fulfilment of our vision for a better future."
Fellows also benefit from TFN's continuous support through leadership forums, online business and skills training, and access to workshops and mentoring programmes to achieve their professional and personal goals.
"I have been able to find a footing in the teaching profession despite belonging to a different discipline. I have also had exposure to experts and exceptional teachers, and it has had a positive impact on my career," said 25-year-old Winifred Odunoku, another TFN fellow in Ogun State. "The mentorship and capacity training I enjoy through the fellowship boost my ability to think outside the box whilst assessing societal issues, making me more confident in my quest to be a changemaker."
At the end of their fellowship, fellows become TFN alumni and join a network of leaders. TFN supports alumni to develop and implement personal projects to improve the education ecosystem.
"After my two-year fellowship, I went on to look for opportunities that would further enhance the capacity of the children in the school I served. Thankfully, we secured funding to set up a hub for the school and community, where girls can go to learn computer skills," said Hyginus Uzobuife, an alumnus who served in Kaduna between 2018 and 2020 before TFN suspended its activities in the state due to insecurity issues.
"The hub is solar-powered…we fixed computer devices, gadgets and other necessary equipment for the girls, teachers of the school and the community to learn digital skills."
TFN also regularly trains government-employed teachers from partnering public schools in best teaching practices. Since 2018, TFN has recruited 883 fellows (including 249 alumni members) who have taught in 396 schools in Kaduna, Lagos, Ogun, and Oyo states. TFN carries out its activities through partnerships, donations and support from organisations like ExxonMobil, Sterling Bank, Teach for All, PricewaterhouseCoopers, AfricaPractice, FBNQuest, Grace Lake and others.
Effect on pupils/students
After her disappointing first-day teaching experience, Kolawole started implementing the teaching skills she learned during her TFN-organised six-week training. And now, her pupils' parents testify that there has been significant improvement.
"My son [Odumokun Ismail in Kolawole's class] is performing better. I have noticed an all-around improvement in his academic standards, and he displays a tendency to do better. He is now more confident and partakes in activities, regardless of the language of communication, be it Yoruba or English," one parent told Prime Progress.
Another parent, Mrs Amadi, said: "My son, David, is improving, particularly in reading and speaking English. I noticed he has grown fond of dictation, and I often see him and his friends dictating to each other while playing."
"Teach For Nigeria posts fellows to underserved, public primary and secondary schools. And since these schools are government-owned, partnering with the government for this purpose is sometimes challenging [because of bureaucracy]," said Olajide Omojarabi, the Communications and Marketing Officer of TFN.
Insecurity across the country is another challenge limiting the programme. For example, for safety, in 2020, TFN stopped posting fellows to Kaduna State, especially in southern Kaduna, where armed bandits and herdsmen have been attacking farmers and communities since 2018.
Other "Challenges may include language barrier and [difficulty] adapting to their [fellows'] placement communities," Omojarabi said. However, he added: "But these challenges are what build and mould our fellows to emerge from the fellowship as leaders who are self-aware, people who have learnt to solve complex challenges."
Ten-year-old Falujo Ayomide has been doing better in Mathematics since TFN sent a fellow to her class in Moslem Primary School in Ijebu Mushin, Ogun State. "I love Teach For Nigeria because of her [TFN fellow in my class]. She teaches me how to read, write and solve Mathematics very well," she said.
About the future, Omojarabi said by 2031, TFN hopes to have a network of over 20,000 leaders working in partnership with local communities to impart a million students each year in Nigeria.
This story was produced with the support of Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.