Under the hot African sun sits the small village of Mayel. Located 50 kilometers to the east of Dosso in the south west part of Niger, there is little vegetation, but a lot of sand.
The village did not have a school until 2007, when the community members came together to create their own. In the last three years, the school has seen tremendous growth. In 2012, there were 102 students. Today there are 185 pupils and four teachers. In the last three years, the number of girls in school has doubled to 98. The community has mobilized much of its own resources to build the straw huts that serve as classrooms and lodging for the teachers, while improving the landscape by planting small trees.
Despite the difficult conditions, the children are eager to learn to read. Children in the first two grades, with their teacher’s support, sit huddled on mats reciting over and over the names of the letters. With the assistance of the Niger Education and Community Strengthening (NECS) project — implemented by Plan International USA in partnership with Aide et Action, Readsters, and the Government of Niger, with generous support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) — teachers have received initial training on teaching early grade reading in the local languages of Zarma, Hausa, Fulfulde, and Kanuri.
During a recent visit to the school, I observed significant progress. The teacher helped teach a group of children the letters of the alphabet by pointing to the writing on the board, with the students reciting each one along the way. The energy in the classroom was clear, with each student intently following the teacher and actively participating. As the students opened their books to follow along with the letters, they helped each other hold the textbooks the right way, to find the correct page and to follow along. They pointed to each letter with their fingers, and the teacher randomly chose student names from papers in a box and called them to read out the letters.
Plan has been supporting education initiatives in Niger since 1988 and in addition to NECS has implemented the Improve Education of Girls in Niger (IMAGINE) project, with generous support from USAID and MCC. The village of Bolbol Goumandeye, through the IMAGINE project, has benefited from refurbished classrooms, housing and latrines for teachers, a water point, and a preschool center. The school has 385 students, including 174 girls and 12 teachers, 10 of whom are women.
The children in Bolbol were also able to demonstrate their love for learning by repeatedly singing their alphabet song. Not only did those in the class sing, but as we moved to the courtyard, children from different grades also gathered around to sing together. In a country with an overall literacy rate of less than 30 percent, these small changes are being monitored closely by parents and mothers, who, in many cases, are also learning to read for the first time thanks to the adult literacy component of the project. As progress continues to be monitored by school inspectors nationally, the project has benefited from close collaboration with the Ministry of Education, a committee of national technical experts who are working in partnership with Plan to develop the appropriate local language curriculum and age-appropriate supplemental texts for children and teachers to use to strengthen their letter recognition and reading skills.