A radio school for displaced children

With support from UNICEF and the Norwegian Government, many displaced children who dropped out of school are now learning through radio in Maiduguri

Folashade Adebayo, Reporting and Communications Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A girl listening to radio classes in Borno
UNICEF Nigeria/2020/Adebayo
07 September 2020

Fifteen-year-old Mariam Tahiru has it better than many, and she knows it. Respectful and cheerful, the teenager spends much of her day operating the markade, a local mill owned by her parents in Gomari, a bustling community of internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, Borno State.

But she had bigger dreams four years ago when her family lived in Bama, their ancestral hometown, in the conflict-ravaged north-east of Nigeria.

“I was a Class 3 student at the Bama Central School at the time. We lived in a big house and I had hopes of becoming a doctor,’’ she said.

That dream was interrupted when the family lost their belongings in a violent raid and fled to Maiduguri, where they now live on proceeds from the mill. Since relocating in 2016, Mariam has not been enrolled in school.

But a new UNICEF initiative targeting out-of-school children is giving Mariam and thousands of other out-of-school children in Borno a lifeline to a promising future. Along with nine other such children, Mariam recently enrolled in a home-based radio learning programme right in Gomari.

A girl listening to radio classes in Borno
UNICEF Nigeria/2020
Fifteen-year-old Mariam Tahiru listening to a radio lesson in Borno State.

I want to be educated to help my parents. I am unhappy that I have not been to school in three years. I was glad when I was chosen to be part of this radio learning.

Mariam Tahiru, 15

Mariam is not alone. Over the years, sprawling Gomari has been home to hundreds of displaced people, the majority of whom are from Bama, Konduga and Kano. Due to a myriad of reasons, many of the children, like Mariam, have not been to school since their relocation.

While primary education is free in Nigeria, 10.5 million children between ages 5 and 14 are not in school, and in the northern region of the country, the primary school net attendance rate is 53 per cent. Indeed, one in every five out-of-school children in the world is in Nigeria, according to UNESCO.

The reasons are myriad – often related to lack of information, poverty, and socio-cultural issues – all now worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has created a daunting challenge for partners in the education sector.

UNICEF, with funding from the Norwegian Government, is bringing home-based radio learning to 5,000 out-of-school childen in Maiduguri. In a partnership with the University of Maiduguri, 100 graduate teachers have been brought in to help, having received training in teaching at the right level, to ensure the children can learn at their own pace.

Mariam’s programme in Gomari is being supervised by Hafasat Goni Abdullahi, a graduate teacher from the University of Maiduguri. Abdullahi has been incorporating the radio component into his teaching since the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The children attend four times in a week. The radio lesson is for 30 minutes, after which I take the children through the lesson again for another 30 minutes,” she said. “The parents have been very cooperative - there have been no problems at all.”

Falmata Lawan, like Mariam, is 15 and was once a Primary 3 student in Konduga. But she has yet to enroll in school five years after arriving in Maiduguri due to the armed conflict. Now learning through radio in a home-based arrangement within Gomari, Lawan hopes to enroll in a formal school at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I lost my mother shortly after we arrived in Maiduguri. She was sick but I think the trauma also contributed to her death,” she said. “I am happy that I am receiving education even if it is through radio. Everything has a beginning. I will tell Hajia Abdullahi to plead with my father and my stepmother to send me back to school.”

Students have been supplied with radios, mats, sanitizers, handwashing stations, writing materials and face masks, and organizers hope that they will continue with their education, said Mukhtar Alhaji Liman, UNICEF Education Officer in Maiduguri.

“With unwavering support, I believe many of these children will return to in-person learning when school reopens,’’ he said