By Nelly Ating
On May 9th, Ms. Victoria Colbert, internationally known and award-winning educator, will be visiting Yola, the Adamawa State capital and seat of the American University of Nigeria. Colbert, a woman who has revolutionized education in the developing world, will be AUN’s Commencement Speaker at its seventh graduation ceremony this Saturday.
In announcing the selection of Colbert, AUN President Margee Ensign said: “We are all so happy that an educator as internationally known and distinguished has found the time to visit us. As Africa’s first ‘development university’, we are anxious to hear of her wonderful experiences in the developing world, where her work has brought education and hope to so many millions of children across the globe.”
Primary education is much on the minds of many at AUN, which is currently striving with its local community to feed and educate hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Boko Haram to the north. Yola is currently home to 400,000 such ‘displaced persons’, many of them children–perhaps as many as 200,000. Many of these children will stay in the Yola area, badly straining already stretched resources. They have been out of school during this crisis.
The American University of Nigeria has been actively engaged in providing for many of these refugees, and as a “development university” is much concerned with the challenge of finding cost-effective and proven ways of helping to provide primary and secondary education in the region.
The AUN community is anxiously awaiting what Ms. Colbert has to say on the topic of primary education, a field in which she has been a pioneer since the 1970’s. Her message at the seventh Commencement, where AUN will graduate another set of problem-solvers, students who have been steeped in the challenges of African development during their four years at AUN, will fall on fertile ground as leaders of the area wrestle with the challenges that so many refugees have posed.
Colbert’s visit, it is hoped, will spur positive policies in the area of education. The techniques that she first developed in poor rural areas of Columbia have since taken root in 20 other developing nations, providing a new model for how to provide good education in impoverished communities with meager resources. The hope is that some of these ideas can be implemented in northeast Nigeria which has been ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency. AUN’s existing learning resource programs for the community and the internally displaced persons will be a good starting point on which to build.
Among the resources the University has built are the literacy programs in community schools such as Student Empowered through Language, Literacy and Arithmetic (STELLAR); Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM); Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination preparatory tutorials, and ICT training and sharing of digital resources with neighboring institutions in Nigeria’s northeast.
It is hoped that Ms. Colbert’s extensive experience in this field can further strengthen AUN’s teaching and learning programs and show how they can best benefit Nigeria’s impoverished communities and their underserved children.
President Ensign, a member of the Adamawa State government Committee on Assessment of the Effects of Insurgency, has emphasized the need for food supply, standard hygiene, and most importantly education for the children of the displaced.
“These children have had little formal education. Over the past three years, we have provided more than 12,000 of them with literacy instruction and training in entrepreneurship, information, and communications technology.
“As a development university, we are committed to community development programs that are enabling an environment for peace, women empowerment, and socioeconomic equality. Today we are embracing a much broader definition of community – both inside and outside our university gates – and the problems that come with that larger community.”
Nigeria has the most children out of school in the world, according to UNESCO 2015 Education for All Global Monitoring Report. With the debilitating grip of Boko Haram, even more children are out of school in the northeast and Adamawa State has a 77 percent illiteracy rate.
Dr. Ensign said that to address the academic gap “mobile education and training centers” are on board to bridge the gap temporarily. The university already has established a literacy program that aims to reach as many as possible. Ensign said that it’s a misperception that Nigerian parents don’t want education for their children; they simply lack access and resources.
The STELLAR program is aimed at strengthening basic academic skills of primary school students in Adamawa State. It evolved from a community service course at AUN in 2012, a course every student in AUN is required to take as a requirement for graduation. Undergraduates are supervised by faculty members to teach in community schools.
STEM, another literacy program, nurtures academic talents in the ciences, engineering, technology, and mathematics through the effort of AUN students who encourage and help secondary school students in Adamawa State to establish Whiz kid Clubs in their schools while they mentor them.
AUN’s local training has graduated more than 4,000 community youths who are now ICT-capable and many have gained scholarship into free CISCO certification courses.
Some community youth beneficiaries of the AUN free tutoring program, in which AUN students serve as tutors for secondary school students preparing to enter university credited their success in the last Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) computer-based test to the fact that peer-to-peer learning helped them score higher in the matriculation exam.
The AUN Honor Society has raised money to support scholarships to community schools, paying school fees for families whose children could not otherwise attend school.
Thus it is with great interest that the members of the American University of Nigeria community await the arrival of Ms. Colbert, whose “New School” movement has reached millions of young students across the globe. Fostering, like AUN, greater cooperation between schools, their teachers, local parents, and their communities, and emphasizing peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, this very successful model has brought hope and education to countless communities in Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world.
Ms. Colbert, a recipient of many international awards, including the very first Clinton Global Citizen Award, brings a message of hope to Nigeria, and to its harried northeast, now emerging from the long night of Boko Haram violence. It is possible to radically improve the education of the rural poor with very limited resources. This is a message the people of AUN and of Adamawa State are eager to hear.
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