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Project Description

The goal of STELLAR (STudents Empowered through Language, Literacy, and ARithmetic) is to strengthen the basic academic skills of primary school students in Adamawa State so that they continue successfully in school and reap the full benefits of education in their adult lives.

The STELLAR project evolved from an early community service course at AUN in 2012 as part of the university’s dedication to forming future leaders who are conscientious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.  Now most of the project activities are carried out by AUN students enrolled in the service-learning course CDV 101: Introduction to Applied Community Development, under the supervision of an AUN faculty member, Karon Harden, who serves as the course instructor and project director.

Currently the primary components of STELLAR are:

1) an afterschool tutoring program in public primary schools in Yola,
2) the publication and circulation of age-appropriate reading materials in English and home languages,
3) the harnessing of appropriate technology to enhance learning outcomes.

The AUN students enrolled in CDV 101 each semester tutor children from two or three local public primary schools in small groups twice a week after school.  In the 2012-2013 academic year, the tutoring focused on math; in 2013-2014, the focus is on early literacy.  The tutors keep records of pupil attendance and the content covered at each session.  Beginning in 2013, the AUN students have also administered pre- and post- assessments, which help to group the pupils by level and track their learning progress.

In addition, the AUN students each write a children’s book in English, another home language, or both.  So far we have books in English, Hausa, Fulfulde, and French. The books are meant to be engaging, educational, and linguistically and culturally appropriate for the target population.

Many of these books are still in various stages of the editing process, but as they are finalized they will each be made available for free to the general public on this website. (Check out our budding collection here!) As more books are developed, they will also be put into circulation in the tutoring program.

As for technology, STELLAR has experimented with using tablets for instructional support.  In a supplementary tutoring program, tutors bring tablets to a school after hours and supervise the pupils’ use of educational games, videos, and read-along storybooks.  In addition, STELLAR has initiated a partnership with the nonprofit organization WorldReader to make its children’s books freely available on mobile phone and tablet platforms (see www.worldreader.org).  STELLAR is also very grateful for tech support of RTI International and its Tangerine® software that have enabled a much more efficient administration of the pre-and post-assessments via the tablets (see www.tangerinecentral.org).
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Moreover, this year STELLAR is collaborating with Adamawa State education officials and Jolly Learning, Ltd., to pilot a project introducing the Jolly Phonics early literacy curriculum in six local Primary 1 classrooms.  You can learn more about the Jolly Phonics project here.

For more information about the STELLAR project, please contact Karon Harden at karon.harden@aun.edu.ng.

Project Rationale

According to the 2010 Nigeria Education Data Survey (NEDS), the Northeast region of Nigeria, where the project is located, has the lowest levels of literacy and numeracy in the country (National Population Commission (NPC) and RTI International, 2011).  Adamawa State had an 86% gross and 58% net enrollment rate at the primary level, close to the national averages, but at the secondary school the rates were only 48.7% gross and 26.9% net, meaning that over half the child population does not make it to secondary school.   Of the children ages 5-16 tested in the survey, 77% could not read at all, and 58% could not add two numbers with a sum under 10.  (However, these figures include the children who were not enrolled in school at the time of the survey.)

Even more locally, in October 2013, STELLAR administered an Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to 180 Primary 2 and 3 pupils in two schools in Yola as the baseline assessment for its fall semester tutoring program.  The results showed very low levels of reading proficiency, with Primary 2 pupils reading on average only 0.38 words per minute (wpm) and Primary 3 pupils only 6.10 wpm (compared, for example, to 51 and 71 wpm, respectively, for grade-level equivalent norms in the United States).  Since reading becomes the basis for further learning as the children progress through school, the outlook for their long-term retention and academic success is troubling.

Numerous complex factors contribute to this generalized underachievement that is not unique to Adamawa State.  Commonly cited culprits include outdated curricula, the lack of pedagogical and reading materials, high student/teacher ratios, high absenteeism (teacher and pupil), and debilitating strikes (Emunemu, 2008).  Other problems are the shortage of trained teachers (Theobald, et al., 2007), the questionable quality of their preparation, and low teacher morale.

Moreover, low achievement rates come as no surprise to those who recognize the critical role of language in education.  Although English is the “official” language in Nigeria, and the most common medium for reading and writing, it is only spoken by 20% of the population (Adegbija, 2004).  In Yola, of 208 primary school pupils interviewed in the STELLAR tutoring program in 2012, only 4% reported speaking English at home.  The most common home languages were Hausa (44%) and Fulfulde (27%); the remaining 25% spoke one of 15 other languages.  In principle, Nigerian education policy promotes the use of the home language in the early primary years (Adegbija, 2004), but in a land of hundreds of distinct languages, it would be difficult to overstate the opposition that both logistics and language attitudes mount against an effective implementation of this policy on the ground.

The STELLAR project design is based on a growing body of evidence of effective interventions to improve learning outcomes.  In particular, studies in contexts similar to Nigeria have shown that tutoring children in small groups after school, even by nonprofessional tutors, is a cost-effective way to raise their academic proficiency levels (Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) et al., 2012; Pratham, 2009).

Second, research has linked time spent reading to statistically significant differences in academic achievement (see Samuels & Wu, 2004; Topping, Samuels, & Paul, 2007; Anderson, Wilson, and Fielding, 1988, among others).  Naturally, to increase reading time, students must have access to appropriate reading materials.

Third, linguistic studies are generally in consensus that children learn better in the long run when they first build a solid academic foundation in a language they understand, especially a language they speak at home (see Heugh et al., 2007; UNESCO, 2008; Alidou et al., 2006; Dutcher, 2004; Gove & Cvelich, 2011, among others).  First-language literacy strengthens rather than competes with or subtracts from second-language literacy (e.g. English).

Finally, with the advent of the computer age, much research has been undertaken to determine how and how much technology can contribute to learning outcomes.  The results vary widely according to context, but it is theorized that technology can have a positive impact in the developing world where teachers and resources are scarce.

In brief, the rationale behind the STELLAR project activities is that a combination of tutoring, access to appropriate pedagogical and reading materials in English and home languages, and technological resources will all help to reinforce the basic academic skills of the children.  It is hoped that a more solid academic foundation will in turn equip them to stay in school longer and learn more and better in the long term.

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