School Meets the Learner Approach (SMLA): Providing educational opportunities to the most vulnerable
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
Conflict and emergency settings, Digital literacy, Family, Teachers, Technical and vocational education and training (TVET), Women
Non-formal education and extracurricular contexts
In Nigeria, although primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million children aged 5-14 are not in school. At primary level, UNESCO estimates that 34% of children of primary school are out of school, with gender disparities particularly high at the expense of poor girls.
Of those out of school, UNICEF estimates that nearly 70% of them live in the northern part of the country. The high out-of-school rate in North East Nigeria is largely due to the Boko Haram insurgency. The armed conflict has created a barrier for many children, including girls, to access education. Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency has caused 1.9 million people to be internally displaced, 80% of which are women and children.
Education is a vital tool for girls’ empowerment because it allows them a greater opportunity to make meaningful and long-lasting contributions to society. Girls’ education does not only bring the immediate benefit of empowering girls, but is continually shown to be one of the best investment in a country's development. Educating girls also helps them to develop essential life skills such as self-confidence, and to learn about and protect themselves from HIV and sexual exploitation. It also helps in reducing children and maternal mortality rates, contributing to national wealth and promoting healthy lifestyles. Ensuring girls’ access to quality education would contribute toward moving Nigeria forward economically, politically and technologically.
Developed by UNESCO, the School Meet the Learner Approach (SMLA) is an innovative approach to increase access to education. It was piloted in Bauchi State, Nigeria in the North East geo-political zone of Nigeria, which is comprised of Borno State, Adamawa State, Gombe State, Taraba State and Yobe State. In this region, the gender gap is quite wide because in most schools, instructional materials and educational activities reinforce inequalities between girls and boys. Gender stereotypes as well as cultural, religious and security factors also affect girls’ participation in school.
SMLA focuses on contributing to national development by creating access and reducing the incidence of out-of-school children, especially for girls. The project’s goal is to provide basic literacy and livelihood skills to one million girls and women in the North East Zone of Nigeria, using information and communication technologies (ICT). The programme’s focus is on bringing education to women and girls through an offline application on mobile devices or tablets. This means that women and girls can learn wherever they are, without an internet connection or the physical presence of a teacher.
“There is a saying that if you educate a woman, you educate the world. That’s why we say, if you educate a woman, she will teach another who will in turn teach two others and so on. She will also teach her daughters who will go to teach their own children. Personally, I have benefited from the project and have been able to education my family and fellow women in my community.” – Aida Shehu Kobi, non-formal education trainer
The programme has directly reached more than 250,000 women and girls in northeast Nigeria that are out-of-school, at high risk of dropping out or performing poorly in class. Many families have also benefitted from the approach through non-formal education that supports intergenerational learning through tablet sharing. Tablet devices have been distributed with the support of partners. The offline application provides content that builds skills for life and work, including literacy, and can be updated to include any level of education. It has also been adapted for television and has been broadcasted on various networks, reaching around 8 million users. Going forward, the approach aims to reach another 1 million girls and women, with possibilities of expanding to neighbouring states.
Summary of results:
A full digitized programme for junior secondary school and basic education in 6 subject areas and containing 85 lessons for non-formal education
A combination of modes of delivery including tablets, smartphones, computers/multimedia centres and televisions (4,500 devices were distributed and used)
Capacity of girls, women, facilitators and teachers strengthened
National buy-in of the SMLA programme
Equitable and responsive technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems should be established beyond North East Nigeria to equip girls and women with relevant skills for employment, decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning
The programme effectively addressed the issue of access and gender inequality in education in the North East zone arising from armed conflict and cultural challenges
National capacities need to also be strengthened to address gender equality holistically in Nigeria’s national education systems
There needs to be improved plans and learning opportunities to expand inclusion in education for vulnerable and crisis-affected populations throughout Nigeria
EQUALS Research Group. 2018. Taking stock: Data and evidence on gender equality in digital access, skills and leadership. Preliminary findings of a review by the EQUALS research group. Geneva: International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
UNESCO. 2019. Her education, our future: Snapshots of UNESCO’s work. Paris: UNESCO, p.2.