Assessing Foundational Learning Skills in Nigeria: A Focus on Reading and Numeracy Skills

Credit: Doug Linstedt

Education is the foundation of a prosperous society, and it starts with mastering the basic foundational learning skills. Reading and numeracy skills are two of the most fundamental skills that every child needs to learn in their early years of education. Unfortunately, many children across the world struggle with these skills, which can hinder their academic and professional growth in the future.

According to regional assessments such as LLECE, PASEC, and SACMEQ, many students enrolled in schools for six years or more in several countries are unable to read and understand simple texts. This highlights the need for a strong foundation in basic reading skills during the early grades of primary education. It becomes more difficult to acquire literacy in later grades for those who lag behind.

Similarly, early mathematical knowledge is a primary predictor of later academic achievement, and future success in mathematics is related to an early and strong conceptual foundation. Basic numeracy skills are essential for success in mathematics in the later years, which is a skill that is in high demand in most competitive jobs.

The MICS Foundational Learning Skills module used in the 2021 MICS Survey for Nigeria is designed to measure basic reading and numeracy skills expected upon completion of second grade of primary education. The reading skills assessment is based on a short story and five comprehension questions, while the numeracy skills assessment is based on universal skills expected at Grade 2 level, including number reading, number discrimination, addition, and pattern recognition.

In 2021 Nigeria MICS Survey, reading assessments were available in four languages - English, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. The assessment tools were customized using the official Grade 2 textbooks for these languages, ensuring that the vocabulary was appropriate for Grade 2 learners in terms of complexity and cultural relevance. Children were assessed based on their home language or school language depending on their school attendance status.

The MICS survey revealed that only 26.8% of Nigerian children aged 7-14 years demonstrate foundational reading skills by successfully completing three foundational reading tasks in English, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. On the other hand, only 25.3% of children demonstrate foundational numeracy skills by successfully completing four foundational numeracy tasks.

The urban-rural divide is significant, with 46.5% of urban children demonstrating foundational reading skills compared to only 13.5% of rural children. Similarly, 42.9% of urban children demonstrate foundational numeracy skills compared to only 13.4% of rural children. These findings underscore the importance of addressing the educational inequalities that exist in Nigeria and other countries to ensure that every child receives quality education regardless of their location.

The regional breakdown of the MICS data on foundational learning skills shows significant disparities in the ability of children aged 7-14 years to demonstrate basic reading and numeracy skills across Nigeria. The data reveals that only 26.8% of children in Nigeria can successfully complete three foundational reading tasks in English, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, while only 25.3% can complete four foundational numeracy tasks.

Looking at the breakdown by region, we see that the South East and South West regions have the highest percentage of children demonstrating foundational reading skills, with 55.6% and 52.4% respectively.

Meanwhile, the North West region has the lowest percentage, with only 9.5% of children able to complete the reading tasks successfully. In terms of foundational numeracy skills, the South East region again has the highest percentage, with 49% of children able to complete the tasks, while the North East region has the lowest percentage at 9.7%.

Looking at the state-level results, Anambra state had the highest percentage of children with foundational reading and numeracy skills, at 61.8% and 66.3%, respectively. Lagos state also had a high percentage of children with foundational reading and numeracy skills, at 87% and 82.3%, respectively.