This spring, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) will publish its International Development Strategy. It will set out the UK’s international development priorities for the years ahead, at a time when the global battle against the impact of the pandemic continues and where geopolitical tensions have come increasingly to the fore. 

Population data shows that the global youth population continues to increase. We see so much in this that is positive, because across the countries where we work we have witnessed the power, creativity and vision of young people in creating positive change, both in their societies and further afield. However, this demographic shift may create new development challenges, and intensify existing ones, such as access to quality education and employment opportunities.

Critical to addressing these, and core to the success of the International Development Strategy, is the ability of the UK to build trusted, modern partnerships that enable international cooperation on shared priorities. Trust is critical for working in complicated situations on the ground, including those where UK Aid makes the biggest difference.

At the British Council, we see our work as a key asset for the UK to build trust, influence and a positive reputation overseas as a modern development partner. We have long been trusted to deliver effective UK Aid outcomes overseas, working with and for the whole of the country to grow its reputation and influence as an effective contributor to inclusive development. 

Yet trust alone cannot solve these challenges. Effective international development must be underpinned by deep insight into the contexts, issues, opportunities and risks that affect societies. This insight then helps build trust with partners, including young people, because it shows that their voices are heard and their needs and objectives are being taken into account. 

In Nigeria, we build trust and understanding with partners across Nigerian society to support projects that help bring positive change for the people we work with. A focus of our education work is supporting students to gain early-learning skills. Despite tremendous gains in student enrolment across Africa, millions of children underperform in basic reading and mathematics skills. Research has revealed that structural inefficiencies in education systems are a root cause of this problem, as school systems do not address the needs of students who may be the first in their families to attend school, or who enter the school system without having gained early-learning skills during early childhood.

The northern Nigerian context, where girls are particularly disadvantaged, has one of the highest rates of early marriage and child pregnancy in the world and the highest number of child brides in Africa – 22 million or 40% (UNICEF: 2018). For girls, solid foundational literacy and numeracy skills acquired in primary school play a key role in delaying early marriage and pregnancy, while providing an opportunity for more girls to enter and complete secondary school.

As part of our response to this, the Kano Literacy and Maths Accelerator (KaLMA) pilot  project in Nigeria was launched in October 2019 by the Kano State Universal Basic Education Board, Ministry of Education, and Sa’adatu Rimi College of Education. KaLMA is being delivered in collaboration with the British Council and Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa, with funding from the FCDO. 

The programme builds foundational Maths, Hausa, and English literacy skills for over 37,000 Primary 4 to Primary 6 girls and boys, in two Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Dawakin Tofa and Wudil in Kano State, Nigeria. KaLMA is also providing training and capacity building support for almost 1,200 teachers, 255 headteachers, and a further 260 wider education practitioners and supporters, including teacher trainers and support officers.

The evidence-based TARL approach has delivered substantial increases in the foundational skills of participating children. The percentage of pupils who had foundational skills in the three subjects at baseline was very low – only 7% could read a paragraph in Hausa, 4% could perform a 2digit x 2digit subtraction, and just 10% could read a sentence in English. The proportion of pupils who could read a paragraph in Hausa, solve a subtraction problem in Maths, and read a sentence in English increased by 18 percentage points (pp), and 11 pp respectively over the seven-month pilot period. The improvements recorded were larger in the lower-level skills groups, including a 36-pp improvement in the proportion of pupils who could read words in Hausa and of those who could recognise 2-digit numbers. There was also a 39-pp increase in the proportion of pupils who could respond to a simple greeting in English.

As a response to the school closures during the Covid pandemic, KaLMA provided an innovative package of remote support for families learning from home in Dawakin Tofa and Wudil LGAs. From June to late July 2020, the proportion of caregivers who indicated that they had engaged in their children’s learning using our resources increased by 43% points for male caregivers and by 50% points for female caregivers. Sustainability of the programme is favourable, as the Kano State Universal Basic Education Board has now incorporated the programme into its annual education plans and budgets.

Implementing KaLMA has involved many challenges during the pandemic, but these would have been harder to overcome without the trust of partners, teachers, education practitioners, learners and families. Their trust enabled us to draw on Nigerian, UK and international expertise, to innovate and deliver in new ways in the face of the pandemic. 

Trust is vital, whether teaching English and digital skills to marginalised girls, supporting higher education partnerships to tackle global challenges, supporting the growth of creative economies, or just trying to keep projects going in an unprecedented crisis. Around the world, partners need to trust each other to positively shape the choices that we all make – to build back a better world.