How are some of the best and brightest emerging leaders working to achieve literacy for all? We thought it would be useful to hear about a few of these individual journeys. Literacy is fundamental to learning and an absolutely essential foundation of education.
International Literacy Association (ILA)’s 30 under 30 is an annual list that celebrates the rising innovators, disruptors and visionaries in the literacy field. We spoke to two ILA 30 under 30 honorees for 2019 to hear more about their journey and interest in literacy.
This is the first of two exclusive interviews which features Jacob Olaoluwa Sule. Hailing from Abuja, Nigeria, Jacob is the 29 year old founder of the iRead To Live initiative. Jacob is a law student and an ambassador for Teach SDGs, a US-based grassroots organisation working to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
What sparked your interest in literacy?
Jacob: My interest in this started as far back as 2012 during the compulsory one year National Youth Service for Nigerian graduates. During the course of my service year, I served as a graduate assistant lecturer at a federal tertiary institution in Nigeria – Federal Polytechnic in Idah, Kogi State. There, I taught courses on Public Administration for first and second year students. While interacting with my students, I observed that there was a huge challenge in terms of comprehension skills. Thus began my interest in creating a system that could influence the situation.
You began a campaign that evolved into a non-profit, the iRead to Live initiative. Tell me how this campaign started.
Jacob: The campaign began when I was 22 years old. As a young graduate of Public Administration, I was full of passion and zeal to see a Nigeria where both the rich and poor would have unhindered access to quality education.
I seized upon the opportunity as a youth corper serving Nigeria to interact with members of the Idah community. I began to understand the various challenges and was looking to offer up sustainable solutions within my capacity. In doing this, I hosted several literacy events for students in primary and secondary schools. I also created a strong network with some local teachers in the community, donated writing materials and other educational materials.
In 2015, I returned to the university in pursuit of a degree in Law. Upon resumption, I noticed another challenge. There was unequal access to education within the community hosting my university in Ifetedo, Ife South, a local government in Osun State, Nigeria.
I put together a team of volunteers who were primarily students in their second year through to the final year. As a team, we visited all the schools in that community, conducted surveys and reached out to all the local stakeholders. The outcome of our survey informed our choice in registering as a non-profit organisation with the Corporate Affairs Commission. Our dreams grew bigger and we needed to carry out our engagements within the legal regulations of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Many people have ideas but then don’t take the action needed. What was different for you that you decided to take these steps?
Jacob: I shared my ideas with my team of volunteers and especially with professional educators . These educators have been my mentors advisers. I enjoyed warm reception from Mr Wale Micaiah, Arowolo Ayo Esq. , Dr. Jennifer Williams and Steve Sostak. They were always available to share their time and experiences with me and my team of volunteers, helping us to take practical steps to achieve our goals.
At some point, my team embarked on a journey to a neighbouring state for us to access the internet so as to connect with Dr. Jennifer Williams during one of our many sessions of professional development. In all, I feel so blessed with these little steps that have, thus far, turned out to be remarkable.
You would have faced hurdles in your campaign – can you share any major hurdle you faced and what you did to manage it?
Jacob: Combining my advocacy for literacy with my studies was quite hectic and demanding. I had to find time to meet my academic requirements so as to not fall short on both sides. Also, I had a huge challenge in terms of the language barrier while interacting with aged parents in their local dialects. So I had to reach out to an indigene of the community who served as an intermediary between the elders and my team. This helped us with more effective communication and feedback.
What have you seen as some of the biggest challenges students face in learning reading and writing?
Jacob: From my observations, the biggest challenges students face are poor parenting and unavailability of texts for students to read. Quite a number of students are willing to read and write. Unfortunately, some parents cannot afford to make these basic needs available.
What ideas have you found useful in helping you increase student readiness and interest in reading and writing?
Jacob: As a team, we considered our immediate environment having engaged students and teachers for a while. So we decided to adopt the idea of hosting literacy events for students. These events include quiz competitions, essay writing as well as oratory contests.
Students from all classes came on board as either contestants or participants from their representative schools. From these events, we have seen an increase in the level of participation of students in classes and improved literacy skills.
Photo of Jacob courtesy of Jacob Sule. Jacob was interviewed by Rowena Morais from Writing Legends, a comprehensive writing program containing hundreds of activities for students in grades 3 to 6. With the current challenges teachers face in terms of school closures and distance learning / remote learning, Writing Legends is proud to be able to provide assistance. Writing Legends is free of charge through to July 31, 2020. To register as a teacher, please visit www.writinglegends.com