‘Talking pen’ programme to help 10,000 more displaced children learn vital skills

AREAi founder Gideon Olanrewaju with a student being assessed for the Fast Track programme (Theirworld/Faje Kashope)

Theirworld is supporting the expansion of an innovative project in Nigeria, which could be rolled out into displacement camps across the country.

Theirworld has committed to supporting the growth of an innovative programme that uses a “talking” pen and books to teach reading and mathematics skills to children living in Nigerian displacement camps.

Fast Track was launched by AREAi (Aid for Rural Education Access Initiative) and was a winner in the Theirworld Education Innovation Awards 2021, receiving a £50,000 grant along with masterclasses and mentoring. That helped the grassroots organisation reach 4,000 children through a pilot project.

Now, with further support from Theirworld, Fast Track will be expanded to reach another 10,000 of the most marginalised young people. There are also encouraging signs that it could eventually be rolled out into camps across the country.

AREAi was founded in 2014 by Gideon Olanrewaju, a former Theirworld Global Youth Ambassador (GYA), and has reached more than 45,000 children through its various programmes in under-resourced schools and marginalised communities. Another four GYAs are currently working for the organisation.

Children in the Fast Track programme use the Mavis talking pen and books (AREAi/F. Oguche)

Gideon said: “In Nigeria, more than 50% of school-age children below the age of 10 do not have basic reading and writing skills.

“Fast Track focuses on marginalised, out-of-school children who are in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of conflict and the Boko Haram insurgency in the north of the country.”

The accelerated skills development programme helps children gain the foundational skills in English and Hausa they need to get into – or return to – formal school education.


Children to be reached by next phase of Fast Track - 5,000 in 2023 and 5,000 in 2024 across 10 IDP camps

It combines existing teaching methods with simple technology, including the offline Mavis Talking Books and Pen. The Mavis kit uses a digital pen which plays an audio recording when it touches text or images in the book.

One of those who benefitted from the pilot project was Fatimah, from the Malaysia Gardens IDP camp in the capital Abuja. She said: “Before Fast Track, I could not identify letters properly or recite my numbers perfectly without mistaking number six for number nine because they look the same.

“But when the Fast Track teachers came, the book and pen helped us to learn Hausa and English very well. I felt comfortable and, as a result, I can identify, pronounce and differentiate between numbers properly”.

Fatimah learned reading and writing skills through the Fast Track programme at an IDP camp in Nigeria (Theirworld/Faje Kashope)

The Fast Track pilot project supported through Theirworld’s innovation awards focused on children of primary school age. But Gideon said: “We found the need is not limited to them. There is also a need to extend to young people aged 13 to 18 who, because of displacement, are suffering from a lack of foundational skills.”

Gideon said Nigeria’s National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons has declared an interest in the Fast Track programme.

He added: “They love what we did in the Theirworld project last year. Potentially, they want to scale up what we did with the Education Innovation Awards grant to the other camps in Nigeria.”

Angela Solomon, Theirworld’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Projects, and Research, said: “Through this project, we are deepening our work with a great community-led organisation that is having a major impact on children’s lives. We’re so happy that the Education Innovation Awards allowed the highly ambitious team to build on the huge potential of their Fast Track programme.”

“Working with Gideon as a former GYA reinforces the deep connection between the work of community-led organisations and the need for global education advocacy.”

Angela Solomon, Theirworld’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Projects, and Research