Nigeria joins the rest of the world today to mark the 2011 International Literacy Day. For a country with an estimated 47 per cent illiteracy rate, it is a wake-up call for the federal government to revitalise the mass literacy sub-sector to redeem its battered image among the comity of nations. Even with the N1 billion MDGs funds released for this purpose, STELLA EZE reports that there is the need for stronger political will to effectively implement the fight against the high level of illiteracy, especially among the youth, if the country hopes to restore sustainable peace in the country.
Literacy is the ability to write and numerate with understanding and to use the skills in one’s daily socio-economic activities.? Therefore, a literate person is one who can read, write and numerate with understanding in one local language (mother tongue) and can use the skill in his or her daily socio-economic activities.
The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) is the federal government agency saddled with the onerous task of making literate all those who for one reason or the other did not or cannot benefit from the formal school system. These, according to the acting executive secretary of the commission, Jubrin Paiko, include out-of school youths, children on the streets, women in purdah and victims of teenage motherhood, nomadic illiterate people, almajirai and other migrant fishing folks.?
Unfortunately, the commission has realised that about 46 per cent of Nigerians are presently illiterate, according to the 2006 national census figure released by the National Population Commission (NPC). Stakeholders agree that this is not healthy for any sustainable development.
Nigeria has not particularly had a good record as far as literacy is concerned. There are indicators to show how backward the country is in terms of providing basic literacy and numeracy for its teeming population, not only for the children, but amazingly, for the adult group also. Nigeria is a signatory to many international treaties, in which heads of governments make commitments with a view to providing quality basic education, yet statistics released by international agencies like the UNESCO have painted a very gloomy picture of the country’s progress towards providing the illiterate population with basic education. For instance, the UNECSO has given countries like Nigeria until 2015 to half illiteracy through the Education for All (EFA) initiative, as well as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). All these are global goals targeting the marginalised and educationally disadvantaged groups, especially in the developing countries, to which Nigeria belongs. Unfortunately again, statistics place Nigeria at the bottom of the table, where even war-torn countries have made considerable progress in providing its citizens with basic literacy skills.
As the nation joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s International Day of Literacy today, special focus is required to ensure that the marginalised are carried along, so that equity is maintained in the distribution of wealth, as well as equal participation in national development.
Director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova in her 2011 International Literacy Day Celebration message, highlighted some of the disturbing statistics of the excluded population constituting the world’s illiterate people. According to her, about 759 million adults lack minimum literacy skills, while one in every five adults is still not literate and about two-thirds of them are women. Also, 75 million children are out of school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. The vast majority of illiterate adults are concentrated in the three regions of East Asia, South and West Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. More than three quarters of the world’s illiterate people live in fifteen countries, including eight of the nine high population (e-9) countries, which are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Mexico.
Speaking on the importance of literacy, she said, “Literacy is a human right, it is a tool for personal empowerment; it is the means for social development. Literacy is at the heart of basic Education for All (EFA) and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. A good quality education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school. Literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities to improve themselves, and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development,” she said.?
?The day is commemorated every September 8 internationally to draw the attention of stakeholders in the education industry, to the urgent need to mop up all those who for one reason or the other, did not go to school and consequently are illiterate.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark the day, stakeholders are unanimous that the theme for 2011’s celebration, ‘Literacy For Peace’, couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time than now, when the country is experiencing the worst crisis situations ever, with series of bomb explosions, kidnappings, killings and the destruction of life and property.
Minister of state for education, Barr. Nyesom Wike, at the press briefing to announce the line-up of the weeklong activities to mark the event, said, “There is a strong correlation between literacy and the nation’s quest for enduring peace and security. The twin problems of poverty and illiteracy in Nigeria can be situated in the poor state of our education, which had suffered from long years of bastardisation and neglect. However, it is universally acknowledged that basic literacy has the potential of liberating families from poverty, ignorance, and disease. We know that improved literacy leads to greater economic productivity, happier families and better communities. Studies have shown that a country’s chances of having a freely elected government and good governance improve as levels of literacy increase. Thus, literacy is an empowering instrument with beneficial consequences of significance for society as a whole. Accordingly, eliminating illiteracy through universal education is a veritable remedy for most of the difficult socio-economic circumstances that breed resentment, dissension and criminality in any country.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria seems not to have factored all these in the process of implementing her education policies, leaving the country with gloomy and very disturbing literacy indices.”
Wike further noted that, “Nigeria has relatively delivered on the EFA undertaking, with an adult national literacy rate of 56.9 per cent. However, impressive as our literacy rate may look, the fact still remains that a good section of the country’s population is still largely illiterate. Available statistics show that apart from the huge variations between states and geographic regions, 47 per cent of the adult population (about 50 million) are still functionally illiterate. It is also estimated that about 38 per cent of the children population is out of the schooling system. This implies that at least one in every three or four adults is not literate and over 22 million children are out of school, out of which two thirds are women and girls.”???????
Faced with the reality of a high illiteracy rate and its negative implications for national development, the Federal Ministry of Education said it has set for itself the target of significantly increasing literacy by 10 million annually for the next four years.
To achieve this goal, Wike said the ministry is vigorously pursuing the revitalisation of adult and youth literacy nationwide, which is currently driven by UBESCO to ensure its effective implementation. Nationally, the programme, which will run for the next four years, will target about 40 million of the illiterate population by 2015. The expected beneficiaries will include the marginalised, those who are excluded by circumstances beyond their control, including vulnerable groups such as young girls, women, nomads, migrants, almjirai and street children in the urban slums and rural areas. With the N1 billion Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fund released to UNESCO in trust for the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), Nigeria hopes to not only revitalise adult and youth literacy, but to also erase to a large extent most of the disturbing statistics in her education indices.
?If education is expensive, try ignorance, so the saying goes. The cost of not providing quality education is enormous, not to talk of the failure to provide education at all.