From literacy rhetoric to action, please!

Education Minister, Adamu Adamu

It is indeed shameful that 57 years into self-governance, and in an age that literacy level is a fundament of human development and social progress, there are in Nigeria 63 million adult illiterates and 11.5 million young people out of school. This is a published testimony from the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu who disclosed it the other day.

In truth, these data of shame reflect even more starkly, the role of successive governments in ameliorating the situation. Consider for example that, by the figures stated by Adamu, Nigeria has 8.4 per cent of the 750 million illiterate adults in the world, and 4.3 per cent of the global 264 million school children and youths out of school. In comparison, however, the entire population of this country, using the latest United Nations estimate of 192.1 million, is only 2.53 per cent of the global population. This is abysmal.

It is unacceptable that our country contributes such a despicable percentage share to the global population of the illiterates and, ipso facto, the under-educated. It is also inexcusable. And the blame must be laid upon governments at all levels. It cannot be for lack of the resources to educate the people. It cannot be for dearth of an appreciation by the managers of national affairs over the years, of the intrinsic value of literacy, and the inestimable benefits that it offers to the society. Basic literacy is fundamental to modern education. It expands the human capability to exchange ideas, to know, to be known, and to grow. Indeed, the National Policy on Education admits that, “education is an instrument for national development and social change and …is vital for the promotion of a progressive and united Nigeria…maximizes the creative potentials and skills of the individual for self-fulfillment and general development of society; [and is] …a right of every Nigerian irrespective of gender, social status, religion, ethnic background and any peculiar individual challenges…”

What is more, the exemplars are there in our recent history, especially of the then Western Region where the Premier Chief Obafemi Awolowo, reportedly pushed literacy and education as a cardinal policy of his (regional) government. The difference that this has made to the fate and fortune of what is now the southwest geopolitical zone of Nigeria is evident beyond debate.

Reading and writing skills in the country date back to more than a century when the European missionaries established schools. It is to their credit that two of the three regional governments in the first republic made education a cardinal policy of government. But if successive governments since independence had been consistent with the literacy agenda, Nigeria would have been close to 100 per cent literacy. As we have repeatedly stated here, the attendant benefits in human and national development are unquantifiable. Given the enduring effect of literacy and education on the mind, there is evidence that individual attitude to public resources, national interest, and the common good have some correlation.

The primary agency to promote literacy of the citizens is the government of the day. The reasons are clear and not too far to seek: Government is constitutionally obligated to work for welfare and security of its citizens. And so welfare, yes welfare of the citizens begins with the quality of education they can get and literacy is the foundation. A fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy, in this regard, is enshrined in Section 18 of the extant constitution (as amended) and subsection 3 specifically that, Government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy, and to this end, government shall as and when practicable provide (a) free, compulsory and universal primary education…(c) free adult literacy programme.

In the same vein, the National Policy on Education (NPE) provides, in line with the Compulsory, Free, Universal Basic Education Act, 2004, for free and compulsory basic education in public schools for children from ages 0 to 15 years. Section 4 of the NPE also states in detail, the objectives and strategies by a National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult, and Non-formal Education to execute mass literacy, adult and, and non-formal education programmes nationwide. A recent court ruling on this says the combined effects of Section 18 of the constitution and the 2004 UBE Act, has made Section 18 of the constitution justiciable.

But it is not gratifying to note from the depressing figures on adult and youth literacy given by the minister that the gap between policy and execution is still scandalous.

There is therefore so much ground to cover for the governments at all levels – from federal, states and local governments. To this end, Nigerians should reasonably expect a plan of action to remove an embarrassing blight on the reputation of this country.

In the circumstance, there should be no room for the usual demon called executive procrastination. So, the minister of education and all commissioners of education in the country should move with utmost sense of urgency to address this national reproach.

Besides, all sectors and stakeholders should be interested in this national project to expand literacy and nurture the reading and writing culture in the country.

After all, most countries have moved from classical literacy to learn, unlearn and relearn to be able to cope with the demands and indeed implications of the 21st century. That is why Nigeria should not lag behind the times that globalisation forces and social technologies daily disrupt.



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