Finding lasting solution to Nigeria’s high illiteracy rate
By Ochiaka Ugwu
The result of a study tracking illiteracy conducted by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and released last recently has revealed that about 65 million Nigerians are still illiterate. This was made known by the National Programme Advisor on Education, UNESCO Regional Office in Abuja, Dr. Mohammed Alkali.
Dr. Alkali, who made this known during an advocacy visit to Gov. Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, left his host speechless when he stated that over 65 million country men and women are unable to read and write. When put in percentage, it translates that more than 35 percent of Nigerians are uneducated.
The literacy rate is not a measurement of high level training and education. It simply measures the percentage of people with the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about the written word.
With this shocking revelation, one now wonders what have become of many mass literacy programmes rolled out by previous governments with the aim of promoting literacy and eradicating ignorance. There is no doubt that recent years have seen a number of initiatives formed to counter inadequate education and overcome illiteracy from the government, the private sector and United Nations agencies such as UNICEF. UNICEF’s, aims to increase access to basic education for children throughout Africa whilst the Nigeria government has also provided local support for Nigeria’s illiterate adults through a mass literacy campaign which aims to reduce illiteracy by 50%.
It is on record that Nigeria government had on countless occasions through its agencies collaborated with organizations like The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to deal illiteracy a hard blow. A case in point is the recent partnership between UNESCO and National Mass Education Commission (NMEC) to embark on a project towards revitalizing adult and youth literacy in Nigeria with the target of reducing Nigerian illiteracy rate by between five to six million youths and adults.
Ordinarily, this kind of collaboration ought to have nipped the illiteracy problem to the bud, if not for low funding of educational sector especially non-formal education and lack of political will by our politicians. It is time the governments at all level fulfill their mandates by recruiting and paying education trained facilitators for us to move forward.
No doubt, Nigeria is the continent’s biggest and most advanced economy but its literacy rate still lags behind some of Africa’s troubled economies. It has invested billions of Naira in education but it still fails to achieve the expected result. It has a low rate of university attendance. Its school and university standards are too low with the exceptions of a few that strive to meet international standards. Furthermore, university fees are too high for the poor majority. Only one in six students gets to university and a third of those dropout within a year.
Statistics show that more than 30 million Nigerians especially women and children are outside education, training or employment. 60% of Nigerians have no qualifications at all. 16% of Matric graduates are likely to get a job within a year of leaving school and 60% will still be jobless after 5 years. Officially, 54% of Nigerians are unemployed and actual unemployment is projected to be much higher than that.
Worthy of note is that almost all education interest groups have decreed poor quality of education in Nigeria. It was estimated that about 85% of public schools in Nigeria have been classified by the government as failing. Although, government has promised reforms after reforms and investment in infrastructure, but it is a mammoth task for a government that has invested billions of Naira in education without achieving the intended results.
The fact remains that we need a literate nation where every citizen will have unhindered access to quality education at any level he wishes. This is supported by the fact Literacy plays a vital role in the growth and development of any nation, and research has shown that the higher the rate of literacy, the better the potential to succeed. Experts have said there is a correlation between income and illiteracy.
A high level of literacy can reduce poverty and crime, contribute to economic growth, and improve the quality of life because people, when they can read information regarding vital social issues, are able to make informed choices and feel more confident about themselves. This in turn could relieve the burden on the government in terms of public enlightenment system in our society.
It has been posited by pundits that reading and writing are fundamental human rights as they allow people to take control of their lives through being able to vote, fill in an application form, do banking, read instruction manuals, and other activities.
This best explains why the nation should step up its activities towards repositioning education for better. The process should start as early as possible with a sound basic education system and the establishment of a culture of reading at home – which can only be done by adults who themselves know how to read and understand the value of reading.
Make no mistake, any discussion of Nigerian education would be incomplete without some reference to the high levels of inequality that plague the country and permeate every element of the schooling system. This is nowhere more noticeable than in educational outcomes, ranging from a very few schools which perform at internationally-comparable levels of achievement, all the way down to a majority of schools which cannot impart even the most basic numeracy and literacy skills to their pupils.
Another one is accountability which means that somebody most take responsibility for any action in the sector. Accountability is essential for our system to work properly. There are several weaknesses in the accountability sequence, with a culture of blame-shifting. The accountability string has to be strengthened from top to bottom. Education outcomes cannot improve unless accountability is reinforced throughout the system, from learner results to the delivery of textbooks in the classrooms. The system appears to suffer from both a lack of top-down oversight and a lack of bottom-up accountability, which means that there is little consequence for non-performance and therefore little emphasis on results and ensuring cost effectiveness. Lack of accountability also means that there is little motivation to procure and retain skilled individuals.
Lastly government should see education as a serious business by setting realistic goals, goals that focus on the universal acquisition of basic skills. The existing approach of government with respect to educational goal-setting can only be described as inspiring planning. Many of the policies and prgrammes set by government show no regard for the starting point, and little regard for what is actually feasible by always using international experience as standard.
It is also time that Nigeria realises it is not a lot of money that changes the literacy rate, it’s how and where you invest that money coupled with political will to achieve result.