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Despite the claim by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan that its transformation agenda has impacted positively on the education sector, the recent report by the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education indicates that there are still 63 million illiterate adults in the country
The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan had in recent times claimed to have impacted positively on the Nigerian education sector through its transformation agenda.
In recent times, image makers of the President have described him as an unusual transformer whose administration has witnessed massive infrastructural development and injection of enormous funds to the education sector. They outlined some of the landmarks of the administration in the education sector as the establishment of new Federal Universities to address challenges of access to higher education and equity, training of over 600,000 teachers aimed at enhancing quality of curriculum delivery and the establishment of 125 Almajiri schools in 13 northern states. According to them, the transformation of the nation’s educational institutions into world-class centres of learning was on track.
However, despite these achievements in the education sector being bandied about by the Jonathan administration, recent reports by the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) indicates that there are still 63 million illiterate adults in the country. The figure, which represents over one third of the Nigerian population, is also nearly 10 per cent of the world’s 781 million adults who cannot read, write or count. Dr. Esther Uduehi, Chairman of the NMEC Governing Board who painted the grim picture recently, urged the federal government to prioritise adult education in order to provide basic education to millions of illiterate adult Nigerians. “Sixty three million Nigerians are illiterate; this situation is largely due to low political will to address the issue. This is reflected in poor funding and inconsistent policy implementation, especially at the state and local government levels,’’ she said.
Uduehi described as “worrisome” the fact that such a staggering number of Nigerian adults were illiterate. She regretted that with such a large body of illiterate adults at the grassroots, “achieving government policies at all levels would certainly be an arduous task if not an outright impossible one.”
She challenged state governments to bolster the literacy level of all and sundry in the 774 council areas of the country, stressing that Nigeria’s dream of attaining the Education For All (EFA) Goal 2015 would remain highly elusive except something was urgently done to reverse the ugly scenario. “It is a shame that in the 21st Century we should be having such a high number of illiterate adults. It is a thing of concern to everyone. We all know that an illiterate is a danger, not only to himself, but to the society at large,” she said.
Uduehi, who identified factors that help in nurturing illiteracy to include poverty, hunger, disease, maternal death, child mortality and environmental degradation, noted that access to literacy and education remains a basic human right while the lack of literacy skills stems from the scant heed paid to the education of adults who never had the opportunity to go to school as young people. To reverse the trend, she called for adequate funding of the commission to enable it discharge its functions effectively to the illiterate adults in the country.
Mrs. Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was emphatic that literacy helps to curtail the frontiers of poverty as it enables people find jobs with which they boost their livelihoods and better their lives and communities. Bokova decried the quality of teaching and learning in schools across most parts of the world. “More than 250 million children are unable to read a single sentence, even though half of them have spent four years in school. What kind of societies do we expect to build with an illiterate youth? We want a world where everyone can participate in the destiny of their societies, gain access to knowledge and enrich it in turn,’’ she said.
Bokova explained that the traditional approach of just learning how to read and write was incapable of changing the world’s fortune as it pertains to mass literacy. She therefore advised that literacy programmes should encompass broader skills with regards to consumption and sustainable lifestyles, conservation of biodiversity, poverty reduction, disaster risk reduction and civic participation. She also canvassed for greater investment of resources by governments and commensurate efforts by development partners and UNESCO member states in order to ensure that literacy was enthroned as the greatest driver of sustainable development.
Considering the grim picture painted by top officials of NMEC and UNESCO, it appears that little is being done to eradicate illiteracy at the grassroots.
Professor Peter Okebukola, former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) has also decried the low rate enrolment that adult and non-formal education in the country has witnessed. He said that if the figure remains that low, the chances of eradicating illiteracy were negligible. “On adult and non-formal education, with the relatively low national growth rate in enrolment for adult literacy education, the probability of eradicating illiteracy will remain remote if a number of measures including increased advocacy, mobilisation and awareness campaigns aimed particularly at previously underserved groups are not instituted. The major thrust of the policy on adult and non-formal education is the promotion of life-long learning with emphasis on functionalism for non-literates and the functionally illiterate,” Professor Okebukola said.
He suggested that in 2015, government should intensify efforts towards mobilising the adult community to enrol in literacy programmes; resuscitate old and construct new learning centres; establish specific purpose adult learning television channels and radio stations; provide vocational training emphasising acquisition of practical and basic skills of relevance to the community. He further advised government to build partnerships between providers to create an enabling environment, including capacity building and provision of financial support grants.
Experts urged the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Shekerau, to adopt some of these measures recommended by Professor Okebukola in order to effectively tackle the high rate of illiteracy in the country.