A former World Bank Vice-President and Minister of Education, Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, has stressed the need for the country to invest in its human capital through education that would bring about the needed change in the economy.
She said considering the country’s huge natural endowment, the government should strive to make constant improvement in the quality of life of the citizens.
Ezekwesili, who made this known recently at the fourth Lafarge national literacy competition with the theme ‘Building the Literacy Gap Together’, expressed concern that Nigeria is performing minimally in education compared to countries like Brazil, Singapore and Japan that have been able to invest heavily in their human capital and lifted their people out of poverty.
In her paper ‘Economics of Failure of Nigeria’, Ezekwesili, who was the keynote speaker said, “if a society does not like what it looks like, the most important thing it can change is education, it is what can change the performance of an individual. Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capital is just a little less than 2500, if we are to compare that with a number of countries, we are not happy with such performance.”
She said the number of Nigerians living within the poverty level is 61 per cent, while the number of out of school children is 10.5 million, adding that for those who have had the privilege of getting quality education, they should not be too satisfied with the status quo.
She described literacy as an indicator of economic performance, saying that the literacy level of Singapore and Rwanda is 80 and 72 per cent respectively, as compared with Nigeria which is 59 per cent.
“If we are 59 per cent in 2017 at a time when the world is radically changing due to technology, we will fail if we don’t catch up. Singapore is often cited as a model for African countries which has managed to harness a GDP of 60000. Singapore left us from third to first world. In a journey of five decades, we stagnated quality because we did not do anything about our human capital development which is really fundamental to the collective development of a literate society,” Ezekwesili stressed.
She commended Lafarge for focusing on public primary schools across the country, while decrying their neglect. “The public and private sectors, as well as religious organisations must learn to address the crisis in education in Nigeria,” she said, maintaining that the country’s human capital could become a liability if the population is poorly educated.
In his remarks, the Chairman of Lafarge Africa PLC, Mr. Mobolaji Balogun, said an intervention like the literacy competition would help improve the quality of education in the country if all stakeholders devote more time and resources.
At the programme, Edo State represented by Master Yusuf Hassan, 11 and Miss Faith Agbai emerged winner of the keenly contested finals. They received a cheque of N250,000 and a trophy. Ondo and Kano States came second and third respectively and got a cheque of N200,000 and N150,000 respectively. Other finalists were Plateau, Gombe and Anambra States. They received consolation prizes.
The Chief Executive Officer of the organisation, Mr. Michael Puchercos commended the finalists for putting up a spirited performance throughout the competition from local government, state and regional finals.
“For an initiave that started as a reading project across the five locations where Lafarge Africa is present, the competition has grown into a national event. The impact achieved is beyond the children. Our overall target is to lay a solid foundation for improving the literacy level across the country,” he said.