GROWING ILLITERACY IN NIGERIA

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Government must invest adequately in education

The deplorable state of education in Nigeria came to the fore again recently when Governor Nasir el-Rufai revealed that 50 per cent of teachers in Kaduna State who were due for re-appointment failed the primary four test set for them as pre-condition for re-absorption into the civil service. Unfortunately, the situation is not restricted to Kaduna as it is a nationwide problem. Yet, if those who are expected to impart knowledge are themselves illiterate, how do we create the necessary balance of skills and knowledge that would drive national development?

While the challenge goes beyond the quality of teachers, what is not in doubt is that there is need to revamp the education sector in Nigeria. The policy thrusts for such action can be found in the outcomes of several summits and their reports lying around in many offices and agencies in both Abuja and at the various state capitals. The learning environment, academic outcomes and the capacity of monitoring institutions are critical to revamping the education sector. But it is also a problem that not many of our people want to take teaching as a profession while majority of those currently doing the job are those who cannot find employment in other (more lucrative) sectors.

Receiving a children advocacy group, Save the Children to his state last year, the Zamfara Education Board Chairman, Hon. Adamu Jangebe told his visitors that the state was in chronic shortage of primary school teachers. He lamented that as a result, not fewer than 300 public primary schools in the state were manned by a single teacher each. Many more schools in remote rural communities, he said, had no teacher at all leaving the children to their own devices and with all the dire consequences for the future of our country.

As depressing as the revelation was, nobody should think that it is only Zamfara State that is facing such challenge. Across the country, several studies and reports speak volumes about the abject neglect of infrastructure in schools. And to worsen matters, it does not appear as if the relevant authorities as well as critical stakeholders are paying attention. In many rural communities, classrooms are an essential commodity with the result that children study under trees. In the urban centres that have the luxury of being provided with classrooms, many of them are dilapidated with leaking roofs, cracked walls and without windows. In many cases, children sit on the floor as there are no reading tables and chairs for them.

Given such an unfriendly and harsh school environment, it is only natural that children would resist going to school even as other social and economic factors collude to restrain primary school enrolment nationwide, but particularly in northern Nigeria. In some situations, children who, in spite of the unattractive conditions of their schools, still wanted to learn are unable to do so because government is unable to provide them with teachers. Meanwhile, there is a consensus that the deplorable state of education in the country is traceable to the fact that politicians do not care about fixing the sector because they can afford to send their children overseas.

Yet the provision of quality and affordable education is one of the sacred duties of government since they provide the needed human capital necessary for development. Without basic education, the future of children in the state is already mortgaged with the attendant danger of making them susceptible to anti-social vices. Indeed, ample evidence exists that the social miscreants and religious bigots, including the Boko Haram insurgents that have marooned the North-east of the country today, are largely recruited from the army of uneducated people who grew up without any hope for their future.