ADDRESSING ILLITERACY IN NIGERIA

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Government should invest more in education

The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), said recently that 35 per cent of the nation’s adult population was illiterate, and it has remained high because efforts being made to address the situation has never yielded the expected result. Considering the funds and efforts that the country has devoted to various mass literacy programmes, including the Universal Primary Education (UPE) Scheme, launched with fanfare about 34 years ago in 1976, it is indeed worrisome that as high as 33 per cent of the nation’s population still wallows in illiteracy.

The NMEC defines literacy rate as the percentage of people from the age of 15 and above who can read and write simple statements on their everyday life. NMEC therefore considers it ‘shameful’ that in the 21st century, a country could have such large number of illiterates. More worrying is that the authorities are not doing much to address the situation. Yet Nigeria’s literacy figures do not give cause for cheer when juxtaposed with literacy figures of other countries, considering the importance of education as the engine for national development. Literacy rates in countries like Cuba, Poland, and Estonia have been put as high as 99.8 per cent while Barbados, Latvia and Slovenia have attained 99.7 per cent, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Report (2007/2008). That report put Nigeria’s literacy rate at 69.1 per cent.

The high rate of illiteracy partly accounts for the low level of development in Nigeria because the growth and development of any nation depends largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population.
To be sure, it’s not that government is idle. Over the years there have been serious efforts by the government to boost literacy level with the setting up of strategic institutions, commissions and centres for learning across the nation. While some states indeed have worked hard to raise the literacy level among its populations by ensuring that the dedicated centres are functional and that the target persons are aware of their existence, others have merely paid lip service to the burden.
Nevertheless, the aim of such institutions, agencies and centres are sometimes misunderstood because many of them have veered from their responsibilities to the detriment of functional literacy population. Nigeria’s illiteracy rate burden, experts would say, aptly supports the argument that the neglect of teachers and education has dire consequences for the populace. When education is neglected, a greater number of the people end up as illiterates who can contribute little or nothing to the development of society.

Literacy is so critical to national development that it should, perhaps, be considered only as next to health. It is tied to the quality of life of a people. The advantage of having a literate population is self-evident as it will among other things enable the country to conserve resources. Having said this, we reiterate here that there is a need for investment in both formal basic education, youth and adult literacy and non-formal education in order to ensure that children, youth and adults have access to adequate educational opportunities which will help them develop their literacy skills.

For now, Nigerian government is not doing enough in funding education, compared to countries like United Kingdom, Finland and Singapore. Even when the government cannot do it alone, it should be the greatest motivator and driver. With proper funding in addition to making education compulsory, Nigeria’s literacy rate will improve in the future.