A National Initiative Targeted at Children, Teachers

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes that the annual Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition was launched as a flagship Corporate Social Responsibility intervention by Lafarge Africa in 2014 and has since grown to become a national initiative positively impacting 700,000 beneficiaries including children and teachers across the country with over N500million invested already

For six years, the annual Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition has kept faith with school children across the nation. This year was not different as winners recently emerged in the seventh edition.

Themed theme “Building the Nigeria of My Dreams”, the competition was opened to pupils aged 9-13 in public primary and secondary schools in the junior and intermediate categories on December 4, 2020 through to January 15, 2021. A total of 1, 600 participants from all the 36 states in Nigeria including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja enrolled for the competition.

Launched as a flagship Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) intervention by Lafarge Africa in 2014, the competition has since grown to become a national initiative positively impacting children and teachers across the country.

Winners

This year, Miss Ewaade Adebowale of Alapere Primary School, Alapere-Lagos, who emerged the overall winner in the Junior category was awarded a cash prize of N1.5 million in the Diamond category while Zainab Saliu of Ummul Khair Model School, Lagos and Emmanuel Somefun of Community Nursery & Primary School, Magodo Lagos won N1 million and N750,000 in the Gold and Silver categories respectively.

They also won many other exciting educational consolation prizes. In the Intermediate category, Miss Bilkisu Aliyu of U.B.E Junior Secondary School, Abaji, F.C.T emerged the overall winner to cart home a cash prize of N1.5 million in the Diamond category while Ekpono Obot of Uyo High School, Uyo, Akwa Ibom and Alexandra Pearl Egonu of Federal Government Girls College, Nkwelle, Anambra State won N1 million and N750,000 in the Gold and Silver categories respectively.

Strategic Investment

Speaking during the presentation of prizes to the winners, the Chairman, Lafarge Africa Plc, Mr. Adebode Adefioye said: “Lafarge Africa is making strategic investments across all levels of education in Nigeria. Some of these are the National Literacy Competition at the primary level; provision of educational infrastructure and equipment at the secondary level and the award of bursaries for students of higher institutions of learning (amongst others)”.

While quoting statistics from the United Nations International Children Education Fund (UNICEF), that says an estimated 10.5 million children are out of school in Nigeria despite the fact that primary education is compulsory, Mr. Adefioye said Lafarge wants to leave a legacy of good education that will be qualitative and the annual literacy competition is part of the steps to prepare our youth for the future.

He said: “The implication of this reality is that we must have all hands on deck, working together to complement government’s efforts.The legacy of good education that we all want to leave for future generations must be qualitative and prepare them for life. Literacy is the first step in this direction and we are committed to this cause as an organisation.

“Maya Angelou states and I quote ‘We must create a climate where people agree that human beings are more alike than unalike’. This is one of the commitments of the Sustainable Development Goals. I am happy to announce to you that The National Literacy Competition is aligned with five of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 1 : (No poverty), Goal 4 (Quality Education), Goal 5 ( Gender equality), Goal 11 (Reduced inequalities) and Goal 17 (Partnership for the Goals).

“In seven years of implementing the Literacy Competition, Lafarge Africa has invested over N500m and impacted about 700,000 beneficiaries. There is still so much to be done to close the divide to make the Nigerian child more globally competitive. Our approach must be more inclusive, dynamic and sustainable.

“The abridged edition of the National Literacy Competition meets this criteria on different fronts. At Lafarge Africa, wearedeveloping stronger structures that assure shared value for our stakeholders, which includes strengthening theimpact monitoring and evaluation frameworks.”

Commitment

Also speaking during the event, the Country Chief Executive Officer, Lafarge Africa, Mr. Khaled El-Dokani, noted that the essay competition is a testament to the company’s commitment to contributing to the development of the Nigerian child through literacy.

He said: “We recognise that the depth and quality of a country’s human capital are as important as its physical infrastructure, hence, our investment over the last seven years in enhancing the Nigerian educational sector just as we are committed to empowering Nigerians through our world-class building solutions.

“One of our key sustainability priorities at Lafarge Africa is our commitment to our communities through education and we are actively collaborating with the government and the private sector to improve the country’s literacy ratio towards making an impact in reducing the World Bank estimate which states that over 80 per cent of Nigerian primary school-leavers cannot read”.

He went on to state that “this intervention was developed seven years ago in line with our commitment to complement government’s efforts in education. This intervention sits under the Education Pillar for which Lafarge Africa is committed and has made strategic investments. Over the last couple of years, we have worked with partners and committed resources to a cause that is far reaching and impactful.

“In our bid to promote and embed digital literacy as a core element of the programme, we introduced the Computer Based Tests (CBT) in 2019. At that time, we did not realise that we were preparing for the future. By 2020, the pandemic was upon us and we could only rely on the solid foundations that we had laid in the previous years. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, we launched the initiative digitally

“The beautiful coincidence of Nigeria and Lafarge at 60 afforded us the opportunity to create something bigger and more impactful. It is to this end, that the National Essay Competition ‘Building the Nigeria of my Dreams’ was launched.

“For this competition, we expanded the scope and made improvement in three major areas:

We improved the cash prizes by 500 per cent; we extended the competition to students of junior secondary schools and it is wholly a 100 per cent virtual education intervention.

“We call on partners from the private, public and development sectors to join us in ‘bridging the literacy gap together’’. Collaboration and partnership is essential to achieving the Nigeria of our dreams.”

Charge

Zuriel Oduwole, the renowned Teen Filmmaker, Presidential Envoy & Advocate best known for her work focused on the advocacy for the education of the girl child in Africa in her keynote address encouraged the pupils to dream big at all times resulting in her meeting with President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique in 2017 to discuss the negative impact of child marriage on the development of girls and the society. Sixteen months later, in June 2019, Mozambique officially outlawed child marriage. ‘I have learned that if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.’ she stated.

Also, the First Lady of State State, Her Excellency Dr. (Mrs.) Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu applauded Lafarge Africa for consistently investing in initiatives that have a direct impact on the literacy ratio in the country.

According to Folashade Ambrose-Medebem, the Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainable Development Director Lafarge Africa Plc, the company’s educational intervention is recognised by national and international organisations for its consistency and far-reaching impact.

“We intend to continue our theme of Bridging the Literacy Gap Together in the coming years working with crucial partners in order to enhance literacy of our children in Nigeria,” she stated.

Support

The national essay competition which was supported by the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEBs), the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), and the Federal Ministry of Education is aligned with five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 1 -No poverty, SDG 4 -Quality Education, SDG 5 – Gender Equality, SDG 11 – Reduced inequalities and SDG 17 – Partnership for the goals.

Lafarge Africa over the years has worked in partnership with the Ovie Brume Foundation founded by Mrs Evelyn Oputu who is the foundation Chairperson with Ese Brume as the Executive Director.

Prize Presentation

The prize presentation ceremony was a hybrid event in Lagos in compliance with the COVID-19 protocols and had over three hundred pupils join virtually.

All submissions for the competition were received through the www.learnwithlafarge.com competition portal and thereafter reviewed and shortlisted by an independent jury made up of Ruth Osime, the THISDAY Style Editor; Otto Orondaam, Founder, Slum to School and Dr. Mo Adefeso Olateju, founder of TEP centre. The submissions were reviewed in three levels of assessments.

Lafarge Africa worked in partnership with the Ovie Brume Foundation and PriceWaterHouseCoopers to deliver this intervention.

Also present at the event were the First Lady of Gombe State, Her Excellency Hajiya Asma’u Inuwa; the Honourable Commissioner of Education in Ogun State, Gombe State Professor Arigbabu, the Commissioner of Education Gombe State, Mallam Ibrahim Batari; and the Commissioner of Education, Cross River State, Dr Amanke Ogar.

About Lafarge Africa Plc

Lafarge Africa Plc, a leading Sub-Saharan Africa building materials company is a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim, a world leader in building materials. Listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Lafarge Africa is actively participating in the urbanisation and economic growth of Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa.

Lafarge Africa has the widest footprint in Nigeria with cement operations in the South West (Ewekoro and Sagamu in Ogun State), North East (Ashaka, in Gombe State), South East (Mfamosing, Cross Rivers State) with Ready-Mix operations in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Lafarge Africa has a current installed cement production capacity of 10.5Mtpa.

Lafarge Africa leverages its innovative expertise to provide value-added products and services solutions in the building and construction industry in Nigeria.