Nigeria joined other countries the world over to observe the International Literacy Day on September 8. The event is commemorated every year to raise awareness and concern on the literacy problems that exist locally and globally. International Literacy Day was founded through the proclamation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1966 to remind the public of the importance of literacy as a matter of dignity and human rights. It is a day set aside to promote and support the development of literacy and skills, universal access to quality education, and learning opportunities throughout people’s lives.
Interestingly, the theme for the 2020 celebration centres on literacy, teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond, with focus on youth and adults. This year’s agenda poses some challenges for Nigeria. Although much progress has been made in improving literacy rates in some member states of the United Nations (UN) since the first International Literacy Day was observed, Nigeria is among countries where illiteracy remains a big problem.
The 2018 survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) put the population of out-of-school children in the country at between 10.5 million and 13.2 million, the highest in the world. In addition, one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is said to be in Nigeria. For a country with enormous material and human resources, this is not good enough.
Most of these children are in the North East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, where Boko Haram insurgency has stridently disrupted academic activities. Moreover, the Almajiri system of education in the North is not helping matters. In 2014, UNICEF estimated about 9.5 million Almajiri children in Nigeria constituted 72 per cent of the nation’s out-of-school children. In parts of the country, archaic systems and cultural practices impede literacy and education. Early marriage has particularly affected the education of the girl-child. Poverty is also a contributory factor, as well as misplaced values, especially those which consider acquisition of material wealth more important than education.
To address the anomalies, there is need for synergy and involvement of the three tiers of government in increasing access to basic education. Government should make it a matter of policy and obligation to increase the level of literacy in the country by ensuring that every Nigerian child has access to nine years of schooling. Education at the basic level should be a matter of right and not a privilege. The level of literacy in a country determines its level of development. Education is a catalyst to development and participatory governance. It is the key to unlock the mind and banish poverty. The maxim, knowledge is power, remains instructive.
Education should not only be free but also enforced by the government. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act 2004 came into being to address issues such as this, with its provision of a compulsory and free basic education for six years and minimum three years of junior secondary schooling.
The core agenda of the programme is to eradicate illiteracy, ignorance and poverty as well as stimulate and accelerate national development, political consciousness and national integration. These are reasons the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), the supervising agency for the UBE, should be accorded fresh impetus at all levels to ensure that it succeeds in its mission. The Child Rights Act also stipulates that a Nigerian child shall be in school up to the secondary school level.
We call on the government to ensure the implementation of these enabling instruments. Funding should not be a hindrance to the education of the Nigerian child. What the northern governors have done in tackling the Almajiri menace and taking the boys out of the streets is commendable. However, they should do more in ensuring that the out-of-school children are brought into the school system.
Schooling must be encouraged by the government through incentives and motivation to the students. The Federal Government’s policy of a meal-a-day for primary school students is commendable and should be properly structured to capture all parts of the country. There is need to establish adult literacy programmes in all the states. Let there be concerted efforts by all tiers of government to banish illiteracy in the country.