How Well Has Nigeria Fared In Literacy Efforts?

(By Ameh Ejekwonyilo) 

For instance, no government in the history of this country has ever budgeted up to the 27 per cent UNESCO benchmark for education. For this year’s budgetary allocation, education got the paltry sum of N422.53 billion, representing just 8.7 per cent of the N4.9 trillion national budget. This explains why Nigeria’s public institutions of learning right from primary to tertiary will continue to suffer the frustration and indignity of very low rating in the world ranking of schools, especially universities. Little wonder why wealthy Nigerian parents send their children and wards to Ghanaian and South African universities. Reason? Because these two countries have surpassed the UNESCO budgetary benchmark for education, and therefore have appreciable level of world infrastructures in their universities.

 ‘Literacy is much more than an educational priority – it is the ultimate investment in the future and the first step towards all the new forms of literacy required in the 21st century. We want to see a century where every child is able to read and to use this skill to gain autonomy’. – Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General.

SEPTEMBER 8 every year is International Literacy Day. A day set aside by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to commemorate the need for a literate world. Adopted in 1965 by the UNESCO, this day is proclaimed for disseminating literacy awareness amongst world’s illiterate community. For 40 years now, UNESCO has been celebrating International Literacy Day by reminding the international community that literacy is a human right and the foundation of all learning. While countries have seized the opportunity to renew commitment to widening access of educational opportunities for school-age and deprived adults not covered by formal public school system, the Nigerian government chose to ignore the eternal import of the day.

  However, this year’s celebration of the event with the theme, ‘Literacies for the 21st century’, is even more heart-rending as public universities in the country have been under lock and key; with primary education at a standstill in some states such as Kogi where school teachers have been on strike for over three months and in some North-Eastern States of Borno and Yobe, where over 50 school pupils and teachers were gruesomely murdered in recent times by members of the dreaded Islamist sect.

   These ugly developments bring to the fore the question of Nigeria’s commitment to eradicating mass illiteracy among her adult and children population in 2015, which is one of the cardinal objectives of the Millennium Development Goals. Clearly, the Federal Government and most of the state governments in the country have no vision for an all round education that would meet international standards. Otherwise, how would one justify recent statements credited to senior government functionaries like the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala and Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, who both accused the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) of shutting down the government for demanding that facilities and manpower at Nigerian public universities be improved to meet international best practices; when the same government is notorious for official profligacy than any other in recent times with the President Jonathan’s jamboree to China and his wife’s purported mobilisation of over 30,000 women to the Federal Capital Territory for the President’s re-election campaign for 2015 .

   The reason for the government’s lackadaisical attitude to our educational sector is not far-fetched as it is a deliberate effort to keep the masses perpetually under the bondage of poverty, while enriching the political and economic elite who control the political-economy of the state. This way the people may never take full control over the resources that accrue to the state, as education is the only tool that can liberate the mind from the shackles of poverty and deprivation.

  The use of multiple data sources has raised the issue of data discrepancy across sources, however, the UNESCO recently released an estimated data of 61 million children of primary school age are being denied the right to education. Nigeria alone accounts for an estimated 10.5 million of this figure, putting the country worse than Cote d’ Ivore, Namibia and Rwanda and a few others that will not achieve the MDGs target. The gloomy statistics is coming just two and a half years to 2015, the target date for achieving the goal in education. Shouldn’t this grim picture worry any responsible government that is committed to improving the lives of its people? Instead, Jonathan and our state governors in recent times have been busy dissipating their energies, fighting another not for the common good of the masses but for personal and mundane ends towards the actualisation of individual political ambitions in 2015. What a bad coincidence for our educational system with the quest for unbridled political power in 2015!

   What is largely responsible for this parlous state of our educational development, and by extension other key sectors of the Nigerian economy has been poor funding and improper implementation of educational policies by all stakeholders. For instance, no government in the history of this country has ever budgeted up to the 27 per cent UNESCO benchmark for education. For this year’s budgetary allocation, education got the paltry sum of N422.53 billion, representing just 8.7 per cent of the N4.9 trillion national budget. This explains why Nigeria’s public institutions of learning right from primary to tertiary will continue to suffer the frustration and indignity of very low rating in the world ranking of schools, especially universities. Little wonder why wealthy Nigerian parents send their children and wards to Ghanaian and South African universities. Reason? Because these two countries have surpassed the UNESCO budgetary benchmark for education, and therefore have appreciable level of world infrastructures in their universities.

   This situation the government claims to be addressing through the implementation of the Basic Education scheme. The compulsory, free Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act which was passed into law in 2004 represents the governments’ strategy to fight illiteracy and extend basic education opportunities to all children in the country. Sadly, the number of schools, facilities and teachers available for basic education remain inadequate for the eligible number of children and youths. Obviously, under these conditions, teaching and learning cannot be effective; hence the outcomes are usually abysmal.

  Another major obstacle to the realisation of literacy in Nigeria is the issue of girl-child education. For example, in Northern Nigeria, the gender gap remains particularly wide. Recently, this monster (low girl-child education) seemed to have come to an end with the passage of the Child Rights Act and the recent bill at the Nigerian Senate, seeking to outlaw girl-child marriage, but the likes of Senators Ahmed Sani Yerima and Danjuma Goje from Zamfara and Gombe states respectively, who are bent on thwarting any good effort in the country with ethnic and religious sentiments, stalled that laudable effort to salvage the bleak future of the girl-child as the bill did not scale through the house.

   According to a UNESCO report, 30 per cent of pupils drop out of primary school and only 54 per cent transit to Junior Secondary Schools. Reasons for these low completion rate have been attributed to child labour and early girl-child marriage as most parents prefer to send their children to hawk wares on the streets, which is even a regular feature on the streets of our urban centres both in the early hours of the day and at night.  These children run after vehicles in traffic gridlocks to sell their wares.

   As worrisome as this problem is, it can be surmounted if government at all levels rededicate themselves to the ideal of building a viable and efficient education sector that would serve as a catalyst to the actualisation of growth and development in all spheres of our national life. The government must strike to surpass its meager budgetary allocation to education by investing in both human and infrastructural components of our public schools, while giving priority to 100 per cent of implementation of budgeted funds to arrest the rot in the system.

   For these reasons, prospects of Nigeria achieving Education for All by 2013 remain doubtful. As the international community rolled out the drums in commemoration of International Literacy Day on Sunday, September 8, we had hoped that the sound of the drums would move President Goodluck Jonathan to resolve the ASUU/FG debacle that has brought untold hardship to the nation.

• Ejekwonyilo wrote from Blueprint Newspapers in Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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