The growing illiteracy in Nigeria – Thisday

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. Considering the funds and efforts that the country has devoted to various mass literacy programmes, including the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme that was launched with fanfare about 33 years ago, it is worrisome that more than a third of our national population still wallows in illiteracy. Yet literacy is so critical to national development that it should, perhaps, be considered second only to health. It is tied to the quality of life of a people.

According to NMEC, literacy rate is 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 like Nigeria could have that huge number of illiterates. It has therefore tasked the authorities in the 36 states to ensure that the 774 local government areas were well equipped and empowered to improve national literacy levels.

Literacy figures in Nigeria do not give cause for cheer when juxtaposed with figures of other countries, and the importance of education as the engine for national development. Literacy rates in countries like Cuba, Poland, and Estonia are 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). 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 depend largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population. And given the huge population of out-of-school children, it is understandable that the overall literacy level will be low in our country. Over the years there have been some efforts by the federal government to boost literacy level, with the setting up of strategic institution, commission and centres for learning across the nation. The major challenge, however, is at the level of the states and the local governments.

Nigeria’s illiteracy rate burden supports the argument that the neglect of teachers and education has dire consequences for the populace. Yet when education is neglected, a greater number of the people end up as illiterates who contribute little or nothing to the development of society. Sadly, 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 is sometimes misunderstood because many of them have veered away from their responsibilities. The consequences are what we see on the streets of many of our major cities.

To address this problem, there is a need for investment in both formal and non-formal basic education in order to ensure that all our citizens, irrespective of age or class, 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, even when compared to countries within the African continent. If we admit that the government cannot do it alone, it should be the greatest motivator and driver. With proper funding and making education compulsory, there will be improvement in the literacy level of our country.

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