Today, Nigeria joins the global community in celebrating this year’s International Literacy Day (ILD).
The Day is set aside to draw the attention of the various countries to the importance of literacy not only as a sine qua non for socio-economic and political development but also a potent weapon to fight poverty, ignorance, disease, joblessness, oppression among others.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Literacy and Skills Development”.
It seeks to explore integrated approaches that would simultaneously support the development of literacy and skills to ultimately improve lives and work, and contribute to equitable and sustainable societies.
Established in 1965 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Day was first marked a year later and is now part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals programme adopted in 2015.
The purpose is also to raise the world’s consciousness of literacy issues facing the global community and to endorse campaigns that help to increase literacy for all the people.
It is also intended to be used as an instrument that could empower individuals as well as the whole communities.
The occasion is also aimed at reminding world leaders, opinion moulders and the general public of the current status of adult literacy and learning.
According to available statistics, about one billion adults lack the most basic, minimum literacy skills all over the world.
In other words, about one in every five adults in the world or 20 per cent of the global population is trapped in the nether region of ignorance.
Of this percentage, about 60% are women.
Similarly, about 75 million of the world’s children are not in school or have dropped out before they finished.
As apt as the theme for this year’s commemoration is, coupled with the progress so far made, experts have noted that literacy challenges still persist, just as the demands for skills required for work evolve rapidly.
As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s occasion, government at all levels should pause for a moment to assess its contributions and commitment to eradicating or reducing the scourge of literacy.
It is a sad commentary that Nigeria pays lip service to education at all levels.
Education is one of the most neglected aspects of our socio-economic life.
The rampant strikes by teachers paint the picture more vividly.
The federal and state governments have deliberately refused to admit that for the sector to be successful, it requires huge investments in terms of infrastructure and human capacity development.
Nigeria is one of the countries within the African continent that have been branded as educationally disadvantaged.
It occupies the bottom position with a miserable 8.
4 per cent of its annual budgetary expenditure channeled towards education, far below the 26 per cent benchmark set by the UNESCO, whereas Ghana occupies the top position on the continent with 31.0 per cent, surpassing the UNESCO’s minimum recommendation.
The other countries that have risen above the UNESCO bar are Cote d’Ivoire – 30.0 per cent; Uganda – 27.0 per cent and Morocco – 26.4 per cent.
South Africa, Swaziland and Kenya fall slightly below the benchmark with 25.8, 24.6 and 23.0, respectively.
Botswana’s budget is 19.0 per cent, while Lesotho and Tunisia earmark 17 per cent each.
Nigeria’s allocation of 8.4 per cent smacks of total disservice to this critical sector when viewed against the budgets of these smaller nations.
Small wonder, the statistics released by the UN Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Nigeria 26th out of the 54 African countries and 13th out of the 16 West African countries on education.
It is also lamentable that no Nigerian university ranked among the first 100 in Africa or among the first 5,000 in the world.
All these startling revelations show clearly that the country’s educational sector is in dire need of revolution.
Governments have never been lacking in laudable strategies but highly deficient in implementation.
This seems most obvious in its inability to translate policies to tangible benefits for the citizenry.
Education is a social service sector engaged principally in manpower development for the nation and enhancing knowledge for social and economic development.
Government at all levels must, therefore, share this responsibility and work in tandem with one another to achieve the desired goals of putting illiteracy on the back foot.
It is the only way that the annual global ritual will make any sense in the country.
A situation where one section of the country is home to as many as 10m out-of-school kids and leave them to roam the streets as hawkers and kid labourers in a 21st Century Nigeria is unacceptable.