Today, Nigeria joins the global community in celebrating this year’s International Literacy Day (ILD). The Day is set aside annually 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 for Human-Centred Recovery: Narrowing the Digital Divide”. This year’s commemoration, being the second in the pandemic era, seeks to create more awareness among the people regarding digital literacy and considering how the pandemic has hampered the learning of children, young people and adults, thus widening the gulf of knowledge among the citizens.
Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has posed daunting and unprecedented challenges to literacy, leading to the suspension of physical and conventional process of teaching and learning. It has also widened the lacuna that existed in pre-pandemic era and impacted negatively especially on the adult literacy programmes. This year’s celebration is expected to challenge educators, policy providers and formulators to think outside the box in order to recover lost grounds even in the midst of the challenges it poses to the educators and the learners.
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 and to devote more attention to the critical sector.
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 75m of the world’s children are not in school or have dropped out before they finished.
In spite of steady progress so far made across the globe, experts have noted that literacy challenges still persist, just as the demands for skills required for work evolve rapidly.
In celebrating this year’s occasion with the rest of the world, Nigeria, government at all levels ought to pause for a moment to assess its contributions and commitment to eradicating or reducing the scourge of literacy year in and year out. 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 or strike threats 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.
Our governments have never been lacking in laudable strategies but highly deficient in implementation. This seems most obvious in their 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. They 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.
We have a grave situation where one section of the country is home to as many as 10m out-of-school kid, them to roam the streets as hawkers and kid labourers in a 21st Century.It is also exacerbated by the daunting security challenges thrown up by the criminal elements forcing schools at all levels especially in the educationally disadvantaged states to shut down every now and then. This state of affairs is not only unacceptable but also a huge setback in the nation’s race to grow its human capital base for socio-economic development.