December 17, 2015

65 million Nigerians are illiterates – UNESCO

By Muhtar Bakare

With 65 million Nigerians illiterate, it is time for government, schools and individuals to take action. UNESCO’s National Programme Advisor on Education, Dr Mohammed Alkali recently revealed the results of a UNESCO survey that showed that despite improvements to the country’s education system, 65 million Nigerians remain illiterate.

This statistic is alarming for a number of reasons. Illiteracy has adverse impacts at both an individual and societal level. People who are illiterate are far more likely to live in poverty, facing a lifetime marred by poor health and social vulnerability. Economically, the impacts of illiteracy are also sizeable; workplace productivity, unemployment rates and even national GDP are all affected by a country’s literacy levels.

With Nigeria’s illiteracy rate standing at just over 50 percent, it is a matter of national urgency that we work to redress our literacy crisis. How can make real changes that have a measureable and tangible impact on Nigerian learners?

Of course, governments and policy makers need to play a critical role in any solution. Illiteracy will never be overcome while 10 million Nigerian children remain out of school. Providing quality schools and quality teachers are therefore a vital component in improving national literacy levels.

Equipping schools with the necessary resources – libraries, books and classroom facilities – and providing adequate training for teachers are all essential to making literacy widely available to all Nigerians.  However, access to classrooms and books is only part of the answer. As parents and citizens we all have a responsibility to promote literacy amongst our young people.

But with 35 million Nigerian adults illiterate, how do we instil a love of reading in our children when so many of us can’t read ourselves? Children of illiterate parents are far more likely to be illiterate themselves, therefore education programmes that target adults as well as school children are key.

We also need to be better at making parents throughout the country aware of the critical importance learning and education play in their children’s future. A child who can read and write sufficiently will enjoy better employment prospects, better earning capacity, better access to healthcare and be less likely to face social exclusion.

Reducing illiteracy should therefore be viewed as an investment, rather than a cost, for both the governments and households. Overcoming illiteracy in Nigeria will require a long-term commitment from governments, NGOs, educators and parents. We can no longer look to just one group to provide solutions or outcomes.

Working together to implement reforms and programmes that can lead to real change are a matter of national urgency. The future of our country and our people will be closely tied to achieving widespread literacy. Failing this will miss a great opportunity for Nigeria and its citizens. Mustard Bakare is Managing Director, Pearson Nigeria. He wrote from Lagos.