By Juliet Ebirim
The grand finale for the 4th Annual National Literacy Competition held on Thursday, November 17, 2017 in Lagos. The competition which is the Corporate Social Responsibility of Lafarge Africa PLC, a leading cement and building solutions company, saw six winners (three boys and three girls) emerge who were awarded national prizes.
In this interview with Juliet Ebirim, Mrs. Folashade Ambrose-Medebem who is the Communication, Public Affairs and Sustainable Development Director for Lafarge Africa Plc, sheds more light on the initiative; Corporate Social Responsibilty has been associated with the sinking of boreholes, renovating of schools and other eye-catching projects. Why did you choose to embark on a literacy competition?
We’ve committed to this because we are specifically clear about where we want to participate from a corporate social responsibility standpoint. And one particular area has to do with education and that also sits quite well with our overall business strategy. One of the four key areas we are looking at is people and communities, under which we have education.
My role as a sustainable development director comes to play here, because we look for ways to achieve sustainable impact. Literacy is a natural area where we feel we can make a huge change. This initiative is in line with the LafargeHolcim2030 Plan, which articulates our efforts to improve the sustainability performance of our operations focusing on developing innovative and sustainable solutions.
You started this in 2014, how has it been so far?
It’s been very good. I’m very pleased to say that in terms of reach and depth, it’s been progressively improving. And by that I’m referring specifically to the fact that when we started, we were just three regions, but now it cuts across the entire six regions in the country. We want to help create more literacy enhancement opportunities for several indigent students across Nigeria. We have been doing this successfully for the past four years and we are quite pleased with the positive impact we have made so far.
What is different about this year”s edition when compared to the previous ones?
First of all, we’ve expanded the reach in terms of the six geo-political zones where we operate. We’re also trying to expand it to include the teachers and not just the students alone. We’re also looking at other critical stakeholders – State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), UBEC.
We’re trying to bring stakeholders within the government, at the state and federal level. That’s how we can get the sustainability. Another aspect is how we can collaborate and so the theme for this year is “Bridging the literacy gap together”.
Apart from the prizes, what else is in it for the participating pupils?
A lot, in terms of education. They’ll be gaining a lot of indepth knowledge and also the Lafarge Africa study guide is being incorporated into the curricular across the schools in which we operate. Literacy is not just about reading, but also about thinking and being able to comprehend and use it as a bridge. Hence we have the theme “Bridging the literacy gap together”. The teachers will be gaining a lot as well. So far, two of our students have actually earned scholarship which is an outstanding testimony to inspire others.
It will inbibe in them those habits that will enable them use education to be the best they can be. There’s no limit to what we can do with education from a literacy standpoint. The illiteracy rate in sub-saharan Africa, especially Nigeria is high. We want to partner with the government to check this.
Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve with this?
It is to make sustainable impact in terms of improving literacy among Nigerian students across the country. Collaborating in order to make sure that we get to the world class standards as a country and also trying to expand the depth and reach of our impact. So far, we’ve impacted over 300,000 students country-wise.
Why is the focus on public primary schools?
That’s deliberate. If you want to build a house, you start with the foundation. You need to get the foundation right for the house not to collapse. Education plays a huge role in the development of a country, that’s why we need to engage the leaders of tomorrow on critical literacy skills at an early stage.
We want to get it right at that level and we are working on getting the key people at the state and federal government level to come on board. We’ve recorded some level of success – In Cross River, for instance, they’ve already started to adopt the curricular within some schools.
How have you monitored the progress of the past winners/beneficiaries?
We continue to keep in touch with them. Two of our past winners already gained scholarships, which is impressive. We do teachers training and so on.
What are the major challenges you’ve had?
We are very clear about where we are going and how we intend to get there and so we don’t remember the challenges. Yes, there would be a number of challenges but I don’t see the merit in dwelling on those. What we are focused on now is how we can improve and get people to understand that impact is being made. Let’s make literacy trend and make sure everyone plays a role.
What’s the role of the governent in this project?
Fundamental. We invited various stakeholders in the educational sector – from the ministry of education. We’ve been endorsed by UBEC, which is a huge one for us. We have also had a number of international stakeholders present at the event.