Nigeria/September 07, 2020/Source: https://thenationonlineng.net/
Literacy is said to be an essential component of the right to education and a prerequisite for accessing other forms of human rights. CHINAKA OKORO writes that the government should take advantage of this year’s International Literacy Day to address infrastructure deficits in the education sector to ensure that youths and adults have access to quality education.
Mr. Nwokezuike Onyensogbu is a known figure at Okigwe Car Park in Owerri, the Imo State capital. He starts his day with shots of the locally-brewed concoctions known as akpuruachia.
Those in the car park say that Nwokezuike behaves abnormally due to the effect of the excess concoctions which he takes. It has affected his life as well as creating a huge hole in his pocket. Any money he makes is spent in settling debts and goes home almost empty-handed.
His father, Uchendu, had sent Nwokezuike to school to be educated but any time he was given his tuition, he would spend it frivolously. He was of the view that without education, one can still normal life. But his lifestyle and condition of his family in terms of healthy living and the development of the human person quite contrast with his earlier boast.
He has become a nuisance to their community. This is because he refused to take advantage of what education offers in terms of the development of the human person, development of the community and being imbued with the desire for just, good social and cultural ways of life.
This could be why every family in Nwokezuike’s community ensures that their children are educated. Again, it could be reasoned that it was in a bid to prevent the kind of experience that his family throws up which negates the value system of an authentic and organised society that the United Nations, through the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed September 8 as International Literacy Day on October 26, 1966, during the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference. The day reminds people of the importance of literacy or education as a prerequisite for dignity and human rights.
The theme of the day
Mindful of the current global health situation which has a ripple effects on almost all facets of life, UNESCO’s choice of this year’s theme that encapsulates the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that has been ravaging the entire globe from December last year to date is apt.
The theme of this year’s event focuses on literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond with a special emphasis on the role of educators and changing pedagogies.
The theme also focuses primarily on young and adult early skills through a life-long learning context.
Literacy is the ability to read and write. However, there will be some level of misconception if one interprets the lexical item superficially without having recourse to the noun form of the word which implies a state of being literate or being enlightened, learned, lettered, well-educated or well-read.
For clarity, let’s restrict the meaning of literacy to that which translates to being educated.
The traditional definition of literacy as the ability to read and write is being deconstructed as it has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images, computers, and other basic means to understand, communicate, gain useful knowledge, solve mathematical problems and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.
Literacy amid COVID-19 pandemic
UNESCO’s choice of the theme of this year’s event which encapsulates the current global health issue is appropriate.
Information on its website notes that “the latest COVID-19 crisis was a sharp example of the growing divide between politics and reality: a disparity still present in the pre-COVID-19 period that has adverse consequences on the learning of young people and adults who have little to no awareness and are thus faced with numerous disadvantages.”
An educationist, Sir Theodore Agwaraonye said the recent COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore the disturbing gap between what should be and what is in terms of putting in place structures for quality education, a situation which has damagingly affected the learning of youth and adults who have no or low literacy skills.
He said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, adult literacy programmes were suspended. Schools were closed down throughout the federation, education of children and youth was disrupted.
“The country was not prepared for the dangerous impacts of the COVID-19 crises on youth and adult literacy educators with regard to teaching and learning.
“Policy formulators should address the infrastructure deficits, not only in the education sector but also in all sectors.
Teaching and learning in times of COVID-19
Statistics has shown that with the COVID-19 pandemic, people with low literacy skills, who face multiple disadvantages in their daily lives, have also had limited access to health and preventive information about the coronavirus and online learning opportunities to continue their education.
The pandemic has thrown up the country’s state of unpreparedness with regard to infrastructure deficit, education systems, programmes, and personnel to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning in such a situation.
To prevent this untoward situation, experts have suggested that “there should be a robust deliberation on innovative and efficient youth and adult literacy programmes that would mitigate the hitches engendered by the pandemic.
“There should also be an evaluation of the hindrances educators experience in order to evolve effective strategies, processes, governance and initiatives that will promote educators and education.”
Why literacy is important
In the 19th Century, Frederick Douglass, a liberated black American slave and champion of the abolitionist cause wrote in his book Forever Free that “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” Douglass learned as a young slave that education and freedom go hand in hand.
His call for emancipation through reading, and more generally by mastering basic skills–literacy and numeracy–has invalidated the traditional notion of literacy as being mere learning how to read and write as it has become universal in scope.
Dr Chinedu Ifechigha of the Department of Religion Education, Faculty of Education the University of Lagos holds the view that “literacy is the first step towards freedom, towards liberation from social and economic constraints. It is the prerequisite for individual and collective development. It also reduces poverty and inequality creates wealth and helps to eradicate problems of nutrition and public health.
“Literacy is an essential component of the right to education and a prerequisite for accessing other forms of human rights. It is necessary to ensure that the youth and adults have access to literacy because of its ability to change the lives of millions of people who have received little or no formal education.”
Although since Frederick Douglass’ postulation on the freedom which education or being literate ensures considerable progress has been made in the area of lifting men and women, including the young ones from ignorance and dependency through a broad-based movement of literacy and easy access to education.
In the circumstances, it is unarguable that literacy and access to education is not a privilege but a fundamental human right. This is so because “it is essential for social and human development and provides individual the skills and empowers them to transform their lives, in turn, an improved standard of health and ability to earn a higher income.”
Despite this, a world in which every individual has fundamental knowledge remains a mirage.
Benefits of being literate
Ifechigha believes that literacy brings about invaluable benefits for individuals as well as society. As part of policies and programmes that promote equality in all aspects of life, literacy can contribute to empowering women and other badly off people and groups to participate in social, economic, political and cultural activities. In particular, the cognitive, psychological, socio-cultural and economic benefits of literacy programmes are well recognised.
His view corroborates that of R.G. Ingersoll who, in The Liberty of Man and other Essays says “every child should be taught to be self-supporting, avoid being a burden on others…every child should be taught that the useful are the honourable and that they who live on the labour of others are the enemies of society…Children should be taught to think, to investigate, to rely upon the light of reason, of observation and of experience…to embody their thoughts in the construction of things.
“Real education is the hope of the future. The development of the brain, the civilisation of the heart, will drive want and crime from the world…”
Again, it has been noted that literacy is vital to the all-round development of humankind.
Information gleaned from the website of READ (www.read.org.za/useful-info) which primarily operates as an educator development agency in the fields of language, literacy and communication and a leader in educational assessment, materials development and resource provision notes that “improved literacy can contribute to economic growth; reduce poverty and crime; promote democracy, and increase civic engagement…”
Illiteracy as stumbling block
The state of being illiterate or lack of normal development of intellectual capacities, uneducated, want of learning or knowledge, ignorance or specifically, the inability to read and write produces a high level of socio-economic and political retardation.
Some of the negative effects of illiteracy are poverty, low standard of living, increase in the crime rate; though not all illiterates are involved in crimes, increase in cases of child marriage as an illiterate parent who cannot send his or her children to school easily consider marriage, infant betrothal and forced marriage increase in drug and alcohol abuse level, and high level of unemployment, poor health and increased mortality rate.
According to UNESCO, 12 per cent of the world population could read and write in 1820; only 14 per cent of the world population remained illiterate in 2016. It added that over the last 65 years, the global literacy rate increased by four per cent every five years–from 42 per cent in 1960 to 86 per cent in 2015.
In concrete terms, more than 260 million children and adolescents are not enrolled in school; six out of 10 children and adolescents – around 617 million – do not acquire the minimum skills in literacy and numeracy; 750 million young people and adults still cannot read and write.
Of these figures, Nigeria has its fair share as many of its adults do not have basic literacy skills. Additionally, there are an estimated 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country.
According to statistics, all is not gloomy as Nigeria’s literacy rate for 2018 was 62.02 per cent, a 10.94 per cent increase from 2008 when the literacy rate was 51.08 per cent, a 3.7 per cent decline from 2003 when it recorded 54.77 per cent, a 0.67 per cent decline from 1991.
In terms of youth literacy rate, Nigeria, in 2015 recorded literacy rate of 72.8 per cent and an adult literacy rate of 59.6 per cent compared to global rates of 90.6 per cent (2010) and 85.3 per cent (2019) respectively. This is according to data reported by the World Bank.
The way forward
As the international community sets an ambitious 2030 agenda for sustainable development with education and learning central to its achievement as envisioned by the Incheon Declaration of Education 2030 and captured by the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all,” Education 2030 devotes considerable attention to literacy and adult learning.
It provides an opportunity for the three tiers of government to evaluate the strength and constraints of the education sector with a view to improving it where necessary.
For instance, as the federal and state governments, have announced resumption dates for schools after six months’ closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government should go beyond the rhetoric of “putting measures in place to avoid terrible increase of the disease in order to ensure the safety of the children” to take appropriate measures away from “washing of hands with running water, maintain corporeal distancing, and wearing a face mask, among others.”
Government should have planned ahead preparatory to schools’ resumption. A situation where 50 pupils are cramped in one classroom as against UNESCO’s prescription of 30 pupils per class will negate efforts towards the children’s safety.
Government should have built more classroom facilities in every school to avoid overcrowding.
Ensuring enduring literacy of the people requires everyone’s effort as stressed by the Minister of Education Adamu Adamu when he said: “Tackling illiteracy should be on everyone’s agenda. The basic education statistics show how much work that remains to be done in order to achieve some degree of acceptable equity in access to education and the improvement in the quality of education in general.”
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.