A reported move by the Federal Government to revive the adult literacy programme to boost quality of education in the country is worthwhile. The authorities should be encouraged to walk their talk. The scheme has always been part of the fundamental objectives of national policy on education. But unfortunately political leaders have failed to accord it the needed attention. The present revival effort should therefore serve as a springboard for an important but neglected national development project.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Sonny Echono, who disclosed the new deal to newsmen after monitoring the Teachers Qualifying Examination the other day declared that government had put an arrangement in place to rejig the adult literacy scheme.
He explained that the programme would cater for the educational needs of over 50 million Nigerians who must have missed first opportunities to be educated. He noted that the programme would use existing facilities across the country and as such there would be no need to waste money in building new schools. Of course, the issue of adult literacy programme underlines the existence of some illiterate Nigerians who could be brushed up by using existing educational facilities.
The National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education (NMEC), not long ago, said that 35 per cent of the nation’s adult population was illiterate. It is sad and worrisome that more than a third of our national population still wallows in illiteracy and its consequences.
The high figure betrays the huge funds and efforts that the country has devoted to mass literacy programmes over the years including the Universal Primary Education (UPE) scheme launched more than 33 years ago. No doubt, lack of basic skills can lead to unemployment or low-paying, dead-end jobs that are associated with poverty. Above all, it reduces people’s status as permanent political outsiders, with no opportunity to have their voices heard; and to the possibility of watching their children repeat the cycle. That explains why most people are politically naïve and could easily be swayed with paltry sums of money to sell their votes.
Besides, the high rate of illiteracy partly accounts for the low level of development in Nigeria, because the growth and development of any nation depend largely on the quantity and quality of all segments of its population. And given the huge population of out-of-school children, it is understandable that the overall literacy level will be low in the country.
Over the years there have been some efforts by the Federal Government to boost literacy level, with the setting up of strategic institutions, commission and centres for learning across the nation. The major challenge, however, is at the level of the states and the local governments.
It is pertinent to ask at this juncture the extent to which the states and local governments are to be involved in the new scheme. It is obvious that adult literacy programme ought to be a grassroots endeavour using ground-up approach.
There is no way the federal authorities in Abuja could implement a successful adult literacy programme without involving the local government councils in particular. Except this is resolved, there may be suspicion that the scheme might be another strategy to steal public fund. Why has the UPE not been successful with the over 10 million children reportedly out of school? What magic is the adult literacy programme planning to use to record success?
We advise from the outset, that the states and local governments should be carried along from the planning stage to implementation. The Federal Ministry of Education may devise a means of monitoring and evaluating implementation of the programme.
Again, what are the contents of the scheme? The contents must meet acceptable standards for global competiveness. Outside of teaching how to read and write, what other things would be in the curriculum to enhance the capacity of the beneficiaries in their daily activities? What about raising political consciousness?
The scheme should yield benefits to the beneficiaries. It is akin to lifting people out of poverty, which is already a goal of government. In the past, people were taught how to plant seedlings; how to flit insecticides on crops. The curriculum should address both personal and national needs.
Meanwhile, the benefits would also depend on how long it takes to “graduate” from the programme. How long would that be? Is this going to be an ad-hoc programme or is it going to be a permanent and continuous feature of the country’s education policy thrust? What is the target? How are the 50 million beneficiaries going to be selected? What criteria would be used in the selection? There is need to set out clear-cut details from the outset to avoid running into teething problems again.
Besides, government should invest in both formal and in-formal basic education to ensure that all citizens, irrespective of age, class or status, have opportunity to adequate education, which will enable them develop their skills. It is on record that at present the country is not doing enough in funding education. Comparatively, Nigeria lags behind many African countries in terms of education funding. In recent years, the country has not met the UNESCO benchmark of 26 per cent. This is curious. Doubtless, with sustainable and proper funding of this adult literacy scheme, there will be improvement in the literacy level of our country. If the scheme fails again, it will be attributed to the present administration, which has got this opportunity to make history, in this connection.