Education is the bedrock of any society that defines its development and continuity. It determines the level of literacy in a country and propagates skill acquisition. In fact Dictionary.com defines it “as an act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills as for a profession”. Indeed, skills acquisition forms an integral part of the process of education. It is this privileged position of education that prompted UNICEF to recommend a 26% budget allocation to education, in the budget planning of developing countries. Literacy can be narrowly defined as the ability to read and write. However, applying a broad definition, UNESCO(2004) defines literacy as “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying context. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society”. Literacy and skills are the products of a sound system of education. Education determines the economic competitiveness of nations of the world. This led Arne Duncan, US Secretary of education, to declare, “in a knowledge economy, education is the new currency by which nations maintain economic competitiveness and global prosperity.” It is in recognition of the importance of education that the 1999 constitution, as amended, provides in S.18(1) & (3) that “government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels” and “government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy…” To corroborate the express provisions of the constitution, the National Policy on Education, 2004, articulates equal access and brighter opportunities for all citizens regardless of where they live. However, despite the express policy statements of the government and the provisions of the constitution, illiteracy still thrives in Nigeria. It is on record that Nigeria has an illiteracy rate of over 40% according to the National Bureau of Statistics which is very alarming. To further compound the problem, the country has the highest number of out of school children in the world. In fact, Nigeria accounts for 47% of the number of out of school children in the world; or succinctly put one out of every five children not in school is a Nigerian. The big question therefore is, how can Nigeria be more innovative in bridging its illiteracy and skills gap? This essay is an attempt to provide answers to this question, albeit first making a brief analysis of the problems facing the education sector.
Indeed, the problems of education is not the crux of this essay, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the words of our fathers that “a problem must be identified and its causes outlined, before a solution can be found”. Proceeding from this, a brief mention of the problems will aid the focus of this essay. One of the foremost problems of education in our country is corruption in the education sector. The decaying state of infrastructures in our educational institutions can be traced to corruption. As a fact, Nigeria has not yet achieved the 26% budget allocation to education as recommended by UNICEF. The budget that is finally released is still subjected to misappropriation making the final sum executed to be rather abysmal. University and secondary school authorities are often found wanting in implementing projects meant to develop their institutions. Again, some teachers are grossly unqualified to handle the task of training the nation’s future leaders. With increasing number of teachers lacking in qualification and skills, students stand to gain little. The teachers are products of universities, colleges of education and polytechnics where science is taught without efficient and effective laboratories, and humanities is taught like a folktale without substance. Again, there is the problem of poor curricula planning and poor execution of policies. To compound this problem, the students are largely unserious and so they fully embrace the social media and cultism, because they know they can either pay for the marks in cash or kind. This promotes examination malpractice. With these background problems conscious in our minds, we can now proceed to provide possible solutions and recommendations on how to combat illiteracy and skills deficiency.
To begin with, government must substantially increase its funding to the education sector to the 26% budget allocation recommended by UNICEF. Increased funding will lead to the construction of more schools and provision of better facilities in the existing ones. The task of funding is for both the federal and state governments. The current state of schools, in our country especially state owned secondary schools, is pitiable. Therefore, the government must ensure that these schools are substantially improved with regards to infrastructure and new schools should be built in hinterlands to guarantee more school enrolment. It is abysmal that most secondary schools or even universities do not have enough classrooms, with students sitting under trees or squatting to have lectures. Laboratories are near empty and cockroaches have made their homes there. The government must realise the importance of investing hugely in education. The government must heed the advice of Arne Duncan, US Secretary of education, when she said, “ education is an investment and one of the most critical investments we can make.” Government must strive to make pre-university education in the country free, to encourage larger school enrolment and assist those from poor families. Free primary and secondary education is important in promoting literacy in the country. Along with the task of increased funding, government must constitute a board charged with monitoring allocation to schools in all levels, to ensure government efforts are not thwarted by dubious administrators.
Second, the educational sector should be completely overhauled. Funding alone cannot transform the education sector and improve the literacy level in the country, it will also take a complete revision of the curricula at all levels. Vocational subjects like Fine Arts, Home Economics, Agricultural science, Music, Commerce, etc should be given priority in the curriculum of appropriate levels. These vocational subjects teach skills like baking, sewing, interior and exterior designing, portrait and landscape drawing, painting, etc which promotes self independence and employment. The likes of Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci would not be revered today if not for their exploits in fine arts. The curricula should reflect a practical based science department, which is the key to unleashing the innovative and inventive abilities of students. The use of laboratories must form the core of the teaching of science in our schools. The acquisition of necessary skills for the survival of a student post education period, should form the vital policy in education planning. A situation where graduates are only after white collar jobs without attempts or abilities for job creation or invention causes unemployment when those jobs are unavailable. Therefore, attempts at making vocational subjects integral to education planning is highly important. Government can do this by making a policy that every student at the secondary school level must at least offer a vocational subject in order to be deemed to have graduated. Also certain skills should form part of the process of education at the higher levels. Such skills could include entrepreneurial skills, leadership training, managerial skills etc. These skills can be integrated into a course in the general studies program of the universities, which students must do irrespective of their disciplines. Empowerment programs can be occasionally organised in the forms of seminars, workshops etc. Such skills empowerment programs could include fashion designing, modelling, leatherwork, sewing, phone repairs etc.
Again, it is undoubtedly the fact that a good educational policy without good teachers is like putting something on nothing. The education system is grappling with unqualified teachers, especially at the primary and secondary schools level. Most private schools are set to make profits, even at the expense of the future of leaders of tomorrow. They employ teachers that are grossly unqualified or inexperienced, who will be willing to accept peanut as salaries. In government owned schools, teachers often do not take their jobs seriously. The nonchalant attitude of teachers in the universities is almost becoming a culture. To solve this problem, teachers at all levels should be constantly or periodically assessed. In my secondary school, Federal Government College Ohafia, in 2006 the then newly appointed vice principal academic introduced a policy, where secretly appointed students in each class kept an attendance sheet for teachers, where they recorded teachers attendance based on five criteria; came on time and taught, came early but left early, came late but taught, came late and left early, absent. These students were unknown to the class and teachers but the policy was publicly announced in order for teachers to be aware. These students were concealed to prevent victimization. The teachers were effectively disciplined after verification of the reported conduct. Through this monitoring scheme, teachers became very serious to the amazement of students, who were forced to also become serious. Presently in University of Ibadan, the Quality Assurance Unit of the university, inaugurated by the present Vice-chancellor, passes questionnaires to students periodically to evaluate the delivery and performance of lecturers. These are master policies that all school administrators at all levels must adopt to increase the level of output in our educational sector. To complement this, teachers should be employed based on merit, paid when due and promoted based on merit. This will guarantee a stable academic calendar which in the past has so frequently been disrupted by industrial actions resulting from lack of payment of salaries. Teachers to be employed in certain areas like the north, should have a fair level of cultural orientation akin to their working environments, like religion and language, to help stimulate delivery and performance. This is desirable for only pre-secondary and secondary education where students require a psychological orientation from their teachers. In like manner, government should closely monitor all private owned schools. The government should close down all private schools that are not government approved, after giving them reasonable opportunity to register their schools based on satisfaction of certain standard requirements. One of such requirements should be size and qualification of work force.
Furthermore, state governments should revitalise boys technical colleges and establish new ones in the states. An example of such technical colleges, is Boys Technical College, Aba, Abia State, which was famous in the past for teaching skills such as woodwork, metalwork, electrical work, automobile mechanics, etc. It was largely successful in achieving two things; first, propagating literacy skills in students and second, empowering students with lifelong self employment skills. Most of the grandaunts of this secondary school who came from poor families and could not proceed to the university, opened various workshops. Today, most of these workshops have become large firms employing others including graduates. These technical colleges should be revitalised and established in different states with the status of tuition free public school. With this approach literacy and empowerment skills will be both promoted at the same time. In the same way, more Girls colleges should be established around the country by government at all levels to encourage girl child education and promote gender equality. This should be heavily encouraged in the Muslim predominated north as a complement to the people’s religious and cultural orientation, since most parents may not want their daughters to mix with males at young age. Again, in female schools where religious precepts dominate, mostly female teachers should be employed, so that the suspicion of parents whose religious beliefs may be against having male teachers teach their daughters, will be alleviated. This will encourage more parents to send their daughters to school.
Again, to promote literacy and skills acquisition in the country, all stakeholders in the education sector must see the need for a scholarship and loan scheme. Multi-national companies, eminent citizens, firms, unions, school administrators must join hands with the government in promoting a scholarship and loan scheme which will serve two purposes. First, encouraging academic excellence among students. Second, helping those from poor homes acquire university education. The scholarship scheme should be merit oriented to students to encourage them to maintain top performance in school. Such scholarships could be open to SS3 students to help them go further in their education since most poor intelligent students drop out at this stage. The loan scheme should be like small loans to students who are essentially in need of it. Such loans will serve to assist students whose families cannot afford to pay their fees. Such loans can be repayable by them within five years of leaving the university. With such a policy and strategy, a larger number of people will acquire better education and skills needed for the 21st century.
At this juncture, it is trite to state that literacy and skills, in its technical sense, are not necessarily akin to each other. In fact, one would not be making a fatal error to state that most Nigerian graduates are literates, in the relative sense of writing, reading, speaking, listening and reasoning abilities but with deficiency in skills needed to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Indeed, when people lament about the dilapidated state of education or ‘half baked graduates’, they do so with reference to deficiency of necessary skills exhibited by graduates. Therefore, the establishment of skills acquisition centres around the country will assist in bridging Nigeria’s skills gap. The government and multi-national companies in Nigeria can do a lot more for the people by investing in this area. It is on record that when the Niger Delta militants accepted amnesty, most of them were sent abroad to skill acquisition centres. This makes one to wonder if these skills acquisition centres cannot be established in our country, to assist those that are not militants and terrorists, who cannot travel abroad on the basis of amnesty. If these skills acquisition centres are established in the country they will serve to provide employment and propagate the teaching of local skills peculiar to our circumstances. Such skills could include cloth dyeing, weaving, ocean fishing, sewing, baking, ocean diving, mining and extraction. As a corollary to the establishment of skill acquisition centres, government and all stakeholders in the economy should encourage and fund youth empowerment programs which will benefit youths in school and out of school. Youth empowerment should holistically seek to empower Nigerians to become self independent in finance, decision making, and political will. Youth empowerment can be propagated through the establishment of skill acquisition centres, but beyond this, different seminars and workshops can serve as expedient means of teaching expertise skills such as agricultural practices like fertilizer application, rotational cropping, irrigation etc. Other skills could include phone repairs, computer engineering, leatherwork, woodwork etc.
In addition, the level of literacy in the country today can be enhanced through a vibrant economy and employment generation. The quest to improve Nigeria’s education will receive a major boost through the propagation of a vibrant economy and employment opportunities. With an increasing number of graduates roaming the streets in search of work, young people are becoming increasingly discouraged over the need to go to school. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (2013), Nigeria has an unemployment rate of 23.9%. The present working environment is not largely in need of expertise knowledge making literacy skills to be of lesser value. This can be largely noticed in the southeast where many young people do not deem it necessary to go to the university, since many graduates are increasingly unemployed. Rather, they drop out during or at the end of secondary school and move into business. A lot of those in schools are there just to answer graduates with a hope to entering apprenticeship or business after school and so they do not take their studies seriously. In a related development, an unstable economy characterized by inflation, unemployment, underemployment and poverty, will force so many children to drop out of school in order to help their families or as a direct result of the inability of their families to pay for their tuition. Most of those who remain in school, come back to do street hawking at the end of each school day, leaving them with no time to read or study their books. In fact with Nigeria’s school children dropout rate contributing 47% of the world’s population of school children dropping out of school, it can be successfully argued that poverty and worsening economic situation forced them out of school. . To solve this problem, government should execute projects that can improve the economy and attract both foreign and local investments. Such projects could include, an overhaul of the transportation sector( airports, seaports, construction and rehabilitation of roads, and rehabilitation of the railway), stable currency to control inflation, security and stable power. With this fast tracking economic projects, more graduates will be employed in well paid jobs, forcing others to reconsider their ideologies and serve as a motivation for youths to take their education seriously. A vibrant economy will guarantee families that are stronger financially. This will encourage families to take their children off the streets and provide basic needs for their school life such as textbooks.
Also, the government should consider the establishment of public libraries as an integral part of promoting reading culture among Nigerians. Libraries play a huge role in making people develop reading culture. It can attract people into reading especially if it is attractive and well stocked. Libraries are places where people go for leisure and serious academic activities like reading and research. People will spend their leisure reading journals, articles or literatures. The library will promote good reading culture among Nigerians. As noted by V. E. Dike, “one can improve his or her reading and writing skills through independent studies by visiting good libraries, reading good books, and practising writing. Library is a weapon of mass education”. With the rate of poverty in the country and the economic situation, most families are increasingly struggling and may not afford to buy textbooks for their wards. It is therefore imperative that good libraries should be easily available to fill the void in access to educational materials that may be experienced by children of poor families. As V. E. Dike noted, “the more good books one reads, the more enlightened and exposed one becomes”. Experts have identified good libraries as a way of ‘attracting youths to read including those that hate to read and give them access to great minds (J. Worthy and S. Mckool, 1996)’. As Henry Ward Beacher puts it, “a library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life”. The libraries should be adequately staffed and equipped with books of different categories and disciplines, in order to make them effective.
Furthermore, the government should strengthen the already existing system for adult and nomadic education. The establishment of National Commission for Mass Education, Adult and Non-Formal Education and National Commission for Nomadic Education catered for adult education and the educational interest of Nigeria’s 9.3 million nomads respectively. It is estimated that over 40% of adults are illiterates, while of the 9.3 million nomads only 0.28% are literates. Presently, these figures have not improved significantly. This makes this group in urgent need of attention. According to Akinpeju(1993), “the contemporary definition of ‘nomadism’ refers to any type of existence characterized by the absence of a fixed domicile”. He identified 3 categories of nomads as; hunter/food gatherers, itinerant fishermen and pastoralists.The use of such systems of education as mobile and onsite schools have been difficult to maintain, since most qualified teachers would rather not take up such extraneous jobs. The system is also marred by instability and poor turnout of nomadic children. The use of radios and television programs to broadcast lessons for learners is commendable but not without problems. First, there is the problem of time. Learners may not be available at the time of broadcast. Second, learners cannot listen to the lesson repeatedly or use playbacks and replays when they miss a point or lose signal. Therefore, to remedy these problems, the education of the nomads and adults should be moved forward technologically. This can be achieved through the use of other electronic systems of teaching and learning. This can be exploited by introducing video CD and Audio CD into the system or by extension in multimedia formats. The audio CD and video CD will be in form of a recorded lesson distributed to learners which they can play and listen to at their own convenience, time and place, in group or alone. It will give them an edge beyond the radio formats where lessons are broadcast live because they will have the advantage of playback and replay, and they will not be confined by constraints of time. Call back numbers should also be provided at the end of each lesson for questions and contributions. To make this accessible to those that may not have access to DVD & CD players, the audio CD and video CD should also be made available in multimedia formats since most phones that come with radio also come with multimedia player. The availability of cheap multimedia player from Nokia and Tecno mobile phones makes this highly practicable. R. A. Aderinoye, K. O Ojokheta, & A. A. Olojede canvases for the introduction of mobile technology into the system of education of the nomads who are itinerant in nature albeit in a different sense from what is proposed here. “The literature has defined mobile learning as any service that supplies a learner with general electronic information and educational content that aids in acquisition of knowledge regardless of location and time (Lehner & Nosekabel, 2002)”. It is cost effective since fewer teachers will be needed and permanent classrooms will not be necessary , though for the purpose of assessment a venue may be elected. Again, this system is not confined to the problems of time and place which is the clog in the wheel of the success of nomadic and adult education. The portable CDs will be useful to adult learners whose schedule and occupations may not allow them much time to attend evening programs or other lessons. They can watch or listen to it at their own free time. To make adult education and nomadic education work, education planners should strive to make their curricula relevant. It should go beyond basic literacy skills. It should include advanced skills that can stimulate learners interest like adding lessons on entrepreneurship and business focus, budget planning and home management, savings and income distribution etc in adult education, to help promote and sustain interest. In nomadic education, lessons on planning and use of ranching for animal husbandry, modern practices in cattle rearing, disease control in cattle rearing, management and planning of a ranch etc. should be incorporated. This will help learners appreciate the relevance of the studies. This is important in the light of a statement by a Fulani man with regards to nomadic education, reported by Iro(2006) “…we are not opposed to the idea of getting our children to schools, but we fear that at the end of their schooling, they will only be good at eating up cattle instead of tendering and caring for them”. In all, this system should not replace the other systems like radio and television programs or traditional classrooms but should merely complement them to achieve an effective system of nomadic and adult education.
In conclusion, the aforementioned solutions would greatly enhance Nigeria’s literacy and skills level if implemented holistically and steadfastly. Nigeria must realise the importance of education in its quest for development. Nigeria must seek to learn from the experience of Republic of Korea aptly captured by Ban ki-Moon, UN secretary general, when he said, “ people today often ask about my country’s transformation from poverty to prosperity. Without hesitation, I answer that education was the key”. Nigeria should honour the provision of article 13 of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights( UNESCO 2003) which articulates; “education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other human rights…” The provision of this article follows the provisions of the 1999 constitution, as amended, in S.18(1) which provides “government shall direct its policy towards ensuring that there are equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels” and (3) “government shall strive to eradicate illiteracy…” Premised on these, the government must do its best possible to eradicate illiteracy in the country. The current state of the nation economically, socially and politically can be improved by education. For as Nelson Mandela asserts “the power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation.” The attitude of government towards education reflects its attitude towards Nigeria’s future, for as Nelson Mandela puts it, “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.” Therefore, the urgency to improve literacy in Nigeria, complemented with adequate skills, should be met with a government and leaders of today committed to securing the future for the leaders of tomorrow or else their tomorrow may never come. This can be aptly summarized with the assertion of Wennergreen, Antholt, and Whitaker (1984), “all who have mediated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empire depends on the education of youths.”
Emeka E.C. Sylvester