Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Let’s roll back illiteracy in Nigeria

In 2000, a World Education Forum was held in Dakar, Senegal. There, 164 governments, including Nigeria, pledged to a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youths and adults by 2015. At the forum, six goals were set. They are: Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children; ensuring that all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality; ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes; and achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults. Others include eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality; and improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills. Concomitantly, the second of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals demand universal primary education.

Truth be told, less than four years to the target period for the attainment of the EFA, Nigeria seriously lags behind as the following evaluations have revealed. On May 16, 2011, Nigeria’s Education Data Survey 2006 – 2010 conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education in conjunction with the National Population Commission was launched in Abuja. The key findings of the survey presented by the NPC Chairman, Chief Samu’ila Makama, revealed that states in the North-West and the North-East geo-political zones have the lowest literacy rate in Nigeria. According to him, “Non attendance is highest among states in the North/East and North/West zones - 72 per cent of children aged between 6 to 16 years never attended school in Borno State compared with less than three per cent in most states in the Southern zones.”

Also, Yobe State has 58 per cent and Bauchi State 52 per cent illiteracy. For the North- West zone, Zamfara State leads the pack with 68 per cent followed by Sokoto State with 66 per cent with Kebbi trailing with 60 per cent. In the North-Central Zone, Niger State has the highest rate of non-attendance with 47 per cent followed by Kwara State with Benue and Nassarawa tied with 12 per cent each. In contrast, the South-East has the highest rate of attendance with all the children between 6 and16 years surveyed in Imo State said to have attended school. This is very disheartening. More so as one of the key initiatives of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the launch of the Universal Basic Education in Sokoto in December of 1999.

In the 2010 October/November West African Senior School Examination, 80 per cent of the students who took the examination failed. According to the Head of National Office of the West African Examinations Council, Mr Iyi Uwadiae, at a news conference on December 23, 2010, in Lagos, 62,295 (20.04 per cent) of the candidates passed with English Language and Mathematics. The results also revealed that 141,167 candidates (45.52 per cent) obtained five credits and above. He stated that the results had fluctuated from 23 per cent pass in 2008; 21 per cent in 2009 and 20 per cent in 2010.

In a similar vein, in the National Examinations Council November/ December 2010 external examinations, out of the 25 subjects taken by students, none had up to 50 per cent pass mark. According to the Registrar of the council, Professor Promise Okpala, who announced the results in Minna on March 30, 2011, a total of 256, 827 sat for the examinations. Out of the total number that wrote the English Language examination, 51, 781 candidates passed, constituting only 20 per cent. In Mathematics, 87, 508 translating to 34 per cent of candidates that sat for the examination passed.

On June 24, 2011, the result of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination held on June 18 was released by the Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde. Less than 50 per cent of the students who wrote the entrance examination passed. Out of the 1,493,000 candidates that sat for this year’s UTME, about 842,941 scored below the 200 pass mark out of a total of 400 marks. Of the overall figure, only about 500,000 will eventually make it into the 117 private and public Nigerian universities.

Such has been the sorry state of Nigeria’s education sector that it will take concerted and sustained interest of the three tiers of government to roll back illiteracy in Nigeria. Over time, the country has been perpetually reforming without much positive impact. There have been several education summits, surveys and probe panels. A news report says there are 41 parastatals under the Federal Ministry of Education alone. This is unwieldy and a drain on the meagre resources appropriated to the Ministry. It is high time some of these agencies are merged for efficiency and cost-saving. I commend the Ekiti State government for the merger of the University of Science and Technology, Ifaki and the University of Education, Ikere-Ekiti with the University of Ado-Ekiti. What does a state need three universities for when it can barely fund one?

As President Goodluck Jonathan rightly observed during the presentation of the final report of the Presidential Task Force on Education on Wednesday, May 18, 2011, “Education is core to whatever we want to do as a nation. Nigeria cannot make much progress towards the attainment of its Vision 20-2020, unless we strengthen our educational system.” I agree with some of the recommendations of the Task Team chaired by Professor Pai Obanya. These include reforming the 6-3-3-4 system of education to make it more result oriented; accelerated action on the National Teacher Education Policy and the speedy implementation of the new Teachers Salary Scale. I am also in accord with the Civil Society Action Coalition on Education For All which is pushing for the implementation of a structured plan by the Federal Government to reach the UNESCO target of 26 per cent of annual budgets for education, half of which should go to primary schools within the first two years; publication of allocations, disbursements and projects to enhance citizens monitoring of resource allocation and inauguration of a joint government and civil society team to facilitate independent monitoring of the education budget. It bears emphasising that the redemptive measures in Nigerian education must focus on literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.