Why Literacy Cannot Be Ignored In Nation Building

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WINIFRED OGBEBO writes on the place of literacy in every facet of human development and nation building.


iteracy is the ability to read, view, write, design, speak and listen in a way that allows one to communicate effectively. The power of literacy lies not just in the ability to read and write, but rather in a person’s capacity to apply these skills to effectively connect, interpret and discern the intricacies of the world in which they live.

Last week, the world celebrated World Literacy Day and incidentally the event also marked the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day and UNESCO under the theme, “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.”

Empirical study has shown that knowledge has become the main catalyst for economic growth, and education the bedrock of such functional knowledge driving national prosperity. For former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, mastering the art of learning and education is the difficult task nations undertake when they commit themselves to progress.

He said, “Barebones survival is all a nation can achieve when it disregards this principle. To esteem learning is to follow the gleaming light to prosperity. To discard learning is to walk into the fog of stagnation and poverty.”

Libraries in Nigeria are increasingly acquiring books and journals (print and electronic formats) and have established e-libraries to engage the citizens with social media and information literacy to meet their information needs. This enables the public to interact and contribute to governance as a process of building the culture of open government.

According to Donald Block, author of “Defining Literacy Up”, being literate means the ability and chance to improve one’s self, which society needs to become more classless and improve the overall living standard of every one. Literacy, he insists, focuses not on recognizing basic words but on comprehension of the world around us.

Block contends that knowing the core knowledge of basic literacy is just the beginning of today’s survival in society, pointing out that “what is needed more is also the ability to communicate with others and also the ability to comprehend and solve problems and learn from

these problems.”

He explains that with society and technology rapidly evolving, people must have the basic level of literacy to begin their lives in society, saying, “from this basic level of literacy people can move on and improve their skills in other types of literacy such as academic, non-academic, cultural, and technical literacy. With skills in these other types of literacy, people will be able to function easier in society and with this ability society will also function more efficiently.

“Literacy is the foundation on which the solving of all social problems can be built,” Block added, noting that “a majority of homeless people are homeless due to the lack of basic skills that could enhance their lives.”

An article entitled “Lacking Ability to Read Well” by Erin Texeira quoted Carolyn Staley, deputy director of NIFL (National Institute for Literacy) as saying “low literacy really is a problem.”

She said, “We, as adults, must have a good level of literacy. With society changing every day, people must keep up their ability to read, write, and solve problems. With these skills we can then help our children ease into literacy and improve at a better pace than what we had to learn.

“Children are our future and if their level of literacy is low then their standard of living will be lower. This generation must keep up and excel in every type of literacy so that future generations can learn from us and excel from us so they have the ability to survive in today’s and tomorrow’s complex and ever evolving society.”

The importance of literacy to economic development cannot be over emphasized. The economy is enhanced when learners have higher literacy levels.  Experts posit that effective literacy skills open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities so that people are able to pull themselves out of poverty and chronic under-employment.

“In our increasingly complex and rapidly changing technological world, it is essential that individuals continuously expand their knowledge and learn new skills in order to keep up with the pace of change,” they said.

In our nation today, there is a growing mismatch between the skills that employers need and the skills that workers have. This discrepancy leads to high unemployment coupled with a high job vacancy rate. To redress this, Tinubu counselled “we must teach our people as never before done in terms of the scope and quality of the education they receive. That education cannot be of the esoteric type that is only beauty in the abstract but devoid of practical value in our quest to build and develop the very foundation of a new political economy for the nation.”

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