The Executive Secretary, National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education otherwise known as the National Mass Education Commission, Dr. Dayo Olagunju, in this interview with SEGUN OLUGBILE, speaks on the illiteracy rate in the country, efforts being made by the commission to reduce illiteracy, the challenges of non-formal education, corruption and why it may be difficult for the nation to realise the goal of the Education for All by 2015. You were appointed the ES of NMEC in April 2007, what have been the challenges of occupying this position and what were you doing before this appointment?
Well, I?m just an ordinary Nigerian who fate just gave the opportunity to play a role in shaping the education future of our nation. I have been working with the Federal Ministry of Education for the past 25 years. I never expected it when I was appointed and I?m privileged to head a team of dedicated and committed staff at NMEC. But I must say that what I met on ground at the commission left little to be desired. The NMEC I met was like a retarded child. Since 1994 when it was formed, its headquarters has been on a floor of a building in Abuja; it has no training room; it was not connected to the Internet; in fact, the commission was so boxed up, and its members of staff were ill-motivated, their morale was dead, and I discovered that there was the need to reinvent them by injecting a new life into them.
Coupled with this is the perception Nigerians have about adult literacy and non-formal education. There was one workshop that I attended and when the commission was introduced, somebody who I thought should know just asked whether the commission was a non-governmental organisation. It was so bad even a lot of educated people, including leaders, always narrowed education down to formal schooling. This is wrong, but we thank God that the perception is changing and the little space we have has been given a facelift but we badly need a befitting national headquarters in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.
What was the national literacy rate before the commission was set up and what is it now?
There has been a marginal improvement in the nation?s literacy rate. This is because before it was about 45 per cent, but now it has moved up to 52.6 per cent. This is according to the figure given by the National Population Commission and the Bureau of Statistics. But this figure has its faults because it was derived from the rate of self-disclosure. If we conduct a real literacy survey like they did in Kenya, where a national household survey was conducted, we may be shocked with the outcome because we may find out that those who are functionally literate are not up to that percentage.
Why can?t we do it if it?s going to help our development?
That is where we are going, but we may start with a pilot scheme. There is the need for us to do it if we are to do proper planning. We should do more on literacy campaign and investment in non-formal, adult and nomadic education. This is necessary because if we are able to solve the problem of illiteracy, most of the problems we have as a nation will become a thing of the past.
For instance, maternal mortality will drop, child mortality occasioned by the use of fake and adulterated drugs, use of expired drugs and their likes will stop. At least, if a mother is literate, she will be able to take care of her children, and fathers who are hitherto ignorant will stop withdrawing their kids from school. Road accidents caused by illiterate drivers, who cannot read road signals, will reduce, while the masses will have a better understanding of government policies.
The UNESCO recently released a report where the country is said to have about 10million out-of-school kids. With this revelation, do you think Nigeria can achieve the goals of the Education For All by 2015?
If one looks at the EFA Monitoring Reports, where Nigeria is classified as one of the nine countries at serious risk of not achieving the target of EFA goals by 2015, one will say yes, we may not achieve the goal. Also from what we have on the ground as a nation, it may not be realisable. From the records at our disposal at NMEC, all the agencies for non-formal and adult education in the country only register about two million illiterates in adult education centres across the nation and with over 47 per cent of the total population being illiterates, if we don?t expand non-formal, adult and nomadic education agencies, then, it may take us nothing less than 20 years from now to half the nation?s illiterate population.
But if there is a will there will be a way. But I?m sure that if just 10 per cent of what had been released to the development of the education sector particularly at the UBEC level had been spent on non-formal and adult education, the rate would have been greatly reduced. Also if the grants have been judiciously used, Nigeria would not have been the country with the highest number of out-of-school children. The Federal Government is trying a lot to ensure that this is achieved through the UBEC, NMEC and the use of the debt relief funds for the development of education generally but the local and state governments are not doing enough.
So what can we do to achieve this goal?
There are so many things we can do. First, invest massively in literacy campaign; we should stop narrowing down education to formal schooling alone; take the issue of education in a holistic manner; reinvent local languages and culture; encourage people with bright and new ideas; and state governments should be more realistic in their bid to establish universities because some of them have not filled their admission quotas in federal universities and they are setting up universities when majority of their people are illiterates. Rather than doing this, they (state governments) should invest more in adult, non-formal and nomadic education.
Education is in a state of disarray because of neglect, therefore all stakeholders particularly the state and local governments should be more determined to help the cause of education generally.
State governments that have autonomous adult and non-formal education agencies should employ professional facilitators to teach the adults; a situation whereby some state governments employ cobblers to teach adults is not good. It is only those who are trained that should be employed, while states such as Osun, Ogun and Plateau, which are operating adult and non-formal and nomadic education without autonomy, should change tactics.
Facilitators should be well remunerated, while money voted for these agencies should be increased. On the whole, teachers in the school system should also be well motivated to give their best. This is because the reward system is killing the nation?s education sector. Teachers are not being encouraged at all: a local government?s councillor earns so huge a salary that his monthly salary can pay the salary of 45 primary school teachers. This is bad. Look at those who have been given national awards, how many of them are teachers?
I think governments at all levels should do something urgent to improve the wage and emoluments of teachers. In other nations like Canada, teachers are the highest paid civil servants. There is nothing wrong if we emulate this trend. Also, I will appeal to the rich to sponsor the education of people around them. That is the philosophy behind NMEC?s Each One-To-Teach-One, where we encourage the literate to facilitate the education of another illiterate Nigerian. If you cannot teach him, pay somebody else to educate him. However, the government should perform its role of educating the masses, while individuals too should not abdicate their responsibilities. Those in position of authorities at whatever level should shun corruption because corruption destroys.
You said that the reinvention of local languages and culture will help the nation?s dream to shore up its literacy rate. How?
You see one damage that religion, particularly Christianity and Islam, has done to our national development, is the erosion of our local languages and cultures. Now, everybody speaks English Language or Arabic. Our local languages have been relegated to the background to such an extent that people now believe that anybody that cannot communicate in these foreign languages is an illiterate. This is not right because you don?t have to be able to read and write in these languages before you could be said to be literate. If a Hausa man can read and write in his language, fine, the same thing for a Yoruba, Igbo, Tapa, Ijaw or Edo man. But it is unfortunate that Nigerians, particularly the elite, have fallen for this deceit. Look at the Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, the Arabs, the Jews and even the French, they have been able to develop because they protect their language and culture. So if we truly want to develop and enhance our literacy rate, we should reinvent our local languages and culture.
What are the steps that NMEC has taken to enhance adult and non-formal education in the country?
Besides creating an enabling environment for the members of staff of the commission, we now organise training workshops for stakeholders in the sector; we have started the Literacy by Radio project under our Literacy Initiative for Empowerment to all the states of the federation after this was approved by President Umaru Musa Yar?Adua. We are working in conjunction with state governments to increase the number of centres across the country, while efforts are on to ensure that our local languages are used in sensitising the people. But the major challenge we have now is funding.