Impact of literacy, skills development on sustainable goals education
At the mention of the word ‘literacy,’ what comes to mind is the ability to read and write. Literacy, however, is a broader concept that encompasses more than just the acts of reading and writing but includes grammar, spelling, numeracy and much more. Literacy simply put, is the state of being literate. Learning to read and write is a basic skill that unfortunately not everybody acquires sufficiently.
Globally, at least 750 million people still lack basic literacy skills. Two-thirds of this demographic are women and 102 million of them are young people aged 15 to 24. At the same time many of the 192 million unemployed worldwide are unable to find a decent livelihood due to lack of fundamental skills, including literacy and failing to meet the skills demands of the rapidly changing labour market. Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest rates of education exclusion, with over one-fifth of children between the ages of about six and 11 being out of school and one-third of young people between the ages of about 12 and 14 similarly excluded. According to the UESCO Institute of Statistics data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of 15 and 17 are not in school and in several countries in West and Central Africa, the youth literacy rate remains less than 50 per cent.
Almost one in four sub-Saharan people reside in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. The Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has disclosed that the North-east region of Nigeria has the lowest adult literacy rate in the country, with all states in that geopolitical zone having lower than the national average rate. The standard of education in Nigeria has been further weakened in the Northern states owing to the Boko Haram insurgency, this has denied many children and young adults living in these states the opportunity for decent education and sustainable educational development. Various NGOs in Nigeria and globally have made tremendous efforts to promote literacy through their various projects and activities. For example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with the Nigerian government to strengthen the educational systems at the state and local government level in select northern states.
The AIFA Reading Society through its various programmes, has also contributed their quota towards enhancing the reading culture in Nigeria especially after observing the average student’s and young adult’s declining interest in reading and writing. The Society developed strategic schemes such as: the AIFA Book Drive, Calculate2Succeed, AIFA Reading Society Essay Competition, AIFA Book Club and iRead2Lead, among others to reduce the gap and shortcomings that exist in the quality of education available to different socio economic strata in the country on the principle that good education encourages reading.
Through these projects over 5,000 lives have been impacted in Nigeria. The Society understands the importance of education for personal and collective development and as a tool for the reduction of poverty and improvement in the living standards of people living in Nigeria. International Literacy Day is observed worldwide on September 8 and the theme for this year’s anniversary ‘Literacy and Skills Development,’ focusing on youth and adults within the lifelong learning framework. For International Literacy Day 2018, ‘skills’ means knowledge, skills and competencies required for employment, careers, and livelihoods, particularly technical and vocational skills, along with transferable skills and digital skills. UNESCO notes that many young adults entering apprenticeships lack the basic literacy skills needed to succeed.
Bridging literacy and vocational skills gaps remains a major challenge faced by many especially young adults in Nigeria. The rate of unemployed youths has drastically increased in the last decade, largely as a result of fast-advancing digital technologies. This has brought major changes in the way people live, learn, work and interact and of course in the required skill set necessary for a person to thrive. Most young people from the university without having the needed skills or competencies that would enable them function in today’s emerging society. Hence digital literacy is essential when preparing pupils and students for the world of work as building and harnessing these skills will significantly influence their professional relevance and success. Nigeria aspires to become a major player in the world economy in line with her Vision 2020.
To achieve this ambitious goal, the crucial component is a skilled and competent workforce. This is necessary for the effective implementation of national development projects and for attracting necessary international investments by hi-tech industries.
Vocational Education and Training is designed to educate youth and adults with the right skills needed in surviving in the ever changing labour market. The narrative of the basic academic education is gradually changing from basic paper credentials to skill-based qualifications which can be applied to specific skills required in the
workplace. Young people and adults venturing into apprenticeship also need the basic literacy skills to adapt and thrive in today’s emerging society.
It is clear from the foregoing that the state of Vocational Education in Nigeria calls for urgent attention. The Nigerian educational system requires urgent, innovative and practical reform to bring it in line with international best practices and importantly, better equip the young people of this country to handle the ever-expanding demands of the 21st century. Vocational education needs to be integrated into the school curriculum as this will equip students with the literacy and practical skills needed for lifelong learning. Government, educational administrators and policy makers are therefore called upon to invest massively and urgently in integrated approaches to developing the educational system as this will ultimately lead to building a better workforce and thus boosting the development of the Nigerian economy.
• Arogundade is a programme coordinator, AIFA Reading Society.