According to the 20th President of the United States of America, James Abram Garfied, “next in importance to freedom and justice is the popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained” (or possibly achieved).
In other words, to James Garfield and of course the rest of us, the soul of true freedom and justice in a competitive environment in a modern society is literacy, which he called popu1ar education.
Perhaps, this defined the position of modern scholars that learning does not and should not consist only of knowing what we must or can do, but also knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do, as a deliberate strategy to open up and further the course of the common aspirations of a people, and to subdue their challenges.
This is where the celebration of this year’s International Literacy Day with the theme: “Literacy is the Best Remedy” becomes very imperative, and by implication challenging.
The International Literacy Day was established in 1965 by the United Nation Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and is celebrated around the world each year on September 8th, to demonstrate commitment and recognition to the crucial role, Literacy plays as a dominant key to the Socio-Political and Economic Progress of Nations.
It is in this connection one sees the theme of this year’s celebration which is, “literacy as the Best Remedy”, as very apt and thoughtful.
In an agrarian society like ours, the International Literacy Day is involving rural men and women of all ages and background in grassroots’ events, and therefore a clarion call to properly reflect on the dangers an uneducated populace poses to first themselves, and to the Iarger society.
Sadly, research has repeatedly shown a direct correlation between peoples level of literacy and their chances to maintain good health, earn more money and participate actively and meaningfully in any democratic process.
According to a study conducted in some countries by UNESCO, it was painfully revealed that women with secondary education are five times more likely to be informed about HIV / AIDS than women who are illiterate. It was also revealed that the rate of infant mortality is higher when the mother can neither read nor write.
These revelations become most worrisome, when viewed against the background that the most vulnerable group in this category are women and the youths, who are at the productive age bracket of a population.
Deeply worried by this scenario the Director-General of UNESCO Koichiro Matsuura remarked that “an illiterate person is not only a risk to the society, but also vulnerable to ill-health and less likely to seek medical help for themselves, their families or their communities.”
Truly, Matsuura did not mince words when he said, “Literacy is a powerful yet too often overlooked remedy to health threats with the potential to promote better nutrition, disease prevention and treatment” and of course the prevention of militancy, unemployment and underdevelopment.
It is indeed, a shocking revelation that over 774 million people can neither read nor write. This represents 1- to 5- adults in the world. More amazingly is the fact that 75 million children remain excluded from the Educational System in the world.
The appropriate question to ask at this juncture is, where is this age brackets, and what would their future be, if nothing is done to get them into the learning centres? Educating this gross number of people with at least literacy education is the responsibility of all, for it is said that when doors of the schools are open, you have closed the doors of the prisons.
Obviously, going by these figures many countries will certainly be unable to reach the target of increasing adult literacy by 50 per cent, by the year 2015, which is one of the six Education for All (EFA) set goals by countries during the 2000 World Education forum in Dakar.
However, according to statistics drawn from UNESCO, notable progress has nonetheless been made over the few years. The number of illiterate rose from 76 per cent to 84 per cent. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, literacy rate has only increased by 8 per cent Ironically, at the same time other regions of the world are witnessing a reduction in the rate of illiteracy, while in SubSaharan Africa the number of illiterate adults has gone-up from, 133 million between 1985 – 1991 to 163 million in 2000 – 2006.
Interestingly, the world current literacy rate is fixed at 90 per cent by 2015, which is just seven years away.
It is against this background one wishes to stress that if the global projection of 90 per cent literacy by the year 2015 would be achieved, then African countries must rise to this challenge of providing the minimum literacy education to all their citizens.
Thus, as we celebrate this year’s International Literacy Day, we “must pause for a moment and reflect on this crucial task before all citizens.
The provision of Education for All (EFA) citizens is a responsibility of all. Each one must as a matter of responsibility, teach one or sponsor the teaching of one, if we must survive this gruesome trend.
Our failure in this regard would be most colossal and should therefore be avoided as a growing democracy.
Literacy is a broad-based issue that touches almost every aspect of f people’s lives. It is a key to personal development. It is a key to economic opportunities and a major factor for all Rivers people to participate as full and active citizens in all sectors of the state economy.
A literate person is a solution to socio-political, health and financial problems facing him or her. A literate person has an open mind to act on socio-political and health issues that affect his/her daily living. Indeed, when one stops learning, one starts dying and when you stop learning or you are denied literacy, you are old, whether at 20 or 30 years.
It is true that, anything that is not put to use will become disused in nature and will soon cease to function.
This is why one sees the encouraging laudable achievements of the State Government through its agencies of Adult and Non-Formal Education and the Rural Women Literacy Project as commendable. The project provides a basic platform for further work.
For instance, the Rural Women Literacy Project as at today has 24 learning centres spread across 8 Local Government Areas.
The project has also graduated over 3,000 women pupils and students in 62 communities in Rivers State who have been empowered with literacy education. The Rural Women Literacy Project. has also facilitated the procurement of reading glasses and drugs for 2,247 women in all its learning centres across the state.
It is also on record that the project has successfully collaborated with other women organisations and communities to provide literacy skills to enable them make effective use of the learning received. It is gladdening that these rural women had displayed high level of literacy skills to the admiration of all.
The Rural Women Literacy Project now under the able leadership of Mrs. Abigail Ebom-Jebose in its few months of existence had created a lot of awareness amongst the rural dwellers, especially the women to integrate them into the policies and programmes of Government to move the state forward, for if you educate the woman, you educate the nation.
A stitch in time saves nine.
Kaaldick Jamabo is of the Rivers State Ministry of Education.