By Favour Nnabugwu
Against all odds and speculations to scrap the only agency with the sole mandate to reduce national illiteracy in the country, National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) refuses to be perturbed by the side distractions while firmly reiterating the commission’s determination to helping the federal government to attain education for all by 2015 and beyond. NMEC’s Executive Secretary, Mr Jibrin Paiko in this interview, says NMEC is alive to its mandate and responsibilities. Excerpts.
What are really the objectives of NMEC?
Nigeria’s population is currently put at about 160 million, and 35 per cent of this number is considered to be illiterate. By estimation, that is about 56 million illiterates. For the past three years, implementation of government policy on literacy has been dwindling at the state level. Of course, our responsibility at the national level is fundamental – formulation of policy documents, curriculum development, capacity building, developing programmes, and supplying teaching/learning materials.
But the federal government cannot eradicate illiteracy alone; the state government has to be fully involved. Even then, there is need for the private sector to come in: NGOs, faith-based organisations, development partners, corporate companies and individuals. All hands must be on deck. Because of these soaring illiterate figures, we believe that there is need to reawaken Nigerians’ interest in the menace. We know that reducing illiteracy statistics would go a long way to reducing the increasing wave of violence and insecurity currently facing us as a people.
Is the level of cooperation from stakeholders to NMEC’s expectations?
In particular, the development partners have been doing quite well, especially the UNESCO and UNICEF. In fact most of our policy documents and curricula were developed with the help of UNICEF. UNESCO, on the other hand, has been giving us expertise advice and technical support.
The major problem lies with the state government, at implementation level, as I have said before. Even though we have liaison offices in all the states, only few are properly funded by the state governments to perform their functions.
I can say that Zamfara state is trying though. In fact, the state is even paying salaries to our facilitators. The state has a dedicated fund, coordinated from the local government areas, for the furtherance of mass literacy.
Other states like Cross River, Jigawa, Lagos and Kaduna are all making some efforts to pay our facilitators. The minimum benchmark in our policy document for the payment of facilitators is N7 500. Even as paltry as this sum is, many states are paying below that, while others are not even paying one kobo to the facilitators. What should be noted is that, the first factor on the priority scale in this programme is the teacher, which is called facilitator. If there are no facilitators, it means there would be no programme. It is the facilitators that enrols learners and then teach them.
What is the agency do to improve facilitators’ fees in states?
We have however realised that we cannot get the fund. We have seen that, if we don’t just kick-start it, the money may just never come. So the idea of a public/private partnership was conceived. So the campaign would be done with the support of all, not that we have funds on our own to do it. We have to call for the support of all – the GSM operators, oil companies, foundations, individuals, and so on. We need the support of all, in one way or the other, to succeed in this campaign.
We have also put in place measures to ensure that our corporate sponsors also get value for their money. For example, they are at liberty to state their sponsorship when supporting the campaign with an advert. That is good PR for them. A company may also wish to support us by reprinting in large quantity any of our instructional materials, with advert of its own products on them. Or again, a company may go to a community and employ a number of facilitators and pay them allowances.
On an individual basis, a literate person may volunteer to serve as facilitator, perhaps convincing others, maybe his family members and friends, to join him. Together, they could take on an illiterate class for three months, six months, depending on how much time they can volunteer. They could do this until the class achieve basic literacy. Or a community may employ a qualified person among its members and pay him the minimum pay. So these are the kind of contributions we are soliciting from the public, not necessarily cash. The aim is to eradicate illiteracy at the end of the day.
What lesson has this agency learnt from other countries that have achieved mass literacy?
There is no illiteracy in America, as almost 100 percent of its adult population are literate. Yet the government of that country allocated $635 million which is about N103billion to adult basic and literacy education this year. That is more than a quarter of the total education budget for Nigeria. Ironically, with almost half of the entire adult population being illiterate, this country allocated only N1 billion to mass literacy last year.
What is your reaction to scrapping of NMEC?
It is still speculative. But if you ask me, I would say it is unimaginable that there is a recommendation for our commission to be scrapped. As you rightly observed, the level of illiteracy in the country is worrisome. Only recently, we all read in the papers that the Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) raised an alarm that more than half of the teachers in some Northern states cannot read and write, especially in Sokoto. Now tell me, how can these ones teach their students how to read?
We are talking about pupils in formal schools who don’t have teachers that can teach them how to read and write. What about the 9.5 million Almajiri who are out of school? So the problem of illiteracy is too gargantuan for anybody to think of recommending scrapping the sole agency responsible for eradicating illiteracy in the country.Vanguard Nigeria