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DON demands Pragmatic Policy to Combat Illiteracy in Nigeria

A Professor of Language Education at Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, Prof. Busurat Oluwakemi Adekola, has decried the low literacy level and poor reading culture of Nigerians, calling for urgent and more pragmatic, realistic and feasible language policy in education that will bridge the gaps in the nation’s literacy development. The scholar also urged the government to intensify adult literacy campaign in order to have positive effect on family literacy, which she identified as the veritable foundation of reading culture. This, she noted, would make it possible for parents to appreciate the values of the family library and home literacy activities in general.

The don made the submissions on Tuesday, 10th January, 2023 while delivering the 104th OOU Inaugural Lecture at the Otunba Gbenga Daniel Lecture Theatre, Main Campus, Ago-Iwoye. The Lecture entitled, “The World Cheats Those Who Cannot Read,” was chaired by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Ayodeji Agboola, and attended by eminent personalities within and outside the academia. Prof. Adekola, who is from the Faculty of Education and currently the Director of OOU Ventures, expressed concern over the reading habits of Nigerians which, according to her, had been negatively affecting the writing pattern of many people in the country. She lamented that most students only read and write because they needed to pass examinations not minding the mechanical errors that slow down their reading achievements.

Relying on data from the World Bank and other relevant statistics to support her position, the Inaugural Lecturer disclosed that Nigeria falls within awful high illiteracy index. She posited that about one-third of the country’s population remained illiterate citizens. She added that Nigeria and eight other nations together account for 72 percent of the world’s illiterate population. According to her, nations with high illiteracy level are handicapped economically. She regretted that only little success had been recorded by successive governments in Nigeria which had, at various times, launched different educational programmes aimed at eradicating illiteracy.

“Literacy,” she stated, “is part of the process of learning to read and write, and this can equip one for the defence of one’s political, economic, cultural and human rights. Literacy is commonly considered as the ability to read and write at some level of proficiency, and more precisely defined as a technical capacity to decode written or printed signs, symbols or letters combined into words.”

Prof. Adekola presenting a copy of her Inaugural Lecture to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Ayodeji Agboola, while the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Administration, Prof. Charles Olufemi Adekoya (right), looks on

“The much cherished educational skills in the whole world are reading and writing. But reading takes precedence because one has to learn through reading before one knows what to write. Reading is one of the four major language skills. Others are listening, speaking and writing,” the don explained. While bemoaning the pervasive failure rates in yearly school certificate examinations conducted by internationally recognised exam bodies, Prof. Adekola attributed the problem to the absence of reading culture. She contended that the decline in the standard of education at the different levels was due to the fall in the proficiency of English language comprehension. She further revealed that based on findings of research studies, many students cannot spell correctly some common words that constitute the vocabulary for daily communication both at home and in school.

Noting that there is a general ignorance of the correct use of punctuation marks such as the comma, question mark, full stop and exclamation mark, the distinguished scholar observed that the situation had further been worsened by the popular use of the social media. She remarked, “Reading ensures consistency of learning. Once a person acquires a reading habit, learning will be continuous. Therefore, it will definitely lead to life enrichment. The ability to read at the highest possible level is essential to individual growth in the modern world. This is because reading is power. It develops the human mind and intellect.”

“It is regrettable that people do not engage in active reading anymore. Products of our schools are found to be deficient in their reading and writing skills as their performance in the two expressive skills is at variance with the other two receptive skills of listening and speaking.”

Prof. Adekola, who identified some of the challenges of reading in Nigeria, submitted that the current unmanaged contest among books, computers, home videos and the use of texts in mobile telephone communication had worsened the situation. She also listed as challenges poor teaching/training programmes relative to reading, poor and sometimes non-existent library facility at school and community levels as well as weak book production policy, especially with regards to reading both in English and the local languages.

Her words: “The development of a nation is consequent upon her literacy level. It must, therefore, be noted that a high level of socio-economic development of a country stimulates a high level of literacy. In our country today, the level of illiteracy has been very high, in spite of our long-standing age of political, economic and social independence. This is largely due to our poor reading attitude.”

The speaker, who pointed out that teachers are the pivot for the implementation of any education policy, underscored the significance of modern technology to literacy in the country. She stressed that for language teachers to be effective, they must be adequate in numbers, well-motivated, qualified and competent in the skills of language learning and teaching in order to enhance the use of technology.

The Inaugural Lecturer concluded that reading skills play vital role in the literacy level of individuals and posited that people who cannot read are illiterates.

“Reading remains the only way of extracting information from both near and far; people who neglect reading surely invite backwardness. In Nigeria, unlike the advanced countries like America and Britain, reading still attracts a third-class attention since the society obviously has a positive attitude towards paper qualification,” she said.

To ameliorate the unhealthy situation in the country, Prof. Adekola offered some suggestions, including bridging the gaps among educational policy makers, planners, executors and language experts so that reading can be accorded its pride and its importance can be felt in the society. She also stressed that efforts should be made to revitalise literacy level in reading skill.

The University teacher further enjoined educational institutions to place greater premium on reading, noting that emphasis should be given to both the cognitive and meta-cognitive aspects of reading.

“Reading and study skills should be cultivated in learners to stem the tide of examination malpractice,” Prof. Adekola recommended.

She added, “Teacher-training institutions must constantly evaluate their language education programmes as they relate to reading pedagogy so that pre-service teachers can well be grounded in the right knowledge, attitudes and skills that can foster the reading development of various categories of learners.”

“Individual is the ultimate focus of literacy development, learners need to realise that skills such as reading can only be mastered through constant practice, commitment, positive interest and a lively attitude.’’

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