KANO, NIGERIA— Nigeria has one of the world’s highest rates of illiteracy but the Kano State Agency for Mass Education in the north is making major strides to teach more than 400,000 adults and youth who are not in school how to read and write.
They face a major challenge, according to statistics reported in Abuja last September by Minister of State for Education Nyesom Wike. The education minister described two major challenges for the Nigerian effort: the number of illiterate Nigerian adults has increased by 10 million over the past two decades, to reach 35 million; the nation also has more than 10 million children who are not in school. The nation's population is an estimated 174 million.
Kano’s state agency for mass education, in coordination with UNESCO's global Education for All (EFA) project, has increased its mass literacy drive with over 8,074 adult literacy classes in 484 electoral wards in 44 local government councils.
Some 403,700 people are expected to benefit from the effort to attain 90 percent adult literacy level by 2015 in line with Millennium Development Goals.
The adult literacy drive is not just to enable people to read and write but also to create jobs and improve the socio-economic power and living standards of Kano people.
The agency has recruited 16,000 facilitators to teach and train students in order to extend its reach to all of the 44 local government councils of the state.
Target is young and adult women
Kano City Women Center is one of many learning centers for young and adult women. It serves 965 students including divorcées, married women and young people at its school and 145 more women at the vocational center.
The school section teaches English, mathematics, geography, biology, chemistry, economics, and other subjects. At the vocational center, women are trained to make air fresheners, shampoos, pomade and learn how to knit and sew, and make soap.
Classes are conducted in the morning and afternoon.
Halima Aminu is 25 years old and a mother of three children. She dropped out of school for a lack of financial support. Today, she is in her final year at the senior secondary-school level and hopes to graduate with the best of grades.
“I started attending this school in 2010,” said Aminu. “I am in senior secondary school - SS 3. When I come to school in the morning I will enter my class, when I finish learning - that is, taking lectures- then I will go back home.
“I have children, I will teach them and help them to do their homework and take my books to revise.”
Aminu hopes to continue her education at tertiary level and someday become a medical doctor.
Hasiya Mohammed Adamu is a facilitator at the City Women Center in Kano. She has been teaching senior-secondary section geography, mathematics and English in the school for the last five years.
Families present a challenge for students
“There are a lot of challenges but if you are with them and familiar with their behavior, it is very simple to relate with them,” said the facilitator. “The most difficult aspect is their emotional setting. You know, they are adults and have personal problems which most of the time affect them.”
Mohammed said the adults at the center are enthusiastic about education. They exhibit a high level of etiquette and are attentive in class.
She says sometimes they skip class because they feel reluctant to come to school. If this happens, facilitators visit them at their homes to encourage them to continue with their education. Most of them are married with children who present family problems for the students.
Literacy is a major economic issue, says Professor Fatima Umar, the executive secretary of the Kano State Agency for Mass Education.
“The most noticeable cause of illiteracy is poverty,” says Professor Umar. “Poverty … is the root cause of delinquent behavior, especially in youths and adults. Apart from that, there is also the societal and governmental aspect.”
And government must play a central role in solving illiteracy problem, according to Umar. When government does not commit efforts and resources to tackle illiteracy, you would have widespread of illiteracy in the society.
Reading become an economic issue
She says 2011 records from the National Bureau of Statistics, the National Population Commission and the independent National Electoral Commission revealed that about 28.6 percent of youth and adults are illiterates.
She also says past efforts aimed at mass literacy yielded some achievements. The agency for mass education maintained the position of pacesetter for all agencies of mass education in Nigeria with the largest adult education program. It also won the UNESCO international merit literacy award in 1983 and 1990.
“After that, the work of the agency just declined in productivity partly because of government nonchalant attitude or lack of commitment. So many things went wrong and the agency became not so productive.”
Professor Umar says when she assumed office at the agency for mass education two years ago, the agency renovated their own offices and the women’s centers, designed new programs.
“As you know, education in itself - or literacy - is empowerment,” Umar said. “It gives you power.”
The mass education initiative has established systems to evaluate the learning model, the quality of the instruction and the success of the students.
However, Umar says one of the successes of the agency is the increased public awareness of the value of literacy. As a result, their facilities are crowded.
Education experts say if the government maintains the political will to teach more Nigerians to read amd write, the target of achieving education for all by 2015 may be achieved in Kano.