Illiteracy: A Great Evil

by Bemgba Nyakuma

Knowledge, a Guinean proverb says, is like a garden. If it is not cultivated it cannot be harvested. I have chosen to begin this piece with a line from proverbial inclination because of the now ubiquitous perception that philosophy gave rise to science. Therefore it is fitting to begin this discuss with a line from the progenitor of all body of knowledge that exists today.

Firstly, anyone reading this piece should consider himself privileged. Why? This is because it means that you can not only read but can also afford to buy a newspaper or browse the internet from whence you obtained this piece. It will interest (make that shock) you to learn that many people in the world today do not have the privilege (now luxury) of such opportunities which include but are not limited to access to knowledge.

So what is knowledge? It is defined as information, understanding and skills that one gains through either education or experience. So what does lack of knowledge or education mean? The answer is illiteracy. This is an adjective used to describe a person who does not know how to read or write. Besides the fact that it is quite the opposite of literacy, it is a term used to describe a situation whereby a person lacks the know-how about a particular subject area.

So what impact can it have on a society? Let us first explore statistics. The demographics on illiteracy are mind blowing and frightening; 38 million children do not go to school in Africa, the number of out of school children in India (the world’s largest democracy) increased in 6 million in 2000, to mention but few. These statistics paint a sad picture of the reality facing education in the world today.

What then are we all doing? At least I know one person who has a taken a step. He goes by the name is Gordon Brown. What progress has been made? Little, very little. This can be attributed largely due to the fact that global issues such as illiteracy are simply recycled and repackaged every election year by politicians who brand and re-brand it with new titles, slogans, and banners. In the politics of today it is called, “one of the greatest evils of our time” ala Gordon Brown. The over paid civil servants in the Manhattan (UN) call it one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) targets. Seven years since the launch of this “Brand” progress towards its reduction and eradication (like its cousin poverty) is slow, too slow the politicians and civil servants say to meet the unrealistic deadline of 2015 (eight years from now). How can when 75 countries in sub Saharan Africa cannot achieve Universal Primary Education even by that time.

What is the way forward then? I dare to say that in other to reduce or curb illiteracy we all have to put our hands, heads and hearts together. Soft power, Gordon Brown calls it. This evil (illiteracy) cannot be arrested by rhetoric – championed by the West. African leaders must take responsibility for their people. It’s high time we stopped looking to West to solve our problems, because like an African adage rightly says- a stranger has big eyes yet sees nothing. Point is, we in a better position to know our problems and hence fashion out the ways to solve them. Enough of the Aid talk, good bye to the Davos, Gleneagles, and unEconomic Summits. Ladies and gentlemen it’s beyond meetings in the UN, beyond signing landmark agreements, beyond remarkable moments and gatherings (New York 2000, Doha 2001, Johannesburg and Monterrey 2002, Gleneagles and New York 2005 and Heiligendamn 2007). Haven’t we realised we have been searching in the wrong places? What we all need to do is “act more” by translating all the rhetoric, debates, gatherings, pledges and promises into honest and genuine action, and hope that hope which is the pillar of the world holds us in place and on the path to eradication not just illiteracy but all the great evils that Mr. Brown has enumerated.

The time is now. I wish to stress again that African leaders must take responsibility for their people. There is no substitute for good governance, accountability, equity justice and fairness. The challenge is not beyond us. African democracies should not be a by word for corruption. West leaders must all rise up and shake off the tag of being betrayers of promises; a generation of failed promises and responsibilities to mankind and embrace the clear need for urgent and concerted action. After all, education is critical to the protection, survival and recovery of communities and countries as a whole. It bridges gaps, restores hope and is life saving. Concrete demographic attest to this; in Africa, children whose mothers received five years of primary education are 40% more likely to live beyond the age of five. An extra year of education for African girls can increase their eventual wages by 10-20%. This represents progress but nations in the Third World (who are most affected) must also put in place the right infrastructure, manpower and logistics to ensure that not only illiteracy but disease, poverty, environmental degradation and underdevelopment are a thing of the past. We must put it behind our minds that, “the ruin of nations begins in the homes of its people” Need I say more. We must nurture knowledge, imbibe it and ensure every child has access to education as a right and stop listening and hoping on the Kooka-burra West and its rhetoric.

The time is now. Paraphrasing the words of an American president, “if not now, when? If not us who? If not together, how?” Nobody can do it for us Africans. Let us arise and let the West and all the rest to quest for more talk, while we build. Arise O compatriots…


You may also like


khushbu August 1, 2011 - 3:59 pm

illetracy should be ban

nelson January 13, 2008 - 7:42 am

A perfect sage whose pragmatic virtues will go along way in ameliorating the problems we have in Africa.i am proud of an african brother like you and especially from a country called Nigeria.

The Nigeria of tommorow lies in the hands of you and i and i will surely do my best to advocate for the success of education in Nigeria


Leave a Comment