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by Vanessa Oyiwodu Audu
1. the inability to read or write.
2. lack of knowledge in a particular subject; ignorance.
The loose definition of illiteracy can be subjective, especially when the ability to read, write and speak proficiently in a specific language is the main focus. By hammering on the ability to read and write, people can be perceived as literate in certain areas and considered ‘illiterate’ in others. An example can be seen with a person who is able to read, write and speak English proficiently but is not able to use a computer. By considering them ‘computer illiterate’, one may be diminishing the scope of their literacy.
Rather than arguing about who is literate or not, the question that should be asked is if an individual is able to contribute to, and improve themselves and their society based on the level of their skills, knowledge, talent or education.
In Nigeria, there is this belief that illiteracy is the cause of our underdevelopment or some of the social vices we face in the country. That may have been the reality in the past, but it is not the only reality of our country today. Over the years, the number of schools and graduates have increased across the country but the economic progress still remains low.
So… should we still say illiteracy is one of the major causes of underdevelopment in the country? It is still a possibility. Illiteracy is without argument, a shortfall in Nigeria, but dwelling on it would be foolhardy. In truth, even illiterates can contribute to the country’s development. They might not be able to speak ‘proper English’ or even read or write, but they can still make use of their skill set and talents: some of which they were born with or acquired through informal learning. Rather than stigmatizing the individuals who are illiterate by standard definitions, we should consider giving them opportunities to show how their skills can be instrumental in our collective growth and development. Both illiterates and literates have something to contribute to the society and sometimes, hands-on experience in certain sectors can be a bigger plus than book-smarts.
This brings us to the term, ‘functional illiteracy’.
Functional Illiteracy means that a person has the ability to read, write and speak proficiently, but cannot use these skills for their own development and that of their community. Many individuals in Nigeria are functional illiterates who have spent many years in schools without being able to handle real life situations.
What we should be fighting against is functional illiteracy.
The reason underdevelopment persists in the social and economical sectors in Nigeria is most likely because we do not have literates who can function effectively or contribute positively to the development of the country.
In conclusion, our struggle should be geared towards making individuals functional literates who can harness their knowledge, skills and talent in contributing positively to the economic and social growth of the society. One of the ways of doing so is by laying emphasis on the practical aspects of learning that ensure educated people are able to analyse problems and provide solutions for them.