Andrienne Barnes, a Literacy and Pedagogy specialist from Florida State University, in the US, has claimed that 72% of children at early grade primary school level in northern Nigeria public schools cannot read a single word while only 1.2% of them are able to read and answer comprehension questions.
Barnes, a part of a USAID supported survey on early grade reading in some states in the Northern part of the country said this at NCRRD’s National conference on children’s books and the teaching of early grade reading in Nigeria. The challenge, according to Barnes, is as a result of the shortfall in reading proficiency among the early grade pupils in the country to paucity of high-quality teaching and learning materials with well trained and motivated teachers in public schools.
However, Barnes noted the ongoing positive education reforms across Nigeria, but the change is too slow and “typically entails two steps forward and one, sometimes two steps backwards. The expert urged stakeholders to have a deliberate and objective evaluation of the system and transformation focused on long-term educational outcomes which would surely lead to the revival of the reading culture and improvement on early grade reading among its teeming population.
Literacy in English continues to suffer huge paucity in Northern Nigeria. This survey is only one in a series of studies reiterating this fact. Some may argue that literacy should factor in literacy in Arabic or the ajami script.
However, considering that the language of commerce and official communications in Nigeria is English and that English remains the dominant language internationally, we must assess literacy within parameters relevant to Nigeria’ progress. Barnes’ analysis reiterates previous analyses on the state of education in Northern Nigeria, which contributes the majority of the out-of-school children across the country. Basic education falls within the purview of the local and state governments.
Despite the establishment of the Universal Basic Education scheme in 1999 intended to provide matching funds from 2% of the FG’s Consolidated Revenue Fund to states for investment in basic education, the availability and quality of primary and secondary education in the North, in particular, has remained very poor, and this gap is squarely on leaders at this level in the North.
This is largely due to a lack of political will on the part of the governments to properly fund basic education and to spend on the right priorities. The poor statistics on education are a direct factor in the economic fortunes and level of security in the region and country.