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The Supremacy of Literacy

Apr 9, 2009, 5:02 AM

The Director of UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Africa, Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, was exactly right when she asserted that "literacy is a right". The flip side of literacy - that is, illiteracy she pressed on is "the denial or violation of human, social, economic, cultural and political rights". Her comments, forthright and audacious, made in the context of "rethinking adult and non-formal education for more efficient and effective service delivery" represent the ethos of the 21st century - the indispensability of literacy, or education.

It is conventionally held that human basic needs are food, shelter and clothing. But in this contemporary world, literacy is just as basic as any of these three needs. Why? It is so because anybody without literacy in the contemporary world is defenceless and vulnerable. Literacy is so indispensable to our existential condition nowadays that the provision of food, shelter and clothing is dependent on it. The sense of self-reliance that literacy instills in people is indescribable; it makes economic and social progress not only possible but also much more rapid.

Seen in this light, the Ann Therese Ndong Jatta assertion is a challenge to policymakers and all stakeholders to work towards the eradication of illiteracy in our societies. If illiteracy impedes progress, then it is a monster that must be taken head-on and beaten off without delay. Mere rhetoric cannot achieve this worthwhile goal. Policies must be formulated and implemented with zeal and good faith. One of such policies is free education for all. African leaders have to ensure that every child has uninterrupted and free access to education, from the grade school right up to the tertiary level. This is not a pipedream. African leaders, guided by purpose and prudence, have what it takes to guarantees free and quality education for every African child to the highest possible levels. The more African leaders invest in education now, the less they will in the future waste on combating social vices too numerous to mention here.

To do otherwise is to mortgage the future of generations yet unborn. The redemption of Africa, as we see it, lies in our educational attainment. Our leaders can no longer afford to pay lip service to this reality, especially now that globalization is transforming our societies to knowledge-driven ones at a breath-taking rate. African educational institutions and research centres have to be well equipped to be at the forefront of our progress towards industrialization.

We can therefore infer from the Ann Therese Ndong Jatta clarion call that without education, Africa will remain stagnant and backward; without education, Africans will always be plagued by disease, destitution and despair; without education, Africa will remain the pawn of  the world, tossed about at the whims and caprices of those who have got their priorities right. By contrast, it is clear from her comments that education is the only way forward for humanity, especially for Africa and Africans.

We agree with her because we know that nobody - nation or continent - can rise on ignorance. And we have also observed that despite conventional wisdom that everything has both advantage and disadvantage, we are yet to see the demerit of education.

"Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave."

Lord Henry Brougham