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Soyinka @88 Will Our Children Be Literate?

By Prince Charles Dickson PhD

I know the biggest crime is just to throw up your hands and say “This has nothing to do with me, I just want to live as comfortably as I can.” ~ Ani DiFranco.

The world is adrift in the tides of hunger and desolation. It is difficult to think about education, or anything else, when your children are not able to eat. And yet, the sharp attack on education during this past decade forces us to consider the kind of future that young people will inherit.

In 2018, before the pandemic, the United Nations calculated that 258 million, or one in six, school age children were out of school. By March 2020, the start of the pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.5 billion children and youth were affected by school closures; a staggering 91% of students worldwide had their education disrupted by the lockdowns.

A new UN study released in June 2022 has found that the number of children experiencing distress in their education has nearly tripled since 2016, rising from 75 million to 222 million today. ‘These 222 million children’, the UN’s Education Cannot Wait programme notes, ‘are on a spectrum of educational needs: about 78.2 million (54% females, 17% with functional difficulties, 16% forcibly displaced) are out of school, while 119.6 million are not achieving minimum proficiency in reading or mathematics by the early grades, despite attending school’. Far too little attention is being paid to the calamity that this will impose upon the generations to come.

The World Bank, in collaboration with UNESCO, has pointed out that funding for education has dropped in low and lower-middle income countries, 41% of which ‘reduced their spending on education with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, with an average decline in spending of 13.5%’. Whereas richer countries have returned to pre-pandemic levels of funding, in the very poorest countries funding has been driven below pre-pandemic averages. The decline in funding for education will produce a loss of nearly $21 trillion in lifetime earnings, much higher than the $17 trillion estimated in 2021. As the economy sputters and as the owners of capital come to terms with the fact that they simply will not hire billions of people who become – for them – a ‘surplus population’, it is no wonder that the focus on education is so marginal.

For us, as Nigerians, the state if anything like it does exist, has been governed, ruled and her affairs directed by the best of her worst, and the worst of her best; one week, one trouble, and one drama with very little to encourage, has left us almost permanently on the edge.

A nation that produced Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, known as Wole Soyinka, is a Nigerian playwright, novelist, poet, and essayist in the English language. He was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature, the first sub-Saharan African to be honoured in that category.  He was 88 years old last week, and with him, other Mohicans are leaving the stage; a stage that is simply eroding us.

I am a man of simple faith. I do not care so much about definitions. When I see that something works, I say so, when it does not work, I also say so. I stand on the side of truth. Although these days, the truth is equally part of the problem…

Leadership has thrown its hands up and said “This has nothing to do with them, they just want to live as comfortably as they can.” Followership is not doing any better. And together we are committing a big crime.

Nigeria is in trouble, the picture is bleak, we are under-developing, we have lost our past glory, and the raison d’etre is “education”.

We are not one, our youths whether lazy or hardworking are products of a land with no full meaning of their rights and their responsibilities. So, education is dying, and it is safe to ask, Will Our Children Be Literate? With the ASUU strike, with the picture painted in my opening paragraphs, what will change.

The ASUU strike action will soon be over, the nation’s tertiary institutions have been closed for months, and they will ‘just’ resume like nothing happened, students go back to lectures like a rainbow that appeared without rain. In some schools, exams would be conducted in the following weeks. All really like nothing happened!

Our system has been abused, misused, disused and left in a state of disrepair. Show me a leader, a politician with so called popular mandate and I will show you an Oga at the top’s wife with her own private Montessori and international schools with fees from the outrightly outrageous to the unbelievably murderous, and off course they patronize themselves. It seems but a fact that the act is intentional, because you educate the children of today and you guarantee a future for tomorrow. But the reverse is the case; they educate their kids, by all means necessary and guarantee a future, a continuous oligarchy of crooks.

The technical and crafts schools have been bastardized, degraded and left in a coma, with little or no hope of regaining life.

We are a nation of largely intelligent illiterates so we do not bother about statistics, we have scholars who have built reputation for ‘xeroxing’ texts of others word for word as handout on a ‘buy and pass basis’, that is when the teacher is not a Mr. Lecturer insisting that Bimbo must go the whole length of her skirt to pass.

We smile at the number of school dropouts; we feign ignorance at the number of school age children that are not in school. We are ignorant of the rate at which some of our institutions produce pirated literate, unproductive literate and in many cases full illiterates.

Government at the centre is confused, one minute it is a 6-3-3-4 system, now it’s 9-3-4, and that last four could be five, six and more.

In my daily routine with Newspapers, I am beseeched with adverts from schools offering ‘better’ education, from Uganda to Belize to Ukraine. I can say that our tomorrow, certainly, is bleak. A nation where anything will always go—will this be the last ASUU strike, only time will tell.

Contact the writer: pcdbooks@gmail.com

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