The many faces of illiteracy

What will become of her?

The other day, I had a session with a student. This student is enrolled in a programme in one of our nation’s higher institutions. She is an indigent student – destitute of some basic necessities of life. In fact, she was living with an abusive guardian, whom she served as a domestic servant. I felt for her. In the course of our discussion, she told me she lost the foundation for academic excellence early in life. This means she didn’t get to learn the rudiments of literacy while growing up and attending kindergarten. The worst was yet to be said. The words I loathe came gushing forth: “Even while sitting for an examination, should a fellow student tell me an answer to a question, how to pen down that answer is my problem”! I was amazed. Shocked. I couldn’t believe my ears. But, you know, while counseling with a student, you are wont to reserve some comments. Just imagine that she passed all her papers in WASSCE, sat for and passed UTME, later passed the school’s Post-UTME screening test, and is probably passing all courses she is taking at the school at present. Who is fooling who here? Are there accomplices – ‘partners in crime’? Is she ‘sorting’ her way? We may never know. After a while, I spoke with the authorities of the school in question and I told them, point-blank, that the future of the professions represented by the school was, simply, bleak. Think about it; it seemed telling someone an answer in an examination hall was commonplace. This particular student will, definitely, leave that school, someday, an illiterate graduate.

The multiplicity of illiterate graduates

We read in the news, recently, about some graduates of a particular school in our country who couldn’t express themselves with a simple sentence in the English language. Yet, they took and passed all the GST courses in school. Illiterate graduates.

The story was also told of a particular corps member who was unable to fill simple NYSC registration forms without assistance. In fact, the woman’s husband accompanied her to the NYSC camp and was ‘helping’ out with the forms. People thought the gesture was an overflow of a rare love affair. Camp officials became concerned that the husband was indulging her and asked that he left her alone to do the needful only to realise that the lady couldn’t continue with the registration beyond the point the husband stopped. Her school was mandated to investigate the anomaly. The results of the investigation showed that the husband lectured in the school and invigilated every examination the wife wrote! Somehow, he found his way into every examination hall she sat in for her assessments. This is a typical example of academic fraud going on in our country. That lady was an illiterate graduate.

The multiplicity of illiterate graduates in our country is taking its toll on governance, state affairs, and even the economy. Little wonder many ‘professionals’ lack some basic skills needed to function or thrive outside our country. Worrisome? The very foundation of our nation’s educational system is severely eroded. There is an ongoing cataclysm in the educational value system of Nigeria. I think we lost it at a point. The line of division between literacy and illiteracy is blurring. People are, traditionally, sent to school to (primarily) read and write. Many graduates we have today cannot read and write. What exactly is going on?

Misplaced blame

Students are not ready to study hard. In many schools today, when a certain number of students fail a paper, the lecturer in charge of the course in question is asked to withdraw their result and ‘reduce’ the failure rate. Is that not, somehow, synonymous with result manipulation? Lecturers with a higher than expected failure rate (only God knows the right level of the expectation, though) are labeled as bad teachers. Nobody factors in the learner’s willingness or ability to learn the course or subject in question.


Multiple problems

Class assignments, projects, and thesis are ghost-written. Many do not want to bend down to pick the fundamentals of a chosen career through thorough erudition; yet, they desire the benefits of scrupulous scholarship.

Budgetary appropriation in the education sector is, to say the least, jaundiced and epileptic. Fiscal initiatives and policy foci are misdirected or do I say, misinterpreted? Illiterates who join politics are more honoured than persons who have, through the acquisition of several genuine, well-deserved skills/certificates, distinguished themselves in society.

Nothing like semi-illiteracy!

In my opinion, the stark-illiterate (the individual who didn’t go to school at all) and the one that attended school who, ultimately, cannot read or write very well are the same. Both are illiterate. There is no such thing as being semi-literate. Or what do you think?


  1. Wow! Semi illiterate and stark illiterates?

    My opinion:
    The so-called semi illiterates are more poisonous to the society than the so-tagged stark illiterates.
    The semi illiterates are the reason why Nigeria is drowning. They look like ocean divers/swimmers but are not…

    known stark illiterates can be rightly employed (maybe as a cleaner) and will deliver on his or her duties but the semi illiterate if put in charge of key managerial or technical duties cannot deliver.

    They are the same.

    1. Author

      That is it! You hit the nail on the head, Sam!

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