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Literacy as Social Reform, National Security and Development


Agha Eresia-Eke, PhD

Department of Philosophy,

Niger Delta University, 

Wilberforce Island, Bayelsa State.


In consideration of the theme, Education for Social Reforms and National Security, this paper opines that in a country like ours, for any social reform to be meaningful, the starting point is literacy. This ensues from the fact that the level of illiteracy which also breeds ignorance is very high in Nigeria. This affects the way we think and do things in this country.

Inasmuch as social reforms is bringing about changes in the existing social values, traditions and social practices in one society or the other, the nucleus of it is in literacy education. This is consequent on the fact that literacy education has the power to liberate the different categories of persons from mental poverty especially, and from pains, poverty, disease, ignorance, insecurity, and others. 

Literacy is able to do this because one of its greatest potent force is development, i.e. development of the potentialities latent in any man, nation etc. And this could be in the social, cultural, economic, political and other terrains. The effect of this translates very well in the overall development and wellbeing of a country as literate persons are essential agents for development. The power of literacy can also be seen to the effect that it empowers the human mind to be critical and logical in thinking which when applied to other areas of human endeavor in society yields to taking decisions that promote peaceful coexistence. And this would curb all forms of insecurity within all human societies. It is within this purview (literacy) that this paper seeks to address the challenge of Education for Social Reforms and National Security in Nigeria. 



The essence of literacy education is for development, that is, development of individual potentialities and the development of the nation – socially, culturally, economically and politically.  Literacy is a weapon for inculcating social-economic values and practices; a medium for preparing citizens for change (development) and to enable them master new skills and techniques (Nzeneri, 1994:100). Any education (formal, informal and non-formal) whose purpose is not directed towards these objectives should be questioned and critically examined.

Based on this philosophy of education for development, Nyerere (1979:49) rightly indicates in his Adult Education and Development that:

Education has to increase men’s physical and mental freedom – to increase their control over themselves, their own lives and the environment in which they live. This means that adult education has to be directed at helping men to develop themselves. It has to contribute to an enlargement of men’s ability in every way.

He went further to say that people of Tanzania must be developed first before the country can develop. This is true of Nigeria and indeed any nation. The impact of literacy education on national development should be conceived as liberation of people (men, women and youths) from pains, poverty, disease, ignorance, inequality, passivity, confusion, unemployment, destitution and from conditions which tend to look upon them as less human (i.e. objects of exploitation). Hence, literacy has to liberate peoples from these negative indicators of development. Development in this regard, must be conceived in terms of the general living conditions of a population. It involves changes within the entire social system as it relates to people’s basic needs in the society. Development should be broadly conceived in terms of whether or not the living conditions of the generality of the people is spiritually and materially satisfactory. In addition to liberating man from under-developmental ills, the impact of literacy should be to empower man with critical and logical thinking (i.e. developed and nourished mind), endow him with professional training (i.e. enabling skills) and confidence (change towards positive attitude) in taking meaningful decision in resolving situational problems aimed at mans advancement and that of his society. It is in this respect we hold the view that literacy is the starting point of social reform and as such, crucial for national security.

As a corollary to this, we are of the view that government at all levels and other institutions should pursue the policy of using available resources (human and material) to develop illiterate adult masses who are active agents in the nation’s production sector. Proceeding from this, we observe the urgent need in Nigeria to revitalise an erstwhile mass literacy campaign programme which adopted the strategy of ‘each-one-teach-one (E.O.T.O.) or fund the teaching of one’. This has the capacity to constitute a formidable task force in the bid to reduce illiteracy.


Literate Persons as Active Agent of Development

A literate person is assumed to be knowledgeable and professionally skilled. Economist see him as active factor of production unlike land and capital which are passive agents.

According to Allen (1980:105), hunger for education (literacy) is no less a desperation than hunger for food; he sees an illiterate as one with an underdeveloped mind. With the ability to read, write, compute and receive professional training, the literate is given the confidence that he can advance along with others. The impact of literacy education for national development is to develop humans’ resources (active factors of production) who in turn will develop passive resources (land and capital) for national development. Many studies have identified the great need to eliminate illiteracy by adopting the policy of establishing universal primary education for children and mass scale education for illiterate adults.

It has been established by the United Nations that no nation can develop with less than 60(sixty) percent of its population being literate (Allen 1980:107). Ampene (1980:4) puts this in a different way when he says that some experts have declared that 40 percent illiteracy is the absolute minimum which a country accommodates for a take-off into industrialisation and modernisation.

It is pertinent to note a nation’s development depends largely on the level and quality of education of its population. The strongest argument posed by some scholars, Harbison (1973:3), Todaro (1977:255) and Nzeneri (1990:41) indicate that:

Human resources… constitute the ultimate basis for the wealth of nations. Capital and natural resources are passive factors of production; human beings are the active agents who accumulate capital, exploit natural resources, build social, economic and political organizations and carry forward national development. Clearly a country which is unable to develop the skills and knowledge of its people and to utilize them effectively in the national economy will be unable to develop anything else.


From the above statement we observe that the impact of literacy is to develop in people skills and knowledge which make them active agents of production in their nation’s development process.


Ampene (1980:2) rightly argued that ‘‘however well-endowed a country may be with rich natural resources, as long as the majority of its people remain illiterate and without modern skills, the quality of life in that country will forever, remain low. ’’The quality of people’s life is an indicator of the nation’s development. It therefore behooves all stakeholders to ensure active participation of adult illiterates in literacy programmes geared towards national development (change) within their society.


As Nyerere (1979:49) pus it “development is for man, by man and of man.” The same is true for literacy education. Man has to develop himself, if he has to develop his nation. The impact of literacy therefore, is to develop man who will in turn develop his nation.


The Impact (Power) Of Literacy on Development

Several studies have identified literacy as a fundamental requirement for modernisation. International organisation like UNESCO and the Conference of African Ministers of Education recognise the importance (impact) of mass literacy in realising economic and social benefits and in achieving political democracy. The impact of literacy on national development has been recognized by international bodies who have not only spoken but have directed efforts to promote literacy.


Based on this Allen (1980:107) stressed that “the World Congress of Education Ministers; Bankers, Economists and Financiers; Trade Unions, World Council of Churches, International Conference on Human Rights, International Youth Organisations, World Leaders have all spoken out against the evils of illiteracy and pledged their support for its eradication.” Illiteracy is therefore, considered a worldwide problem and serious barrier to socio-economic and political advancement of nations. UNESCO and UNDP in 1966 launched the experimental world literacy programme in twelve developing countries with the objective of promoting these countries development process. Nigeria in her National Policy on Education (1981:32) recognises the importance/power of illiteracy in national development. The fruits of literacy are no longer in doubt. We can observe from the forgoings that literacy serves as a tool for advancement, for sensitisation and for raising human consciousness; a tool that prepares or empowers men and women for the socio-economic and political roles they have to play in their societies or nations. Nzeneri (1990:26) emphasized that literacy provides men enabling tool for acquiring information necessary for improving their living conditions, increase their productivity and for greater participation in the civic life of their society, security included.


The impact of literacy is observed in terms of how it enhances individual potentialities, uplift the conditions of the urban-rural masses by raising their socio-economic, cultural and political awareness; reduces ignorance and enslavement or exploitation. This is what we shall consider as functional education and real social reform and development. It should empower men and women to understand, master and transform their lives, their conditions and their society/nation. The impact of literacy is to mobilise the mind (soul) and the body towards all around development.


Society stakeholders should not only have the will to promote literacy education but should be active in translating this into action at the village/ward levels. They have to adopt the policy of improving the quality of human resources, through mass literacy programmmes, so that they can better explore the rich natural resources for further advancement.


Literacy per se is not the only factor of development. The impact of illiteracy is better felt in presence of some other complementary factors which help to mobilise the development process. These factors include political stability, availability of productive resources (human and material), effective communication system, comparative advantage and markets for the buying/selling of goods and services. We are all aware of the political instability in our country and this has adversely affected effective mass literacy campaign programmes in the country. This is also true of other complementary factors   which can assist literacy education in our country which have reasonable impact in our nation’s development programmmes.


It is worthy to note that the impact of literacy education on development is a long term phenomenon and its benefits should not be anticipated in short term. The question that is anticipated here is- whether making a trader or farmer literate will lead to significant improvement in his income or productivity. To address questions such as these will demand no direct “yes” or “no” answer in the sense that determination of increase income/productivity is very complex. It involves lots of intervention variables (factors) such as weather condition, availability and quality of input resources, effective communication system and markets.


Arguments against the impact of literacy education is better presented by Tompson (1981:225) where he states that “although there are examples of more successful mass literacy campaigns (as in Cuba and Tanzania), their impact was at this time insufficiently wide spread to make significant inroads into rates of illiteracy among Africans rapid growing population.” This is where the role of traditional rulers and local government areas in promoting literacy at the villages/ward level cannot be overemphasized. The power /impact of literacy in development can be realised in our communities when these authorities mobilise/ sensitise the masses in their respective areas to participate fully in mass literacy programmes of Each-one-teach-one or fund the teaching of one. This can enable the state/country achieve literacy objective of eradicating illiteracy in the nearest foreseeable future.


Many scholars have argued that literacy correlates highly with development while illiteracy correlates highly with backwardness and underdevelopment indicators. Hence, Pillai (1980:10) argued that ‘illiteracy is a serious impediment to individual growth and to a country’s socio-economic progress.’ In line with the same argument, Ampene (1980:2) states that  it is a fact that high illiteracy rate correlates highly with mass poverty, malnutrition, high infant mortality, low economic productivity, the prevalence of preventable diseases, insecurity and some other indicators of under development.


Illiteracy is a strong impediment towards technological advancement and economic development. The power of literacy can be better explained by what happened between the Russians and Americans. As Allen (1980:107) rightly indicated, “when the Russians put their sputnik in space and shocked the Americans out of their belief that they were leading in science and technology, what did the Americans do? They overhauled their education system at all levels. Of course we all know what resulted – the first man on the moon was an American.” This is a clear and undoubtable impact of literacy on national development and in technological advancement.


We can borrow a leaf from such impact of literacy on technological advancement and hence develop strong will power to ensure the success of adult literacy programmes in our various domains. We may ask here, how does Nigeria conceive literacy in her national development?


The Nigerian Situation and Our Expectation

Nigeria recognizes the prominent role of education in both individual and national development. Nigeria like most developed and developing countries view illiteracy as a serious challenge to her socio-economic, cultural and political development. On the contrary, she sees literacy as enabling tool towards advancement. This made Nigeria to develop interest in literacy education since 1940s.


The first mass literacy campaign in Nigeria was conducted in 1946 by the country’s mass education officer (Major A.J. Carpenter). Active government interest in this programme and adult education was rekindled by 1970s. This interest was demonstrated by the provisions in the National Policy on Education (1977) which was revised in 1981. This document specified that “an intensive mass literacy campaign will be launched as a matter of priority and as a new all out effort on adult literacy programmes throughout the country”.

On 8th September, 1982, Nigeria witnessed the launching of her ten-year mass literacy campaign. In this campaign the government made provision for setting up the national commissions for Adult Education and the National Literacy task force.


The blueprint demands that the State Governments should constitute State Commission and State Mass Literacy Task Force for Adult Education. The States and Local Government authorities should provide physical facilities for literacy training and personnel in the form of supervisors and instructors. This indicates government’s will to eradicate illiteracy in the country. Yet the problem is – has this will been translated into action?


This is where all persons must get involved in support of government mass literacy campaign strategies, for instance, the “Each-one-Teach-One or fund the teaching of one”. We should also persuade and encourage the illiterate ones among us in our neighbourhood to participate in such programmes. Had the government mass literacy programme succeeded, most probably, the spate of clashes and killings between farmers and herders as we currently experience them in the country could have been abated. The open acknowledgement of the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, Benue State Chapter that the wanton destruction of lives and property occasioned by this clashes result from the high illiteracy rate of their members alludes to this. This form of insecurity in the country could have been avoided had all concerned join effort with government to promote mass literacy.


The National Policy on Education (1981) requires the Local Government to constitute educational committee whose functions, according to Sikuade (1980:14), include:

  1. day-to-day control and administration of local adult education programmes;
  2. recruitment of instructors and learners for functional and post-literacy programmmes;
  3. provision of feedback to the State and Federal Ministries in respect of curriculum, material development, techniques of teaching and evaluation of procedures and collection of statistical data.


From the above policy directives, we observe that the Local Government Area Councils are directly committed to the campaign of eradicating illiteracy in the country. If we expect the impact of adult/mass literacy to be realised in our national development these noble tasks must be tackled by these authorities and to ensure effective participation by all at the village/ward level in all states. They have to mobilise/sensitise and motivate literacy participants (learners and instructors) to enable the programme attain its expected impact of eradicating illiteracy and inculcating knowledge and skills demanded for national development. Through literacy, however, men and women increase their reasoning power, expand their consciousness and power over themselves, their environment and their nation (or society).


This is the concept of the impact of literacy on development. It changes the attitude, skills and knowledge of adults who constitute majority of the population in our production sector. This may probably be the reason why Nyerere (1978) states that “the education of our children will not have an impact on our economic development for five, ten or even twenty years”. The skills acquired by adults through literacy have immediate application on the economy. Africa, according to Neyere, cannot afford to wait for the children for we must first educate the adults whose acquired knowledge and skills are of immediate application. We need to realise the truth of this statement in Nigeria and thus give attention to the adult education programmes in Nigeria to which literacy education is one.


Nigeria like most developing countries has high illiteracy rate which plagues her national development. To substantiate this, Todaro (1977:260) stressed that high illiteracy rates are found in Africa (73.7) and the Arab States (73) followed by Asia (46.8) and Latin America (23.6). He further stated that in North America and Europe, illiteracy rates have fallen to 1.5 and 3.6 percent respectively. The above illiteracy figures demonstrate that illiteracy correlates highly with backwardness and underdevelopment indicators while literacy correlates highly with development.


Stressing the impact of literacy in development in a developing country like Nigeria, Helen (1982) indicates as follows:


Today we are reaping the fruits of this great literacy campaign… This reflected in the participation of women in society, women who have broken the silence and the fitters of ignorance and who are speaking of resistance and struggle… in literacy education for women, our motto remains: Literacy is our priority.


Helen’s statement above is a powerful indication of the impact of literacy on the socio-economic and political development roles of women in our society. Our women leaders are not left out of this noble task of eradicating illiteracy in our country and especially at the village or ward level.



The task of eradicating illiteracy and of promoting literacy for development demands coordinated efforts of many agencies and individuals. The role of traditional rulers in the first mass literacy campaign in Nigeria in the early 1940s can hardly be forgotten. We note especially their roles as collaborators with other agencies (the government, teachers and Christian Missionaries) to make the campaign a huge success. It is relevant to observe that such could not be possible without the collaboration efforts of the various institutions. It is pertinent, therefore, that we should replicate such stakeholders collaborative efforts to realise meaningful results in reforming our society, and also reduce social malaise which has plagued our country, through mass literacy programmes/campaigns.


As the campaign for the mass literacy succeeds, it would produce fertile ground for launching any social reform as the polity will be amendable to the changes embedded in the reforms. This would also breed understanding and trust which will boost good social relations among the people. With this, contempt and suspicion with which Nigerians hold themselves would be minimized thereby boosting security. Another factor that would further enhance the security of the country is that the polity will witness increased consciousness and awareness. With such leverage, the polity will no long yield to the manipulative antics of politicians who cause dissentions among the people under the subterfuge of ethnicity and religion.


In order to realise this, traditional rulers and Local Governments have much to contribute in promoting literacy in the states if we have to realise the expected impact of eliminating illiteracy in the country.


These roles include among others:

  1. Sponsoring some adult illiterates;
  2. Organise age grades, social clubs and women leaders in the communities to sponsor literacy programmes;
  3. Initiate and enforce sanctions against defaulters in any planned process of mass literacy; and
  4. Ensure implementation of the statutory guidelines for the ward/village literacy committee.

If the masses are effectively sensitised and motivated, while those in authority take their tasks very seriously and with dedication, surely the impact of literacy on individual and national development must be realised.



Allen, S.R. (1980) “The Role of International Agencies in Promoting Mass Literacy Campaign in Nigeria. Journal of NNCAE, vol.5, pp.105-199.

Ampene, E.K. (1980): “The Fruits of Literacy” Journal of NNCAE, ibid, pp.1-5.

Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981): National Policy on Eduaction (Revised), Lagos, Federal Government Press.

Harbison, F.E. (1973) Human Resources as the Wealth of Nations, London, oxford University Press.

Helen, N. (1982) “Role of the Women’s Movement in Literacy Campaign: The Portuguese Experience, Convergence Vol.xv, No.3.

Nyerere, J.K. (1979) “Adult Education and Development”, Hinzen, N. and Hundsdorfer, V.H. (ed.): The Tanzanian Experience, Education for Liberation and Development. UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburge p.49-55).

Nzeneri, I.S. (1990): Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Adult Post Literacy Education in Imo and Lagos States of Nigeria, unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Unilag.

Nzereri, I.S. (1994) “investigation of the Issues Frustrating Literacy Centres in Port Harcourt, Rivers State” Nigeria Journal of Professional Studies in Education (NJPSE), Vol.2, no.1, pp.100-105.

Sikuade, M.D. (1980) “Mass Literacy: The Niegrian Context” Towards the National mass Literacy Campaign, Lagos, Federal Ministry of Education, pp.13-18.

Todaro, M.P. (1977), Economics for a Developing World, Lodon, Longmans.

Tompson, A.R. (1981): Education and Development in Africa, London, E.L.B.S. and Macmillan.


Published inNumber 1Volume 2