It is a widely accepted axiom that literacy represents the potential of an increase in an individual’s intellectual growth, as well as providing the basis for an exponential growth in developmental aspects of a society both in socio-economic and cultural dynamics.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for the lowest literacy rates globally according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2009). However, despite the dismal picture painted, there is an encouraging aspect in both adult and youth literacy in certain African countries. The statistic presented Nigeria with an adult literacy rate of above 70% and an even more encouraging figure of 86.7% in youth literacy rate.

Even with outstanding progress in literacy rate within the country, it is crystal clear that mere literacy is in no way a solution to the problems our great nation is facing. Literacy is indeed a step towards mastering and acquiring skills, while acquiring vocational, professional and technical skills is certainly a means of getting employment. With around 70% of the youth population in Nigeria currently unemployed, with the greater bulk in Northern Nigeria, the persistent notion is that employers cannot find literate people with the right skills. So how can we bridge the gap?

Is there actually a gap to bridge? Or is it possible that there is no such gap but a persistent failure in standards? Are the percentages of the population in the workforce classified as skilled only covering up that with advanced vocabulary? Time and resources have constantly been pressed to bridge this gap, is it time to channel these resources and time factor towards more innovative means?

In Nigeria, as well as other developing nations, education remains the bedrock of literacy-skill acquisition. Hence as a fundamental right, education remains a means for individuals to escape the shackle of poverty and fully participate in empowering themselves and their communities.


Perception on Meanings

Literacy is defined by UNESCO as the ability of a person to function in all the activities in which literacy is required for effective functioning of his/her group and the community and also for enabling him/her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his/her own and the community’s development. A literate person can as such be able to apply the skills of reading and writing in daily life and to continue learning and communicating using the written word. Illiteracy simply put is not being able to read and write.

Turning to Skill, its classical conception can be summarised as the ability and capacity acquired through systematic and sustained effort to smoothly and adaptively carryout complex activities or functions involving things or people. A skill is seen as ability to do something well, usually gained through training or experience. Hence, in the same vein ‘The Literacy and Skill Gap’ is in essence the deficiency of skilled personnel.

It is imperative to note at this juncture, that at the heart of the situation is the concept of education. For this purpose, education is defined broadly as the process of updating the knowledge, skills and values of the individual for the purpose of making the individual useful to him/herself and to the community. Similarly, Fafunwa defines education as “the aggregate of all the processes by which a child or adult develops the abilities, attitudes and other forms of behaviour which are of positive value to the society in which he lives, that is to say, it is a process of disseminating knowledge either to ensure social control or to guarantee rational direction of the society or both.” Therefore education is not necessarily going to school, despite the fact that going to school is an avenue of being educated. Education is hence an indicator of ability but not skills acquisition.

It is without gainsaying that the problem of northern Nigeria is no longer primarily illiteracy, but the shortage of skills among the high number of the so called “literates” that are supposed to provide incomes to support themselves and the society and better their lives while raising the next generations. Formal schooling on its own is not a yardstick of skill measurement, but a formal “road” of acquiring skills, together with non-formal and informal means such as apprenticeship by learning to be a barber and culinary means by observing a father till the farm by sons respectively. Skill acquisition and indeed depreciation is therefore not confined to the school walls alone but can continue after formal schooling.

If this is the case, then do we want to bridge the literacy and skills gap, and if so how do we do it?

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Sada Malumfashi is a writer living in Kaduna. His works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in local and international magazines.