Literacy is the
ability to read, view, write, design, speak and listen in a way that
allows one to communicate effectively. The power of literacy lies not
just in the ability to read and write, but rather in a person’s capacity
to apply these skills to effectively connect, interpret and discern the
intricacies of the world in which they live.
Last week, the world
celebrated World Literacy Day and incidentally the event also marked
the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day and UNESCO under the
theme, “Reading the Past, Writing the Future.”

Empirical
study has shown that knowledge has become the main catalyst for
economic growth, and education the bedrock of such functional knowledge
driving national prosperity. For former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, mastering the art of learning and education is the
difficult task nations undertake when they commit themselves to
progress.
He said, “Barebones survival is all a nation can achieve
when it disregards this principle. To esteem learning is to follow the
gleaming light to prosperity. To discard learning is to walk into the
fog of stagnation and poverty.”
Libraries in Nigeria are
increasingly acquiring books and journals (print and electronic formats)
and have established e-libraries to engage the citizens with social
media and information literacy to meet their information needs. This
enables the public to interact and contribute to governance as a process
of building the culture of open government.
According to Donald
Block, author of “Defining Literacy Up”, being literate means the
ability and chance to improve one’s self, which society needs to become
more classless and improve the overall living standard of every one.
Literacy, he insists, focuses not on recognizing basic words but on
comprehension of the world around us.
Block contends that knowing
the core knowledge of basic literacy is just the beginning of today’s
survival in society, pointing out that “what is needed more is also the
ability to communicate with others and also the ability to comprehend
and solve problems and learn from
these problems.”
He
explains that with society and technology rapidly evolving, people must
have the basic level of literacy to begin their lives in society,
saying, “from this basic level of literacy people can move on and
improve their skills in other types of literacy such as academic,
non-academic, cultural, and technical literacy. With skills in these
other types of literacy, people will be able to function easier in
society and with this ability society will also function more
efficiently.
“Literacy is the foundation on which the solving of
all social problems can be built,” Block added, noting that “a majority
of homeless people are homeless due to the lack of basic skills that
could enhance their lives.”
An article entitled “Lacking Ability
to Read Well” by Erin Texeira quoted Carolyn Staley, deputy director of
NIFL (National Institute for Literacy) as saying “low literacy really is
a problem.”
She said, “We, as adults, must have a good level of
literacy. With society changing every day, people must keep up their
ability to read, write, and solve problems. With these skills we can
then help our children ease into literacy and improve at a better pace
than what we had to learn.
“Children are our future and if their
level of literacy is low then their standard of living will be lower.
This generation must keep up and excel in every type of literacy so that
future generations can learn from us and excel from us so they have the
ability to survive in today’s and tomorrow’s complex and ever evolving
society.”
The importance of literacy to economic development
cannot be over emphasized. The economy is enhanced when learners have
higher literacy levels.  Experts posit that effective literacy skills
open the doors to more educational and employment opportunities so that
people are able to pull themselves out of poverty and chronic
under-employment.
“In our increasingly complex and rapidly
changing technological world, it is essential that individuals
continuously expand their knowledge and learn new skills in order to
keep up with the pace of change,” they said.
In our nation today,
there is a growing mismatch between the skills that employers need and
the skills that workers have. This discrepancy leads to high
unemployment coupled with a high job vacancy rate. To redress this,
Tinubu counselled “we must teach our people as never before done in
terms of the scope and quality of the education they receive. That
education cannot be of the esoteric type that is only beauty in the
abstract but devoid of practical value in our quest to build and develop
the very foundation of a new political economy for the nation.”