The Cost of Illiteracy

The Cost of Illiteracy

by Ronke Adeagbo

Access to education is a universal right for every individual regardless of their socio-economic background and status. This right to enjoy quality formal or informal education has however remained only valid on papers in most developing countries of the world. This is evident in the high rate of adult illiterates and increasing number of out-of-school children and youths in these countries. In 2018, the World Literacy Forum reported that 1 of 5 people is a complete illiterate and 3 billion people around the world struggle with basic level reading and writing. 

In Nigeria, the Minister of Education revealed that there were 76 million illiterate adults in the country as at 2021. This makes up for about 38% percent of the over 200 million Nigerian populace at that time. Recently also in 2022, UNESCO revealed a worrisome statistics that the number of out-of-school in Nigeria has almost doubled from 10.5m in 2018 to 20.2million in 2022. The consequences of continuous neglect of out-of-school children and illiterate adults are often underrated and reported mostly from the individual perspective. Illiteracy has a significant economic, social and health impacts on the individual and society at large. It is therefore very imperative to explore the economic and social implications of illiteracy on the economy of nations across the world.

A report by the World Literacy Forum showed that illiteracy has cost global economy approximately £800 billion annually. In the United Kingdom, the same report indicated that around £8 billion was spent in 2018 as costs on welfare, unemployment and social programmes in an effort to mitigate the impact of illiteracy. Similar in Nigeria, several reports have emerged online on the exact amount that has been spent on Social investment programmes in support of vulnerable Nigerians. However, the most recent report revealed that the Federal Government has spent over N1.3 trillion on social investment between 2016 and 2023. These are large sum of funds that could have been invested into development of different sectors to drive national development agendas and boost the economy.

Furthermore, illiteracy has largely resulted into high rate of unemployment. As countries move toward knowledge driven economy, there is hardly a place for uneducated people in the society. What we will see are situations where there are many vacant positions without adequately skilled and trained individuals to fill up those roles. These people rather pick up menial jobs like security personnel, cleaners, petty traders, street hawkers. These people are less likely to be economically active because there is the likely tendency of living from hand to mouth. 2022 World Bank report further showed that 4 of 10 Nigerians live below the poverty line.  Sluggish growth and low human capital are holding Nigeria’s poverty reduction back and an economically inactive population will result in slower GDP growth in the long-run.

Poverty and insecurity are other terrible consequences of high rate of uneducated populace. There is indeed a symbiotic relationship between lack of education, poverty and insecurity. The neglected primary school pupil yesterday have become today’s bandit, rapists, terrorists, fraudsters, armed robbers etc. An insecure or unsafe nation will discourage foreign investment in the country.  Faminu (2022) quoted Global Terrorism Index that over $40.6 billion worth of foreign investment were diverted from the Nigerian economy as a result of insecurity. Furthermore, insecurity has caused the Nigerian government a lot. In 2020, N1.78 trillion was allotted for security expenses .  This year, 13.4% (N2.98 trillion) of the 2023 budget was allocated to security. Also, insecurity endangers growth of real per capital income and therefor affects government revenue. All of these have adverse impacts on the economy of any nation.

From a socio perspective, crime, prostitution, insecurity, teenage pregnancy, early marriage, rise of uniformed decisions because of inability to read or digest literatures, recycling of illiteracy because uneducated parents are likely to prioritize work over education among others are the consequences of poor education. It is important to start that all of these elements affect the development of an adequate human capital base that can contribute to economic development.

Investing in education is one of the many strategies to put Nigeria back on track for a good economic and social outlook. Education is a potent tool to curb all of the problems and issues discussed in the previous paragraphs. Education is a silver bullet to solving Nigeria’s security challenges and improves the economy.  As a Fact, the government cannot do it alone. There is a need for civil society organizations and private sector organizations through social responsibility to complement the government’s effort to combat the menace of illiteracy and high rate of out-of-school children in the Country.

Among organizations that are taking the front like in this regard is Ibironke Adeagbo Foundation, a UK and Nigerian registered charity that is working to reduce the number of out-of-school children in Nigeria. Established in 2019 by a seasoned chartered accountant and education advocate, Ronke Adeagbo FCCA FCA CPFA, the organization ensures that children are able to get quality education up till secondary school. Understanding the essence of university education, the IA-Foundation has also secured partnerships to ensure beneficiaries receive quality university education. So far, 100 children across 9 states in the country have been taken off the street and placed in classrooms in different private schools.

Primarily our work aligns with the SDG 4 to provide education but has huge impact on other aspects of the development index. Through this, the cycle of poverty is disconnected from every household where we have beneficiaries. Through provision of education, the Foundation is improving social mobility, and human capital indices. This education these children are receiving will prepare them roles and empower them with skills to be fit into the learned workforce in this 21st century. Every child on the street without proper education is a potential criminal if not properly guided and through the work of IA-Foundation, they are contributing to the reduction of crime and other illegalities in the society.  The Foundation is indeed enabling lives through deliberate provision and exposition to sound education for the indigent children.

Education should prioritized in the scheme of things and given the attention it deserves. It is one of the most potent tools to rebirthing the Nigeria of our dreams. All hands must be on deck collectively to invest in education so that it can positively impact on the economy.