Most educationists agree that literacy entails much more than the pursuit of proficiency in reading, writing, and numeracy. To the extent that society is constantly evolving, the scope and contents of education must also expand to tap and build upon the strengths of the people for development. Thus, today, we speak of the more functional aspects of education in terms of technological, mathematical, and visual literacy.
The benefits of literacy are boundless: it profoundly impacts overall levels of happiness among adults, enabling them to be more proactive in ensuring their children also acquire quality education. As this works cumulatively to increase the density of literacy in communities, we can expect to see radicalized movements in oppressive societies for transformations toward acceptable, open forms of governance, and increased social pressures upon leaderships for implantation of education as a fundamental human right.
West Africa is home to countries where literacy levels have not increased substantially in the last 50 years. Out of the 26 countries world-wide with illiteracy rates higher than 70 percent, 16 are in Africa, and of this, 12 are located in West Africa. Sadly, even in those countries in the region that have registered 12 gains in their literacy rates, these have been offset by actual rises in the number of illiterates due largely to rapid population growth. Ambiguities in the policies of national and international agencies are also complicating the situation.
Be this as it may, contributors to this volume are persuaded that universalizing primary education through a two-pronged business-oriented attack will ultimately improve access and efficiency in the delivery of appropriate education: demand side approach would include raising the quality of schooling, providing incentives to mitigate high drop-out rates, and institutionalizing and enforcing laws on compulsory primary schooling; supply eradicate illiteracy, most ordinary citizens have responded favorably and enthusiastically: In Tanzania for instance, the government was successful through its Ujamaa campaign to drop illiteracy rates from 67 percent (1970) to 10 percent (1986); following a robust national drive that began in 1979, literacy rate in five languages in Ethiopia climbed from 7 percent to 45 percent in 1982. These positive trends have been sustained. Sri Lanka’s literacy rate of 96 percent is one of the highest in the world, and this is attributed to the country’s innovative policies of providing free primary education to all children, irrespective of their parents’ parlous income bases.
Survival in the current “information age” requires West African leaders to re-evaluate and give special attention to educational quality and retention of pupils in school. Extension of education to minorities (including girls) and inclusion of adult education in national planning are essential, fundamental for social change and development.