Library as weapon of mass Education

By Victor E. Dike


Over the years, Nigeria's falling standard of education and dwindling literacy rate have gained incredible attention, yet the political leaders have not taken any effective action to improve the situation. The recent disclosure by the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education (NMEC) that 46,340,000 Nigerians are illiterate is disturbing (Daily Sun, September 24, 2009). The Guardian of October 19, 2009 exposed the massive failure in the May/June 2009 West African Examination. Of the 1,373, 009 participants in the examination, only 356, 981 (25. 99 per cent) candidates obtained credits and above in English Language and Mathematics and at least three in other subjects. And a survey by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2006 found that 53.3% of Nigerians are literate in the use of the English language (Punch, June 20, 2006). Given the importance of education in national development the dismal statistics are frightening and unacceptable.

Nigeria and dwindling literacy rate

Why is the standard of education in Nigeria going south? Why has the various mass literacy programs failed to improve the nation's literacy rate? The system lacks the foundations of education or functional libraries. One can improve his or her reading and writing skills through independent studies by visiting good libraries, reading good books, and practicing writing. Library is a weapon of mass education. Also, the nation's school curriculum is incoherent and incomplete; primary and secondary schools lack in-class reading and writing intervention specialists and effective instructional methods. And higher institutions lack the instructional tools to show students how to conduct basic research. The glaring deficiencies point to the fact the welfare of the citizens and nation's education are not on the government's top priority list.

However, advanced societies place a high premium on the education of their citizens. For that school and public libraries are equipped with cutting-edge information technologies for research and they are housing good books, journals, magazines and other pieces of literature; they are also managed by professional librarians and language arts teachers. And primary and secondary schools allocate some periods for library activities to enable the students learn how to use the library and explore the myriad ways in which good writers think, talk, and construct sentences and learn how to apply these methods to their own writing. Library is not a luxury-it is an essential part of a community. It serves as a meeting place for group discussions and for recreation. As Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) has noted "A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life." Because education has been pushed to the rear a good library is now a luxury in Nigeria; the nation's literacy rate will continue to slip until proper attention is accorded the sector.

Basically literacy involves the ability of an individual to read and write. However, broadly speaking, literacy involves reading, writing, speaking and listening. For the UNESCO (2004), literacy is "the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts." High literacy "enables an individual …to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society." Literacy is often used to measure the quality of life of a people because an educated nation is considered a healthy society, all things being equal.

The political leaders who refuse to properly fund education and equip the libraries are complaining about the nation's ‘poor reading culture' or habits. A United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) study released on January 15, 2008 shows that over 10 million Nigerian children of school age are not in school; most of them are said to be either hawking goods on the streets or doing some form of menial labor to help their families make ends meet. And for those lucky to be in school their reading materials are often limited to what the teachers would write on the board during lectures or their handouts. The poor students cannot afford to buy good books and there are no good public libraries for independent studies. It is worrisome that such a huge number will enter into the competitive world of work without the basic skills and knowledge of the social, political and economic realities of life. Nigeria's poverty rate and stock of criminals will continue to increase if the people are poorly educated; ‘success in school' could lead to ‘success outside school' (Schmoker 1999).

Poor education and Intellectual Robbery

One of the consequences of the neglect of education includes the poor quality graduates, the dearth of skilled manpower to manage the affairs of the nation, and the upsurge of criminals in the society. When a society sets a low standard, it gets a poor result. However, quality education is critical for the social, political and economic development of a nation. It is impossible for Nigeria to join the league of the first 20 industrialized nations of the world in the year 2020 with the nation's dwindling literacy rate and the horde of corrupt and ‘unschooled minds' that manage the affairs of the nation. Because of the crisis in education the school is no longer a place that fosters creativity, but a place that breeds crooks and criminals. Today, the youths lack the knowledge and literacy skills to become productive members of the society, and to compete effectively in the ‘knowledge-driven' global economy. The policymakers do not seem to realize that a library is an important human development tool. Quality education is expected to assist students gain respect for academic craftsmanship or writing and learn to give the deserved credit to scholars and writers when their works and ideas are utilized. But because of absence of good atmosphere for teaching and learning and associated poor quality of education and because of the nation's weird social values, some students and the "Boko Haram of Internet writers" would plagiarize other people's work without mindful of the fact that plagiarism is a crime in the academic community. In some cases this group would refuse to cite their sources of information; but the most extremely "sinful" of this group would just insert a different title on another person' work and turn it in to their unsuspecting teachers or to newspaper editors for publication.

This writer is a victim. Late last year, this writer caught one of the "Internet writers" who plagiarized his work; initially, this criminal denied the act and hauled insults on this writer for confronting him. But he later apologized when a stack of evidence began to pile on his face. However, recently his article, Nigeria and the New Global Economy published on the nigerianvillagesquare and some national dailies in 2008, was reproduced (published) in one of the national dailies on October 12, 2009, under the title, Measuring the performance of the Nigerian economy, By HARISON ALISON. According to the paper's footnote, Alison resides in Port Harcourt. And second half of the article was published in the same newspaper under the title, Impact of global financial crisis on Nigeria, on October 16, 2009, By STEPHEN A OMOTAYO. This time the paper's footnote shows that the "Source" of the plagiarized article is "Nigerians in America." It is, however, suspected that the names on the plagiarized articles are fictitious; but after an extensive network investigation with powerful software some footprints were discovered. This writer has reasons to believe that the same ‘smart rogue' he caught last year is also the culprit, even though he used conjured names to avoid being caught again. Why is he doing this? Perhaps, this goes back to his old practices when he was in school. Old habit, as the saying goes, dies hard! This writer is not the only victim as there cases of plagiarism are littering the landscape. In fact, pirated books are common in the market. But this must stop! It is important for us to step back from our daily struggle to gain some cheap public recognition and critically reflect on some of the uncanny things we do.

Any person who is truly educated and chooses to write should respect the basic rules of writing and take responsibility for his or her actions. What does it mean to be an educated person? To be truly educated means ‘being empowered in the use of language, putting learning in historical perspective, affirming the dignity of work, and being guided by values and beliefs and connecting the lessons of the classroom to the realities of life' (Beane, The 1995 ASCD YearBook, p.24). It means being respectful to other people's intellectual property. Nevertheless, this requires understanding ‘the ethics of communication' and ‘demands both accuracy and honesty' (pp.18-19). Educational institutions are supposed to provide students and teachers good environment to stretch their minds and become creative. But Nigeria's culture has become too preoccupied with fraud, cheating, stealing and consuming, and producing very little or nothing. The massive failure in the May/June 2009 West African Examination and the rampant academic dishonesty reveal where improvements are needed in the system.

Library as a weapon of mass education

There is no shortage of opinion about what to do to improve the quality of education in Nigeria. The nation's educational institutions are defective; they are not equipped for quality education. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other teachers union have, over the decades, been fighting for proper funding for education. But public fury has not forced the government to revive the dying sector. Let's hope the federal government will honor the agreement it signed recently with ASUU and implement it judiciously. So, what should Nigeria do? The first step towards reversing the nation's dwindling literacy rate and falling standards of education will be for the government to place education on top its priority list, (properly fund education) and establish modern school and public libraries (with good books and journals and connected to the Internet), and educate the educators (provide them with the necessary instructional materials and research tools) and motivate them to properly perform their duties. The libraries should be managed by professional librarians and language arts teachers and there should be good environment to motivate the people to use them (Ivey and Broaddus, 2001). There is a general believe that very few Nigerians engage in ‘artful reading'- reading to take pleasure in language (see The Great Courses, August 2009, p.37) and that they are merely reading to extract information and to acquire degrees and certificates. But the ‘poor reading culture' or habits could be attributed to lack of good libraries and good reading materials less values attached to education. The nation's harsh economic condition could be a part of the problem; most families are struggling to survive with little or nothing left to spend on books.

There were once good libraries and thriving publishing houses (including University Press) in Nigeria, but when the nation's attention shifted away from education to ‘cash and carry politics' the structures housing them were left to rot away and the quality of education has since been deteriorating. And the few available libraries are only housing obsolete books and journals; and the Internet is a luxury. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to get current data in such libraries. Very few Nigerians make a living in publishing; according to the Guardian of October 25, 2009 ‘publishing is one of least respected industries.' In fact, most of the local publishing outlets are folding because of hostile business environment (expensive inputs, etc) and foreign competition. And because of the poor quality of made-in-Nigeria books those who are interested in reading often buy books printed outside Nigeria. Improving the quality of made-in-Nigeria books and investing more in education could help the industry bounce back from slump.

To revive the dwindling reading habits, teachers should demand more from students and include research projects in all their courses and provide them with good models of what good writing should look like. And primary and secondary school teachers should allocate library time on their lesson plans to help students learn to use the library and conduct basic research. Good books and good reading environment have the power to captivate, motivate, educate, and delight readers; they could lure even people ‘who hate to read' (Worthy and McKool, 1996) and give them access to great minds. However, those in charge of planning the nation's curriculum should design course content standards that decide what should be taught and learned in school and at various levels, ensure that the standards are judiciously implemented and that the results meet the objectives. This would at least ensure that the schools are teaching students what should be taught rather than ‘mis-educating' them.

Inadequate teacher preparation and unprofessional and inept school administrators are part of the problems facing the sector. The inability of the federal minister of education, the horde of state commissioners of education, and school administrators (including the Vice Chancellors, etc) to resolve the unending teachers strikes timely and amicably (Daily Sun, October 27, 2009) is evidence that the educational administrators are not "systematic problem solvers" (Leithwood and Montgomery, 1986). To improve their administrative skills the incompetent administrators should be subjected to continuing education because good leadership could improve the state of the schools and student's learning. And a properly funded and well implemented continuing education for teachers' could improve their teaching methods and knowledge in the subject matter. As Ben Sweetland has noted, "We cannot hold a touch to light another path without brightening our own." Teachers and students should not be expected to perform miracles without the necessary teaching and learning tools. How does one expect quality instruction from a teacher with a poor quality education?

To pump new life into the dying sector the system should terminate the practice of automatic promotion of students from one class to another and re-introduce the old system of promotional examinations. This could compel students to take their studies a bit more seriously, and thus, reduce the unbridled cases of examination malpractices and plagiarism. This could create hope and optimism for social development. Parents have important role to play in their children's success in school. They should motivate their children by providing them with the necessary learning tools and support; and they should find out how their own behavior and thoughts toward education are affecting their children's attitude toward education.


Modern libraries with research tools and well trained and motivated teachers make up schools that produce high-quality graduates. The more good books one reads the more enlightened and exposed one becomes. The political leaders should stop lamenting over the nation's ‘poor reading culture' or habits, the waning ‘standards of education', and the associated ‘dwindling literacy rate' (Dike, March 3, 2009) and treat the problems facing the education sector with the seriousness and sensitivity they deserve. The federal government's recent pact with ASUU is merely to bandage the problems in the sector because it requires a heavy investment to revamp the system. Therefore, without an enduring and effective policy intervention the nation's education will continue to drift to the edge of impossibility.

Today, the political leaders are planning on wasting millions campaigning for the people to buy ‘made-in-Nigeria products' without first providing effective institutions and infrastructure to enable the industries to produce good quality goods and services to attract customers. As some analysts have already noted, the political gods who are involved in the bogus project seem to forget that they are guilty of not patronizing ‘made-in-Nigeria' goods: most of them do not use local hospitals (Umaru Musa Yar'Adua does not use ‘made-in-Nigeria hospitals when he needs medical treatment;' the same applies to the ministers, governors, legislators and others'). Most of their children attend foreign schools and universities; they do not invest their money in the local economy as they stockpile their looted public money in foreign banks and go on vacation abroad, etc. And a survey will not fail to confirm that very few of them read books printed locally.

All the Visions and Re-branding gambit will not develop Nigeria if the people are wallowing in ignorance and poverty. Without providing good learning environment in schools and at home, and without building modern school and public libraries and providing good reading materials, and without properly training and motivating the teachers and support staff, the ‘human seeds' that are being planted in the society would ‘wither and their growth hampered' (Santa, 2006). The future of Nigeria's children demands nothing less.

Notes and References

Carlos M. Santa "Adolescents Deserve More," in Creating Literacy-Rich Schools for Adolescents (Gay Ivey &

Douglas Fisher), Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: Alexandria, Virginia, 2006, pp.122-141.

Daily Sun, " Nigeria's illiteracy burden," September 24, 2009; Daily Sun, "Poor Leadership, bane of tertiary education- Pro-Chancellor," October 27, 2009.

G. Ivey and K. Broaddus, "Just plain Reading: A Survey of What makes students want to read in middle school

Classrooms;" Reading Research Quarterly, 36, pp.350-377, 2001

Guardian (editorial), "Mass failure in WAEC and NECO exams," October 19, 2009.

James A. Beane (editor), Toward a Coherent Curriculum-The1995 ASCD YearBook, Alexandria, Virginia; pp.18-

19 & p. 24.

J. Worthy and S. McKool, "Students who say they hate to read: The Importance of Opportunity, Choice, and Access"

(1996), in D.J. Leu, C.K. Kinzer, K.A. Hinchman (eds.), Literacy's for the 21st Century; Research and Practice, 45th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference, pp.245-256, Chicago, USA: National Reading


Kenneth A. Leithwood & Deborah J. Montgomery, Improving Principal Effectiveness: The Principal Profile, Ontario

Institute for Studies in Education Press, Toronto, 1986; also see Michael Fullan, Fullan, The New Meaning of Educational Change, Cassell, London, 1991.

Mike Schmoker, Result: The Key to Continuous Improvement (2nd edition), ASCD 1999.

Punch, "45% of Nigerians are illiterate-Survey," June 20, 2006.

Sunday Champion, "7m Nigerian children out of school-UNICEF," May 29, 2005; BusinessDay: "10million Nigerians

school," January 29, 2008.

The Great Courses, "The Art of Reading," August 2009, p.37.

UNESCO Education Sector, ‘The Plurality of Literacy and its implications for Policies and Programs: Position Paper.

Paris: United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2004, p. 13.

Victor E. Dike, "Tackling Nigeria's Dwindling Literacy Rate," Online-Nigerianvillagesquare, March 3, 2009

Victor E. Dike is the author of Leadership without a Moral Purpose: a Critical Analysis of Nigerian Politics and Administration (with emphasis on the Obasanjo Administration, 2003-2007); BookSurge, October 14, 2009. To order your copies: from the publisher, please click here; from the author; and