9 September 2013


One of the most profound moments in my early education days was when we had a new student, Ejiro. Ejiro wasn’t particularly an extraordinary student but we all liked him to be within our company because he had ‘mouth’. ‘Mouth’ was what we used to describe one who combined brashness and confidence. It was to his credit that the term ‘educated illiterate’ became the catchphrase and the most frequently used diss in school then.  Once the term was shot at anyone, a sudden clash ensues with blood and temper rising by the tens.

The word ‘Literacy’ simply connotes the ability to read, write and comprehend basic symbols of nonverbal communication and it is usually associated with the ability to think effectively, having acquired the skills and fluency of life process. A secondary college student once said “the only difference between me, the 95% students, and that guy sitting in the back of the class, is I have learned how to remember, recall and regurgitate and he hasn’t, can’t or won’t ”.

People learn because learning is fundamental to survival, and it symbolizes the specialization that we use to become fully human. As the world changes, the expectations placed upon education shift to meet these changes. It is vital for those in education to remember that this, in fact, is not a problem but is rather symbolic of how education, as a living practice, is alert to issues of what is called for by this enterprise. Understanding curriculum and curriculum development with an eye to this inevitability is the key to our current undertaking of rethinking literacy.

It is not out of place to be fairly critical of the current public education system. Much of this criticism is leveled at our current ‘factory model’ of schooling. Before we scrutinize the assumptions that underscores this method of schooling, we must admit that it was propelled by an industrial innovation—the assembly line—that was revolutionary in and right for its time.

With its beginnings in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the schooling system that emerged to meet the needs of the industrial society provided a common experience and a common heritage for the diverse immigrant children of refuge seekers in the new Americas. This unified the public education system with its common, standardized syllabus. These schools provided a quick, uniform model of tutoring that met the needs of the masses of the said era. Manufacturing sector, scientific management, assembly lines and industrial capitalism dominated in this industrial age society with so much emphasis on homogeneity and standardization, both of the materials used and the training for workers assembling those materials. The paradigms however changed with the fast-paced global profusion of revolutionary ideas and a hunger for creativity and affordable solutions for systems, people and governance to satisfy the hydra headed/multivalent demands of a rapidly changing world. This has brought about the transformation of learning and literacies. It is common to hear reference to different types or varieties of literacy. These literacies may include but are not limited to:

•Functional literacy: The level of literacy required to get along successfully on a day-to-day basis. 
Cultural Literacy: The ability to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences in the values, customs and beliefs of one's own culture and the cultures of others. 
Multicultural Literacy: Multicultural literacy is knowledge of cultures and languages, as well as the ways in which multi-sensory data (text, sound, and graphics) may introduce slant, perspective, and bias into language, subject matter, and visual content. 
•Information Literacy: Refers to the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively deploy that information for the issue or problem at hand. 
Media Literacy: Media literacy is an informed, critical understanding of the mass media. 
•Bi-literacy: Bi-literacy is knowing how to read in two or more languages.
•Visual Literacy: Based on the idea that visual images are a language, visual literacy can be defined as the ability to understand and produce visual messages. 

•Scientific Literacy: Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena.

•Computer Literacy: The ability to use a computer and its software to accomplish practical tasks. 

•Mathematical Literacy or Numeracy: Numeracy is a mastery of the basic symbols and processes of arithmetic. 
•New Media Literacy: Particularly literacy in digital mediums and on the Internet, involving the new tools of hypertext, multimedia and electronic forms of synchronous and asynchronous communication. 
•Technology Literacy: The ability to use new media such as the Internet to access and communicate information effectively. 

•Global Literacy: Understanding the interdependence among people and nations and having the ability to interact and collaborate successfully across cultures. 

A not so rare one is Aliteracy- which refers to being able to read and write but having no interest in doing so.

Across the world, young people have the same dreams, whether they live in Gujarat, Brazil, Tanzania or New York. It doesn’t matter if their parents/guardians and sponsors earn little or sufficient to make their dreams work. They remain determined, seeking and attempting to reach their dreams. Same prayer points, either while standing before God, Allah or Buddha….they want to be Artists, Scientists, Doctors, Telecasters, Engineers and other drivers of life fulfilling careers.

Literacy remains the single most powerful tool to escape poverty, to transform communities, to transform our social landscape and take charge of our common humanity. With a rise in literacy, HIV/AIDS declines, youth violence and restiveness is brought down and obstructive cultures wither. While literacy and education seem to have soared in the past few years, poverty is yet to abate. But is literacy everything? Not exactly, beyond literacy, there is need to understand and leverage on opportunities. Certain rare opportunities enable those who are prepared (literate in as many fields as possible) to launch into success. This takes us to another type of literacy, “financial literacy”. The question is, after acquiring mathematical literacy, new media literacy, scientific literacy, and as judged by the universities/colleges, you now are sufficiently ‘smart’ and awarded a degree to show for it. Smart enough to join the happening world, yet most graduates complain about not being able to get jobs; complain about lack of capital for start-ups and continue in the singsong bashing against government’s failure in providing jobs to cater for these crowd of job-seeking graduates who most times, are only armed with their resumes, no work-experience, no unique/enviable skill . They forget the fact that intelligent employers hire people who seem/sound more intelligent than they are because such new entrants are bound to sustain the ideals of the company or find new ways of reducing production cost/increasing patronage or an fertile mind, fecund enough to imagine, creatively, a new approach; a retooling of the system/process of such firms. If we assume then that our teeming unemployed/fairly employed graduates are very smart, why aren’t they rich? Why are they unable to save enough to obtain decent houses, obtain and maintain cars for mobility and save for the future?  This is the effect of Education bereft of ‘Financial Literacy’ that offers Cognitive serendipity.

A research conducted recently among job-seeking graduates and newly employed ones indicated that while they understood the concept of compound interest, many were asked to resolve a problem using the concept only 117 out of 618(indicating 19%) had a good level of understanding. This indeed may well capture the unintended meaning of Ejiro’s ‘educated illiterate’; a set of people who know enough to assume they have known all. Also, studies show that most buyers receive information on products they need by chance, for example, by picking up a leaflet at a mortgage home or having a chance talk with a bank employee.

The financial literacy Benchmark study undertaken by Research staff at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in conjunction with a global payments technology company in 2010 revealed some startling statistics about preteens and young adults:

  • Most young people (60%) would prefer to spend money than save it
  • The majority of young people (58%) never enjoy dealing with financial matters
  • That young people are significantly less financially literate than the older age groups within the same community.
  • That young people are least likely to stay within their budgets.

However, young people who grow up understanding money and financial matters will thrive in life. Financial literacy is the ability to understand how money works in the world: how someone manages to earn or make it, how that person manages it, how he/she invests it (turn it into more) and how that person donates it to help others grow. More precisely, it refers to the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources. Sound financial education is crucial at every stage of our existence and it is diverse depending on the category one finds himself (tween/teen, college students, employed, small business owners,retirees,home owner, newlywed couple, parents and even children). Young people need to understand the difference between what they need and what they want; the importance of savings and the need to start saving when they are young; how to manage their money and use debt responsibly (for example do not take loans when you have no clear cut repayment plan). Economically transformative schemes like education microfinance can boost financial literacy of grantees, in the stead of scholarships only; the society needs to do more in creating opportunities for youths to understand the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of liquidity; personal financial management, target saving (how to save for their dream house, how to save for college, how to save for marriage e.tc); budgeting; setting financial goals and how to live without debt.

Once our curriculum is designed to capture this area of financial literacy within its lesson plans, youths will be equipped with the financial tools necessary to become creators of wealth, transformative agents and be better money managers such that more and more people become less dependent on government, and make informed decisions around their financial lives. It is only when youths have no template for survival, no guide to success and financial ability, no tools to create wealth that their anger snowballs into disruptive behaviors as we see in the occupy-protests/xenophobic clashes/the recent Arab spring and popular revolts across the world.

Shittu Fowora is the Creative Director of Sketchmatiks Arts Studio, Kaduna. Find him @shittufowora


  1. Good read. It brings up some of the issues that need urgent address, especially by drafters of curricula. I think I'll add ethical literacy to the list, though.

  2. I probably suffer Aliteracy. Good write-up, really expository.

  3. If only the people that matter would read this and take note...but wait, are we not the people that matter? I have taken note and will take action as well.

  4. Beautiful. Informative. Sound. Well researched and evocative. Well done Shittu.