For 12-year-old Bamigbola Olaoluwa from Ayetoro in Abeokuta, lack of finance means he has to forfeit his dream of going to school to take up an apprenticeship in Lagos state.  “After my primary school, there were no funds for me to proceed with my education. I came to Lagos to train to become a panel beater,” he said. “After my training, I would like to further my education.”

Like Olaoluwa, many Nigerian children are subjected to labour at the expense of getting educated. United Nations estimates show that the country has the highest number of children without access to education with some 10.5 million affected. Also, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 50.8 percent of Nigerian children between the ages of 5 and 17 were involved in child labour as of February 2018.

Even for the thousands of children in public and community schools across the country, most of whom are from economically disadvantaged families; reports show they are often unable to match the literacy levels of their peers in private schools. This is down to a lot of factors – poor governance and management, neglect of the education sector, as well as inadequate and unqualified teachers – all of which reflect the poor state of primary education in Nigeria.

The implication of this is that our ‘leaders of tomorrow’ are at risk of growing up as illiterates, without the requisite knowledge and capacity needed to lead the nation or compete globally in an era of changing economies, innovation, and technological advancements.

If this trend continues, the implications would be dire for Africa’s most populous nation. This is why construction giant, Lafarge Africa, is complementing government efforts to raise the standard of literacy in public primary schools through the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition (LANLC).

“For a country like ours, we must act urgently to fix our education sector,” Folashade Ambrose-Medebem, Communications, Public Affairs & Sustainable Development Director at Lafarge Africa, said in an interview with Ventures Africa.

“Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children (according to UNESCO) and too many deficits that can be devastating,” she continued, “we need to prepare our children for a future where they will compete globally with ease.”

The literacy programme, launched in 2014, engages pupils who display and improve their literacy skills by competing in literacy-related activities. Participants range from ages 9 to 13 years. After undergoing a series of comprehension and literacy assessments, winning pupils get grants to support their primary and secondary education.

L-R: Communications, Public Affairs and Sustainable Development Director, Lafarge Africa Plc., Mrs, Folashade Ambrose-Medebem; Director Academic Services, Universal Basic Education Board, Rivers State, Mrs Blessing Ndamati; CEO, Lafarge Africa Plc, Mr Michel Puchercos; Winners of the 6th Edition of Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition, David Emmanuella and Barikpoa Prosper, both pupils of Community Primary School, Pue Khana, Rivers State; Special Guest of Honour, His Highness Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II; Chairman, Lafarge Africa PLC, Mr, Mobolaji Balogun and Desk Officer, Academic Services and Teacher of the winners, Mr, Dibiah Moses Nwosu at the 6th Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition, themed: Bridging the Literacy Gap Together in Lagos

This competition has been a life-transforming experience for children like Ayomikun Idowu, the female winner of the 2018 LANLC, the literacy competition was a life-transforming experience.

“Participating and winning the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition in 2018 empowered me as the literacy skills I acquired changed my world through words and transformed my life for the better.”

Kehinde Lawal was the male winner of the 2018 edition. He holds that the literacy competition “empowered me with information that transformed my life and better equip me to communicate with people and contribute positively to society.”

Despite being from a low-income household, Favour Philip, a 2017 winner from Lagos State, gained exposure from the 2017 LANLC and ultimately won a scholarship to Atlantic Hall School, a premium secondary school in Nigeria.

Since inception, the Lafarge competition has helped over 700,000 primary school pupils in 1,665 schools across 544 local government areas. It has grown into the biggest literacy improvement initiative, engaging pupils across all 109 senatorial districts in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT.

From an initial three, the Grand Finale has expanded to all six geopolitical zones featuring keynote speakers such as Dr Oby Ezekwesili and Professor Wole Soyinka.

In addition, Lafarge works with implementation partners State Universal Basic Education Commission (SUBEBs), TEP Centre and Ovie Brume Foundation. It has also attracted partners such as the British Council, Oando Foundation and Sterling Bank who have contributed to the intervention.

The project is one of the company’s leading corporate social responsibility investments. “When it comes to CSR, we are quite strategic in our approach because we want to grow our social impact year on year,” said Titilope Oguntuga, the Sustainable Development & Corporate Brand Manager at Lafarge Africa.

But for Lafarge, this means more than just fulfilling a CSR obligation with the company aligning its vision for the project with efforts aimed at achieving sustainable development.

“As a corporate, we are complementing the Nigerian government’s efforts to achieve SDG 4 – quality education and secure a sustainable future for this generation and the ones to come,” Ambrose-Medebem said, adding that the national goal is to raise Nigeria’s literacy level from 62 percent to the global level of 86.3 percent.

The 2019 edition saw the introduction of the computer-based testing (CBT) for the first time as a mode of assessment. After being coached, select pupils competed in a state run-off, which saw two candidates – male and female – emerge to compete at the regional levels.

At the end of the regionals, two winners each emerged from Ogun, Rivers, Enugu, Kogi, Gombe, and Kastina state after which they proceeded to the grand finale where six winners emerged. 

Following the keenly contested grand finale in November, pupils (Master David Emmanuella and Miss Barikpoa Prosper) from Community Primary School, Rivers State, won the first prize while Ogun and Enugu States took the second and third positions respectively. And the winners of the sixth LANLC with the theme; Bridging the Literacy Gap Together were awarded scholarships, trophies and various gifts.

It is, however, less about competing to win and more about fostering a belief in the minds of Nigeria’s youngest minds. “Among Nigerian children, we hope to instil in them the self-belief that they can compete on a global scale and achieve anything they set their minds to,” Ambrose-Medebem noted.

Moreover, it is the company’s belief that all the children who make it to the Grand Finale are winners, according to Oguntuga. “Therefore we call all 12 Finale participants winners and reward them with varying prizes. In 6 years, we have had 72 winners.”

The contest has a lasting impact on participants. Most of the children who undergo the literacy competition report higher levels of confidence with public speaking and making new friends, more courage to pursue their dreams, and most importantly ability to spell and read better. While their parents become more dedicated as they help the children prepare and study for the runoffs.

Based on its nationwide education intervention and outstanding contribution to the development of literacy in the country’s primary schools, LANLC has been endorsed by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) – a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Education in charge of Basic Education across the country.

Commenting on the ultimate goal for the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition, Oguntuga said the hope is to improve literacy and out of school rates among children in Nigeria, and ultimately secure a sustainable future for the next generation.

Rightly so, private-sector-led initiatives that support government efforts like the Lafarge Africa National Literacy Competition often have a profound impact in safeguarding the future of generations to come while ensuring Nigeria’s economic growth and sustained development.

About Lafarge Africa Plc

Lafarge Africa Plc, a leading Sub-Saharan Africa building materials company is a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim, a world leader in building materials. Listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Lafarge Africa is actively participating in the urbanization and economic growth of Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa.

 Lafarge Africa has the widest footprint in Nigeria with cement operations in the South West (Ewekoro and Sagamu in Ogun State), North East (Ashaka, in Gombe State), South East (Mfamosing, Cross Rivers State) with Ready-Mix operations in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. Lafarge Africa has a current installed cement production capacity of 10.5Mtpa.

 Lafarge Africa leverages on its innovative expertise to provide value-added products and services solutions in the building and construction industry in Nigeria. Additional information is available on the web site at www.lafarge.com.ng

About LafargeHolcim 

LafargeHolcim is the global leader in building materials and solutions. We are active in four business segments: Cement, Aggregates, Ready-Mix Concrete and Solutions & Products. With leading positions in all regions of the world and a balanced portfolio between developing and mature markets, LafargeHolcim offers a broad range of high-quality building materials and solutions. LafargeHolcim experts solve the challenges that customers face around the world, whether they are building individual homes or major infrastructure projects. Demand for LafargeHolcim materials and solutions are driven by global population growth, urbanization, improved living standards and sustainable construction. Around 75,000 people work for the company in around 80 countries.

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