Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to begin with my favorite Nigerian expression, “All protocols observed.”
It is a pleasure to be here this morning with all of you to witness the launch of this exciting new initiative by the American University of Nigeria, with the support of the United States Agency for International Development.
As you know, we live in a hyper-connected, highly inter-dependent world, where knowledge is the most important currency. For the children of Nigeria, being able to read is an essential requirement to succeed in this new reality.
I was deeply touched when I heard Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai’s remarkable address to the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday. She said when the Taliban came for her and her classmates: “We realized the importance of pens and books, when we saw the guns.” Malala has continued to urge the world community to wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism. “Education,” she says, “is the only solution.”
This solution has never mattered more than it does today. Across the globe, nations, multilateral organizations, NGOs and other partners are working to realize education’s full power to unlock human potential, and raise global standards of living.
Education positively affects economic development and general health, while advancing civil rights. Where education is lacking, people are less likely to find economic opportunity. This leads to greater poverty and can open the doors to extremism and violence.
According to the 2010 National Education Data Survey, more than 53 percent of Nigerian children between the age of 5 and 16 cannot read a single sentence in their native language. When children struggle to read, they are unable to build a foundation for learning other subjects. Many who struggle will simply drop out of school.
The results for Adamawa State were even more disheartening. Surveys show that 77 percent of children in the state could not read at all in any language.
With well-trained teachers, books, and other teaching materials, students’ reading scores can double or triple that of their peers who lacked proper instruction.
Such successes draw attention to programs like AUN’s STELLAR initiative. STELLAR has shown it can produce remarkable results in a short time. Working with federal, state, and local government agencies as well as school administrators and teachers, this methodology can help fill an urgent need for Nigeria’s school system.
President Buhari has spoken strongly of the need to promote education as a key component to fostering economic growth and social cohesion. The American people stand ready to support his efforts to enhance your education system to make education accessible to all children in Nigeria.
Last, year, the U.S. government, through USAID, awarded $100,000 to AUN to provide humanitarian assistance to children of displaced families in Yola. AUN has been a good partner in that endeavor. In the spirit of partnership, it is my pleasure to witness today the signing of this agreement to provide an additional $801,000.
This program will not be limited only to schools serving the children in and around Yola. It will also support displaced children from other communities who have sought shelter in this community.
I thank you for your service, commitment, creativity, and courage. Let’s work together until there are no more cracks for students to fall through, no more barriers to run into, and no more threats to their safety as they pursue their dreams.