In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted that everyone has the right to education. Over 40 years later, it is clear that many people are still being denied this basic human right. Indeed, the 1980s saw more backward than forward movement in most countries of the world. It was at that point that a World Conference on Education for All was held in Jomtien, Thailand, for the purpose of forging a global consensus and commitment to provide basic education for all. Universal Basic Education (UBE) is the programme which grew out of that Conference (Dike, 2000).
President Olusegun Obasanjo formally launched the UBE in Nigeria on 30th September, 1999. The programme is intended to be universal, free, and compulsory. Since the introduction of western education in 1842 (Eya, 2000), regions, states, and federal governments in Nigeria have shown a keen interest in education. This can be seen in the introduction of the Universal Primary Education (UPE) in the western region on 17th January, 1955, its introduction in the eastern region in February, 1957, and in Lagos (then Federal Territory) in January, 1957. Other developments include the publication of a National Policy on Education in 1977, launching Universal Free Primary Education on 6th September, 1976, and the subsequent launch of UBE in 1999. The goal of all these programmes is providing functional, universal, and quality education for all Nigerians irrespective of age, sex, race, religion, occupation, or location.
UBE is broader than UPE, which focused only on providing educational opportunities to primary school age children. UBE stresses the inclusion of girls and women and a number of underserved groups: the poor, street and working children, rural and remote populations, nomads, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, minorities, refugees, and the disabled. The formal educational system is only one of six components included in basic education in the implementation guidelines of the Federal Government. Others relate to early childhood, literacy and life skills for adults, nomadic population, and non-formal education or apprenticeship training for youth outside the formal education system (Nigeria 2000).
In 2000, Nigeria's literacy rate was 52 percent (Babalola, 2000). In 1998, only 40% of all heads of households in Nigeria had any education at all, 21% had only primary education, 14% had up to secondary education, while only 5% had post-secondary education (UNDP, 1998). Data from the Federal Ministry of Education, Education Statistics (1996) showed that only 14.1 million out of 21 million school-age children are enrolled in primary school. UBE was born from these startling statistics, to promote education among all citizens.
Efforts by governments to promote education and literacy in Nigeria have failed because there was no provision for school libraries in the implementation of these programmes. The successful implementation of the UBE has serious implications for school libraries. It indicates an expanded vision for school libraries to include not only libraries in primary and secondary schools, but also libraries for early childhood education (in homes, communities, daycare centers and nursery schools), in skills centers for out-of-school youth, in adult education centers, in schools for nomadic peoples. Some of these may take very different forms from traditional school libraries. We must learn to think of school libraries in new ways. In the words of Dike (2003):
If we want children, and all citizens to acquire literacy, we must provide reading materials the abundant and pleasurable reading materials found in libraries. If we want learners to develop skills for lifelong learning, we must give them opportunities to enquire, to search, to explore, to practice, to solve problems such as are found in libraries. If...