Thomas Fasokun / Cecilia Pwol

In Nigeria, we recognise the fact that literacy is a right. Through our participation in various international meetings and conferences where such declarations are made from time to time (The Persepolis Decla ration 1975, The Vienna Declaration 1993, The Hamburg Declaration 1997) we know that literacy has been internationally recognised both as a human right in itself and as a crucial instrument for the pursuit of other rights. However, illiteracy continues to be a significant prob lem in Nigeria. According to the 2008 Global Monitoring Report, the most recent data for Nigeria shows an adult literacy rate of 69 % (78 % for men and 60 % for women). More than 22 million people are illiterate, 65 % of whom are women. None of the literacy efforts attempted in Nigeria so far have produced the desired results and millions of people are still being denied access to literacy because of a lack of effective education policies. The following text is based on papers by Professor Thomas Fasokun, President of the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education (NNCAE), Department of Continu ing Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria. and Cecilia Pwol, director of the Women's Education, National Com mission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education, Nigeria.

Nigeria: The Current Situation within the Frame work of the International Benchmarks

The major causes of adult illiteracy in Nigeria can be summarised as:

  • Problems in primary education (low enrolment rates, high dropout rates, inadequate facilities, poor teaching/learning materials, ir relevant curriculum);
  • Poor enrolment rates in adult literacy programmes;
  • High drop out rates linked both to economic problems which force adult learners to abandon classes in favour of income-generating activities and to problems relating directly to the adult literacy pro gramme such as lack of relevance, funding issues and low morale among adult literacy instructors;
  • Literacy instructors not properly trained in facilitation skills and gender awareness;
  • The exclusion of women from adult education programmes;
  • Higher drop-out rates among women due to irrelevant curricula and competing demands;
  • Poor access to adult education for "hard" to reach communities, such as nomads, fishermen and pastoralists;
  • Failure to sustain literacy rates due to poor resources, including equipment, material and teachers, donor dependency and a nega tive perceived value of education;
  • A poor literate environment that means that literacy skills are not maintained in the long term.


Some History

Adult education in Nigeria has a long history. As far back as the 14 th century, itinerant Islamic scholars and traders in the Muslim north of the country taught Arabic literacy through the study of the Koran. Later, Christian missionaries brought Western education to parts of southern and central Nigeria. This education, however, was essential ly selective and designed with the specific goal of becoming literate in order to study the scriptures. In the 20 th century, deliberate efforts were made by the British colonial government to provide some adult education in Nigeria. In its 1925 memorandum on Education Policy in British Tropical Africa, the British Colonial Office recommended the implementation of an adult education programme in African countries. Actual implementation of adult education in Nigeria started in 1944 (Omolewa, 1981) and by 1946 a national literacy programme was well under way, although due to poor implementation it had limited success.

Nigeria attained independence in 1960 and literacy efforts in Nigeria received a boost when UNESCO supported the establishment of an Adult Literacy Institute in Ibadan in 1965. In 1971 the Nigerian Na tional Council for Adult Education (NNCAE) was set up, becoming a "voice" for adult education practice in Nigeria. It recorded dramatic achievements within a short span of time, becoming a force to reckon with in terms of the planning, implementation and evaluation of adult and non-formal education programmes. In particular, the NNCAE played a leading role in driving aggressive campaigns and advocacy at government and university levels in order to ensure that adult educa tion programmes were included at all levels of the education system.

Since its inception the NNCAE has worked in collaboration with government and non-government agencies in Nigeria to:

  • Establish the Adult and Non-formal Education Unit in the Federal Ministry of Education in 1974
  • Establish Adult and Non-formal Education Agencies in all the states of the federation from 1980
  • Establish the National Mass Education Commission (NMEC) in 1990
  • Develop the Blueprint on Adult Education and Non-Formal Education and the Declaration of 1982–1992 as a National Mass Literacy Campaign; the Blueprint is still relevant in Nigeria today
  • Establish departments of adult education in federal universities
  • Develop a human resource base of experts in adult and non-formal education
  • Conduct annual national conferences/seminars where adult education experts and practitioners meet to discuss issues
  • Document research findings through its journal, Adult Education in Nigeria
  • Partner with international agencies in the promotion of adult and non-formal education

It was in the Third National Development Plan (1975-1980) that the Federal Government first made provision in real terms for adult education in the country. The plan proposed the establishment of Centres for Adult Education to run correspondence and adult education courses and to conduct research into various aspects of adult and non-formal education. In 1980 the Government of Kano State established the Kano State Agency for Mass Education. This was a historic mo ment for it was the first post–independence state government to go out of its way to set up an autonomous agency responsible for adult and non-formal education. The Kano State Agency made tremendous progress in adult literacy, winning UNESCO literacy awards in 1983 and 1990.

A great wind of change came in 1990 when the Federal Military Gov ernment established the National Commission for Mass Education (NMEC), responsible for the organisation, monitoring and assess ment of adult literacy practices in the country. The commission's activities are decentralised, with offices in the six geo-political zones of the country, the 36 states and all 774 local government areas. Coordination and supervision of literacy classes are the sole respon sibility of the local adult education officers, supervisors and literacy instructors. The minimum number of literacy classes expected in any local government is ten, with additional classes managed and funded by NGOs. Examinations are conducted on the basic competencies, reading, writing and numeracy. Life skills, which are central to all the literacy programmes, are also tested.

The Current Situation

Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democracy, education has been a key sector in ongoing socio-economic reforms. The adoption of the Education for All (EFA) goals in Dakar brought a significant shift in the position of Nigeria on adult and non-formal education. Nigeria's 2004 National Policy on Education placed great emphasis on adult and non-formal education and focused on the education of marginalised groups, including nomads and migrants, girls and women, street chil dren and the disabled. As before, federal agencies are responsible for policy and for the implementation of adult and non-formal education.

AIDS Education Workshop for teachers in Nigeria


 AIDS Education Workshop for teachers in Nigeria
Source: Gideon Mendel/ Corbis/ActionAid


The following activities were identified in the Government's 10-year Plan for Adult and Non-formal Education:

  • Adequately document existing literacy and NFE efforts nationwide
  • Create synergy between literacy and other adult empowerment programmes (agricultural extension, family planning, primary health care etc.) for more effectiveness and efficiency
  • Evaluate, improve, and expand ongoing literacy programmes (Literacy by Radio, Reflect , Adult Literacy for the disabled, etc.) nationwide
  • Use, maintain and rehabilitate existing facilities such as Literacy Centres and Women's Centres
  • Launch a massive media campaign to promote literacy, particularly amongst the most marginalised groups


LIFE in Nigeria

The launch of the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) by UNESCO covering the period 2005-2015, provided a ray of hope for the development of a strategic framework for literacy education in Nigeria. LIFE is a UNESCO initiative that will be implemented in 35 countries with a literacy rate of less than 50 %, or a population of more than 10 million without literacy competencies. LIFE operations are intended to be country-led, respond to country-specific needs and priorities, and correspond to national capacities. Activities so far have included:

  • Preparatory meetings with literacy stakeholders for a national stakeholders' forum
  • A national stakeholders' meeting to create awareness of LIFE
  • Identification of fiscal policies and strategies for promoting literacy and literacy work in Nigeria
  • Developing strategies for repositioning and redefining literacy and embedding lifelong learning
  • Attendance at a sub-regional meeting in Niger
  • Carrying out of a national needs assessment for literacy
  • Consolidation of the draft LIFE Action plan
  • Scaling-up of the LIFE flagship project – Literacy by Radio


Implications of the Benchmarks

What more must we do to improve adult literacy in Nigeria? In spite of the laudable efforts made by UNESCO (Nigeria) in literacy education, even a cursory look at the International Benchmarks for Adult Literacy shows that Nigeria is not yet operating within the recommended frame work for adult literacy programmes. Nigeria needs to examine the Adult Literacy Benchmarks and develop and refine them through applica tion and reflection so that they become an effective tool for delivering literacy to the millions of adults denied it. Considering the issues dis cussed in this paper and the framework provided by the Adult Literacy Benchmarks, it is reasonable to offer the following suggestions:

Definition of literacy: In Nigeria, we continue to operate within a nar row definition of literacy, which sees it merely as the ability to read, write and calculate. This is no longer adequate for people to operate successfully in a scientific and technological age. Literacy is not just about adapting to existing conditions but about having the problem solving and critical-thinking skills necessary to bring about any changes needed. Countries with longstanding literacy programmes are becoming increasingly concerned about "what comes next" after basic skills are taught. Innovative methods are being developed to address the aims of learners in social, economic, and cultural areas. Nigeria needs to determine what constitutes literacy in the light of our present situation and in relation to the wider society in which Nigerians have to operate.

Strengthening partnerships: The activities of the various organisa tions and agencies working towards adult literacy should be stream lined in order to make optimum use of meagre resources and minimise unnecessary squabbles and rivalries. Efforts should be made to turn them into partners who collaborate in a multi-agency approach to adult education policy design and implementation. Decision-makers and implementers at all levels should be effectively trained to improve their capacity to manage the programme.

Literacy survey: A national assessment of literacy levels and prac tices is essential if Nigeria is to present a realistic account of its Universal Basic Education achievement by the year 2015, when the assessment of EFA goals will be conducted. The reliance on citizens' self-reporting on literacy must not continue. For a literacy programme to be rel evant and meaningful a baseline survey / needs analysis is required to assess current literacy levels and practices, as well as the social and cultural issues that have to be considered before programmes are designed and materials developed. There should be a focus on qualitative as well as quantitative assessment in order to measure the true impact of literacy on participants and their communities.

Training: There is a need to recruit and train competent adult education personnel who will be motivated to support policies and programmes on adult education throughout the country. Without an adequate number of good facilitators and administrators, no amount of funding will yield the desired results. The NNCAE should be supported by government and non-government agencies to map out effective training strategies.

Mass literacy campaign: The present UBE programme in Nigeria is moving in the right direction to combat illiteracy in the country. In order to address the poor literacy rates and low enrolment, the Government, in collaboration with NGOs and local communities, should ensure there is improved access to quality non-formal education for adults and out-of-school young people, especially girls and women, mobile communities and the disabled. The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency set the machinery in motion to institute another mass literacy campaign that will be effectively carried out.

Funding: Perhaps the greatest challenge facing education in Nigeria is inadequate funding by federal, state and local governments. At all levels, adult and non-formal education suffers seriously from under-funding. If Nigeria is to attain even part of the EFA Millennium Development Goals, there is a real need to consult widely and come up with a reliable and workable funding mechanism. The Federal Government must support workforce literacy by developing tax incentives, infrastructure develop ment and support, public awareness campaigns and supportive policies to ensure accessibility of literacy and numeracy skills training to the masses. State and local governments need to take greater responsibility and treat adult education with the seriousness it deserves. The lack of consistent and adequate funding, vision, strategy, and coordination has meant that literacy services have tended to "fall through the cracks". Our goal must be to ensure that all Nigerians are equipped to face the challenges of a new, complex world. To help reach that goal, govern ments must make literacy a policy and funding priority.


Aderinoye. R.A (1997). Literacy Education In Nigeria, Ibadan, University of Ibadan Publishing House.

National Planning Commission (2004). National Economic Empowerment and Develop ment Strategy, (NEEDS). National Planning Commission, Abuja.

Fasokun.T.O. (1981). "Development of Adult Education in Nigeria", Indian Journal of Adult Education Volume 42, Nos. 1-2, pp 13-19.

Fasokun, T.O. (2005). "Adult Education in Practice". A Module Prepared for DAE 104, Diploma in Adult Education for the Distance Education Unit of the Continuing Edu cation Centre, in collaboration with the Department of Adult Education, University of Botswana, Gaborone.

Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004). National Policy on Education. Yaba, Lagos: NERDC Press.

Omolewa M.A. (1981). Adult Education Practice in Nigeria, Ibadan, Evans Brothers (Nigeria Publishers) Limited.

Adult Education and Development


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