Country Paper: Status and Major Challenges of Literacy in Nigeria



1.0 Introduction
This first section of the Country Report on Literacy and Development describes the
demographic composition of Nigeria, highlighting the different age and language groups,
literacy, enrolment, drop-out and completion rates for primary and secondary schools. The
section also indicates target groups of literacy programmes by age, sex, ethnic origins, locality,
economic status, occupation and languages.
1.1 Demographic Composition
In 2006, the population of Nigeria was estimated at 140 million – nearly one-quarter of Sub-
Saharan Africa’s population. It is estimated that one in every six black persons in the world is a
Nigerian. The country is composed of more than 250 ethnic groups, and more than 500
indigenous languages and dialects, with three major tribes – Igbo in the East, Hausa in the
North and Yoruba in the West. However, the official language in Nigeria is English. The
country is made up of 36 States and a Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, subdivided into
774 local government areas in six geo-political zones.
The 2006 population census suggests a growth rate of 2.3% per annum with the age distribution
showing that persons aged 15 years and below constitute about 45% of the 140 million
Nigerians, people between 15 years to 59 years constitute 51.7% while those of 60 years and
above are just 3.3%. The census shows that there are more males than females, with a
male/female ratio of 65.1:48.6. The population in the urban centres is put at 47% while that of
the rural is 53%. Literacy rate is 70.8 consisting of 63.8% for females and 77.8% among males.
(FME, Bali 2008a).
Nigeria covers an area of 924,000 square kilometres and is bordered by the Gulf of Guinea and
the Atlantic Ocean in the south, Republic of Cameroon in the east, Republic of Benin in the west
and Niger and Chad in the north. The topography ranges from mangrove swamp land along the
coast to tropical rain forest and savannah to the north. The Sahara desert encroaches upon the
extreme northern part of the country while gully erosion threatens the carrying capacity of lands
in the South. Some 10 percent of the land is covered with forest, and Nigeria’s wood resources
include large stands of mahogany, walnut, and obeche. However, rapid deforestation has
reduced Nigeria’s forest by 50 percent in the last 15 years, and the potential for their future
exploitation is extremely limited. The country’s fishery resources are fairly small and are
concentrated in the coastal area.
The education system is built on the National Policy on Education which was launched in 1977,
revised in 2004 is further being reviewed. The country operates a universal basic education
system which is free and compulsory. Section 3 of the 2004 version of the policy declares that
“Basic education shall be of 9-year duration comprising 6 years of primary education and 3
years of junior secondary education. It shall be free and compulsory. It shall also include adult
and non-formal education programmes at primary and junior secondary levels for adults and
out-of-school youth”.
Statistics reveals that there are serious gender inequalities in educational attainment. Diverse
factors are responsible for the inadequate access for both boys and girls in eastern and
northern states of Nigeria respectively. In the same vein, a huge disparity still exists nationally
between men and women, boys and girls in educational access, retention and completion.
According to the National Literacy Survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (2009), literacy rate was calculated based on ability to read and write in English and any language and the
overall adult literacy rate was 56.9%. Adult literacy rates were 74.6% and 48.7% for urban and
rural areas respectively. The overall adult literacy rate among the males was 65.1% while that
of females was 48.6%. Lagos maintains the lead among the States with 88.3% while Yobe
State has the lowest adult literacy rate of 14.4%.
The Survey also shows the literacy rates by age group with 45% for ages 3-4 years, while the
high literacy rates of 60-78% captures the age groups of persons between 15-29 years. The
peak, 78% are persons between the age group 15-19 years.
On school enrollment among children of 6-14 years (basic education), about 3.6 million children of primary school age were not attending school. This number represents 9.5% of the population of children 6-14 years of age. The result shows a little gap between male and female
children but there exists a wide gap between urban and rural areas: 3.1% in urban against 12.3% in the rural area.
The result of the Survey also reveals that close to half a million children dropped out of school within the period covered by the survey. This is about 1.7% of the population of children currently attending primary school. There is no significant difference in the rates for male and female children. The drop-out rate in the rural area is more than double that of urban for males and females.
Among youth of secondary school age group, overall literacy rate was 71.9%. For urban and
rural areas the rates were 88.5% and 63.9%. The overall youth literacy rate among the males
was 76.6% while that of females was 67.1%.
The challenge for Nigeria is to get education to the unreached in the rural areas where the
majority of the population lives. It is also very urgent that the challenges posed by the girl-child
education in some States of the north be tackled.
1.2 Target Groups
The target groups of literacy programmes in Nigeria can be deduced from the mandate and
objectives of the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-Formal Education. The
mandate is to provide basic literacy, post literacy, vocational and continuing education to the
following target groups:
Adults and adolescents (15 years and above) who have never been to school and cannot
read or write;
Adults and adolescents (15 years and above) who are above school going age but have not
achieved the competencies of reading, writing and numeracy;
Early school leavers who could not stay to achieve permanent literacy for effective work;
Adults/youths requiring rehabilitative education (including prisons inmates) known as
yandaba in the North, area boys in the South-West and out-of-school boys in the South-East
and South-South of Nigeria;
School age children and youths (6-14 years) not enrolled in the formal school system.
These target groups are found among:
Women in purdah
Rural women
Peasant farmers

Market women and men
Out of school children and youths
Girl-child and out- of -school boys
Street children with no fixed address
Traditional Qur’anic school children (the Almajiris)
Adult Nomads/Migrant Folks
The physically challenged children/youth
Illiterate drivers
Illiterate workers/semi-skilled workers (road side mechanics, artisans etc)
Illiterate/semi-skilled junior workers in public and private sectors
Prison inmates requiring rehabilitative education.