History of Adult Education in NIgeria

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Before we delve into the history of Adult Education in Nigeria, let’s look at its meaning. Adult education simply means the practice of teaching adults. This can take place at one’s place of work, in the community, or through continued learning in secondary school and universities. Education of adults is different from educating children in several ways. Reason being that, adults already have accumulated knowledge that may hinder or foster their learning. In the 1990s, when computer courses were gaining tractions, all those who enrolled were adults–not children nor adolescent. 

In Nigeria today, adult education is important for development. We see school dropouts returning to school to at least earn a WAEC certificate. Even some working adults quit their jobs to attain more degrees. We also have illiterate adults who take evening or weekend classes to learn English.

Now, where did adult education all begin from?

History of Adult Education in Nigeria

It is impossible to talk about the history of adult education without mentioning the impact of Islamic scholars and Christian missionaries, and its development after Nigeria’s independence.

The Foundation of Adult Education in Nigeria

In the 14th century, travelling Islamic scholars and traders were quite many in the Northern part of Nigeria, where they taught Arabic to adults through the study of Koran. In Southern and Central Nigeria, however, Christian missionaries introduced Western education. Education during this time primarily catered to the needs of the colonial administration and the mission schools run by various religious organizations. During this period, adult education was somewhat overlooked, with the focus being on formal education for children. Still, some adult education initiatives aimed at providing basic literacy to adults in rural areas did emerge.

In the 20th century, Nigeria—now under colonial rule—witnessed efforts by the British to provide some adult education in Nigeria. The British Colonial Office, in its 1925 memorandum on Education Policy, recommended the implementation of an adult education programme in African countries. It was not until 1944 that implementation of adult education in Nigeria actually started. By 1946, a national literacy programme had got into operation, although it had limited success due to low implementation.

The Rise of Adult Education in Nigeria

The development of Adult education can be attributed to literacy campaigns conducted by government departments. Also, extra-mural education, arranged for people who are not full-time students, played a very good role in developing adult education in Nigeria and other African countries as a means of equipping citizens with knowledge of self-government in colonies as they were independence. At the University College at Ibadan, the first in Nigeria, the extra-mural department was set up in 1949. This opened up a lot more learning opportunities for a number of adults in Nigeria.

The attainment of Nigeria’s independence in 1960 helped literacy efforts receive a boost. It marked a turning point. In 1965, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisatio (UNESCO) supported the establishment of an Adult Literacy Institute in Ibadan. 

Later, in 1971, the Nigerian National Council for Adult Education (NNCAE) was established and it became the “upholder” for adult education practice in Nigeria. Within a short period of time, NNCAE had begin to play a huge role in championing advocacy and campaigns to ensure that adult education programmes were included at all levels of the Nigerian education system.

Since its establishment, the NNCAE has collaborated with both government and non-government organizations in Nigeria to achieve the following:

  1.  In 1974, it played a role in the creation of the Adult and Non-formal Education Unit within the Federal Ministry of Education.
  2.  Starting from 1980, it contributed to the establishment of Adult and Non-formal Education Agencies in all the states of Nigeria.
  3. In 1990, it was instrumental in the formation of the National Mass Education Commission (NMEC).
  4. It was responsible for the development of the Blueprint on Adult Education and Non-Formal Education, as well as the Declaration of 1982–1992, which served as a National Mass Literacy Campaign. These documents continue to hold significance in Nigeria today.
  5. It played a role in the establishment of adult education departments in federal universities.
  6.  The NNCAE has worked on building a pool of experts in adult and non-formal education.
  7.  It organizes annual national conferences and seminars, providing a platform for adult education experts and practitioners to discuss pertinent issues.
  8. The NNCAE also collaborates with international agencies to promote adult and non-formal education.

The Third National Development Plan, 1975-1980, saw the Federal Government make it’s first  provision for adult education. One of the highlight of the plan a proposal to establish Centres of Adult Education that will provide education courses and conduct research into different aspects of adult and non-formal education.

Another significant development came when the National Commission for Mass Literacy, Adult and Non-formal Education Commission (NMEC) was established in 1990—the commission was charged with the responsibility of organising and monitoring adult literacy practices across all 774 local government areas in the country. In each local government, at least 10 literary classes were conducted. They were also additional classes funded by the NGOs. Examination were also conducted to test reading, writing, numeracy, and even life skills.

In addition, 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.

Adult Education in Nigeria: The Present State

The Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) by UNESCO, spanning from 2005 to 2015, helped create a framework for adult literacy in NIgeria. More recently, UNESCO says over 22, 000 indigent women, young girls and drop-out youths have been enrolled in adult education programmes in Ebonyi state. 

In spite of this commendle efforts by UNESCO and the government, Nigeria still falls below the recommended benchmark for adult literacy. Much still has to be done in terms of funding, campaigns and partnerships.


The history of adult education in Nigeria reflects the nation’s commitment to progress, empowerment, and inclusivity. And as Nigeria continues to shape its future, investing in adult education will remain a cornerstone of its development, fostering a society where every individual has the opportunity to learn, grow, and contribute.

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