History of Adult Education in Nigeria

The history of adult education in Nigeria is a journey in the past that carries so much promises about the very fast approaching future. Adult education is an academic programme that hates to leave rejected stones unturned. It holds a holistic approach to nation-building in terms of overall development and growth.

As it is believed and duly accepted that education is a light to the feet of the world in relations to determining the brightness of her future, the establishment and incorporation of the adult education into the scheme of national leadership and community-building policies is an evidence of the general concession of the fact.

With a country as Nigeria that has a very imbalanced ratio when it comes to the statistics or/and percentage of the educated compared to that of the uneducated, the need to fusing the adult education programme becomes very urgent and necessary.

The more reason for that necessity is informed by the understanding that educating the old and experienced citizens will go a long way into improving on the resources of the country.

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 essentially selective and designed with the specific goal of becoming literate in order to study the scriptures. In the 20th 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 National 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 education programmes were included at all levels of the education system.

Read Also: Role of Adult Education in Community Development

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 Centers 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 moment 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 Government established the National Commission for Mass Education (NMEC), responsible for the organization, monitoring and assessment of adult literacy practices in the country. The commission’s activities are decentralized, 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 responsibility 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.

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