05 April 2008

Adult literacy in Nigeria

The adult literacy rate is the share of literate persons in the population aged 15 years and older. In Nigeria, a Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) collected data on literacy that can be disaggregated by age, gender, area of residence, and other characteristics. In the survey, conducted in 2003, literacy is defined as the ability to "read and write in any language with understanding" (NPC and ORC Macro 2004: 247). To collect this data, respondents were only asked whether they are literate, but no reading or writing tests were applied. A smaller group of respondents, all women aged 15-49 years and one third of men aged 15-59 years, were asked to read a simple sentence in any of the major language groups of Nigeria (NPC and ORC Macro 2004: 26-27). The literacy rates obtained from this separate reading test were not considered for the analysis that follows, but they are lower than the self-reported literacy rates that cover all survey respondents aged 5 years and older. A separate article on this site describes the difference between self-reported and tested literacy in Nigeria in more detail.

In Nigeria, 55% of the population aged 15 years and older can read and write according to the findings of the DHS. More men (67%) than women (44%) are literate, and the literacy rate is higher in urban (71%) than in rural areas (47%).

Adult literacy rate in Nigeria, 2003
Literacy rate (%)
Male 67.3
Female 43.7
Urban 70.9
Rural 46.8
Total 55.3
Source: Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2003

Although almost half of all adult Nigerians cannot read and write, analysis of the survey data by age reveals a steady increase in literacy over the years. Today, more children go to school and learn to read and write than in previous decades. As a result, younger persons are much more likely to be literate than older persons. For the graph below, the survey respondents were divided into 5-year age groups. Among persons aged 15 to 19 years - those who were of primary school age in the 1990s - the literacy rate is 70%. Among persons 80 years or older, only 13% are literate.

A similar rate of increase in the literacy rate can be observed for men, women, urban residents, and rural residents. Among women 80 years or older, only 3% can read and write, compared to 23% of all men in the same age group. Among 15- to 19-year-olds, the female literacy rate is 63% and the male literacy rate 79%. While literacy rates have increased steadily for men and women, there continues to be a large gender gap. A similar gap exists between residents of urban and rural areas.

Adult literacy rate in Nigeria by age, gender and area of residence, 2003
Graph with literacy rates by age, gender and area of residence, Nigeria 2003
Source: Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2003

  • National Population Commission (NPC) [Nigeria] and ORC Macro. 2004. Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2003. Calverton, Maryland: National Population Commission and ORC Macro. (Download report, PDF format, 4 MB)
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External links

Friedrich Huebler, 5 April 2008 (edited 13 April 2008), Creative Commons License
Permanent URL: http://huebler.blogspot.com/2008/04/adult-literacy-in-nigeria.html

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