National Literacy Programme, Namibia

  • Date published:
    4 March 2016

Programme Overview

Programme Title National Literacy Programme
Implementing Organization Government of Namibia
Date of Inception 1992

Background and Context

The majority of Namibia’s population of 2.1 million (2007 estimate) depends on agriculture and the informal sector for subsistence. Societal problems mainly arise from and are reflected by the disparities in income distribution, unemployment and poverty. 60% of the population live below the poverty threshold. The 1991 census revealed that about 300 000 - 400 000 people or 35% of the entire population was illiterate. Estimates in recent years also suggest that 19% and 20% of young men and women, respectively, aged 25 to 29 years old are unemployed. In rural areas, the average unemployment rate is 40% compared to 30% in urban areas. Linking literacy to livelihood skills development, particularly in poor rural and peri-urban communities, is therefore critical for the enhancement of the communal subsistence economy and its integration into the mainstream national cash economy as well as for the improvement of people's living standards.

The National Literacy Programme in Namibia (NLPN)


NLPN was officially launched in September 1992, two years after Namibia gained independence. The programme was built on a long tradition of literacy and adult education campaign dating back to the early activities of the missionaries but most importantly, to the Literacy Campaign (SLC) of the South West African People's Organisation (SWAPO), and NGOs such as the Namibia Literacy Programme and the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN). All of these programmes were initiated during the struggle for liberation.

NLPN targets out-of-school youth as well as illiterate and disadvantaged adults. Its aim is to enable them to participate effectively in national development. NLPN was initially funded by the Dutch, Swedish and Namibian Governments but is now wholly funded and facilitated by the Government of Namibia through the Ministry of Education. However, the ownership of the programme rests with the community, which is expected to participate actively in the planning, directing, monitoring, recruitment of learners and evaluating of all programme related activities (through its regional and community literacy committees). NPLN has experienced rapid growth; for example, by 1999, it had enrolled around 46,000 learners distributed across all regions of the country.

Programme Aims and Objectives


NLPN is driven by the broader national vision, which is to facilitate national development and transformation. The government’s specific and long-term vision for educational development is for Namibia to become a fully literate nation with a literate work force that is capable of driving and sustaining national development. In the short term, however, the programme aims to achieve a total youth and adult literacy rate of 90% by 2015. The overall qualitative goal is to use NPLN to promote social, cultural, political and economic development nationwide in order to improve the quality of life for all people. To this end, the NPLN aims to:

  • promote literacy and numeracy skills in local (mother-tongue) languages and in English in order to enhance multicultural and multi-religious tolerance and understanding;
  • promote further learning among out-of-school youth and adults with a view to reducing existing educational inequalities;
  • improve people’s communication capacity and self-confidence in order to create a well-informed citizenry;
  • enhance the participation of all people in the democratic process, including the exercising of their rights and responsibilities as citizens;
  • enhance the capacity of both youth and adults to become more productive and self-reliant; and
  • enable parents to participate in the improvement of their children’s lives, particularly by exposing the parents to useful health practices and enabling them to share the knowledge, skills and educational practices gained through NLPN with their children.

Implementation: Approaches and Methods

The Directorate of Adult Education (DAE), which is part of the Department of Lifelong Learning in the Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture, is responsible for coordinating the development of the curriculum, developing and distributing learning resources/materials and providing learners with literacy and numeracy skills training. To this end, DAE works in close cooperation with the National Institute for Educational Development (NIED), Regional Literacy Officers (RLOs) and District Literacy Organisers (DLOs). This decentralised structure of programme development and implementation has made it possible for NLPN to strike a balance between national, regional and/or local interests and needs as well as to develop learning materials in the eleven (11) main national languages, as well as in English. In addition, DLOs and RLOs are responsible for implementing the programme in their regions and districts by recruiting and training literacy promoters (teachers).


Literacy classes are attended by 15 to 30 learners and are held on a part-time basis, usually meeting three times a week for two hours. The teachers are also employed on a part-time basis and the programme recruits about 2 400 literacy teachers annually. Newly recruited promoters go through an initial, three-week pre-service training course in adult literacy. Thereafter, they participate in monthly in-service or refresher training courses. A learner-centred methodological approach is used for literacy teaching and learning. Group discussions, simulations, drama, song and dance and story-telling are some of the most commonly used methods.

The NLPN programme consists of two broad components/stages: 1) the Adult Basic Literacy Education Programme and 2) the Post-Basic Literacy Education Programme.

Adult Basic Literacy Education Programme

The literacy phase of the NLPN adult basic education programme comprises three formative one-year training stages, each averaging about 240 learning/lesson hours:

  • Stage 1: Basic Mother-Tongue Literacy

Emphasis during Stage 1 is to foster the development of mother-tongue literacy skills among learners. As such, learning is mainly conducted in the language of particular regions/districts.

  • Stage 2: Intermediate Literacy Learning

In the second year (Stage 2), the medium of instruction is still the mother tongue, and the key objective is to enable learners to improve, consolidate and sustain the literacy skills and experiences acquired in Stage 1. In addition, Stage 2 also introduces learners to functional literacy and life skills, incorporating issues related to agriculture, health, small-scale business entrepreneurship, environmental awareness and civic education. It is hoped that functional activities like this will empower learners to improve their quality of life and that of their communities.

  • Stage 3: English for Communication/Communicative English

Stage 3 is equivalent to Grade 4 in the formal primary education system and is the last stage in the Adult Basic Literacy Programme. It is dedicated to developing basic and functional English skills for general communication, and the task of literacy promoters is to create an environment conducive to the development of these skills. In addition, an emphasis is also placed on reinforcing developmental and livelihood activities.

The Post-Basic Literacy Education Programme


Following Stage 3 (equivalent to Grade 4 in the formal primary education system), there is a need to bridge the gap between the level achieved in Stage 3 and the level required of a secondary student. Hence, a fourth stage has been introduced. This stage (which is not necessarily linked to the three years of adult basic literacy learning and is open to anyone who has achieved the required level of literacy) primarily serves to equip learners with general knowledge, life and livelihoods skills. Graduates from the basic literacy classes can therefore continue their education by choosing one of the following options available in the NLPN programme’s Post-Basic Literacy Education component:

  • Adult Upper Primary Education Programme (AUPE)

This is a three-year course of post-literacy/general knowledge training for those who have completed Stage 3 or Grade 4. Unlike the basic literacy programme, AUPE has its own curriculum which includes general knowledge in addition to language and numeracy. The “language of business” is also an important component of this curriculum. Learners take two subjects per year. There are four compulsory and two optional courses. The programme endeavours to equip adults with knowledge and skills equivalent to Grade 7 in formal education

  • Adult Skills Development for Self-Employment (ASDSE)

This project was piloted in the Karas and Oshana regions with the objective of providing adult non-formal training activities at national, regional and district levels. The main goal of the project is to provide a better service to the community by harnessing adult education to create employment and income-generating opportunities. It also contributes towards national efforts to alleviate poverty by affording those who have acquired basic literacy skills the entrepreneurial skills needed for self-employment and employment in both urban and rural areas. Accordingly, graduates from the literacy programme are trained in various entrepreneurial skills which eventually enable them to acquire finances to establish small-scale businesses. Some of the learners go on to study at Community Skills Development Centres (COSDEC), where they learn skills such as plumbing and bricklaying. Many of these centres are being established in rural areas where there are no libraries for those who have acquired reading and writing skills. The aim is to provide access to reading material and promote a culture of reading and learning in the country.

Programme Impact and Achievements

The NLPN employs a continuous assessments and external evaluations in order to determine programme impact and challenges as well as the achievements of the learners. To date, three external evaluations have been undertaken, in 1995, 1998 and 2008. Learners are also formally examined at the end of the literacy academic year.


  • The programme has expanded rapidly since its inception in 1992. Crucially, most of the learners are literate (i.e. are able to read and write) after completing the adult basic learning programme. Between 1992 and 1995, for example, the number of learners increased from about 15 000 to 36 000, while the number of promoters (trainers) grew from 700 to 2000. By 1999, about 46 000 learners had enrolled in and benefited from the programme. Around 40 000 learners benefit from the programme each year. In addition, by 2007, 23 323 adult learners had enrolled in all the three stages of the NLPN of which 13 352 (57%) were tested and 12 919 (55%) had successfully acquired basic literacy competencies.
  • The programme’s literacy achievements are equally impressive: national literacy rates have risen from 65% in 1991 to 81.3% in 2001, while the total youth literacy rate rose to 92% between 1995 and 2004 and the adult literacy rate rose to 85% during the same period (see country profile, above).
  • Many people have been empowered to participate actively in national developmental activities including entrepreneurial activities and democratic processes.
  • Poverty Eradication and Improvement in standard of life: Entrepreneurial skills have enabled a number of learners to establish income-generating projects. In addition, improvements in literacy have lead to changes in general life styles and behaviour of participants.
  • More people are now able to independently conduct their business including undertaking financial transactions during shopping,
  • More women are being trained and empowered; as a result, they are gaining the confidence to compete for community leadership positions.


  • The main challenge is to sustain the programme by improving the quality both of the services offered and the learning environment itself. This is a difficult task in view of the limited funds available for the programme. In order to ensure the sustainability of the programme, there is a need for sector-wide and cross-sectoral support, including support from political leaders at all levels, employers in the private and public sectors, government ministries at the central and regional levels, trade unions, churches, youth and women’s organizations, donors and the media. Furthermore, the programme needs to forge working partnerships with international organizations to ensure a constant flow of technical and financial assistance for the programme.

  • A lack of formal employment opportunities has discouraged some learners, as most still prefer to be employees rather than support themselves through self-employment and income-generating activities.

  • There is also a need to improve the working conditions of trainers in order to motivate them to undertake their duties diligently.

Lessons Learned

Some of the main lessons learned are as follows:

  • Overall, the literacy programme has a very high turnout of women, both as learners and promoters. However, there are few male participants. This is partly due to the traditional labour demands for men (e.g. fishing, mining and labour migration into neighbouring countries).

  • There is a need to gradually develop post-literacy programmes to a level equivalent to that of Grade 7 in the formal primary school system. This will enable learners to proceed to the secondary level.

  • There is also a need to establish a mechanism for increasing awareness and support for adult skills development. Community empowerment through the development of skills and the promotion of income-generating enterprises is one strategy that would enable the country to address it social and economic challenges.

  • The establishment of Community Learning and Development Centres has contributed towards sustaining the literacy skills that learners have acquired.



Mr Beans Ngatjizeko
Director, Directorate of Adult Education
TAddress: P/Bag 12033, Ausspannplatz, Windhoek, Namibia
Tel: 00-264-61-2933188
Fax: 00-264-61-2933913
Email: bungatjizeko (at) mec.gov.na


Mr Bornface Katombolo Mukono
Deputy Director, Directorate of Adult Education
DAE Ministry of Basic Education, Sport and Culture, Government Office Park (Luther Street)
Private Bag 13186
Email: bmukono (at) mec.gov.na

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. National Literacy Programme, Namibia. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 27 March 2023, 08:44 CEST)

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