In July 2023, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) published the National Digital Literacy Framework (NDLF) with the aim of attaining a 95% digital literacy level across regional governments – states and local governments – by 2030. NITDA’s stated objectives within the NDLF are Universal Access, Skill Development, Inclusive Participation, Workforce Readiness, and Local Content Creation. In its quest for these objectives, NITDA has adapted the key elements of the European Digital Competence Framework to the Nigerian context. NITDA identifies that the main difference between the Nigerian and the European context is the technological landscape – there is a substantial reliance on mobile phones over personal computers in Nigeria. NITDA claims that there is  a personal computer for every  five mobile phones. Despite this contextual argument, the NDLF is lacking in key areas that are required to meet NIDTA’s stated objectives.

Main Shortfalls

The NDLF’s mobile-centric contextual approach does not take cognisant of the fact that most Nigerian schools strongly discourage mobile phone usage. This misalignment between the NITDA’s approach to the digital literacy problem and the real Nigerian context is splayed out across many aspects of the policy proposal.

The sole pathway to digital literacy as prescribed by the NDLF is via formal education. This poses a serious exclusionary risk. The NDLF  ignores the 20% of Nigerian school-aged children currently unable to access formal educational institutions. According to UNESCO “Nigeria occupies 1 in every 5 of the world’s out-of-school children.” They are not part of the formal education system because of economic barriers and sociocultural norms. NITDA neglects to capture the economic and sociocultural issues impacting learning for Nigerian children while designing an approach to improving digital literacy. The NDLF also fails to capture the language barriers faced by students within formal educational systems, and the difference underscores the urgent need to consider language and socioeconomic inclusivity while developing policies for Nigeria’s cyberspace. While English is Nigeria’s formal language, adopting major Nigerian languages like Hausa, Yoruba, and Igbo within digital literacy programs is principal in achieving the NDLF objectives of universal access and inclusive participation.

Furthermore, the NDLF does not demonstrate a firm knowledge of the current baseline of digital literacy levels of Nigerian teachers or the state of learning facilities, and the civil, electrical, and telecommunications infrastructure associated with them. Without a proper assessment of the current state of infrastructure, and skill levels of students and staff, it is impossible to set realistic digital literacy development targets. While the NDLF envisages learning and delivery with the aid of digital tools and teachers who are digitally literate, the reality is that schools in many rural communities lack chalkboards. The NDLF seems like an attempt by NITDA to apply “technosolutionism” to a problem without addressing core issues of school attendance, teachers’ capacity, and the availability of conducive learning environments and tools. Moreover, beyond formal educational systems, 1 in 5 Nigerians cannot even read or write which is a prerequisite for digital literacy. It is obvious that if 20% of the general population lacks the ability to be digitally literate, achieving the federal government’s nationwide target of 95% digital literacy is impossible. Without addressing basic literacy, the NDLF risks exacerbating  the technological and socio-economic divides within the country.

The Federal Government through the Ministry of Education must take the lead in addressing foundational issues that would support digital literacy delivery. The NDLF’s recommended institutional framework includes a ‘Digital Literacy Institute’ and a ‘Digital Literacy Council’ managed by NITDA; a ‘Digital Literacy Management Office’ at the Presidency; a ‘Digital Literacy Fund’ managed by NITDA; and a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) by third-party consultants. While the NDLF focuses on channeling digital literacy through formal education, its proposed framework for implementation fails to position government educational institutions in a real leading or co-leading role. The development of the NDLF was spearheaded by ‘NITDA’s Digital Literacy Technical Working Group (DL-TWG)’ which does not include any key federal government educational institution such as the Federal Ministry of Education and the Nigerian Educational Research Development Council (NERDC).

Lastly, the NDLF has been unsuccessful in addressing technological risks such as misinformation and data privacy. Digital literacy must be expanded with the awareness of the risks disinformation, misinformation, and mal-information pose to the Nigerian democratic process. Digital literacy may help people identify misinformation but it does not necessarily stop them from spreading it. NITDA in particular needs to be more conscious about pursuing a rights-based approach to digital public infrastructure (DPI), especially DPI used by kids. With growing concerns over children’s privacy and the commercial uses of their data, it is vital that children understand digital risks and their individual rights. Middle East and Western Countries conduct research aimed at understanding students’ awareness of digital rights, how their tracked data could be used, and how privacy literacy training affects childrens’ online behaviour respectively. In Nigeria, these research gaps could be addressed by academic institutions, the government, or public policy research institutions (Think Tanks). While research and evidence have a place in public policy development, the poor evidence-based approach to educational public-policy decision-making in Nigeria seems to be a core practice at the heart of educational policy failures.

The general lack of a research-based approach to public-policy decision-making in Nigeria finds its way into the whimsical public decision-making process across many sectors, and education is not exempted. Evidence-informed decisions rely on academic investigations.

Addressing Shortfalls

All hope is not lost simply because there are options for developing digital literacy outside the classroom, such as extracurricular computing clubs. As a specimen of what is possible, the Nigerian federal government, in conjunction with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK charity with the mission to enable young people to realize their full potential through the power of computing and digital technologies have launched ‘Code Clubs’ with the purpose of developing “digitally literate and innovative young minds”. Inconsistent with the NDLF, on the 12th of January 2024, the Ministry of Communications, Innovation, and Digital Economy called on “host organisations interested in partnering to activate Code Clubs” across Nigeria. Extracurricular computing clubs represent a possible supplementary approach to formal-education-based digital literacy development. Moreover, this approach may be useful in circumventing neglected learning environments and facilities. However, the challenge with this model would be deploying it in an inclusionary way that serves the socioeconomic context of affected individuals. For this to be successfully achieved, measurable exclusionary risks within digital literacy programs must be identified, and measurable realistic targets must be set. Needless to say, measurable outcomes can only be defined with the aid of well-grounded research.

Code clubs illustrate the potential of alternative education in Nigeria. Alternative education involves various pedagogical approaches and offers flexible programmes for out-of-school children and adolescents. Malawi, for instance, acknowledged the need for 19 alternative approaches to basic education in order to cater for out-of-school children by introducing the Complementary Basic Education (CBE) program, which was initially promoted and supported significantly by donor agencies. Consequently, Malawi has since witnessed a shift from the more traditional, high-cost formal technical and vocational training to more holistic, contextualized skills development relevant to learners’ needs. Other examples are the Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training (APBET) in Kenya and the Complementary Basic Education (COBET) in Tanzania. While Nigeria’s federal legislators are seek to use “alternative schooling” to reduce 14m out-of-school children,  applying such pedagogical approaches in combination with digital learning environments holds profound potential for Nigeria. A successfully implemented digital literacy program, one that closes the digital divide, could be the pathway to long-term digital learning and educational development in Nigeria. It could further spur innovation. In the absence of physical learning environments during the Covid-19 pandemic, schools in developed countries adopted digital and online learning models which led to significant growth in education technologies (edtech).

The contemplation of fresh pedagogical approaches to learning in Nigeria underscores the demand for a local, community-based approach rather than top-down State-mandated approach to educational programs. Literacy is a human right. As such, the minimum role of  the  state should be  a  guarantor  that  nobody  will  be  deliberately  denied  that  right.  Within this context,  governments  may  have  to  contend  with  religious,  cultural or other interests that view digital literacy and organized education as inappropriate for certain groups, and may have to take deliberate steps to discard such barriers. While Nigeria’s Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education and Other Related Matters Act of 2004 establishes penalties for parents and guardians that deny their ward(s) basic education, clearly such punitive laws are ineffective within various economic and sociocultural contexts across Nigeria. Developers of top-down State-mandated literacy programs often ignore the contributions local people can make. One such contribution is a decentralised prescribed  and  standard  set  of curricula, methods and materials.

More specifically, the development of digital literacy programs should be hashed out in collaboration with government educational institutions and implemented via institutional frameworks that reflect such collaboration. Section 9 (C) of the Compulsory, Free Universal Basic Education and Other Related Matters Act of 2004 stipulates that the Universal basic Education Commision (UBEC) shall prescribe the minimum standard for education throughout Nigeria, in line with the National Policy on Education and following the directive of the National Council on Education. As such, if the Federal Government is serious about achieving a 95% digital literacy rate across the country, it may consider collaborating with institutions such as the National Council on Education which was absent in the NDLF’s list of stakeholders. It goes without saying that the proposed ‘Digital Literacy Institute’, ‘Digital Literacy Council’ and the ‘Digital Literacy Fund’ should have the Federal Ministry of Education, the Nigerian Educational Research Development Council (NERDC) and relevant government educational institutions incorporated within their institutional frameworks in capacities of leading roles. For example, in theUnited States, a Bill to establish the Digital Literacy and Equity Commission proposes an interagency commission to be chaired by the Secretary of Education (the Nigerian equivalent of a Federal minister), or a delegate from the Secretary (the Nigerian equivalent of the Federal Ministry of Education), and have members across all Federal agencies.

Lastly, data privacy and security are among the biggest risks for users when DPIs are not designed with adequate safeguards. Engaging in DPI raises a number of questions about civil rights and market regulations such as: which companies have access to and control of data? What is the role of the State and how would the State seek to mediate competition and monopoly? And What are the rights (legal and ethical) especially for children in relation to privacy? If NITDA wishes to support the development of a local DPI ecology then it needs to clearly define the levers and aspirations for control and mediation. Additionally, a research-based approach to ascribing a distinct definition between conceptual and critical digital skills could help refine the recommended approach. We recommend further research and development as part of a well-grounded methodological approach to answering the above public policy questions.


In conclusion, as the federal government of Nigeria strives towards digital literacy, it must do so in an inclusive manner, while co-opting the relevant government educational institutions in leadership roles. Afterall, digital literacy is as much a socioeconomic issue as it is technological. A thorough scientific-based review of the NDLF is clearly essential, alongside a realignment of the government’s goals with realistic targets. To do so, a sundry of research questions need to be answered with dexterity. Community-based research programs which are often generative in creating ideas that might be thought of as a Nigerian solution to digital literacy, and could support empowerment and capacity building should be adopted. For such research programs, the research agenda could focus on how to encourage community leaders and mediators to support public conversations about digital literacy, whose interests it serves and how to allay anxieties. NITDA also has to develop a foundational and rights-based policy framework for digital public infrastructure (DPI) to support DPIs in schools. Overall, the need to adopt a research-based approach to public-policy development and decision-making in Nigeria cannot be overstressed. Evidence-informed decision-making is imperative to achieving successful outcomes.

Tobore Oru
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Founder Digital Economy Forum (DEF) Nigeria

Sanchita Shekhar
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Research Assistant, Digital Economy Forum (DEF) Nigeria

Prof Julian Sefton-Green
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A key lead researcher in the Australian Research Council funded Centre of Excellence studying Digital Childhoods

Julian Sefton-Green contributed on the broader questions on literacy policies giving his perspective about how research can influence social change.

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