National Literacy Programme (NLP)

Country Profile: Pakistan


181,193,000 (2013)

Official Languages

Urdu, Pashto, English, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi

Poverty (Population living on less than US$2.00 per day)

45% (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.5 (2013)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

Total: 72.9% (2014)
Male: 78.6%
Female: 66.9%

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

Total: 73.7% (2015)
Male: 80.2%
Female: 66.8%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2010 - 2011)

Total: 56.4% (2015)
Male: 69.5%
Female: 42.7%


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleNational Literacy Programme (NLP)
Implementing OrganizationNational Commission for Human Development (NCHD) Government of Pakistan
Language of InstructionUrdu and Sindhi
FundingGovernment of Pakistan
Date of Inception2002 –

Context and Background

The levels of literacy in Pakistan are disturbingly low. The total literacy rates of young people and adults in 1995 and 2005 were 65 per cent and 50 per cent respectively. In addition, there are also huge disparities in the levels of literacy between women and men. For example, between 1995 and 2004, the literacy rate for young males and females aged 15–24 years, was 77 per cent and 53 per cent, respectively. During the same period, the female adult (24 years and above) literacy rate was 35 per cent but was believed to be even lower among rural-based women and women from ethnic minorities.

Similarly, many Pakistani children face huge challenges in accessing quality and sustainable education and in continuing to attend school. According to the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD), although national statistics indicate a gross enrolment rate of 70 per cent in primary education, 50 per cent of these children drop out of school before reaching the fifth class/grade and thus, before acquiring the basic literacy competencies expected of primary school graduates. Only one-third of children (or 11 per cent of the total target population) who enrol in primary education manage to acquire effective literacy skills, indicating that high drop-out rates and failure to access quality and sustainable education partly account for the high rates of illiteracy in Pakistan. Overall, about 54 million Pakistanis are illiterate.

A number of socio-cultural and economic factors limit access to sustainable education for many Pakistanis. These include poverty, low state funding of the educational sector (for example in 2005, total expenditure on education was 2.4 per cent of GNP), inadequate human and institutional capacities, mismanagement and corruption. These challenges are exacerbated by high levels of political instability and insecurity as well as by conservative religious beliefs and practices which restrict education opportunities for girls and women.

In light of this and recognising that illiteracy is both the cause and consequence of poverty and national underdevelopment, the NCHD – an autonomous and federal statutory body – initiated the National Literacy Programme (NLP) in 2002 in an effort not just to combat illiteracy but also to empower people to become effective agents of social change and development. The NLP was also intended to support efforts of the Ministry of Education in the provision of education opportunities to the citizens.

The National Literacy Programme (NLP)

The NLP is an integrated literacy programme which particularly targets out-of school children, young people and adult women and is currently being implemented across the entire nation (i.e. covering the country's 122 districts and effectively operating in about 50,000 villages). The NLP endeavours to promote family literacy training and intergenerational learning based on the principle that the enrolment and retention of children in school is largely a function of family support. Accordingly, improving the literacy levels of parents or family members is regarded as an essential instrument in ensuring access to education for children and young people.

The NLP is sub-divided into three broad components: the Universal Primary Education (UPE) programme, the Adult Literacy Programme (ALP) and the Post-Literacy Programme which addresses the learning and education needs of out-of-school children, young people and adults. After a brief overview of the UPE programme, this report particularly focuses on the Adult Literacy Programme (ALP).

The UPE Programme

The UPE programme primarily targets out-of-school children and young people and is thus principally intended to: to assist out-of-school children to gain access to education by setting up 'feeder' schools in areas with no government schools, increase the net enrolment of children into primary education and reduce the drop-out rate through technical support (under the UPEP) and social mobilisation and increase the learning achievement of children through the provision of quality education and adequate resources. The programme involves the compilation of a database of out-of-school children through door-to-door surveys which are conducted by community volunteers and the District Education Department (DED) as well as through social (or community) mobilisation to encourage families to enrol their children in school. The NCHD has also opened formal community-based primary schools in remote areas where such schools did not exist before, in order to ensure that every child has access to education. Similarly, more resources, including teachers and teaching-learning materials, have been made available to schools to cater for the increasing number of children enrolling into primary education. In order to prevent absenteeism or dropping-out, teachers and community volunteers have been empowered to follow-up and persuade parents and the children themselves to return to and remain in school.

The NLP has facilitated the establishment of about 21,000 community-based feeder schools (CBFSs) in 50,000 villages and trained over 21,000 community-based literacy facilitators (feeder teachers). In addition, the UPE programme has also provided in-service and professional advancement training to 313,287 primary school teachers. These strategies have enabled about 7,879,253 out-of-school children (aged five to nine years)to have access to education resulting in a marked increase in the net enrolment ratio in primary school (from 52 per cent to 87 per cent) in most districts. Additionally, strong community mobilisation, including the mobilisation of about 40,000 volunteers, has resulted in a significant reduction in the drop-out rate: from 50 per cent to 18 per cent in most districts where the UPE programme has been implemented.

The Adult Literacy Programme (ALP)


The ALP is a basic literacy programme which endeavours to provide basic learning opportunities to young people and adults (mostly women) aged between 11 and 45 years old with little or no literacy skills. Most of the targeted beneficiaries have never attended school or dropped out of school before acquiring basic literacy skills due to socio-cultural and economic factors highlighted above. The NCHD target is to enrol about one million learners into the ALP per year, most of whom are women.


Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

The design, development and implementation of the NLP is based on a tripartite partnership between the NCHD, District Education Department (DED) (including schools and teachers) and communities (including volunteer literacy teachers). A particularly innovative and critical feature of the ALP is its emphasis on social mobilisation and community involvement in programme implementation. Social mobilisation is often undertaken through a network of influential local leaders such as teachers, elected officials and religious leaders. This is not only intended to identify and mobilise potential learners and teachers but also to ensure that the programme effectively addresses their particular needs as well as encouraging parents to enrol into the ALP and to support their children in school. In addition, the community provides space for the setting-up of community-based adult learning centres (ALCs) and is also responsible for the management of ALCs and for the identification of potential programme facilitators in their communities. On the other hand, the NCHD and the DED is responsible for preparing implementation plans as well as providing teaching-learning resources to ALCs, training and payment of programme teachers/facilitators.

In addition, NCHD has also implemented a number of activities and programmes to consolidate the ALP and to promote lifelong learning. Thus, family-based distance learning is promoted through: the production and distribution of a monthly newsletter, The Pehla Qadam, which is the only newsletter for adult learners in the country, the creation of revolving libraries with basic literacy material and by encouraging learners to read the Qur’an.

Mostly importantly, NCHD has initiated a six-month (132 days/264 learning hours) Post-Literacy Programme (PLP) to provide ALP graduates and out-of-school young people with opportunities for continuing education, leading to enrolment in formal primary, secondary or vocational education and engagement in secure income generation activities. Thus, apart from consolidating the learners' literacy skills, the PLP also endeavours to empower them through functional literacy learning and vocational training. To this end, the PLP emphasise training in, for example, literacy (mathematics, English, Urdu), health, agriculture (crop, fish, poultry and livestock production), life skills (peace-building, conflict management and resolution), food processing and preservation and dressmaking. NCHD has opened 3,500 post-literacy centres in order to facilitate the efficient implementation of the PLP.

Training of Teachers

The NLP relies on a network of community-based literacy facilitators/teachers who are, in most cases, identified and recommended for training (by the NCHD) by community leaders. The NCHD recommends that facilitators should be recruited from and serve within their communities. Additionally, facilitators should have at least matriculation qualifications with good communication and interpersonal skills. Teachers are trained in the following key adult teaching methods used in the programme. Interactive teaching, peer and participatory teaching-learning processes are provided with ongoing professional assistance, thereafter.

Literacy teachers/facilitators are trained in three intervals involving four days of intensive initial training, three days of meso-level training, and finally, three days of higher level training in literacy education. This phased-out strategy enables literacy education trainee teachers to progressively grasp and internalise smaller quantities of information at a time. After training, facilitators are deployed back into their communities where they are responsible for 25 learners. NCHD literacy field supervisors assist facilitators through ongoing field visits and mentoring.

Teaching-Learning Methods

ALP activities are conducted at the community-based adult literacy centres (ALCs) which have been established across the country. Each ALC has about 25 learners and is under the responsibility management of a literacy field staff / facilitator (a facilitator is responsible for 30 ALCs).

The ALP curriculum is based on and therefore equivalent to the formal primary school curriculum, covering grade/classes 1 to 3. Similarly, the teaching-learning materials are designed to involve the learners' aspirations for easy, functional and quick learning – leading to a considerable level of basic literacy skills acquisition and retention. Concepts are initially introduced in the mother-tongue and other languages are introduced as learners become increasingly skilled.

The ALP curriculum is designed to be completed in 105 working days or about five months (210 teaching-learning hours), with learners attending two-hour classes per day. Thereafter, successful ALP graduates can enrol into the Post-Literacy Programme which is also implemented over 210 teaching-learning hours and exposes learners to higher levels of literacy and numeracy skills training and English as a second language. Apart from providing literacy skills training, the ALP curriculum is also designed to address the particular needs of adult learners such as livelihood generation, nutrition, childcare, reproductive and family health education. The shortened teaching-learning time is intended not only to promote accelerated learning but also to prevent learners from dropping out of the programme due to fatigue or disruption of livelihood productive time.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation has been one of the strongest components of the NLP. Each ALC is visited at least every week by senior NCHD staff (supervisors/coordinators and the DED) who use the the Literacy Management Information System (LIMS) software to enhance the monitoring and evaluation process. The field visits are also used as an opportunity to assist programme facilitators in their duties in order to enhance programme effectiveness. In addition to internal monitoring, the programme is also evaluated by external professionals. To date, comprehensive programme evaluations were undertaken by UNDP (2004, 2006) and Shell Pakistan (2005).


The following are key programme impacts:



Despite the importance of the literacy programme as noted, numerous challenges have also been encountered, including:

In an effort to ameliorate these challenges, NCHD has established strong working relations with the government in order to ensure both sustainable political and financial support. The duration of the ALP has also been reduced to six months in order to retain adult learners while the curriculum has been redesigned to cater for the learners' regional-specific needs. Similarly, capacity building and social mobilisation activities have been intensified in order to increase programme effectiveness by promoting professionalism among facilitators and the commitment of entire communities.

Lessons Learned

Experience has demonstrated that communities are easily motivated to support and/or to enrol into literacy programmes when greater emphasis is accorded to religious values of education and when the potential benefits of the programme satisfy their basic needs, such as being able to help their children with school work or improving their standard of life. Therefore, a literacy programme that fails to address community livelihood needs, for example, is less likely to be attractive. In addition, women should be the focal point of any literacy programme primarily because they have a strong influence on the lives of their families and are also more supportive of community developmental activities.



Iqbal ur Rehman
Director Education

Habib Ullah Khan (Program Manager)
15th Floor, Shaheed-e-Millat Secretariat
Jinnah Avenue Blue Area
Tel: +92-51-9216200 ext: 1260