Ekundayo J. D. Thompson

Adult education needs to react to social, political, economic and cultural developments. Learning therefore always means change, so that the adult educator becomes a “change agent”. The themes of learning and change are the quintessence of the Kenya Post-Literacy Project, which the Department of Adult Education is implementing with technical, financial and material assistance from the German Association for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). On these premises, this article seeks to analyse the processes of implementing the project and its capacity to facilitate learning and change on the part of the beneficiaries (the learners), those charged with the responsibility of steering the project and the institutions in which they work. It also examines the environments which circumscribe the work of these project participants. Ekundayo J.D. Thompson is currently Advisor to the Kenya Post-Literacy Project; earlier he served as Programme Officer for the African Adult Education Association and as Secretary General of the People’s Educational Association of Sierra Leone.

Transforming the Adult Education Agenda through the Kenya Post-Literacy Project

1. Introduction

The overarching objective of adult education is the structuring of social processes for the purpose of addressing the myriad social issues and concerns which have emerged as a consequence of changed and changing circumstances. Changes in the life situations of people in the economic, social, cultural and political spheres are presenting a number of challenges and opportunities to adult educators.

As change agents adult educators are themselves expected to change in a number of ways, including change in their perceptions of reality (reading between the lines), their methods of either constructing reality or facilitating the construction of reality, and institutional change. Institutional change involves change in modes of operation and organizational culture including change in traditional top-down relationships towards more open, humanizing and empowering interactions. Change in the “rules of engagement” with the so-called beneficiaries, partners and powers-that-be is also desirable in the contexts of people-centred development and sustainable partnerships.

What is being advocated is systemic change in a systematic manner undergirded by a clear perception of the inadequacies of the status quo and a collective vision of the desired situation and how it should be realized.

Implicit in the dynamics of change is learning, which has become the key word in the development discourse and the practice of adult education. To learn is to change; learning is expected to result in change at the individual/personal, organizational, structural and environmental levels. Individuals and organizations which refuse to change, and by extension refuse to learn, will wither away.

2. Context of the Project

The Kenya Post-Literacy Project (KPLP) is being implemented at a juncture in the history of Kenya which is characterized by economic, educational and political reforms. Economic reforms are aimed at alleviating poverty and improving the life situations of the people. Strategies to this end were elaborated in Economic Reforms for 1996– 1998: The Policy Framework Paper, which details action at the macro-economic and structural policy levels. The Policy Framework Paper was succeeded by the National Poverty Eradication Plan 1999–2015,1 which presents a framework on comprehensive strategies to eradicate poverty, including reduction of unemployment, social integration and the creation of an enabling economic, political, cultural and legal environment for social development.

In the domain of education, the Master Plan on Education and Training 1997–2010 (MPET) sets out the objectives and policies for a restructured education system.2 It emphasizes access, equity, efficiency and effectiveness in the provision of educational opportunities for all. Chapter 9 of the MPET, which is on Literacy and Continuing Education, states that:

An important prerequisite for the attainment of a society’s overall development is a human resource base characterized by a rising level of knowledge among the whole population.

The policies and strategies of the MPET have been complemented by the recommendations of the Koech Commission of Inquiry into the Kenyan Education System.3 Complementing reform in the formal education sub-sector, non-formal/out-of-school educators, in a flurry of activity have called attention to the urgent need to address the learning needs of children and youth out of school.4

At the political level there is an intense public debate on constitutional reforms. In particular, modalities on how to review the constitution have gripped the attention of Kenyans, thus making the constitution review process a unique opportunity for participation and learning.

In the context of the environment, The National Environment Action Plan5 focuses on policies and operational priorities for disadvantaged groups, mobilization of resources towards service delivery for the poor, and promotion of participatory development.

It is in these social, economic, political and environmental contexts that the Kenya Post-Literacy Project is being implemented.

3. Nature of the Kenya Post-Literacy Project (KPLP)

The KPLP is a Technical Co-operation measure designed to support the Ministry of Labour and Human Resource Development (the executing agency) in its efforts to generate and set up structures and instruments to enable the newly literate adults to consolidate and expand on their basic literacy, numeracy and thinking skills. According to the GTZ, the primary objective of technical co-operation is “to enhance the capacities of individuals and organizations by conveying or mobilizing knowledge, skills, or by improving the conditions for their application”. In short, technical cooperation, and by extension the KPLP, is designed to help people help themselves. Help for self-help is the watchword of the Project.

3.1 Objectives of the Project

3.1.1 Support for Policy and Institutional Reform

The institutional framework of adult education in Kenya, which operates within the Ministry of Labour and Human Resource Development, comprises the Board of Adult Education (BAE), created by an act of Parliament in 1966, and the Department of Adult Education (DAE). The DAE was set up by presidential directive in 1979 to spearhead the national literacy campaign. The Post-Literacy Project is implemented by the DAE.

There are four interrelated objectives of the Project, the first of which seeks to support policy and institutional reforms. To this end, a structural analysis study of the Board of Adult Education (BAE) and the Department of Adult Education (DAE) was conducted in 1996 prior to the commencement of implementation in the twelve (now fifteen) operational districts. The main objective of the study was to identify and analyze the core functions and structural constraints of both BAE and DAE, with a view to enhancing their efficiency and effectiveness. One of the justifications of the study was that it had been observed that there were overlaps in the functions of the BAE and DAE, resulting in duplication of work and dissipation of scarce financial and human resources.

Following the structural analysis study,6 the Board of Adult Education Act was identified for review. The reviewed Act is awaiting parliamentary approval.

Action to review the Board of Adult Education Act was in response to the changed circumstances of adult education thirty years after it was promulgated (1966–1996). The conditions of adult education have changed, and the objectives for learning and learning content are changing, in response to the changing needs and circumstances of the learners. Consequently, the legal and institutional framework has got to change in order to create a more enabling environment for the practice and provision of adult education.

There is no doubt that initiatives to restructure education would only be meaningful if they were endorsed and articulated at the political level. The design of the project took note of the need for political action in creating an enabling policy and a legal framework for adult education. Policy facilitates strategic planning which, in turn, facilitates the identification and mobilization of resources.

Institutional reform was needed to put in place an enabling structure that would promote learning, given the innovative ideas and practices which the project intended to generate. This need recognized the fact that the civil service structure and infrastructure in which the project is situated and of which the Department of Adult Education is an integral part, is governed by rules, regulations and procedures which have persisted over time. The modus operandi and culture of doing things had to be recognized, respected, and creatively utilized. But it also called for rejuvenation and revitalization. In these circumstances, unlearning and relearning by the members of the project team became daunting challenges with which they had to grapple.

The processes of identifying and meeting capacity building needs in such areas as development of a competency-based post-literacy curriculum, training of adult education teachers through processes of participatory integrated development (PID), networking with non-governmental and community-based organizations, and participatory planning and management of the project through the logical framework approach were utilized as empowering learning experiences.

The formulation of a policy on non-formal education (NFE) is another area which has called for the creative energies of the project. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MOEST), the Canadian International Development Agency – Program Support Unit (CIDA – PSU), UNICEF, NGOs, CBOs, the Department of Adult Education has contributed significantly to the formulation of policy guidelines for NFE. An NFE Forum in March and a symposium in April 2000 discussed the need for a policy and legal framework for NFE.7 It is expected that a policy on NFE will soon be in place.

3.1.2 Coordination and Collaboration

The second objective of the Project is to enhance the coordination and collaboration of organizations implementing post-literacy programmes. To this end, the project set up a National Steering Committee (NSC), which guides the project. This is an inter-sectoral committee, which brings together the following governmental and non-governmental organizations:

  • Ministries: Education, Science and Technology, Health, Agriculture, Information and Broadcasting, Labour and Human Resource Development
  • Non-governmental, organizations: Bible Translation and Literacy, Literacy and Evangelism Fellowship
  • Quasi-governmental organizations: the Board of Adult Education and the Kenya Institute of Education

Coordination is conceived broadly to encompass the principle of partnership, which has also characterized the field operations of the project. NGOs and CBOs have played an active role in the design and development of the post-literacy curriculum, and the development of post-literacy materials. Learning materials produced by Inades Formation, for example, have been adapted and re-printed for use by post-literacy learners. The strategy of adaptation has not only reduced cost, but has also ensured the utilization of learning resources available in other agencies. In the coming months the project intends to purchase learning materials which have been produced by commercial agencies and which are deemed suitable for the learners on the basis of their own assessment.

The involvement of the print and electronic media as partners in the implementation of the project has been an exercise in educating the media in adult education, and in improving the quality of their reporting on matters related to adult education. Members of the press are now sensitized to the issues in adult education in general and to the objectives and processes of the post-literacy project in particular. Recent reports8 by the major daily newspapers on non-formal education and on the KPLP evidence the depth and breadth of understanding of the issues and objective analyses by the press. The Kenyan Press has indeed become a partner in the provision of education for all. Another mode of collaboration is the utilization of the services of other GTZ-supported projects in common operational areas. The Kilifi District Development Programme (KDDP) is piloting the training of adult education teachers through the participatory integrated development (PID) approach. For example, the training of adult education teachers in PID complements the training of teachers in technical and pedagogical areas. The project is currently training 1,400 adult education teachers in the fifteen operational districts.

The training in participatory integrated development utilizes tools and techniques in participatory rural appraisal in recognition of the need for teachers to be transformed into community-based facilitators. The need for adult education teachers to facilitate community development is felt now more than ever before, given the multi-sectoral and integrated nature of development.

The lessons and experiences generated by the two modes of training were identified and analyzed in a recent workshop which brought together teachers, trainers of teachers, external assessors of trainers’ performance, technical resource persons and training coordinators to review and reflect on what was done up to December 1999.

3.1.3 Capacity Development

The third objective of the project addresses the capacity development needs of all: learners, project implementation team members and partners. Training in materials development, training of adult education teachers as well as training in areas of monitoring and evaluation (as part of training in project cycle management), management of Community Learning Resource Centres (CLRCs), and development of learner-generated materials, are all major components of capacity development. The principle which underlies capacity development is that everyone is a resource for learning. This means that the learning process should recognize and utilize the diversity of the resources and experiences for learning.

The project is about to embark on the tapping of indigenous knowledge as part of the strategy to capacitate learners to develop and produce learner-generated materials. Under the theme “Talk a Book” learners will facilitate documentation of indigenous knowledge in a variety of thematic areas. The process of talking a book will recognize the richness of indigenous knowledge and traditional culture, including the oral traditions of the people. The documented insights of local people will contribute to the repertoire of learning resources, which the project is generating for future use.

3.1.4 Production and Distribution of Learning Materials

The fourth objective of the project is the development, production and distribution of post-literacy materials. This objective provides space for the intense involvement of the learners. To this end, the learners are currently involved in the discussion of the concept and operation of Community Learning Resource Centres (CLRCs), and Learning and Earning. They are also taking part in project planning and implementation through the participatory integrated approach in Kilifi District.

Talk a Book is the latest in the series of strategies to involve learners and for the learners themselves to involve others in the processes of generating knowledge, and construction of meaning. It is a process of learner-to-learner exchange that will harmonize the diverse experiences of the learners which their involvement in the project has generated and continues to generate.

4. Major Achievements of the Project

  1. The Board of Adult Education Act of 1966 has been reviewed, and policy guidelines on non-formal education have been formulated.
  2. Collaboration with NGOs, CBOs and line Ministries has been institutionalized, and partnership has become an accepted principle in project steering.
  3. Capacity development in non-traditional areas such as training of adult education teachers in participatory integrated development has been initiated using tools and techniques which belong to the realm of participatory rural appraisal.
  4. A competency-based post-literacy curriculum in eight thematic and subject learning areas has been developed.
  5. Community Learning Resource Centres have been established.
  6. Tapping of indigenous knowledge as a strategic process of developing learner – generated materials has been initiated.
  7. 23 titles of post-literacy materials have been produced and distributed.9

5. Lessons Learned

  1. There are value-added benefits which emerge from the adoption of an integrated approach to meeting the learning needs of adults and out-of-school youth.
  2. Issues of basic needs, especially of food and general economic security, are more important than literacy. Therefore, the need for literacy should emerge from the processes of meeting other priority basic needs.
  3. Recognition of system dynamics and the creative use of cultural, strategic, technical and political systems are critical prerequisites for sound project management.
  4. It has been established that recognition and utilization of the wealth of the learners’ previous knowledge and experience, perceptions and expectations facilitate learning, and enhance learner-centredness and process-oriented project management. They also catalyze reflection on learning.
  5. Strategic formation of partnerships helps to overcome resistance to collaboration. Experiences indicate that some organizations do not really want to collaborate for reasons of individual visibility, recognition and material gain.
  6. Management of the process of unlearning old models and the creative facilitation of the process of learning new models reduces threats and possible risks to established institutional reputations and images.
  7. An integrated development approach that is inclusive of the social, economic, cultural and political needs of the adult learners ensures effective management of change processes.
  8. Resistance to change at both the individual and organizational levels is common and should be expected. However, if it is not addressed creatively it has potential to stifle innovation.
  9. Consultation and democratization of the project implementation process facilitate faster and more acceptable achievement of project results.
  10. Establishing a project in and operating it as an integral part of a civil service structure has a number of advantages, including the existence of a code of conduct which facilitates discipline and accountability in respect of task performance.

6. Conclusion

The project has effectively demonstrated the need to rethink the design and implementation of adult education endeavours. Hitherto most adult education projects and programmes have tended to ignore changing contexts and the needs of the beneficiaries. They have also been equivocal on the need for reflection on action.

Thus old models which emphasize the transmission of knowledge external to the operational context and far removed from the needs of the learners have not only remained dominant but have also militated against the adoption of innovative and creative implementation processes.

The KPLP is a lesson in delicately balancing changed and changing circumstances, learners’ knowledge and needs on the one hand with the common project parameters such as objectives, resources and scope on the other. As has been illustrated, such balance Dalls for process and learner-centred approaches to implementation.

The KPLP is a package of measures which seek to change the life situations of the beneficiaries. Action by the beneficiaries themselves in bringing about the desired change is a key principle underlying its processes of implementation.

The four objectives of the project have been discussed and their interrelationships shown. The test of the project achievements will be in the benefits that will accrue to the learners and the extent to which these will last after the expiry of the project's time frame. Already the Department of Adult Education is discussing the need to scale up the project and put in place modalities for a national post-literacy programme.


1 Republic of Kenya, Office of the President, National Poverty Eradication Plan 1999–2015, Nairobi, 1999.

2 Republic of Kenya, Master Plan on Education and Training 1997–2010, Nairobi, 1998.

3 The Report of the Koech Commission has been officially released for public debate. The report makes far-reaching recommendations to reform the Kenyan Education system.

4 Two landmark meetings on non-formal education were held in Maralal, Samburu District in March and in Mombasa in April 2000. The Kenya County Working Group on NFE was inaugurated during the Mombasa Symposium, which also adopted a number of recommendations that will lead to quality provision of NFE.

5 Republic of Kenya, National Poverty Eradication Plan (Revised draft) Department of Development Coordination, Office of the President August, 1998.

6 Department of Adult Education, Report of structural analysis of the Board of Adult Education and the Department of Adult Education, 1996.

7 Nzomo, J. et al. Report of the Stakeholders’ Forum on Non-Formal Education, Nairobi 2000.

8 Kenya Post-Literacy Project, What the Papers Say, a compilation of press reports and feature articles on adult education/Kenya Post-Literacy Project.

9 List of Post-Literacy materials produced and distributed to learners:

  1. Kuendeleza Kilimo Katika Sehemu Kame (Promoting Agriculture in Arid Areas)
  2. Hifadhi Kawi Kwa Maisha Bora (Conserve Energy for Healthy Living)
  3. Lugha Yetu 1 (Our Language 1)
  4. Lugha Yetu 2
  5. Lugha Yetu 3
  6. Uhifadhi wa Maji Kwa Maisha Bora (Conservation of Water for Healthy Living)
  7. Elimu ya Ushirika (Co-operative Education)
  8. Huduma ya Kwanza (First Aid)
  9. Ukuaji (Growth)
  10. Kuongeza Maji Mwilini (Oral Rehydration)
  11. Kunyonyesha (Breastfeeding)
  12. Chanjo (Immunization)
  13. Panga Uwe na Familia Ndogo yenye Afya na Furah (Plan for Small, Healthy, Happy Family)
  14. Uhusiano Kati ya Ongezeko la Watu na Maendeleo ya Kiuchumi na Kamii (Population Growth in Relation to Social-Economic Development)
  15. Mpango na Mapato ya Jamaa (Family Resources and Management)
  16. Jifunze Lugha ya Kiswahili (Learn Kiswahili)
  17. Jinsi ya Kutumia Mikopo ya Kilimo (Ways of using Agricultural Loan)
  18. Basic English for Adults
  19. How to Start Your Own Business
  20. Chagua Mradi Utakaofaulu (Selecting a Project that can Succeed)
  21. Let’s Talk with Our Growing Children
  22. Jifunze Upate Maarifa (Learn and Acquire Skills)
  23. Ukweli Kuhusu Ukimwi na Magonjwa Mengine ya Zinaa (The Truth About Aids and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases)

Ten of the above titles were developed with technical support from the German Foundation for International Development (DSE). Their technical support is gratefully acknowledged.

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