Seydou Cisse

Illiteracy hinders development, but literacy alone does not automatically lead to development. Literacy programmes only succeed if they change learners’ living conditions and enable them to solve problems and accept responsibilities. Post-literacy is therefore an indispensable part of literacy programmes. Using the example of Mali, the author suggests what form such post-literacy activities may take. Seydou Cisse is a Programme Specialist at the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESC) in Rabat, Morocco.

Post-literacy in Mali

Conceptual Approach 

In the view of UNESCO, post-literacy may be defined as follows: “...all measures taken to enable the neo-literate to put into practice the skills acquired and to increase the knowledge obtained ... above all, by learning to learn and to take decisions ... in the continuing process of development and mastery of his environment”. (Final Report of the Meeting of Experts on Post-literacy in Africa, Dakar, Senegal, UNESCO/ BREDA, 25-29 April 1977, p. 4)

In reality, the notion that a literacy programme has two distinct stages (literacy and post-literacy) is only tenable as a way of examining the programme. It is odd to regard post-literacy as a separate element of functional literacy since it forms part of an indissoluble whole together with the first stage, literacy.

In a functional literacy programme, the overall goal is to bring about a change in the circumstances of those addressed by the programme. This is the primary purpose of functional literacy. However, it would be wrong to draw hasty conclusions and to state that education in functional literacy is synonymous with development. While illiteracy holds back development, literacy is in no way synonymous with development. It may help to give an impetus to the creative energy of the masses, or may restrain it. It may lead to realization of the learner’s potential or to subjection. Notions of this sort therefore need to be viewed with care: “Development is like a ship, and illiteracy an anchor. A ship can only move forward when the anchor is raised.”1

But once the anchor is raised, the ship will not automatically sail in the right direction. The move forward may even lead to a shipwreck. Thus, although the anchor needs to be raised if the ship is to move, it has to move in the right direction if the passengers are to arrive safely. Similarly, the direction taken by a functional literacy campaign is crucial to the development of the community. This right direction will result if education is perceived as resolving the problems of the community and transferring responsibilities to neo-literates once they are educated.

When and how should responsibilities be transferred?
If a responsibility is transferred, this means that the person to whom it is transferred must be willing to take it on, which raises the question of competence. In the context of functional literacy, responsibilities will therefore be transferred when the learners have acquired the knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics required to carry out a particular activity associated with that instrumental knowledge. It follows from this principle that education in functional literacy must have practical applications. Theoretical and practical education must go hand in hand. Thus, in the context of post-literacy, a literate adult will have skills that relate both to theoretical knowledge and to their practical application.

Theoretical learning needs to continue without stopping throughout post-literacy, since the transfer of responsibilities calls for a constant rise in the level of learners’ general knowledge and for the learning of technical skills. The question of post-literacy materials often arises in the context of theoretical learning. The lack of reading materials may be palliated by the collection and transcription of oral traditions and of existing recordings. These new texts must, however, meet learners’ aspirations.

In any case, post-literacy is a critical stage that is indispensable to a literacy programme. A literacy programme is inconceivable without post-literacy. It is during post-literacy that the results of functional literacy become a reality and that knowledge is consolidated and enriched. Thus, from the outset of a functional literacy campaign, plans should be made to include post-literacy as an integral element.

While transferring a responsibility means that the recipient has to have the necessary competence, it also means that the person who relinquishes it must be willing to do so. If the aim is to transfer responsibilities, then both sides of the transaction need to be borne in mind: neo-literate village communities on the one hand, and the political and administrative authorities, on the other.

Instrumental knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics in national languages will enable learners to take on roles in marketing, tax collection, drafting of birth, marriage and death certificates, and so on, within their respective villages. But that requires recognition of national languages at the institutional level, so that they become re-established in the various public and private agencies. They provide the best means of facilitating communication between literate groups of the population and political and administrative officials, given that such communication is an excellent way of improving understanding between them.

The applicability of knowledge is a major factor in the motivation of adults, and without it, education will be regarded as a child’s game. When the knowledge acquired by adults can be applied, their cognitive motivation will be enhanced. The new knowledge acquired as a result of this motivation will demand new fields of application. In a spiral movement, the application of knowledge will enhance cognitive motivation, thus permitting more knowledge to be acquired which, in turn, will call for new fields of application. Functional literacy work attains its full effect through this dialectical alternating advance of learning and continual application.

In short, if a literacy programme is to succeed, a whole set of parameters need to be taken into account, going beyond the purely educational dimension. The report on the World Education Forum therefore states that: “The success of programmes depends on a wide range of factors: the mobilization of many and varied resources at local, national and international levels, good organization and the pursuit of an activity over a long period, community participation, leadership, attention to the illiterates’ circumstances, and a concern to awaken in them the desire to become truly illiterate.” (UNESCO, Education for All. Overview of the Year 2000. Global Synthesis. Paris, UNESCO, 2000, p. 43)

Post-literacy in Mali

In order to carry out its post-literacy activities, the National Directorate of Functional Literacy and Applied Linguistics (DNAFLA), the national agency charged with carrying out literacy work in Mali, maintains close links with technical agencies, NGOs and a range of development initiatives. Programmes are worked out jointly between the staff with national and regional responsibility for literacy, and specialist officers (agronomists, veterinarians, physicians, economists, sociologists, etc.).

The statistics on post-literacy show a constant growth in the number of neo-literates, as can be seen in the following table:

Campaign Number of persons enrolled Number of neo-literates
 Women Men Total Women MenTotal
 1992–93 15252 50718  65970 3507 26553 30060
 1993–94 28217 69698 97915 7171 28476 35649
 1994–95 33593 81736 115329 7289 28855 36144
 1995–96 45422 78749 124171 10644 35841 46485
 1996–97 44970 88693 133659 13110 47138 60282

Source: Study on the impact of literacy on women’s living conditions in Mali, p. 23
With the two-fold aim of meeting the learning needs of neo-literates and of giving them responsibility, DNAFLA runs post-literacy activities which both teach and consolidate skills, and allow skills and responsibilities to be exercised.

Teaching and Consolidation of Skills

Skills are perceived as a pressing need for neo-literates. This need is met through a variety of activities: the publication of reading materials, the literacy caravan, educational radio broadcasts, films, training for village writers, and further education courses.

Publication of Reading Materials

In order to provide neo-literates with reading materials, DNAFLA provides a number of newspapers containing information, continuing education and entertainment. Some of the titles are: “Kibaru” (which means “news” in Bamanan), “Kaburu” (“news” in Fulfuldé), “Xibaare” (“news” in Sninké), “Nyètaa” (“progress” in Bamanan), “Kotè” (“people’s theatre” in Bamanan) and “Ntuloma” (“pillar” in Bamanan).

Besides rural newspapers, one of the main activities of DNAFLA is the publication of post-literacy paperbacks. In response to the needs of neo-literates in this field, a number of booklets have been published on a variety of technical subjects in the national languages of Bamanan, Fulfuldé, Songhoy, Tamasheq, Dogon, Soninké, Khassonké, Syènara, Mamara and Boomu.

As part of the post-literacy effort, some neo-literates translate Koranic texts on their own initiative, and make up booklets of these, which are much appreciated by learners in literacy centres.

In order to ensure that good use is made of the reading materials, the Malian literacy service has opened a number of village libraries in conjunction with NGO projects.

The Literacy Caravan

The aim of this is to widen the range of distribution of post-literacy materials. The first experiment was conducted between 16 and 26 January 1994 in the regions of Ségou and Mopti. This consisted in taking the paperbacks produced by DNAFLA to village markets. While they were on sale, films were also shown giving the local population information about the advantages of literacy. The first literacy caravan ­produced some convincing results. In the village of Ngolokouna, for example, in Bla district, 74 paperbacks were sold at a fair on the premises of the Malian Textile Development Company (CMDT). In every ­village where the caravan went, there was genuine excitement about buying post-literacy materials.

Educational Radio Broadcasts

As part of the Groundnut and Food-Growing Operation (OACV), a series of experiments in radio-vision was broadcast, starting in 1974. These broadcasts set out to consolidate and enhance the knowledge of literate listeners. They expanded into the 3rd Education Project, MLI 733.

Thanks to grassroots surveys, the topics addressed in the educational radio broadcasts were closely linked to listeners’ interests. The latter were organized in listening groups in literacy centres, which were equipped with posters and charts illustrating the technical topics discussed in the broadcasts. Listeners sent to a regional scrutiny committee, or to DNAFLA, listening reports in national languages about their discussions and the main decisions taken in these. As a result of this feedback, the broadcasts were continually improved and took ­account of the wishes of the neo-literates.

As part of educational radio, DNAFLA also designed audio cassettes in Bamanan and Khassonké for the Health Development Project. The technical staff of educational radio recorded topics about family health and primary health care on cassette, backed by local music. These cassettes, which provided both education and entertainment, were well received by local people. After a time, some hundreds of further copies were made by the people themselves.

Since DNAFLA currently has no funds of its own for this work, its programme of educational radio forms part of the rural radio service run by the Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision du Mali. This broadcasts information about literacy programmes and adult education. From time to time, it produces a 15-minute daily radio programme entitled “Learning for Production” which goes out at 18.30, from Monday to Saturday.


Since 1968, the date when the World Experimental Literacy Programme was launched in Mali, the literacy service has produced several films in 8mm and 16mm for neo-literates. These films discuss a range of topics dealing with agriculture, health, education, etc., which serve both to raise awareness of literacy and to educate neo-literates.

Training for Village Writers

The first course for village writers was held from 27 February to 6 March 1993 in Bamako. The aim was to give neo-literates the tools to survey and use the knowledge in their areas. To this end, they were taught the following techniques:

  • how to edit a village newspaper
  • how to edit a monograph on the village
  • how to collect texts drawn from the oral tradition (proverbs, puzzles and stories)
  • how to write scientific texts
  • how to plan and run a village library
  • how to write correspondence
  • how to make village traffic signs
  • how to write poems
  • how to produce and distribute books

Further Education Courses for Neo-literates

In 1977, DNAFLA carried out an experiment called Further Education for Neo-literates (FSNA). This education consisted of organizing specialist courses for literate learners in national languages on the issues felt by a whole village to be most important. With the technical support of partner organizations, local people took an active part at all levels through village meetings in the process of planning post-literacy (assessment and order of priority of local needs, types of education, contents of the learning, choice of action projects for the community, etc.).

For the technical education of the neo-literates, DNAFLA and the support services gave special training in the following fields: marketing of produce, popular agricultural knowledge (staking out fields, combating erosion, composting, protecting seeds, agricultural meteorology, etc.), animal health (getting rid of internal and external parasites, vaccination, etc.), management (village associations, bank loans, savings and credit unions, mills, etc.), primary health care (immunization, treatment of conjunctivitis, etc.), soap-making, dyeing, storing and processing of foodstuffs, etc.

Exercise of Skills and Responsibilities

The exercising of skills and responsibilities is a very important aspect of post-literacy in Mali. It enables neo-literates to apply the knowledge that they have acquired and is the functional aspect of education. Neo-literates have carried out a variety of tasks through the activities of CMDT, Rural Development Operations (ODR), NGOs and development projects run by public agencies. Their activities are both individual and collective:

Individual activities

Having acquired knowledge at a literacy centre, literate learners use it to resolve their everyday problems. They have, for example, often tried out in their private lives the recommendations made in the post-literacy booklets. Some small farmers use scales to check for themselves the weights of cereals announced by a weigher. Others collect traditional pharmaceutical items or manage their personal affairs using a calculator. Neo-literates also write their own private correspondence.

Community Initiatives

Drawing on the inspiration of individual initiatives, DNAFLA, some ODRs and other projects have particularly stressed the exercise by neo-literates of their skills and responsibilities in the service of their communities. These skills and responsibilities are currently being exercised in the following fields:

  • marketing
  • loans and other inputs
  • popular agricultural knowledge: using literacy for experimentation
  • stock-raising: the opening of “village clinics”
  • health: the opening of dispensaries and village pharmacies
  • education: a number of village learners have become literacy centre workers in their villages

In a study carried out in 1996-97 among neo-literate women in the Upper Niger Valley Agency, the women emphasised the following advantages of literacy:2

For the village:

  • women better organized
  • income-generating activities launched
  • women managing their own affairs
  • village loan funds established
  • women more involved in the village activities
  • women less marginalized
  • loans made to women
  • women more aware
  • education and health developed

For the family:

  • families better managed
  • families, and especially husbands, better supported
  • families maintained
  • diet improved
  • family planning adopted

For children:

  • children better supported
  • children well educated
  • children well fed
  • children more consistently supervised

Some Difficulties in Post-Literacy in Mali

Some of the current problems facing post-literacy are as follows:

  • The weakness of national policy on the use of national languages provides little opportunity for the application of the outcomes of post-literacy. The absence of a literate environment in most villages where the majority of neo-literates live is not conducive to the consolidation of learning. Birth, marriage and death certificates, for example, are not yet in national languages, and neo-literates do not always find literate counterparts in rural local authorities.
  • The activities of DNAFLA and technical agencies lack adequate follow-up.
  • The lack of training for centre workers means that they do not make best use of the post-literacy materials provided to them.
  • Lack of funds prevents DNAFLA from holding assessment seminars to evaluate post-literacy and to agree on ways of improving it.


It is an absolute requirement in any successful literacy programme that post-literacy should be taken into account from the outset. Good planning of post-literacy activities makes it possible for learners not only to retain what they learn from the literacy stage and to go on learning, but also to apply their knowledge for the social and economic development of their communities.

If it is to be effective, however, post-literacy needs an adequate strategy for the planning and implementation of its activities. To this end, the various learning strategies will have to be finely adjusted in order to guarantee that neo-literates acquire both theoretical and practical skills.

The development of appropriate post-literacy strategies means, firstly, planning the content of learning in accordance with the concerns of the neo-literates and, secondly, choosing suitable methods of communication (traditional and modern) and using a variety of suitable learning structures (libraries, travelling exhibitions, listening groups, etc.) that will enable the requisite knowledge and skills to be spread.

Finally, successful post-literacy demands the creation of a social and political context which encourages daily use of the knowledge acquired. At an institutional level, respect for the languages of literacy therefore remains a significant factor.


1 A. Gillette, Les jeunes et l’alphabétisation, Paris and New York, UNESCO/CESI, 1973, p. 20.

2 Konare, D. L’alphabétisation fonctionnelle à l’Office de la Haute Vallée du Niger du Mali, pp. 28-29

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