Arame Fal

How can a project which aims to make two million people literate in one year succeed when the results of the many literacy programmes already carried out in Senegal can only be described as meagre? Arame provides reasons and suggests a new approach, ranging from a variety of different courses, development of new learning materials, etc., to the use of new information and communication media, including radio and television, PCs and distance learning. Arame Fal is a retired linguist who worked for over 30 years at the Cheikh Anta DIOP Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN) in Dakar. She is also a founder member of the Senegalese Development Support Organisation (OSAD), which is concerned with formal and non-for- mal education. This paper was given in Dakar in 2002 at the conference entitled “Workshop to capitalize on ANFA literacy experiences” (ANFA = National Association for Literacy and Adult Education), which was supported by the IIZ/DVV.

A Literacy Strategy for Two Million People

1. The Poor Results of Literacy

In the absence of any independent evaluation, it is difficult to arrive at an objective assessment of the results of literacy teaching, but what is certain is that the facts observed periodically on the ground suggest a rather meagre impact.

The voting slips used in the general election of 29 April 2001 relied more heavily on symbols and effigies than on the written word. There is therefore no escaping the question of what are the palpable results of thirty years of literacy if the overwhelming majority of Senegalese cannot even read the names of their leaders and their political allegiances.

Ten years ago, Ms Mariétou Diongue Diop posed the same question, referring more particularly to newspapers. In Le Soleil of 23 September 1991, she commented thus on an article entitled *mok pothie (mokk pooj):1 “... one legitimate question that must be asked is how two decades of literacy can have had no impact on our national journalists!”

It must be said, with regret, that mistakes in orthography are almost the norm, and researchers, writers, musicians, politicians and publicists write as best they can without feeling any need to check. To take merely the case of Wolof, the language in which most messages are written, the following hodge-podge can be found:

baara-yeggoo, tek-tegui, rof dafa saf, kër gu set te xegn, wax sawax, niaxx jariñu, yaatal gueew, joko, kër gi mo nekh, mew bi woor,2 xaware and khaware, reew ken du ko paaco, danu koy penco, sentoo, etc., where these should read respectively: baara-yëgoo, teg / teggi, roof dafa saf, kër.. .xeeñ, wax sa wax, ñaq géew, jokkoo, moo neex, meew mi wôor, xawaare, réew kenn du ko pàccoo, dañu koy péncoo, séentu or séentoo, etc.

However, there has been no shortage of literacy programmes; they appear, disappear and reappear under different names, with substantial funding and national, sub-regional, regional and international seminars, workshops and colloquia. As a consequence, Senegal is caught in a vicious circle of literacy – (experimental) post-literacy – return to illiteracy (because of lack of real application) – another round of literacy and so on.

It has to be said that literacy has always lagged behind the evils that considerably restrict its results. Some of these will be listed in what follows.

Neo-literates unable to apply what they have learnt

Since the national languages are confined within the closed world of literacy, with no overlap with public life, which is still conducted exclusively in French, neo-literates cannot apply in practice the knowledge that they have acquired during their course (by sending a letter to the administrative authorities, drafting a complaint, being able to fulfil their full duty as citizens by voting responsibly, reading a newspaper, looking up articles in the Constitution or the Forestry Code, and so on). This being the case, relapse into illiteracy into almost inevitable.

The lack of a clear definition of the very notion of literacy

This is reflected in the presence in one and the same class of learners at very different levels (illiterates, former elementary school pupils, pupils from Arabic language schools, etc.).

We believe that literacy, the first milestone in basic education, should apply strictly to 00 illiterates – to use the term current in the environment concerned to designate those who can neither read nor write – so that they can acquire the basic instrumental skills of writing, reading and calculation in a language with which they are already familiar. All those who do not meet this criterion should be directed into the appropriate pathways. Many learners sitting in literacy classes belong in courses teaching how to write national languages because they are already literate in French or Arabic.

The learners are the first to feel this need for segregation, as was apparent in the statement by a lady interviewed in 1996 during a field visit: “being in the same class as my daughter, who has completed secondary school, I cannot keep up, the levels should be separated”. Separation of levels is needed not only for the reason mentioned above but also to avoid wastage, since only 30 hours are needed for an introduction to writing a national language, while 100 hours are required for literacy in the true sense of the term.

Too restrictive an acceptance of functionality

In some cases this leads to a productivist, utilitarian approach, which pays little attention – if any – to correct mastery of reading and writing, which are the gateways to other types of knowledge and self-learning from books. If a narrow vision is adopted, projects solely concerned with management, for example, will not deal with handbooks on other topics, such as agriculture, citizenship, health, the economy, etc., while literature is widely ignored in literacy programmes even though it plays a substantial part in raising learners’ cultural level through the discussion and debate to which it may give rise about the social issues facing the population.

A further drawback of acceptance of functionality is the huge number of initial reading and writing books that we may call single commodity primers. Each project thinks it needs a primer, the content of which is related to its own field of intervention. This is not necessary, and it is expensive. Without questioning the need for variety, the range could be reduced. A small number of standard primers could be designed for any project in each language, whatever the field of intervention. The vocabulary related to technical specialisms – fishing, the environment, agriculture etc. – could be covered by supporting or “postliteracy” documentation, to use the conventional term.

A too literal interpretation of post-literacy

If this is taken to mean “documents to be used after initial literacy learning”, during the first year, the learner has only the primer and the arithmetic book. At a literacy centre in the interior of the country in 1996 we even met what we think was an extreme case, of a lady in her third year of literacy, who was using no book other than the primer and spoke to us as follows: “Please give us simple books that tell us something new.” A literacy tutor at a different centre in the same locality confirmed that lady’s statement: “There has to be a variety of books because always seeing the same ones demotivates learners.” More generally, there is the poverty of the suggested content, and this is surely the primary cause of dropout. Armed with the knowledge of the language that they already have, learners need to face the challenge of deciphering all kinds of texts in the first few weeks in class: literature, popular technical works, newspapers, adding machines, the telephone, etc. This can only speed up the process of learning and increase learners’ interest.

A school approach

This is the source of much loss of what has been learnt. In effect, literacy reproduces the content, methodological approach and progression of the first few years of old-fashioned primary schooling, even though the target population is very different. In the one case, it is children aged 6–7 years who are for the most part learning the language of instruction – i.e. French – while at the same time acquiring the basics of reading, writing and mathematics. In the other case, it is adults who speak the language perfectly well – sometimes better than the literacy teacher – and can calculate, some of them even being true experts in mental arithmetic. At this level, what matters most is not reciting tables and grammar lessons but training in writing. This is compounded by the pace at which letters are learnt, too slow in our opinion, collective repetition after the literacy teacher, and question and answer sessions that are manifestly too simple for adults. In short, what is needed is not encyclopaedic teaching that encourages mechanical memorization but teaching the learner to use documentation and to find the relevant information immediately, always assuming that care has been taken to make sufficient documents available and to update them regularly.

Laxity in follow-up and monitoring

There are other no less important problems, which we shall not go into in detail. We shall merely mention the inadequate training of trainers, the use of teaching material which is not always suitable, the delays in making financial resources available, with unfortunate knock-on effects on the agreed timetable, absenteeism among teachers and literacy tutors, and lack of rigour in the choice of operatives. All of these reflect a certain laxity in follow-up and monitoring, perhaps for want of funds.

2. The Use of Information and Communication Technologies

The project launched by the President of the Republic aimed at making two million people literate within one year may break the vicious circle to which we referred by setting up a voluntary literacy scheme that measures up to the challenge. At a time when Senegal has only succeeded in reaching one million people in five years, it may admittedly seem at first sight utopian to aim to make twice as many people literate in a year. However, information and communication technologies offer huge potential for the training of trainers, the rapid production of teaching materials and, above all, wide dissemination of knowledge etc. Senegal has long experience of educational radio, through the “Method” for speaking French, and of teaching via television through the experimental introduction of Wolof in elementary schools. Strengthening these institutions and changing their emphasis could help greatly in the implementation of the project at all levels: training of trainers, preparation of learning modules, dissemination of these to cultural centres, women’s centres, youth centres, local authorities, etc. There is also the Centre for Applied Studies and Resources in Distance Learning — CIERENAD – set up at the Ecole Normale Supérieure (the College of Education), with experts capable of supporting those responsible for drafting modules in national languages. Senegal does possess a range of equipment with which to reach mass audiences, from traditional literacy classes via radio and television to the most sophisticated technologies. The rest is largely a matter of rigorous organization, follow-up, monitoring, and so on.

3. The Current Situation in Respect of Trainers and Teaching Material

In these fields, literacy has unquestionable assets which should be used judiciously to best advantage, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Trainers are grouped into associations and operate in all regions. Le Matin of 10 May 2001 (p. 8) reports 895 trainers / supervisors / literacy tutors in the Region of Fatick alone; there are also the associations of languages, writers and national languages, development companies such as SODEFITEX and others, NGOs working in literacy, etc. Lastly, there is the association of retired teachers, among whom are the pioneers of educational radio and those who conducted national language experiments in schools using teaching by television. In other words, the personnel needed is available and must simply be updated in the light of new directions, both for the “two million literacy” project and for the introduction of writing in national languages.

As regards teaching materials, the Catalogue of non-formal basic education textbooks, published by the Directorate of Literacy and Basic Education (1998 version) lists 330 titles in national languages (and at that date it was far from exhaustive) comprising primers, mathematics textbooks and “post-literacy” documents on health, the environment, literature, citizenship, etc. Although these materials were designed specifically for literacy teaching, they may also be used to introduce writing. If teaching materials need to be developed, these are surely in the languages that have recently been codified. It is nonetheless true, of course, that research is never finished for all languages and must continue with the development of more effective tools, particularly those that will shorten the time needed to learn grammar, orthographic dictionaries, monolingual, bilingual and multilingual dictionaries. This research should involve experienced speakers, so as to carry out the work with rigorous professionalism.

4. University Participation

University institutions need to be more heavily involved : the Department of Linguistics of the Faculty of Letters and Humanities in Dakar, CLAD, IFAN CH. A. DIOP, the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Dakar, Dakar University Press, etc. (essentially for problems associated with linguistic research, the design of orthographic systems, training of trainers, development of teaching tools, publishing, teaching methods, evaluation, etc.).

Besides the University, all African intellectuals need to make a huge investment in the modernization of African languages, each in his or her own field of specialization. This is the path set out by Cheikh Anta Diop, who has enriched the lexis of Wolof in physics. Along this line of thinking, it is worth remembering the activities of the French jurists who made extraordinary efforts at adaptation and enrichment after the proclamation of the Villiers-Côtterêts Order instituting the use of French in the law and the civil administration, in order to transpose into French the law that they had learnt in Latin. This was of benefit to the overwhelming majority of the French population, who did not understand that language. 3

5. Participation by the Media and Mass Organizations

What television and radio journalists have done to adapt national languages to the needs of modern communication can be repeated by the written press. There is a large public of economic operators, agriculturalists, stockbreeders, artisans etc., to be won over. While waiting for this to take shape, the competent authorities could request the media to disseminate information about how to write national languages.

The trade unions, political parties, women’s associations, human rights organizations, etc.,4 have a key role to play. The teachers’ unions in particular could take practical steps to prepare effectively for the incorporation of national languages in the education system, which they rightly demand, such as ensuring that all teachers have learnt how to write the national language of their choice. Similarly, they could consider the possibility of making use of the cultural weeks organized traditionally within schools to introduce their pupils to writing national languages. Teachers and their pupils would thus form a valuable reserve of trainers for literacy campaigns. It should be pointed out that orthographic systems have been devised in harmony, so that having learnt how to write one language, it is easy to move on to another language, by making a few modifications.

6. Introducing Public Servants to Writing National Languages

CNREF recommended this step as a complement to mass literacy in order to facilitate formal communication between the staff of various public services and the mass of the population who had learnt to write in national languages. It should be remembered that this recommendation applied not only to government staff but also to students at training colleges (journalism, police, post office, administration, etc.) and to workers in the private sector, notably those arranging seminars in national languages for the non-formal sector (agriculturalists, stockbreeders, fishermen, etc.). A start was made on this in 1994, at the seminar opened by President Abdou Diouf for national government staff, but unfortunately there was no follow-up. It is to be hoped that the desire firmly expressed by the President of the Republic will be translated this time into action that is rigorously carried through.


1 For a woman, the art of knowing how to keep her husband.
2 Meew mi woor “*milk which has fasted”, meew mi wóor “milk which is safe”.
3 See 450th anniversary of the Villiers-Côtterêts Order, meeting of 28 September 1989, Académie Française.
4 Knowing how to read and write is a human right.

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