Mohamed Knani Gsouma

In the last issue of the journal we published some of the documentation from the follow-up conference to CONFINTEA V, which was held on 6–11 September 2003 in Bangkok, Thailand. This is the Tunisian report to the conference on the development of adult education in Tunisia. The report was compiled by Mr Mohamed Knani Gsouma, Director of the National Adult Education Programme.

Education for Adults in Tunisia

CONFINTEA V Mid-Term Report (1997–2003)

Being committed to combating literacy and anxious to raise the level of literacy through the National Literacy Strategy launched in 1992 following the 1990 International Conference on Education for All, Tunisia took part in CONFINTEA V in Hamburg in 1997 to share its experience and to benefit from that of other countries.

As a result of this participation and the recommendations of the international community, Tunisia began to revise the Strategy in order to improve its efficiency, adopting a series of methodological and practical steps:

  • Evaluation of the strategy (1998-1999) to identify its positive and negative aspects

  • Development of a new strategy to progress literacy activities and adult education (from 2000)

  • Allocation of the human and material resources required for its implementation and initial execution (from 2000)

In consequence, this report will comprise a brief statement of the results of the National Literacy Strategy launched in 1992-1993 and a more detailed description of the National Adult Education Programme instituted in 2000 and the main outcomes recorded during the first three years of implementation (2000-2003). The first part of the report will comprise a description of the education provided for adults through national economic and social development plans, the National Strategy for Education for All (Dakar 2000) and the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003–2012).

I. The National Literacy Strategy (NLS) 1992–1999

In order to fulfil its international commitments, particularly those of the 1990 Jomtien Conference on Education for All, and to consolidate the fundamental reforms of the education and training system, Tunisia launched the NLS in 1992 as an essential element of that system, in the aim of reducing the illiteracy rate and its negative repercussions on economic efficiency, and of achieving the goal of updating human resources.

In this way, literacy activities underwent a qualitative evolution by adopting a concept of education that took account of innovations in educational theory:

  • Modern curricula based on objectives that responded to the needs of learners and took into account their psychological and social characteristics and the expectations of the community

  • A wide range of different methods of teaching teachers and learners

  • The implementation of a reference framework and an adult education structure for all stages of literacy (pre-literacy, 2 levels of literacy and post-literacy)

  • The design of a network system for collaboration and partnership between the different parties concerned with literacy

  • Adoption of new mechanisms to carry out the Strategy:
     – Central management of literacy
     – A National Literacy Council, 24 Regional Literacy Committees and 260 Local Literacy Committees (Decree No. 1237/96)

Although the qualitative aspects were dealt with, the quantitative objectives were not achieved as fast as planned despite the efforts made, and the number of new learners did not rise above 10,000 a year, with a high rate of drop-out and wastage.

The NLS was subjected to an evaluation, which revealed the difficulties that it was encountering, including:

  • partners’ lack of commitment and involvement

  • poor attendance by illiterate persons at literacy centres for various reasons: – widely scattered patterns of settlement and concentration by the rural population on subsistence occupations – ineffectiveness of awareness-raising and motivational activities

  • a mismatch between the objectives of the NLS and the quantity and quality of human and material resources devoted to it

None the less, the illiteracy rate fell slightly, reaching 27% in 1999, although it remained quite high in rural areas and among women, with a disparity between regions.

II. The National Adult Education Programme (NAEP): 2000

In the light of the above-mentioned difficulties and the challenges of the time, the President of the Republic ordered as part of his future programme during the 1999 elections that the NLS should be replaced by a National Adult Education Programme (NAEP) which would help to create a knowledge-based society and to introduce the principle of lifelong learning.

The NAEP was adopted at the Select Ministerial Committee held in the presence of His Excellency President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on 14 April 2000, a few days before the World Forum on EFA (Dakar 2000), and was discussed at two interministerial meetings chaired by the Prime Minister on 27 May and 5 June 2000, which agreed the procedures for implementing the Programme.

1. Objectives of the NAEP

The NAEP sets out to speed up reduction of the illiteracy rate:

  • reducing the overall illiteracy rate from 27% in 1999 to 20% in 2004 by making 250,000 Tunisians literate

  • giving priority to young people aged under 30 years of age, cutting illiteracy in this age group from 9.1% to less than 3%

  • continuing to give priority to girls and women, and the rural environment

  • giving priority to 10 governorates where the illiteracy rate was higher that the national average in 1999, and to 58 districts where the rate was above 30% in the other governorates

  • giving particular attention to literacy for the working population in the public and private sectors

2. Details of the NAEP

The NAEP differs in certain ways from all the programmes which have preceded it:

  • A fierce political determination at the highest levels to combat illiteracy and reduce it significantly. This determination is evident in the continual monitoring of the implementation and results of the NAEP by the President of the Republic, the visit which he has made to an adult literacy centre, and his references to the NAEP in most of his official statements

  • General mobilization of the parties concerned from the governmental and non-governmental sectors at the national, regional and local levels, making literacy “the responsibility of all”

  • A communication strategy based on direct contact, information and awareness-raising through the mass media, targeting the illiterate population, partner organizations and influential sectors of society

  • Allocation of the human, financial and material resources needed to achieve the ambitious goals of the NAEP

  • The introduction – for the first time – of a system of incentives for learners, teachers and the other parties involved in the Programme

  • Flexible learning modules reflecting the characteristics of learners and their family situations and occupational, social and geographical circumstances

3. Mechanisms and Methods

In order to achieve its objectives, appropriate mechanisms and methods were devised for the NAEP:

  • Appointment of a general coordinator of the NAEP, with the rank of State Secretary

  • Strengthening of central institutions by allocation of additional responsibilities

  • Creation of a Regional Adult Education Unit in each of the 24 governorates and appointment of regional general coordinators of adult education (functional posts), each equipped with a vehicle for the sole use of the Programme (Decree No. 441/2001)

  • Reconstitution of the National Council, backed by a select consultative committee composed of the main parties concerned

  • Reconstitution of the 24 regional and 260 local committees, strengthened by the new agencies in the Programme

  • Strengthening of the Education Inspectorate, with the recruitment of 25 inspectors of adult education, but with continued collaboration with the inspectors of the Ministry of Education and Training over matters of support, inspection, assistance and training

  • Allocation of substantial funds (756,000 DT) to organize training courses for teachers

  • Allocation of the budget needed to produce teaching materials and methodology guides and to purchase educational equipment (distributed free of charge to all teachers and learners)

  • Allocation of substantial funds to buy furniture (250 centres to be fitted out each year)

4. Incentives System

4.1 Incentives for learners

  • Cash prizes for the best learners –

    • President’s Prize awarded during the “Day of Knowledge”

    • National prizes awarded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Solidarity to the best male and female learner in each governorate (24 x 2 = 48 prizes)

    • Regional prizes awarded by the governors to the best male and female learner in each district (approx. 520 prizes)


  • Incentives of a cultural and social nature

    • Cultural, educational and leisure activities (excursions) for around 20% of learners each year

    • Coverage of travel costs where the NAEP centre is a long way from a learner’s place of residence

    • Free meals for learners in intensive courses at commercial and educational institutions equipped to deliver these

    • Social assistance for the needy

    • Health care: the President of the Republic gave instructions for a visit to an ophthalmologist to be arranged in 2002 for all learners who had requested it (approx. 20,000), leading to free distribution of 9,000 pairs of spectacles

    • National and regional festivals and cultural events (drama and music) and competitions leading to prizes .


  • Incentives relating to vocational training and employment

    • Introductory courses in basic manual skills in collaboration with specialist institutions and associations

    • Help with using job-finding services and income generation

4.2 Incentives for places of employment

  • Organization of NAEP work-related courses in public enterprises not operating in the competitive sector (including additional paid hours)

  • Opportunity for private enterprises and public enterprises operating in the competitive sector to recover the costs of organizing work-related courses out of the Vocational Training Tax (Decree No. 212/2001)

4.3 Incentives for NGOs

Besides provision of all teaching resources, furniture and educational equipment, and appointment of teachers, NGOs working under the NAEP are entitled to receive financial incentives:

  •  Annual prizes for the most successful national associations:

    • 10,000 DT (for the 5 most effective NGOs)

    • 5,000 DT (for 24 NGOs and regional sections of associations)


  • One-off set-up grants of 5,000 DT per association for voluntary associations working specifically on the NAEP

  • Annual grants for associations working specifically on the NAEP to help them to carry out their programmes (annual budget of 70,000 DT)

4.4 Incentives for teachers and organizers

With the aim of overcoming the difficulties of appointing adult education teachers and organizers, an attractive pay scale has been introduced, taking account of level of qualifications and the number of groups taught (Decree No. 2577/2000).

Priority is given to those with university Master’s degrees, who are given training in advance and further inservice training during employment.

4.5 Range of teaching methods

A variety of teaching and learning methods is offered to the target populations, bearing in mind their family situations and occupational and social circumstances.

III. Implementation of the NAEP in the First Three Years (2000–2003)

The main aim of the NAEP during the period 2000/2004, which has been extended to 2006 under the 10th Economic and Social Development Plan, is to mobilize and make literate 250,000 Tunisians (an average of 63,000 learners per year).

1. Quantitative Achievements

1.1 Learners

Academic Year Basic level Additional level Intensive courses Assisted teaching Postliteracy Total
2000/01 89,161 3,502 10,499 386 2,004 107,752
2001/02 85,457 62,759 10,953 301 10,693 170,163
2002/03 62,462 53,115 18,295 672 30,507 165,231

1.2 Centres, groups and teachers

Academic year Number of centres Number of groups Teachers
Permanent Sessional Contractional Total
2000/01 2881 5152 87 240 1968 2295
2001/02 4333 8916 79 146 3079 3304
2002/03 4797 9043 103 79 4528 4710

It is evident from the figures that the NAEP has achieved the objectives set for it:

  • Enrolment capacity has expanded by a factor of 10 relative to the starting point of the Programme in 2000

  • The number of learners attracted in 3 years reached 276,827, far exceeding the numbers anticipated

  • The first cohort of graduates in 2002 was made up of 73,250 learners (rather than 62,500 ), 117% of the target

  • A large number of graduates have taken up post-literacy courses

 If these figures are broken down in accordance with the qualitative objectives of the NAEP, the results for the academic year 2002/2003 are as follows:

Age groups

Age group Number of learners Percentage
Under 30 years 55,223 34%
30/49 years 61,291 38%
50 years and above 46,301 28%

Thus 72% of those recruited into the NAEP are in the first two age groups, in comparison with 28% aged 50 years and over, who have the right not to be excluded from education.

Geographical background
51.17 % of learners come from rural areas, which are given priority under the NAEP.

79% of learners are women and girls (another priority of the NAEP). Regional distribution

The 10 priority governorates:

  • 148,731 learners in 3 years (rather than 152,000), i.e. 97.36% of the target despite the ambitious nature of that target and the rural character of these governorates

  • 3 governorates have exceeded their quota (139%).

  • The other 7 governorates have achieved 82% of their targets

2. Qualitative Achievements

2.1 Studies and research

  • Evaluation of curricula
    A consultation has been organized among adult education teachers and supervisors on the curricula and teaching methods in current use. The conclusions will be taken into consideration in the revision of these tools.

  • Basic skills
    As part of the revision of curricula, basic skills have been laid down for each stage of literacy (pre-literacy, literacy, post-literacy).

  • Learners’ needs and interests
    An overall research study will be carried out in 2003 to identify the reasons why young learners join and drop out of the NAEP, with the aim of introducing appropriate incentives and overcoming difficulties.

  • Prospective study of the NAEP
    This study will be carried out at some time in the next few years since it depends on current and future projects.

  • Website
    The NAEP has an Arabic website which will be translated into French and English by the end of 2003:

2.2 Literacy promotion

  • Literacy teaching

    • Curricula already revised

    • It is intended to develop new teaching methods suited to the new curricula .


  • Public information 
    15 TV public information broadcasts are being produced in association with the National Audio-Visual Agency (ANPA). They will be screened in the academic year 2003-2004.

  • Basic vocational skills 
    Collaboration with the parties concerned will be increased with the aim of extending introductory courses in these skills to larger numbers of learners.

2.3 Post-literacy

  • New curriculum devised in 2003

  • Teams to be set up to develop teaching materials for formal groups

  • Continued strengthening of the library stock intended for post-literacy

2.4 NAEP monitoring

As part of the computerization of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Solidarity at national, regional and local level, NAEP software programmes have been tried out and adopted. It is intended that these should be introduced during the academic year 2003-2004.

2.5 Coordination between NAEP centres and the various agencies involved

Networking is being established in all regions through a series of joint circulars with the various sectors and agreements with NGOs.

It should be noted that 6 sectoral methodology guides explaining the close relationship between the NAEP and the basic activities of the institutions concerned (schools, rural centres for girls, development NGOs, the armed forces, social defence and integration centres, and craft centres) have been prepared in order to achieve the desired integration.

With the aim of expanding partnership, one hundred (100) NGOs specializing in adult education have been created:

  • 1 national NGO

  • 24 regional NGOs

  • 75 local NGOs or sections of regional NGOs

2.6 Pilot centres

Under the 10th Development Plan, it has been decided to create 24 NAEP pilot centres (1 per governorate).

These will become points of reference for the other centres and will host training activities for teachers.

2.7 Training of teachers and organizers

For the purpose of preparing sessional and contractual teachers for their teaching role and ensuring effective adult education:

  • A training strategy has been developed (pre-service training courses and short inservice courses)

  • Training modules have been developed (description of NAEP, psychological characteristics of learners, monitoring and evaluation, etc.)

  • Training and support documents about these modules have been prepared for trainers

  • A training session has been organized for inspectors to prepare them to give training

  • All teachers have been given training

  • Regional Adult Education Units have been created, regional coordinators have been appointed and a number of administrative and manual staff recruited

  • In 2003, 25 adult education inspectors will be recruited through open competition to consolidate training support

2.8 Legislation and organization

  • The terms and conditions of appointment for adult education staff have been revised and are in the process of adoption and promulgation

  • Discussion has begun on a law to lay down guidelines for adult education

  • Equivalency between a literacy certificate and certain levels of education or vocational training is proposed for the future and will be examined as part of the expansion of post-literacy

  • It is also proposed to publish legal regulations governing copyright of teaching materials and audio-visual media used in the NAEP

2.9 Distance adult education by television

This proposal has been included in the 10th Development Plan (2002–2006) and will carried out in two stages

  • A short-term project to produce 15 public information television broadcasts. Production has begun, and screening is planned for the academic year 2003-2004.

  • A long-term project to design a complete system of education for adults via television. The overall plan is in place and will be submitted to the decision-making authorities to establish sources of funding and plan implementation.

IV. Outlook for Adult Education

1. Short term: in the academic year 2003–2004

  • Particular attention will be given to young people using the results of the proposed study

  • Post-literacy will be expanded to accommodate 80% of those completing the NAEP

  • Introductory training in basic vocational skills will be strengthened to improve the employability of learners and to integrate them into society and the economy

  • Two adult education pilot centres will be created

  • Particular attention will be given to literacy for the active population in partnership with the parties concerned

  • Amended and revised curricula will be implemented, and teams will be set up to develop teaching materials

  • 15 public information television broadcasts will be produced and screened

  • The terms and conditions of NAEP staff will be updated

  • 25 AE inspectors will be recruited

  • A new structure for central NAEP services will be introduced

  • A computerized system will be introduced for the educational, administrative and resource management of the NAEP

2. Projects and Programmes in the 10th Plan (2002–2006)

  • Reduction of the overall illiteracy rate to 16% in 2006

  • Eradication of illiteracy among young people aged under 30 years in 2006

  • Preparation of a forward-looking report on adult education in the broad sense

  • Examination of the possibility of employing radio and television for adult education

  • Creation of more AE pilot centres

  • Expansion of the post-literacy library with the addition of new titles suitable for neoliterates

3. Projects under the National EFA Strategy

The NAEP is part of the National EFA Strategy (2000–2010). After 2006, the qualitative and quantitative objectives of the NAEP will be set in accordance with:

  • the experimental projects already carried out

  • the studies programmed

  • the results of the general census of the population in 2004

The intention is already to reduce the overall rate of illiteracy to 10% in 2010.


The political will which prevails in Tunisia gives reason to believe that the fight against illiteracy is progressing well and that the parties concerned are genuinely committed to it.

For this reason, the quantitative and qualitative objectives of the NAEP have generally been achieved, and there are good prospects for lifelong learning as part of a move to a knowledge-based society.

The system of financial and material incentives for target groups and the various agencies involved, and the intention of reviewing and diversifying these in order to attract more learners, provide evidence of this will. 

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