Henner Hildebrand / Heribert Hinzen

Education for All (EFA) was the collective commitment of the 1500 participants at the World Education Forum in 2000 in Dakar. One of the goals adopted was "achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults". However, governments and donor agencies implementing EFA have concentrated on children in schools. This has led colleagues such as Maria Almazan Khan to claim that EFA is turning into Except for Adults. The EFA General Monitoring Report is a serious attempt to follow up the declarations made at the Dakar Forum. The previous two reports focused on Gender, and most recently on Quality. The 2006 report will concentrate on adult literacy within EFA. It was Prof. Alan Rogers who suggested that Convergence should bring out a special issue on "Education for All: Putting Adults back in the Frame"; it has just appeared as No. 3/2004, and included the following article, which is reprinted in an edited form here. Henner Hildebrand is currently the IIZ/DVV representative for West Africa, based in Guinea-Conakry. Heribert Hinzen is Director of the IIZ/DVV, editor of AED, and he has been involved with adult education in development for the last thirty years.

EFA Includes Education and Literacy for All Adults Everywhere

If you are invited to contribute to a special thematic issue of a journal you start to wonder why you have been asked. Once you express interest to the editor, even though you may complain of bureaucratic obstacles, you have certainly lost as you are already on the hook. This is what happened to us, and there was no way to escape but to write this piece. So here we go.

We want to apologise right from the start as we may not be as exhaustive as we should like to be for many reasons. However, we shall try to combine ideas and experiences from the past and present, from where we are currently working in Germany and Guinea, which we think may be of some relevance for more and better adult literacy work.

Why Were We Invited?

We assume it was because of the breadth of our experience of various "literacies" in different times and places, and our attempts to critically reflect on what we are trying to do. Let us therefore start by providing some examples, especially for those who may not know much of what we stand for and what we support in cooperation with our partners worldwide.

Who are we? Both authors are staff members of the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, the IIZ/DVV, and together we have more than forty years of service in the headquarters in Bonn, and in projects in various countries. We can therefore claim some continuity of experience and participation through the many innovations on which we have worked. (www.iiz-dvv.de)

Institutionally we may be best known for publishing our journal Adult Education and Development (AED), for more than thirty years now. It could well be the adult education journal that is most widely disseminated internationally, reaching about 20,000 subscribers in more than 150 countries. A recent issue (AED 62/2004) contains an index, which is also maintained and updated online on our website. It shows that there has been hardly any issue which has not touched on literacy, presenting and discussing theories and practices, methods and materials, and voices from the planners, the providers and the participants.

Examples and Pointers

The older readership may remember the debate which started with an article on Cooperating or Campaigning for Literacy: Letís Remove Doubtful Promises and Cope with the Practicable (AED 21/1983) by Heribert Hinzen, Jakob Horn, Wolfgang Leumer and Rolf Niemann, at that time all staff members of the IIZ/DVV in Bonn, which resulted in a sometimes heated confrontation during conferences, where we were labelled the "Youngsters from Germany" or the "Gang of Four". We questioned the phrase "eradication of illiteracy" or its elimination, and were equally critical of centralized campaigns. We felt that instead of "Illiteracy = Ignorance = Indignity: A Wrong Equation" we wanted more sensitive approaches with no room for stigmatization nor discrimination. Several follow-up articles appeared in readers' forums of AED: many were supportive while others wondered whether we were unwillingly undermining the alliance of a much-needed "literacy crusade". Today, almost 25 years later, the only thing we know for sure is that despite the ìeradication strategiesî the number of adult illiterates has not gone down.

The other spin-off from this debate within our work was two insights: first, the need to include literacy activities in as many projects as possible in accordance with our assumption that literacy (as a part of education) is a human right, in many respects a starting point for further learning, and very often a helpful tool in the acquisition of skills. We believed ñ and we still believe ñ in lifelong learning, and we know of the importance of literacy within basic education (Torres, 2003). The second is that we also know that many people throughout the world have in the past led successful lives without being literate, and continue to do so today. This number is by no means small, as almost one billion people still have to get by with no chance of becoming or staying literate.

It was in the mid-1980s that the People's Educational Association of Sierra Leone, PEA, started a project that it called Stories and Songs, in cooperation with the IIZ/DVV (Fishing, 1987). The idea was to make use of the wealth of oral literature of the many ethnic groups in the country for culturally attractive literacy provision. It was indeed possible to collect hundreds of stories, songs, riddles, proverbs and fables in about ten languages, to transcribe them from the oral to the written form, and to translate, edit and publish many of them, thereby producing reading materials for a rather fragile, barely literate environment. However, those who know a bit about the recent history of Sierra Leone will know that unlike the 1980s, adult education providers today are almost starting from scratch now that the civil war has ended.

Somalia is another country where the IIZ/DVV invested heavily for more than a decade in literacy via the National Adult Education Centre. The main components of the project were the training of literacy instructors and organizers of classes and centres, and the preparation, printing and distribution of primers, reading materials and posters throughout thinly populated rural areas. Here again, when the turbulence of war is once again over, fresh attempts to provide literacy will have to start, maybe once more in cooperation with our Institute.

Literacy and Livelihoods

It would be easy to mention many more examples in which our Institute was or is involved in literacy work on the ground in many countries around the world. This is appreciated by our partners and recognized by the global players in development who need to explore the relevance of education and literacy for the reduction of poverty.

The Dakar World Forum on Education for All (EFA) in the year 2000 was a strong re-affirmation of the importance of literacy in basic education. We were glad to be part of the German delegation, representing the non-governmental (NGO) sector. In all the presentations and discussions there was no doubt that basic schooling of adequate quantity and quality should continue to be seen as of paramount importance, organized and supported by the respective governments. But nobody stated in Dakar that other forms of out-of-school literacy provision by NGOs and churches were less worthy of support or recognition, and nobody claimed that literacy for younger or older adults was of less value. A commitment was even expressed to "achieve a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women". In the follow-up, however, we realize that basic education through state schools has become the dominant feature, which has led several critical colleagues to question whether EFA means "Except for Adults".

As an Institute we did not need to think twice when the Human Development Sector, African Region, of the World Bank invited us to coordinate a study on Skills and Literacy Training for Better Livelihoods (Oxenham, 2002). We saw the chance to shed some light on literacy learning and vocational training, on which came first and which second, and on some cause-and-effect relationships. The approach taken was sound document research, with a fresh look at all the official and grey literature of recent decades, and at a number of case studies from different countries in West and East Africa. As an initial classification, a framework by Rogers (1997) was used, proposing five categories: either literacy is seen as a prerequisite (for everything); or literacy comes first and training second; or livelihood training may lead to literacy; or livelihood and literacy training are integrated; or both take place in parallel, but separately.

The report presents a wealth of information, carefully dug from often dusty documents in the archives of many providing and funding agencies. In the Executive Summary the outcomes of the study are presented as 17 findings, such as: livelihood first, followed by literacy, seems to be more successful; NGOs seem to be more flexible in respecting local needs; and NGO projects that integrate development and literacy seem to be most effective. Additionally, ten recommendations for policy-makers on vocational training, education and literacy are provided.

Before we move to a somewhat longer presentation of our involvement in literacy work in Guinea under EFA with World Bank funding, we should like to add one example of the work of our association in Germany.

Adult Literacy in Germany

We should make clear that while we support adult education and development through international cooperation, our parent body, the German Adult Education Association (DVV), is the national organization of the sixteen regional or state associations comprising the thousand local community adult education centres (Volkshochschulen = VHS = Folk High Schools) in Germany.

Thus, the DVV is first and foremost a professional association supporting adult education in Germany. Now, what has this to do with literacy work in a country where a policy of universal schooling was introduced more than a hundred years ago? How can there be some four million functional illiterates (adults with serious reading, writing and mathematical deficiencies), a figure which is currently used in television commercials to point to the seriousness of the issue?

Maybe a few rough figures may offer some kind of an explanation: Germany has about 80 million people. Of these, there are about eight million pupils in schools of various sorts. Each year about 800,000 finish school. Of these, 80,000 do not complete their education successfully and fail to receive a certificate that could open the way to a further course at college or vocational training. Over ten years, with cumulative effect, this adds up to almost one million, which turns out be about four million in the last 40 years. However, there is no system of providing literacy classes or second chance schooling for this number of people, despite all the efforts of the VHS and other adult education centres.

The debate over functionally illiterate adults in industrialized countries is also influenced by the heated arguments exchanged within the OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) on the results of a comparative study called PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) of the performance of pupils at age fifteen in reading, writing, science and mathematics. Many commentators have argued in consequence that the quality of learning at school is not good enough for later participation in learning throughout life.

The DVV, in cooperation with the Federal Literacy Association, is now running a project called APOLL (=Alpha-Portal Literacy Learning), funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Science, in order to provide functional illiterates with a world of learning via the worldwide web, aiming to create a learning platform via the Internet. Prospective learners have the opportunity to make use of the medium at times and at the pace which suit them best. It is intended to provide learning materials based on real-life situations such as buying a ticket, banking activities, or reading the specially written newspaper. Tutors guide participants, and comment on what they have achieved in their exercises. The potential scale of participation is high, and offers hope to those who prefer this form of individualized learning (Fiebig 2004; www.apoll-online.de).

Literacy within EFA in Guinea-Conakry

The IIZ/DVV has worked in Guinea since 1993, when it started supporting one NGO project. In 1999 we opened our project office and we have since enlarged our partnership to about ten NGOs and the Service National d'AlphabÈtisation (SNA ñ the National Literacy Service). We are guided by our mission to contribute effectively to the reduction of poverty through projects of adult basic education, civic education and initial and further training for personnel in the sector. The vast majority of the grassroots partners, in other words the learners, are male and female peasants organized in self-help associations. The organizational development of these associations goes hand in hand with the adult basic education or literacy activities.

Since 2002 a lot has been invested in the capacity building of partners and the development of efficient approaches. This was preceded and underpinned by research studies, the evaluation of projects and the sharing of experiences with institutions in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso (Centre Djoliba, 2004). One change of approach, for example, concerned the duration of partnersí projects. In 2003 we started to move from projects planned for a one-year period to three-year plans, which allowed a reasonable time frame for a sustainable, development- oriented learning experience. Let us now take a deeper look at the current literacy work in Guinea.

Current Practices

When it comes to literacy activities, it must be realized that practically all development programmes carried out in Guinea claim to integrate literacy with instruction about means of subsistence or livelihood training ñ either through development aid programmes (World Bank, UNICEF, EU, FIDA, FAO, AFD, GTZ) or on a smaller scale through NGO projects. In quite a number of multilaterally financed programmes literacy has been discovered to be the missing link that is needed to achieve other developmental objectives. It serves a very practical purpose since the aims of these projects cannot be achieved without a certain level of knowledge in mathematics, reading and writing.

In most cases the financing agency contracts NGOs to carry out the literacy activities. These NGOs therefore have access to significant amounts of external funding, but they have little influence on the programming. There is also support for the development of NGOowned projects from Northern support agencies such as the IIZ/DVV. In these projects the NGOs address organized self-help groups and endeavour to assist in their organizational development.

In order to analyse current practices, IIZ/DVV Guinea invited its partners to a meeting in 2002, together with the NGO ENDA-Graf, the Coordination Nationale des Opérateurs en Alphabétisation au Sénégal – CNOAS and "GTZ-Alphafemmes" from Senegal. This meeting was able to identify opportunities and good practices as well as constraints on ongoing activities. A subsequent workshop took up the results and formulated a draft version of a harmonized literacy strategy for Guinea.

It was easy to reach a joint understanding that literacy is a means of improving livelihoods and a factor in increasing local participatory development. This is what we call integrated literacy. So, literacy has to be embedded in an approach of supporting self-help and community development. And an effective approach to supporting self-help has to take into account the following key elements: self management by the community, self-financing, suitable instruments of monitoring/evaluation, and validation by the national literacy policy. These characteristics have a common denominator which fosters viable self-help, namely the progressive disengagement of the external supporter, or in other words the expansion of local ownership.

Among NGOs there are attempts to work towards an integrated literacy approach. What is generally done in this regard consists of supporting self-help groups and helping them to organize themselves, supporting the operation of literacy centres, providing training in facilitation skills, and sometimes supporting income-generating activities which aim later to finance ongoing literacy activities for other community members.

All providers of literacy activities claim that theirs are functional and needs-based and build on and strengthen local capacities. If we turn this claim around, we may state that such a vision is shared by all NGOs in Guinea. Our initial joint analysis, however, revealed evidence of a good number of weaknesses.

Literacy programmes conducted by local NGOs face the following major constraints:

  • Lack of coordination and consultation between NGOs and the Service National d'Alphabétisation (SNA) on the one hand and between NGOs themselves on the other

  • Insufficient training of instructors / facilitators

  • Diversity of methods and approaches, disregarding the needs of learners

  • Confusion with regard to terminology

  • Deficiencies in efficient utilization of human and financial resources

  • Insufficient studies of the profitability and feasibility of income generating activities (IGA)

  • Insufficient training, monitoring and counselling related to IGA

  • Under-estimation of the costs of integrated literacy

  • Non-availability of external resources for evaluation exercises

In another order, what are the realities in the field?
Realities in the Field - Planning

  • Rarity of needs appraisal by NGOs, due either to insufficient competence or lack of finance, and consequent lack of relevance in programmes

  • Lack of negotiation between donors/NGOs and beneficiaries

  • Predominance of donors in the design of projects

  • Absence of functional saving and credit schemes such as the Associations de Services Financiers ñ ASF

  • Poor design of income-generating activities to cover costs related to literacy

Realities in the Field - Design of teaching materials for literacy and post-literacy

  • Proliferation of production of materials with the same content but with great differences in quality

  • Inappropriate contents

  • Poor methodology

  • Weak link with issues of daily life

  • Stagnation with regard to post-literacy ñ lack of experience in postliteracy practice

  • Insufficient consultation with the SNA regarding script and quality

Realities in the Field - Local participation

  • Local participation in terms of human resources and purchase of individual furniture possible, but 95% of finance is from external contributions

  • Integrated literacy limited to training of local facilitators and participation by the community in finding the literacy centre

  • Limited local capacity building of human resources

  • Contractual relationships only at two levels: between facilitator and NGO, and between donor and NGO

  • Absence of ownership-building

  • Lack of appropriation and absence of sustainability in literacy centres

  • Lack of synergy with other development activities

In general terms, it can be said that no institution providing literacy was following ideals that fostered local ownership and disengagement in Guinea in 2002.

Given These Insights and Considerations, What Are the Principal Hypotheses for Successful Literacy Practice?

The great challenge facing a self-help approach is the need for a functional strategy of disengagement on the part of external agencies, both NGOs and donors. We have identified the following principles for successful literacy practice:

1. Participatory needs appraisal prior to the planning of the activity ñ literacy needs must be expressed by the target group, preferably by learners organized in self-help groups
2. Identification of the role of literacy in the given development context and validation by the community
3. Participatory decision-making with regard to language, time, duration, individual responsibilities, and material and financial inputs
4. A self-management strategy
5. A strategy of financial participation and self-financing (examples: IGAs which are sufficiently profitable to contribute to and later to cover the local costs of literacy activities and/or establishment of Associations de Services Financiers ñ self-organised saving/credit schemes)
6. Creation of ownership and responsibility at all levels enshrined in contracts between all those involved (including local government and the relevant government technical services)
7. Opportunities to up-grade the competencies of NGO facilitators and staff
8. Constant lobbying and advocacy for literacy, starting at the local level
9. Application of suitable instruments for monitoring, counselling and evaluation at all levels (from self-evaluation to external evaluation)

For the progressive disengagement of support agencies and the strong involvement of local actors so that projects become sustainable, it is vital that all those involved share the same viewpoint: learners, the community, the NGO, the SNA and finally the donor agency, for the following reasons:

  • Learners who know how to read, write and calculate need an opportunity of applying these skills in daily life to improve their economic, social and cultural well-being.

  • It is the entire community which will ultimately create a literate environment. The focus should not be restricted to learners, but other members of the community should be involved as well. This must include members of local councils.

  • NGOs will gain from: (i) successful disengagement without pain in order to work with other communities, (ii) contribution to the development of the community, and (iii) sound utilization of the resources available.

  • The SNA, with its country-wide structure and staff, will finally fulfil its role of providing monitoring and policy guidance, which will in turn allow local actions to be incorporated into the national literacy policy and will help to capitalize experiences.

  • Donorsí resources will be deployed effectively for the long-term improvement of living conditions in the community.

The Education for All Programme - (EFA - EPT) - Literacy Component

In 2003, five international and one national organization were invited to submit proposals to operate an Executive Agency for the EPT Programme of the Guinean Government. EPT is financed with a credit from the International Development Association / World Bank. The task of the Agency is to manage the funds of the literacy component in an initial pilot phase from 2004 to 2006. This public-private partnership approach is based on the Senegalese model called "faire-faire". With the conceptual orientation outlined above, the IIZ/DVV won the bidding and in February 2004 established its "Agence EPT" office.

In three selection meetings (with membership drawn from representatives of various governmental institutions, two NGO delegates and the coordinator of the Agence EPT), 21 local or national NGOs have so far been awarded contracts to implement their literacy projects. Particular emphasis was put on female participation. First meetings with the representatives of these NGOs revealed considerable lack of skills to design and monitor projects, train staff, develop learning materials and establish professional accounting practices. The consequent challenge was immediately taken up: the IIZ/DVV and its Agence made tremendous efforts to organize training seminars to address some of the issues involved in "the design of integrated literacy", the development and application of suitable monitoring instruments, and the management of the funds allocated to NGOs.

On another level, given the weaknesses and lack of experience of a number of institutions, the project selection committee took an important strategic decision in June 2004: in future only applicants that had been operating for a minimum of three years and had at least two years of literacy experience would be accepted. Applicants must now prove that they are recognised as a national NGO. With this orientation we have moved away from the Senegalese faire-faire model, under which hundreds of community groups have been awarded contracts. In Guinea we shall endeavour to promote quality services from a limited number of competent NGOs, which will organize learning in partnership with the community self-help groups.

National Literacy Survey

Generally, NGOs do not have well-established databases, and their monitoring instruments and approaches are insufficiently developed, so that their information management is weak if not absent. The figures for the national literacy rate cannot be verified and differ from one source to another. In order to establish a sound and officially recognised database, the IIZ/DVV undertook a survey covering the whole of the country from June to August 2004. The research was carried out by members of eight national NGOs, who were first trained and subsequently closely supervised by the IIZ/DVV. The research looked at literacy activities conducted between 1984 and 2004, types of programmes, participation levels, materials development, institutional arrangements for provision, etc. Over the 20-year period we found that 3001 literacy centres had functioned for at least one campaign or one year, and that 105,818 learners had participated, with a ratio of 59% women to 41% men.

Today we can state that there is an illiteracy rate of 80.67 % in Guinea.

Regional disparities were documented, e.g. nearly 20% of the 303 communities in Guinea have either never benefited from literacy activities, or only to a small degree. There are real pockets of illiteracy in these communities. The duration of literacy provision varies from one year to 2.7 years, with a national average of 1.8 years. However, the duration does not necessarily correlate with the number of hours of learning, which ranges from 126 to 338.98 hours. Considering that 500 hours should be the minimum duration in a time frame of two to three years, the national average of 246.25 hours is not adequate to progress from basic literacy to post-literacy, and finally to establish a literate environment. This fits with a figure of 61% of learners who do not advance beyond basic literacy. Only 15 % reach a level at which they can read, write and calculate fluently.

Management instruments such as timetables and teachersí preparation sheets are widely used, since syllabuses and records of learnersí progress are largely missing. There is a management committee in 54.61% of centres, but the vast majority of these only consist of class participants and do not involve other community members such as local councillors. Learning materials are generally produced by NGOs, 98% being for basic literacy activities. So far, only 2% of resources have been invested in developing post-literacy materials, and the conceptual debate about a ìliterate environmentî has scarcely begun.

In the 3001 centres, 3451 facilitators are active. Of this number, 68% are not qualified to take learners beyond post-literacy.

From this study the National Literacy Service and the IIZ/DVV have gained an invaluable situation analysis, a national database, and insights into the current challenges facing the promotion of literacy as an integral part of development in Guinea. EPT offers a great opportunity to reach a steadily increasing number of illiterate adults in the years to come: as the survey found, only 105,818 learners participated in literacy activities between 1984 and 2004 while the EPT-EFA projects selected in the first six months after the programme began in 2004 already involve about 10,000 learners. (The full study is now available at www.iiz-dvv.de)

Given the challenges facing the opportunities provided by EPT, and the funds available to the IIZ/DVV, we are strengthened in our conviction that if we are successfully to go to scale in the years to come, we must continue to implement rigorously the strategy adopted.


Adult Education and Development (AED), from 1973 half-yearly journal for adult education in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Bonn: IIZ/DVV. 

Centre Djoliba + IIZ/DVV: Les pratiques de formation pour le renforcement des processus de dÈcentralisation en Afrique de líouest : cas du Burkina Faso, de la GuinÈe, du Mali et du SÈnÈgal. Rapport díun atelier du 23-27 septembre 2003 ‡ Bamako / Mali, www.iiz-dvv.de ñ actualitÈs. 

Christian Fiebig (2004) E-Learning: Learning to Write via the Internet. AED 61: 73-78.


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