It is now undisputed that there is a connection between literacy and poverty, and that literacy is a crucial socio-economic factor in poverty. Emmanuelle Suso has analysed 56 Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) from different countries and continents, looking at the extent to which they have taken up adult education, and have drawn up comprehensive plans to reduce the rate of illiteracy. She comes to the conclusion that there is still a considerable need for improvement. The author is an Assistant Programme Specialist at UNESCO's International Institute for Educational Planning and Management (UNESCO/HEP). She is involved in IIEP's research and training programmes on secondary education and on PRSPs.
| MDG 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education |
Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
The extent to which PRSPs or their interim version (l-PRSPs) recognise the significance of literacy for the achievement of the MDGs, and for development goals more generally, is one indication of the extent to which weight is, or is not given to literacy in public policy. While youth literacy (15-24) is used as an MDG indicator as a measure of the success of basic school education, literacy, taken as the meaningful acquisition, development and use of written language, is not related specifically to children, youth or adults but to all of them. It can be acquired in and out of the formal education system. Being key to the creation of a literate environment, it is expected to contribute directly to economic and social development. The Dakar Framework for Action has a goal specifically related to adult literacy, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for adults. The aim of this analysis is to determine where literacy fits in national poverty strategies and whether any note is taken of the Dakar literacy goal.
Literacy is often measured through youth literacy (age group 15-24) and through adult literacy (age group 15 and above). While the first ratio relates measures more particularly to the success of the education policy in terms of school coverage and learning achievement, the second ratio focuses on adults, as citizens and productive members of the workforce.
| MDG 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women |
Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
The two Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education are both relevant to literacy: MDG 2 because it deals with Universal Primary Education (UPE), the touchstone for youth literacy; and MDG 3 because one of its attached indicators (indicator 10) measures the ratio of literate females to literate males. MDGs are not preoccupied with adult literacy. This is not the case of the Dakar goals, especially Goal 4, which caters for adult literacy. It specifies that illiteracy should be halved by 2015. Bearing in mind the focus on women of both sets of goals, proper monitoring at country level would imply disaggregation of data by gender.
| Dakar EFA Goal 4 |
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
PRSPs are the implementation documents of the Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS). Both are concepts innovated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to better deliver international aid and provide debt relief to countries who meet criteria set by the Bank and Fund. With this new approach, poverty is no longer restricted to the economic dimension. The multidimensional aspect of poverty is fully recognized and interrelations between the economic and social aspects are fully integrated. Countries are encouraged to undertake a holistic analysis of poverty in order to tackle it in a comprehensive fashion.
The approach favours multi-sectoral strategies, involving all the components of government; it is iterative and favours participatory processes, the PRSP being (in principle) drawn up in consultation with the poor themselves.
Interim PRSPs are a first step in the process of completing the full document. They identify the major problems and issues and provide some indication as to the relevant policies and measures as well as to the use of external assistance. l-PRSPs allow countries to obtain some concessional assistance. The preparation of a full PRSP begins once the I-PRSP has been adopted. The full PRSP has to be adopted by the government and submitted to the Board of the World Bank and the IMF: this is a requirement for receiving debt relief. They describe a framework for action which is evaluated on an annual basis (on average). The PRSPs generally follow a similar outline: they have different chapters: on the process; on the diagnosis of poverty (source, scope, magnitude); on the proposed strategies (also called pillars) to achieve growth and reduce poverty: the macroeconomic framework, the human development chapter and the institutional development pillar. Education - and therefore literacy - is normally included in the human development chapter but it can be mentioned in several other chapters.
Fifty-six PRSPs and l-PRSPs have been examined, out of the 57 available documents on the World Bank website as of 29 April 2005.1 Because l-PRSPs are more limited in scope and breadth than PRSPs, it is frequently the case that literacy is barely mentioned in these documents, though one would expect that it be raised as an issue in the full document. The table below recapitulates the availability of PRSPs at that date and identifies those documents which have not been analysed due to time constraints.
Table 1: Availability of PRSPs as of 29 April 2005
Out of 56 PRSPs examined, 17 mention illiteracy as a major problem; 9 assimilate literacy to a development issue; 28 mention it in their diagnosis of the educational system and 34 propose specific actions to fight against it.
In fact, PRSPs can be grouped into four categories, as far as their treatment of literacy is concerned: countries for which literacy is not an issue (high literacy rate); countries that have some mention of literacy, i.e. literacy is not a priority; PRSPs that develop literacy strategies with different approaches (youth literacy, through schooling or remedial programmes/adults through NFE, literacy programmes) and scope (programmes/campaigns), and, finally, PRSPs in which literacy is mentioned but in which the country's approach consists of a strategy through enrolment only.
Out of the 56 PRSPs examined, 11 documents actually provide a definition - albeit vague - of literacy. These are:
In other words:
For all other documents, no definition is provided. One is left making deductions on the basis of the proposed course of action i.e. through formal schooling and enrolment, through non-formal education (NFE), adult education or literacy programmes or campaigns, or through both.
There is finally a small group of countries that refer to IT literacy. These are mostly former socialist European and Central Asian countries (e.g. Bosnia Herzegovina). The only African mention of IT literacy is found in the PRSP for Kenya, where it is seen as a prerequisite for civil servants to handle e-government.
To produce their literacy rates the most common sources are national, (e.g. Bolivia, Ethiopia) and household surveys (e.g. Bhutan, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi). The implementation of literacy surveys is infrequent (Lesotho, Cambodia).
What is the 'use' of having a literate population? PRSPs provide different reasons for seeking better literacy rates. These can be grouped into three categories:
• The right approach. There is a right to literacy as there is a right to education. Such an approach is never formulated as such in the PRSP but it follows from the approach relating literacy to enrolment in formal education. Another indication of such an approach is the fact that illiteracy is closely linked to poverty, of which it is an indicator. Reducing illiteracy will lead to a reduction in poverty since it is a part of the way poverty is measured.
• The social approach envisages literacy as a desired outcome that focuses on social or cultural dimensions. It is mostly linked to human development, empowerment (of women and minorities) and personal well-being (e.g. Bolivia, Cambodia, Djibouti). Literacy is there seen as an instrument to fight against social and cultural inequalities, or against domination. These inequalities are redressed through target programmes that use ethnic languages or through such measures as correcting gender bias in curricula.
• The functional approach is centred on the skills and competences needed to function adequately in society. This approach tackles mainly preparation for work, self-employment, access to micro-credit (particularly for women), management of the environment for better productivity and sustainability of crops. The aim of this literacy approach is to sustain economic growth and to increase the productivity of the labour force. Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Lao PDR are among countries linking literacy achievements to this approach.
The section of the PRSPs where literacy is mentioned is hardly anodyne. It determines where countries establish that literacy (or the lack of it) impacts a given sector. Occurrences can be summarized thus:
|Poverty diagnosis||ED section||Other HD sections||Other|
In slightly more than 80% of the PRSPs and l-PRSPs examined, literacy first appears in the poverty diagnosis or profile as a determining factor of poverty. The rate used is the adult literacy rate, often disaggregated by gender to show the existing gap. Further analysis of this literacy rate is provided in terms of the dichotomy between urban and rural populations. Certain countries provide provincial/district breakdowns.
PRSPs state from inception (i) the relation between illiteracy and poverty - e.g. "Poverty is characterized by illiteracy (...)" (Mali,); literacy is one of the factors qualifying 'poverty's social face'("illiteracy is a barrier for the poor to improve their lives for they are excluded from the development process", Cambodia)., and (ii) the incidence of illiteracy on poverty - Burundi establishes how literacy rates follow the socio-economic distribution of household heads: 87,4% of the children born to a family where the head of household serves in the public or the para-public sector are literate. On the other hand this figure is down at 44% in the case of households headed by farmers or unemployed persons (Burundi); in Djibouti, illiteracy is among the factors that explain the dire situation of the rural Djiboutians, Mozambique correlates child mortality, illiteracy and gender disparities as an indication of high human poverty.
Adult literacy rates are mentioned as being one of the socio-economic indicators of poverty. They are also mentioned as being an element allowing for the compilation of the human development index (HDI). More broadly speaking, literacy rates are mentioned to be among the indicators of human development (e.g. Congo DR, Honduras, Kenya, Nepal, to mention but a few).
Some countries (e.g. Burundi, Chad, Mauritania, Lao PDR) present the curbing of their population's illiteracy as in overall development goal. The following two examples provide further examples of that:
"The Royal Government of Cambodia's vision of Cambodia is a socially connected, educationally advanced, and culturally vibrant society. This requires dealing with the problems of poverty, illiteracy, and health." (Cambodia)
"It [the Poverty Eradication Action Plan] also views ignorance as a particularly constraining feature of the lives of poor people, and is concerned to improve literacy and educational achievement among the population at large." (Uganda)
Literacy is also directly correlated with countries' human resources, human development, or human capital, depending on the terminology used. This accounts for the predominant references to literacy rates (both youth and adults) being made under the human development pillar (HD) i.e. the one describing the actions to be undertaken in the areas of health, education, and gender issues - when gender is not isolated as a cross-cutting theme. These references to literacy relate to the diagnosis of the sector and to the proposals made to improve the access of the poor to social services. For instance, the literacy gap between men and women is acknowledged (diagnosis) but remedial measures are also proposed to correct the gap (e.g. women's learning centres in Mali, increased scholarships for girls in Nepal, functional literacy programmes for girls and women in Zambia). Bolivia and Nicaragua both diagnose that poverty and lack of education adversely impact the abilities to prepare adequate meals, hence the correcting measure of developing literacy programmes with nutrition components.
However, the bulk of references to literacy under the HD pillar comes under the section on education (38 as per the table above), education being considered the principal means to develop human capacities. The following few quotes provide an idea of how literacy appears as a goal of education policies:
"The Government's goals for education are to reduce illiteracy rates, reduce drop-out and repetition rates, especially at the primary level, increase secondary school enrolment, and improve the quality and relevance of education for all Guyanese, especially children." (Guyana)
The Lao PDR's poverty-focused Education Development Plan foresees the
"eradication of illiteracy, thus providing for poor people with a means of helping to improve their quality of life."
"Guided by the objective ofEFA, the Education sector in the Tenth Plan aims at improving the access to and quality of primary education. The plan has among others, the objective of expanding literacy programs to improve the livelihoods of deprived groups, especially girls, dalits, anddisadvantaged children." (Nepal)
The education sections of the PRSPs tackle both youth literacy (mostly related to achieving UPE) and adult literacy.
But adult literacy is also often treated in other HD developments of the PRSPs (such as gender, health and nutrition) or in relation to supporting growth and productive sectors (agriculture and employment being the most frequent). More rarely, countries associate literacy with governance, civic awareness, and participation (Honduras, Lao PDR for instance). Some also relate environment, management of resources and literacy (Lao PDR, Malawi).
The multiple occurrence of adult literacy is due to the inherent cross-cutting aspect of literacy. When mentions are found elsewhere than in the education section, literacy can more often than not be tagged as functional literacy. It aims chiefly at ensuring that literate people will be provided with the possibility of bettering their livelihood through better productivity and employability (e.g. Djibouti, Kenya).
The statistics given provide a certain vision of the population: by gender, by socio-economic profile, by geographical area, by ethnic groups, etc. Disaggregating the data allows policy-makers to have a finer vision of the situation and to propose targeted actionable measures. An interesting case in that respect is Nepal's PRSP, which has come up with literacy breakdowns of its population according to ecology zones (mountain, hill, terai); urban/rural/national; and development regions (eastern, western, midwest, far-west). Literacy rates are also disaggregated by castes and ethnicity and by gender - which allows for an image of the gender gap. Examples of other sophisticated breakdowns can be drawn from the PRSPs of Cameroon, Cap Verde, Lao PRD, Mozambique, etc. They serve the purpose of poverty profile and diagnosis. It is to be noted that this level of sophistication is not taken on board the monitoring section of the PRSPs.
In view of the importance given to gender as an established cross-cutting issue, PRSPs often provide a comparison of literacy rates disaggregated by gender. In the poverty diagnoses, it is recurrently stressed that women are among the most vulnerable as regards poverty. Just as literacy rates are established as one of the indicators of human poverty, they serve the purpose of measuring countries' gender gaps. Virtually all PRSPs identify literacy as a factor impeding women's empowerment:
"Women in Burkina Faso are less literate (12.9%) than men (24.8%). And whatever their social status, there is discrimination to women's disadvantage. This discrimination is in fact quite pronounced at the level of the first quintile." (Burkina Faso)
"Illiteracy is still an obstacle to the women's socio-economic advancement. " (Mali)
Literacy is also often mentioned with regard to other vulnerable groups. The incidence of poverty on persons belonging to a minority group for instance is also approached. Bolivia correlates urban poverty, indigenous households and the level of education. Bosnia establishes a similar link with regard to its Roma population, which is declared to have nearly 100% unemployment, 23% illiteracy and about 33% school attendance (from a survey conducted in Sarajevo on a sample of 582 children). The same applies to minorities in Burundi. "In the education sector, gender gaps in literacy and school enrolment and completion rates, particularly among ethnic minority groups, must be reduced." (Lao PDR).
Overall, all these mentions give a recurrent image of the main target groups for literacy action, whatever the means chosen by countries to improve the literacy situation of their population: women, rural people, out of school children, drop-outs, adult youths, and ethnic or religious minorities.
The following preliminary remarks can be made. Generally speaking, PRSPs tend not to provide detailed and complete strategies to curb illiteracy, though illiteracy is a broad concern and a broad area for action. By complete strategy we mean the conception of the steps to implement the strategy devised, but also the means to ensure its sus-tainability with detailed costing and support monitoring measures.
PRSPs illustrate several strategies to increase literacy:
Most countries combine several approaches. But few have a comprehensive approach which ranges from enrolment of school-age children to remedial action focused on drop-outs, and out-of school youth, and to adults who never had the opportunity to receive some form of education and training. Even fewer countries propose literacy from the viewpoint of a lifelong learning process.
Some countries refer to residual illiteracy, when enrolment rates and literacy rates are high. The consultation process in Nicaragua explicitly requested that attention be paid to residual illiteracy through adult education. For most countries from the Europe and Central Asia region declaring a 98%-99% literacy rate, illiteracy is no longer an issue. The hypothesis that can be made is that residual illiteracy rests with the older chunk of the population, i.e. the non-productive portion, or with some marginal groups: the definition of literacy goes beyond simply being able to read and write to being functionally literate in a somewhat more advanced and literate environment
The following selected strategies provide an insight as to how literacy related actions have been planned:
These few examples indicate that literacy strategies essentially fall into two main categories: increased formal schooling and non-formal education. Few countries organize campaigns.
Literacy strategies targeting children and youth resort primarily to formal schooling, favouring the completion of UPE as per the international education agenda defined in the MDGs and in the Dakar Framework of Action (e.g. Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Guyana, Tanzania, Zambia). Literacy in this context converges with issues related to quality, access, equity, and relevance, again in accordance with the Dakar goals.
Access is here defined in terms of:
Increasing enrolment to achieve UPE is a recurrent strategy of the PRSPs. In some cases (e.g. Tanzania, Viet Nam) it is even the only strategy proposed to improve literacy rates that stands out clearly from reading the PRSR
Some countries however stress the adverse effect of an increased enrolment that cannot be properly absorbed because of lack of capacity. The immediate victim is reported as being quality. In this context, the literacy rate becomes an indicator of the quality of the education system. For those countries about to achieve UPE, some indication is given for the expansion of secondary education.
Furthermore, quality is a recurrent pursuit of educational policies reported on the PRSPs analysed. It is mostly tackled from the angle of curriculum reform with the aim of making education more relevant. The aim is to provide a curriculum that is functional and adaptable to the needs of the target population (e.g. Djibouti, Mali, Viet Nam). Quality is also pursued through better recruited, trained and deployed teachers (e.g. Benin, Burundi, Kenya).
Relevance will act as an incentive to send otherwise productive labour to school. It is also pursued either through reform of contents or through the strengthening of technical and vocational schooling. Some countries also seek relevance through the use of national language; this makes the enrolment of children speaking a language different from the official one more straightforward.
Countries acknowledge that not all young people can be enrolled, be retained, or can re-enter the formal system. Actionable measures are devised to capture this portion of youth, mainly through non-formal education (Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Mozambique) and literacy programmes (e.g. Cambodia, Ghana, Honduras). An occasional reference to informal education enabling countries to reach these target groups is found in such PRSPs as Cameroon's, Guinea's, Honduras', or Nepal's. Resorting to distance learning is even less frequent (Ghana, Zambia). It should be pointed out here, that contrary to the case of formal schooling, the measures are vaguer, which makes it more difficult to apprehend precisely what is envisaged.
Strategies here resort to NFE, literacy programmes and literacy classes, functional or otherwise, and to campaigns. In keeping with the cross-cutting dimension of literacy, the needs of this section of the population are not catered for in the education section of the PRSPs only. Mentions are also found under other HD headings such as health or gender, and even under other pillars of the PRSPs.
Several of these programmes are targeted to reach special groups.
The poverty diagnosis on which these documents are based allows planners and decision-makers to devise measures that are reported to be targeted at the vulnerable group. These range from rural, to those living in disadvantaged zones, to women of course.
It should however be emphasised again that not all the reported measures are clearly defined. PRSPs announce the expansion of adult training programmes or the implementation of literacy campaigns without any further information being provided. The most recurrent target groups are: women, rural people, and people belonging to a minority group.
Possibly the most concrete literacy actions for adults are those relating to functional literacy for women (which imply nutrition components, family planning, sensitisation to health issues such as HIV/AIDS or other STDs, but also business literacy in order to facilitate the access of women to micro-credit).
As for literacy targeted at children and young people, a recurrent reference to quality and relevance can be found. Here too participation is linked to a sense of relevance.
"The participation of out-of-school youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training (for example literacy training or livelihood training) is also dependent on perceptions of relevance and utility." (Lao PRD)
To implement their literacy strategies some countries mention the training/increasing of trainers. These countries however are a minority - 10% of the PRSPs examined: Benin, Djibouti, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania.
A third type of strategy relates to the launching of literacy campaigns. Twelve countries announce that they will be implementing such action.
Countries which adopt the campaign approach share the common feature of low levels of literacy. These are countries, such as Chad for instance, which declare an 80% rate illiteracy and which correlate this rate with an impossibility of moving the country forward:
"The modest economic growth also reflects the weakness of Chad's human resources, whose productivity is limited by the fact that over 80% of the population is illiterate and only a small percentage of people over 15 years of age has received an education. This creates a barrier to assimilation of new technologies that could improve working conditions and thereby improve the standard of living of the people. It also partly explains why ancestral methods continue to be used in the primary sector. A vast literacy campaign is therefore urgently needed to raise the general level of the population and induce changes in behaviour and mentality, and also to ease the constraints imposed by the very high percentage of illiteracy."
In view of campaigns being, possibly, the fastest way of curbing illiteracy, these countries should demonstrate improvements in the coming few years.
Only four PRSPs refer to post-literacy programmes in order to achieve literacy gains (Benin, Djibouti, Nepal, Sao Tome).
With the exception of some countries, detailed action to curb illiteracy is not sufficiently developed. Financing is hardly ever established and monitoring is unsure, either because countries themselves underline the lack/poor quality of the data (e.g. Guinea-Bissau) or because there simply are no targets. This would tend to be in line with conclusions from other PRSP reviews.
Perhaps one of the most important implied conditions for success of literacy programmes is a feeling of relevance, which a number of PRSPs mention in respect both to youth and to adult literacy. Participation of the targeted population will be secured provided they see the relevance to short to medium-term improvement of their conditions of living and their ability to generate supplementary income through employment or better remunerated work.
In certain PRSPs there is clear indication of the government's commitment to achieving improved literacy, through adequate strategies and identified financial solutions (e.g. Burkina Faso, Mozambique). The simultaneous occurrence of these two factors is not widespread, which leads to a possible doubt as regards the sustainability of the measures described.
1 PRSPs ans l-PRSPs available can be consulted at the following URL: web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/EXTPRS/0,,COntentMDK:20200608~pageP K:210058~piPK:210062~theSitePK:384201,00.html#U
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