Josje van der Linden / Rosalina Rungo

When Mozambique became independent, it had an illiteracy rate of 93%. By 2003, this had been cut to 53%, and a new literacy curriculum was put forward in that year to reduce it yet further. The two authors describe the results of two studies from Mozambique concerned with how literacy programmes may be made more effective. The first study looks at the expectations of participants and non-participants in literacy programmes. The second study identifies the actual basic learning needs that should be used as the basis for literacy programmes. Rosalina Rungo is Director of the Adult Education Training Centre in Maputo Province in Mozambique. She was awarded her inthe degree in Adult Education of the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo in 2004. Josje van der Linden has been a lecturer in the Department of Adult Education of the Eduardo Mondlane University since 2002. She has carried out adult education research in areas such as literacy, non-formal education, basic skills and farmers' training programmes.

"Being literate means being somebody": Perceptions of Participants of Literacy Programmes in Mozambique

"The world of today is full of uncertainties. Without studying one will die of poverty." (Woman selling vegetables in one of the large markets of Maputo)

"Before, being the son of a poor family, you just worked on your "machamba" (land) and did not need to study, but nowadays, if you do not study, you do not find work." (Man attending a literacy programme in Marracuene, Maputo Province)

"Literacy is important to be somebody." (Woman at a market in Nampula, Northern Mozambique)

The Mozambican Context

At the proclamation of independence in 1975, Mozambique was left with a very high illiteracy rate among adults due to the limited access to education during the Portuguese colonisation. Three years later President Samora Machel launched the first National Literacy Campaign. As a result of the literacy campaigns and the massive growth of primary education the illiteracy rate dropped from 93 % in 1975 to 72 % in 1980. Sadly, this trend came to a halt in the eighties. There was a significant reduction of adult education activities, mainly due to the destabilising effects of the armed conflicts in the country.

Other factors leading to the dropout of participants were the Portuguese language, the strict timetables and the school oriented approach of the programmes (Lind, 1988, INDE, 2000). The introduction of more flexible courses in local languages, clearly related to the social and economical circumstances of the participants, was proposed. Unfortunately, in the structural readjustment programmes, imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund from 1987 onwards, adult education and literacy lost political priority and there was no budget to implement the proposed innovations.

Only years later, after the sign ing of the peace agreements in 1992 and the first democratic elections in 1994, literacy was again considered an indispensable instrument for the economic and social development of the country, and initiatives were taken to revitalise the sector. In an interview in the daily Notfcias, the National Director of Literacy Programmes and Adult Education presented figures on literacy and literacy programmes indicating a considerable increase in the number of participants and subsequently a decrease in the illiteracy rate to 53 %. He attributed this success to the distribution of materials, the increase in the use of local languages in literacy classes and the subsidies for literacy teachers. Referring to the preparation of a new curriculum, he stated:

"the challenge is a gradual transformation of the curriculum to meet the needs of the participants in order to acquire skills [...] to increase the family income" (Este ano em [...], 2004).

A new literacy curriculum was presented in 2003, but has not yet been fully implemented.

The civil society, comprising non-governmental organisations, churches and other associations, contributed in a substantial way to the revival of literacy programmes. One of the organisations promoting literacy, Action Aid, introduced the REFLECT approach. This approach combines literacy with community empowerment. Participants of REFLECT literacy circles analyse the problems of their community with the help of drawings and designs and learn the words related to the identified problems and their solutions. Doing this, the learners develop their own learning materials. There are no primers. The language of discussion and instruction is the language spoken by the participants. At the moment governmental literacy classes, still using the old curriculum, and, on a much smaller scale, literacy programmes, organised by exponents of the civil society, like REFLECT literacy circles, operate on a parallel basis.

Literacy Programmes, Perceptions and Needs

This article summarises the results of two studies carried out by the Department of Adult Education of the Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique. The first study focused on "Perceptions of Literacy Programmes" (Van der Linden, Manhiga & Rungo, 2004) exploring the differences in perception between those who participate in literacy programmes and those who do not. The second study analysed the "Basic Learning Needs" (Rungo, 2004) as perceived by the participants of two different literacy programmes, one governmental and one led by Action Aid, in the district of Marracuene, Maputo Province. The two studies were conducted independently, but are greatly inline with each other and will be discussed together. The objectives of the first study were to identify the perceptions of participants of literacy programmes and those of potential participants, to compare these and to formulate recommendations to improve the accessibility of the programmes. The objectives of the other study were to identify the basic learning needs and their satisfaction as perceived by participants of literacy programmes and to suggest improvements for these programmes based on this perspective.

The subject of the studies and the wish of the researchers to contribute to the actual practice of literacy programmes called for a participatory research design. Semi-structured interviews, observations of literacy classes and feedback sessions, in close collaboration with local authorities and workers, were the main techniques used. For the study on perceptions a total of 112 semi-structured interviews were held with participants and potential participants in the provinces of Maputo (including the capital itself) and Nampula. In both provinces three areas were selected: an urban, a semi-urban and a rural area. In each area about ten interviews were held with participants and ten with potential participants. Participants were found in adult education centres. Potential participants were found via local leaders and participants or just by asking around at the local market. In the study on basic learning needs interviews were held with twenty participants of a governmental programme and a REFLECT programme in a farmers' association. Classroom observations provided additional information in this study. A preliminary content analysis of the interview results and observations was presented and further elaborated in feedback sessions with officials, teachers and community leaders, working in literacy programmes in the areas of the studies. These sessions provided an opportunity to check the validity of the results and to explore recommendations for programme improvement.

Perceptions of Literacy Programmes

Findings of the perceptions study show four categories why literacy is important in the eyes of the participants: family life, increasing family income, participation in society and personal development. The needs study clustered the learning needs as perceived by the participants of literacy programmes according to the basic learning needs formulated in the World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien in 1990. They are: surviving, improving the quality of life, making informed decisions, living and working in dignity, participating fully in development, developing one's full capacities and continuing to learn (WCEFA, 1990, Torres, 2003). Below, the first three basic learning needs have been clustered under the category of family life and the last two under personal development.

Family life is the first issue that appears when talking about the importance of literacy, mainly in the answers of women, but also in those of men. The interviewees said that "literacy helps to understand things of life" and to "solve problems of daily life". They gave exam pies like: understanding children's homework, speaking with the teacher of the children, speaking with the doctor, writing one's name, reading and writing letters, reading the destination of the bus, and checking change in the market. The first examples refer to the Portuguese language, which dominates Mozambican public life and is necessary to communicate with teachers and doctors.

Literacy helps to overcome the shame and suspicion that comes with isolation: "In the past I was ashamed, when I had to sign something, now I already know how to write my name" said a woman in Maputo City. A young man in Nampula-province: "/ want to know mathematics so as not to be cheated in the market." Reading and writing in this category is a matter of surviving: "/ work on my "machamba" (land) and breed cattle. These times I do not earn a lot [...] the chickens are dying of diseases, the plants also [...] there is medicine, but you have to know how to give it. When there is nobody around who can help, I cannot do anything, because I did not study" said a lady farmer in Marracuene. And a colleague of hers added an experience in one of the lessons: "/ liked very much to learn about diseases, the months in which diseases like malaria prevail."

Near to the answers related to family life come those that speak about improving this life by increasing family income. In general, this is about "having a better life", "quitting poverty" and "stopping the suffering" in the words of the interviewees. They mention different strategies to realise this: by getting a job ("work in an office"), by improving business ("check the weight of my products when I am selling them") or by increasing the quality and quantity of products to be sold ("know new production and cultivation techniques to make good use of what the community has"). It is a matter of improving existing skills: "/ give change, but I have some difficulties" (a woman in Maputo market), "budgeting is easy, but on paper it is difficult" (a man in Nampula), and: "in my work I handle a lot of money and things, but it is difficult for me to write these [...] my boss does all this [...] I want to learn to write better, faster and with many ideas" (a male participant in Marracuene).

The basic learning need of living and working in dignity is at issue here. "When we are changing money in the markets we loose a lot of money. In the end there is no profit. This is not good, because either we cheat clients or clients cheat us", said one of the Marracuene participants. People who are selling in the market compare themselves to educated people in their environment: "/ want to have a job like my neighbours, those who studied have a better life", said a young man in the market of Nampula. Again there is reference to Portuguese and in Nampula even to English as a language necessary for getting a decent job or doing business. Although it is difficult to make a sharp distinction between this category and the previous, we prefer to discuss this as a separate category, mainly mentioned by men, explaining the obstacles they find when they try to raise an income.

Participation in society is the third category. Literacy is important to "understand what the others say". The others are those who do not speak the same maternal language. This communication wish again refers to the Portuguese language. The participants of literacy classes have ambitions: they want to "teach others", "explain to others", "help others", "solve social problems" and "help to fight crime". InNampula Province people literally spoke about the wish to be "somebody", which means being respected, being listened to, being valued. Adult educators in that province explained that there is a strict social hierarchy: the right to speak in social gatherings, in which problems are solved, is limited. The local expression "Nobody says something without being somebody" is valid to the extent that it excludes people, who are considered to be "nobody" and the "nobodies" are aware of th is. A woman testified: "Literacy is studying, without studying you are nothing". The same feeling was expressed by a man in Maputo Province: "Many things changed. Only educated people are viewed as human beings and respected." The basic learning need of participation in the development of the society is at stake here. The adult learners want to be able to engage in meetings, for example meetings of the farmers' association and of the school of their children. A member of the board of the farmers" association stated: "it is very difficult, because! have to ask for help from my children and sometimes they do not have time. I want to learn to read and write things, for example reports". Another participant said: "in the meetings in school they are talking about many things, but I cannot understand, because I do not understand Portuguese. I want to learn everything." A potential participant in Maputo Province wants to learn to read and write because of his activities in church: "/ want to improve my knowledge to be a better preacher". The wish and need to participate appeared in the answers of women as well as men.

The fourth category of answers has to do with personal development in a broader sense. Interviewees spoke about "learning new things", "having knowledge of the things one does", and "increasing my level of knowledge, even if I do not manage to get a job". A man in Nampula, who had to stop participating when his centre was removed, said: "/ want to know what is water, what is fire?" A female participant in Nampula said: "Literacy is opening the mind of people, who for a long time have been living isolated." A link with the previous category appears: the literacy learners want to be part of the knowledge society. The woman characterising the world of today as a world of uncertainties at the start of this article, showed insight into the knowledge society, of which she is part, and into the necessity of staying updated. Unfortunately, she did not attend literacy classes, giving priority to her grandchildren: "Literacy has to continue, not for me, but for my grandchildren. I have a lot of grandchildren who do not study. Studying is important. It helps to get a better life." In fact, we saw the adult education centre near the market of Maputo fill up with children who could not get a place in the regular schools. Personal development, or in Jomtien terminology: developing one's full capacities and continuing to learn, is connected to increasing independence, being able to handle things alone. "Someone who knows how to read and write, does not need help," said one of the participants in Marracuene, summarising the ideas of many others. Again, both women and men mentioned this category.

The literacy context reflected in the perceptions is not different for participants and potential participants, but in some respects it may be different for women and men and for older and younger people. In the interviews women show more concern with family life and child care, which in a way restricts their world, while men are more mobile in their quest to earn a living. Similarly, younger people are more mobile than older people. So, the same context may have a different meaning for different people. This is only gradual and by no means a static fact. We saw how some women and older people blame themselves for their own isolation. On the other hand, we met elderly women, determined to learn to read and write, even to spend weeks only to learn to write their name. From this learning experience others may develop. Actually, it is difficult to draw a line between the different categories; they are dimensions of the same reality. The bottom line is people's feeling of being left out, isolated, without possessing a key tool to fulfil their basic learning needs.

Barriers to Participation

Even agreeing that literacy is important to them, some people do not participate. Both in Nampula and Maputo Province mainly women attend, while there are certainly also men who need to learn to read and write. In fact, adult education is always part-time education . The adult responsibilities prioritise other aspects of life. In this respect, the literature speaks of barriers to participation and generally distinguishes external or situational barriers, which have their origin outside the person, and internal or dispositional barriers, which exist inside the person. Participation here means attendance of literacy classes; whether the person is actively participating is another issue.

In Mozambique in the past there was nothing but external barriers impeding education for almost everyone. Colonisation, war, armed conflicts and the socio-economic situation took their toll resulting in the high illiteracy rate mentioned before. Interviewees described their experiences as follows: "Only now I have time, during the war I was a soldier in the female division," "the bandits abducted children from the schools, so my family told me to stay at home," "the war made us leave ... and move to Maputo for safety reasons." In a lot of families there was no money to pay fees or other expenses for school, and school did not have priority: "my parents were illiterate and I had to do domestic work," told a woman in Maputo Province. Those who are still not participating mention lack of time and resources as the main reasons: "all my time is occupied looking for something to sustain my family," stated a young woman in the market of Maputo.

The school had its own barriers in colonial times: "/ was born in the time of colonisation, learning was forbidden. I got beaten at school. I liked it, but I only learned the alphabet, I was afraid to get beaten up and I lingered on the way to school and ate 'massalas' (indigenous fruits). Or: We had to work on the 'machamba' of the teacher and thought this was a waste of time, so we decided to spend our energy on our own 'machamba'." Some of these experiences resulted in a negative attitude towards school and learning until today. Also nowadays the school and the literacy programmes hold barriers. The interviewees complained about lack of information, absence of a centre, lack of vacancies (children occupying the vacancies of adults), closure of the centre, inconvenient timetables and poor conditions at the existing centre. Lessons under a tree or in buildings of weak construction are quite common. Men, in particular, complained about the conditions in the centres: "we do not have books, we do not have a house where we can study during the rains [...] I want to ask the National or Provincial Directorate to help us with books and materials and with the construction of a centre" (man, Nampula Province).

Apart from the external barriers originating from the social, economic and political circumstances at large or the educational system, the direct social environment plays a role. Living conditions are vulnerable and can drastically change when a family member gets ill or dies. Many women dropped out from school as a child, because they were kept at home when the family ran out of money or when a family member needed care: "after my father died, my mother did not have the money any more" (woman, Maputo Province) and "/ took care of my mother, who was blind" (woman, Maputo Province). Also there were cases in which men did not allow their wives to attend classes. We understood this from answers like: "my ex-husband did not want me to go", "my sister-in-law dropped out because of my brother, who told her to stay at home, when he went to work in South Africa," and "my aunt does not study because of her husband." As for men, it seems that a classroom full of women prevents them from attending. A young male participant in Nampula Province said he knew many others who could not read and write, but "they feel ashamed." Adult educators mentioned another phenomenon in one of the feedback sessions: discouragement of participants by non-participants. Colleagues who continue working in the field or go for a local alcoholic drink, while others go to literacy classes, make fun of the latter saying things like: "And what did you earn today?" and "Why don't you stay and have a drink with us?" In this surrounding it is hard for participants to keep their motivation for a long-term investment like learning literacy.

Factors, internal to the person, causing barriers to participate were also found. Illness, playfulness and even laziness were mentioned. Some women dropped out of school because of early pregnancy. A lot of older people, who (want to) start to learn to read, have difficulty in seeing. There are also attitudinal problems: "/ do not want to participate, because I am already old. What will I do with the knowledge?", said a woman in Maputo Province. Another woman managed to overcome her difficulties: "/ was not sure of myself. I did not know what to do in school at my age, but now I know, I can read and write." There are people who think that studying is for children and that older people have old brains in which new things hardly enter: "/ do not want to participate, I cannot learn any more" (woman, Maputo). Relatively, women suffer more of this kind of barrier than men, or perhaps they are less inhibited to talk about them.

While there is hardly any difference between participants and potential participants regarding perceptions, there is an obvious difference regarding the barriers to participation. The participants manage to overcome the barriers, but the ones who do not participate, do not.

We asked the participants how they managed and what or who helped them. They came up with some interesting factors counterbalancing the effect of the barriers.

Firstly, there are factors concerning the delivery of the literacy classes. It is important that the lessons and the learning materials are free: "/ did not know that there was a school, where you did not have to pay. My sister-in-law told me and I came to register," said a young man in Maputo Province. Furthermore, the organisation of the centre can help people to accommodate the lessons in their busy lives: timetables according to the activities of the participants and classrooms near the workplace, for example near the "machamba" or near the market, save time. In general, there is great respect for the teachers: "the teacher is good," "she has much patience," and "he explains well." Thinking of the bad experiences many of the literacy learners had in school, this is of vital importance. And of course, the actual experience in the classroom, the satisfaction of their learning needs, discussed throughout the interviews, plays a role.

Secondly, the direct social environment of people seems to be of overriding significance: "/ live with people who have studied, I want to be one of them; I want to continue studying to be a nurse." Seeing the success of others changes the attitude of potential participants: "They said they would never learn, because they did not learn as children, but some of them regret this now, seeing that we have success in ourstudies, they will register next year." A helpful environment makes all the difference. Participants, especially women, speak with pride of their husbands and children who help them: "if I do not go, my husband scolds me, he buys notebooks for me and he even gave me a school bag" and "my children help me, explain my homework and remind me when it is time to go to class."

A Needs Oriented Approach

Summarizing the perceptions and needs of participants and non-participants of literacy programmes, the feeling of being nobody, being ashamed, being exploited and excluded is unmistakably present. In the eyes of the interviewers literacy, either in their own language, or in other languages, is a key - it may not be the only one - to overcoming this situation. Poverty features in this not just as a lack of material resources, but also refers to non-material dimensions such as discrimination, exploitation, fear, and lack of power, shame. As a global tendency, poverty has new faces: people cannot survive any more just by working on their "machamba" as the man from Marracuene, quoted in the beginning of this article said.

How could literacy programmes play a role in this? We plead for a needs oriented approach (Van der Kamp & Toren, 2003), in which the needs as perceived by the participants and potential participants are the starting point to negotiate a creative combination of formal, non-formal and informal learning. The new literacy curriculum gets along with this view very well, but the everyday practice in literacy classes is still school oriented instead of needs oriented. The materials used are not specific to the context and language of the participants. Developing and consequently using an appropriate multilingual approach should be part of the negotiation. Also the teaching and learning methods are part of the needs oriented approach, following the need expressed by the participants to participate not only in terms of attendance, but also in terms of decision making. Even the type of exam and certificate to be obtained could be evaluated in the needs perspective, considering the development of useful certificates including vocational skills, obtained in non-formal education.

Finally, we hope to have made the point that it is worthwhile to listen carefully to the people involved. So-called illiterate people explain how their world, just as anybody else's, is changing, how they lack vital tools to engage in this changing world, and how they meet barriers hindering them in appropriating these tools. Supporting people fighting the barriers, offering opportunities to learn and to develop, may constitute the beginning of a learning process. For this purpose, attractive, well-formulated needs oriented programmes should be anchored in encouraging learning environments. The interviewees state clearly that they want to overcome the barriers keeping them from participating in society, that they want to be respected and valued, in one word to be "somebody".


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