We hope the benchmarks will provide a starting point for policy dialogue between governments, funding agencies, NGOs, and those adults who have been deprived of their right to education. They might also be used as a checklist against which a government or donor might ask questions about an existing or proposed programme. However, they are not intended as a blueprint or a set of conditions. Our research affirms the widely shared insight of experienced practitioners that the success of any literacy programme depends on flexibility to respond to unique local needs and circumstances.

Writing the Wrongs: The 12 Adult Literacy Benchmarks


  1. Literacy is about the acquisition and use of reading, writing and numeracy skills, and thereby the development of active citi zenship, improved health and livelihoods, and gender equality. The goals of literacy programmes should reflect this understanding.
  2. Literacy should be seen as a continuous process that requires sustained learning and application. There are no magic lines to cross from illiteracy into literacy. All policies and programmes should be defined to encourage sustained participation and cel ebrate progressive achievement rather than focusing on one-off provision with a single end point.
  3. Governments have the lead responsibility in meeting the right to adult literacy and in providing leadership, policy frameworks, an enabling environment and resources. They should:
    • ensure cooperation across all relevant ministries and links to all relevant development programmes;
    • work in systematic collaboration with experienced civil society organisations;
    • ensure links between all these agencies, especially at the local level; and
    • ensure relevance to the issues in learners' lives by promoting the decentralisation of budgets and of decision-making over curriculum, methods and materials.
  4. It is important to invest in ongoing feedback and evaluation mechanisms, data systematization and strategic research. The focus of evaluations should be on the practical application of what has been learnt and the impact on active citizenship, improved health and livelihoods, and gender equality.
  5. To retain facilitators it is important that they should be paid at least the equivalent of the minimum wage of a primary school teacher for all hours worked (including time for training, prepara tion and follow-up).
  6. Facilitators should be local people who receive substantial ini tial training and regular refresher training, as well as having ongo ing opportunities for exchanges with other facilitators. Governments should put in place a framework for the professional development of the adult literacy sector, including for trainers /supervisors – with full opportunities for facilitators across the country to access this (e.g. through distance education).

    Field trip by participants of the Abuja Workshop: Reflect circle near Abuja

    Field trip by participants of the Abuja Workshop: Reflect circle near Abuja, Source: ActionAid

  7. There should be a ratio of at least 1 facilitator to 30 learners and at least 1 trainer/supervisor to 15 learner groups (1 to 10 in remote areas), ensuring a minimum of one support visit per month. Programmes should have timetables that flexibly respond to the daily lives of learners but which provide for regular and sustained contact (e.g. twice a week for at least two years).
  8. In multilingual contexts it is important at all stages that learners should be given an active choice about the language in which they learn. Active efforts should be made to encourage and sustain bilingual learning.
  9. A wide range of participatory methods should be used in the learning process to ensure active engagement of learners and relevance to their lives. These same participatory methods and processes should be used at all levels of training of trainers and facilitators.
  10. Governments should take responsibility for stimulating the market for production and distribution of a wide variety of materials suitable for new readers, for example by working with publishers / newspaper producers. They should balance this with funding for the local production of materials, especially by learn ers, facilitators and trainers.
  11. A good quality literacy programme that respects all these Benchmarks is likely to cost between US $ 50 and US $ 100 per learner per year for at least three years (two years initial learn ing + ensuring further learning opportunities are available for all)
  12. Governments should dedicate at least 3 % of their national education sector budgets to adult literacy programmes as conceived in these Benchmarks. Where governments deliver on this, international donors should fill any remaining resource gaps (e.g. through including adult literacy in the Fast Track Initiative).


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