John Oxenham / Abdoul Hamid Diallo / Anne Ruhweza Katahoire / Anna Petkova- Mwangi / Oumar Sall


Skills and Literacy TrainingSkills and Literacy Training for Better Livelihoods


A Review of Approaches and Experiences

The IIZ/DVV was invited by the World Bank to undertake a document study on two strategies to promote literacy and training for livelihood skills:

  • Literacy instruction incorporating livelihood skills
  • Livelihood skills training incorporating literacy instruction

In other words, one of these strategies is to use literacy programmes to help learners to make their livelihood skills more productive.

The other strategy is to make use of vocational training programmes – agricultural extension, micro enterprises – by incorporating relevant aspects of reading, writing and mathematics.

This invitation grew out of the World Bank evaluation of technical and vocational education policy in Africa. The Bank wished to look at the issue from the perspec tive of Education for All and lifelong learning, rather than solely that of schools, colleges, technical institutes and universities.

1. Executive Summary

From the perspective of vocational education within the purview of lifelong educa tion for all, this report aims to use available documentary accounts to compare and assess the effectiveness of two types of education and training programs for poor adults: a) programs that have attempted to incorporate training for livelihood skills into mainly literacy instruction, and b) programs that have incorporated literacy instruction into training for mainly livelihood skills. The comparison should help answer four questions about such efforts:

  1. What approaches have been used?
  2. What are the documented outcomes and impacts of these approaches?
  3. What are the lessons regarding management, implementation, and resource requirements?
  4. What approaches are likely to be most effective under conditions prevailing in Sub-Saharan Africa, and what are the pitfalls to avoid?


Sources of Information

Because there is little published literature on the four questions, this report has had to rely largely on documentation internal to many organizations located in four countries of Africa, as well as in Western Europe and North America. However, in Guinea, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda, brief field observations and interviews with interested parties have supplemented the documentation.

Much of the helpful documentation came from organizations that are in principle more concerned with employment and livelihoods than with education, but that find training in literacy and numeracy to be essential for their own purposes. Examples are FAO, IFAD, ILO and nongovern mental organizations (NGOs) that strive for holistic development. Unfortunately, we must emphasize that the nature of the available evidence makes the conclusions and recommendations of the study only tentative. They are more in the nature of reasonable hypotheses than incontrovertible facts.

Also, it is the case that the documentation did not yield satisfactory responses to Question 3 on management, implementation, and resource requirements. Neither did it further any discussion of the crucial issues of organizational and institutional development. The report shows that, without the construction of effective organiza tions and sound institutional norms, very poor people will not be enabled to use literacy to make their livelihoods more productive.

Approach to Study

The study’s basic task was to examine two broad approaches to combining liveli hood training with literacy instruction. One approach is to enrich a livelihood-led program with components in calculating, writing, and reading. The other is to en rich a literacy-led program with training for one or more livelihoods. Within these two approaches, a framework developed by Rogers (1997) that distinguishes five sub-categories, proved useful to the study. They are:

  1. Literacy as a prerequisite or in preparation for training in livelihood or income-generation activities. That is, training in a livelihood is the longer term aim, but people are encouraged not to start training in a livelihood, until they have first mastered reading, writing, and calculating sufficiently to cope with the livelihood’s operating and development requirements. There is a planned progression between the two.
  2. Literacy followed by separate livelihood or income-generation activities. Here, learning literacy is regarded as a self-standing and worthwhile aim in itself and is undertaken first. Thereafter, training is offered in either livelihoods or some form of income-generating activity. There are no systematic connections between the two components.
  3. Livelihood training or income-generation activities leading to literacy. In this sub-category, groups start out learning to develop a business but come to recognize that their progress will be frustrated, unless they learn to calculate more comprehensively, record their incomes and outgoings and read their records. The content of the literacy and numeracy grows out of the livelihood and income generation.
  4. Livelihood and income-generation activities and literacy integrated. In this sub-category, training in a livelihood and instruction in literacy and numeracy begin simultaneously, often with the content of the literacy derived from or influenced by the livelihood.
  5. Literacy and livelihood and income-generation activities taking place in parallel but separately. Programs in this sub-category recognize the importance of both components, start both simultaneously, but omit to develop any systematic connections between them.

The first two sub-categories fall within literacy-led programs, the third and fourth fall within livelihood-led programs, while the type of programs of the fifth sub-category would depend on their origins and emphasis.

Findings in Summary

The report yielded 17 findings.

  1. In all the countries studied, the diversity of possibilities for improving established livelihoods and developing new ones appears so wide as to demand extreme flexibility, imagination, and resourcefulness.
  2. All the programs examined dealt with very poor people, mostly rural and mostly women.
  3. Examples of effective efforts were found in each of the five program sub categories. Success in both sets of immediate objectives is likely if two conditions are satisfied: first, the program is well run with competent, relable, and adequately supported instructors and, second, the program is well adapted to the interests and conditions of its participants. Data were not available on the impacts of livelihood training on production, productivity, and standards of living. However, there was virtual unanimity in both individual and focus group discussions that people who had completed literacy courses tended to be more confident and more willing to take initiatives in developing their livelihoods or in taking an active interest in the operations of their cooperatives. Claims by successful learners that they were now fol lowing more productive agricultural or livestock practices were common, as were claims that people felt they could no longer be easily cheated, when they bought inputs or sold produce. These psychosocial aspects are not normally considered in designing vocational education policies. Nonetheless, as they do impinge on the productivity of current livelihoods and on the willingness to seek opportunities to develop new livelihoods, they should be taken into account as desirable and likely effects of literacy training.
  4. Education and training programs for very poor adults need to offer very clear, concrete and immediate reasons to justify enrollment and ensure perseverance.
  5. Programs that start from livelihood skills seem to stand a stronger chance of success. They can, after all, demonstrate an immediate reason for learning.
  6. Organizations that are more concerned with livelihoods and other aspects of development seem to be better at designing and delivering effective combi nations of livelihoods and literacy than organizations that are more focused on education. Projects run by NGOs that integrate development and literacy appear most effective. The implication is that policy for vocational/livelihood education with literacy should consider operating through agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, that work with people in their actual livelihoods and employment.
  7. NGOs seem to be more flexible than governmental agencies in responding to local and changing needs. Policy-makers for vocational/livelihood educa tion should consider both (a) stronger alliances with NGOs and (b) forms of governmental organization that would allow local offices the kind of wide but accountable discretion that would enable them to develop the required flex ibility.
  8. Deriving literacy/numeracy content from livelihood skills and integrating it with the livelihood training from the very start seems more promising than either run ning the two components in parallel with each other or using standard literacy materials to prepare people to train for livelihoods.
  9. Livelihood-plus-literacy/numeracy programs can greatly improve their chances of success, if they incorporate training in savings, credit, and business management, along with actual access to credit.
  10. Chances of success are even greater in a program that works with established groups of people who share a common purpose, rather than with individual applicants. In the absence of such groups, it would probably still be better to take the time to identify promising common purposes and to work on form ing new purpose-driven groups than to resign the program to unconnected individuals.
  11. Early evaluations of the Somaliland Education Initiative for Girls and Young Men (SEIGYM) use of vouchers to buy their training are very favorable. Further observation of the initiative seems desirable, particularly regarding its suitability for established groups.
  12. Experience seems to have produced a strengthening consensus that programs that are well negotiated with their prospective learners in association with local authorities and leaders are likely to be more effective than programs that are simply put on offer.
  13. While differing levels of proficiency in different livelihoods require different periods of learning, the minimum period needed by a really illiterate person with normal learning abilities to attain a degree of literacy and numeracy suf ficient to support advancement in a livelihood seems to be some 360 hours of instruction and practice.
  14. The broad experience of income-generating projects suggests that arranging for both livelihood specialists and literacy instructors is more prudent than relying on literacy instructors to undertake livelihood instruction or income-generating activities in addition to teaching literacy and numeracy. The broad trend appears to be to treat literacy instructors on a similar basis to livelihood specialists and to pay them for their efforts.
  15. On the important issue of financial resources, data on costs were largely ab sent, so that the study can offer no guidance on the issue. The only observations possible are that (a) the costs of programs that combine livelihood, business, and literacy skills are likely to be higher than those of simple literacy programs; and (b) even so, the costs would not be inordinate.
  16. To achieve financial sustainability, poor countries would need an alliance of government, non-governmental and community organizations, and people of goodwill and energy to set up a) a mechanism to mobilize local voluntary supplements to fiscal provisions, b) long-term consortiums with external donors, and c) support from international lenders.
  17. Going to scale would require capacity-building, decentralization, gradualism and underpinning by local infrastructure, natural and other resources, norms, and institutions. 

Recommendations in Summary

Overall, the evidence suggests that it would be worthwhile for vo cational or livelihood education policy-makers to develop livelihood training with literacy/ numeracy instruction for very poor, non-literate people, who tend to be mostly women, and, in Sub-Saharan Africa, mostly rural. The ten recommendations below give guidance on how this could be done. Justifications and further discussion are given in Chapter 8.

  1. Vocational education policy should provide for assessments of what would be needed in particular localities to ensure an environment that would enable train ing in particular livelihoods actually to result in higher productivity, incomes and well-being.
  2. Vocational education policy should pursue a strategy of decentralization and capacity-nurturing that will permit resourceful responses to local actual and potential patterns of livelihood.
  3. Vocational education policy should provide for courses that combine savings and credit training with negotiated livelihood content and literacy/numeracy content derived from, but not limited to, the vocabulary of the livelihood. As a tool to strengthen the negotiating power of prospective learners, the experi ence of SEIGYM (the Somaliland Education Initiative for Girls and Young Men) warrants monitoring.
  4. The fourth recommendation is twofold. First, to ensure that the “average” adult learner masters literacy and numeracy well enough to use them in support and development of a livelihood, the literacy component of a livelihood course should offer at least 360 hours of instruction and practice (the livelihood and business components will of course require additional appropriate time). Sec ond, to help optimize perseverance, completion, and retention of learning, the course should be offered in a single session or term, if at all practicable.
  5. The fifth recommendation is again twofold. First, vocational education policy should provide for two cadres of instructors – livelihood instructors and literacy instructors. While neither should be a permanent cadre, their patterns of recruit ment, training and support can differ from each other. Second, both cadres should be remunerated for the instruction they give.
  6. Vocational education policy for non-literate poor adults should promote active, participatory, and interactive forms of instruction and learning in both livelihood and literacy components of training.
  7. Vocational education policy-makers should support further research on the issue of costs.
  8. Countries should form local alliances of government, non-governmental and community agencies and energetic people of good will to (a) raise local fiscal and voluntary financing, (b) form appropriate consortiums with external donors and (c) attract resources from international lenders.
  9. Strategies of capacity-building, decentralization and gradualism should govern the process of going to scale, with due attention to local infrastructure, natural and other resources, norms, and institutions.
  10. Any review of vocational educational policy should exert itself to identify, locate, and capitalize on the empirical experience and expertise that those organizations have accumulated, and make it more readily accessible than this study has found it.



The complete report is being published in the Human Development Working Papers Series by the Africa Region of the World Bank. It can be requested at It will also be available electronically from the World Bank. In the Bank’s programme of work the study is one of a series of studies in the Africa Region on how best to support countries that wish to invest in vocational skills develop ment. It also supplements earlier studies published recently on Adult Basic Education.

Source: Adult Education and Development, Number 58, 2002, pp. 7 –17


Adult Education and Development


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