Michael Bazira

Integrating Adult Literacy into National and Local Government Plans: Successes and Challenges for CSOs in Uganda



There are a number of international commitments and benchmarks that emphasise the role of adult literacy in achieving education for all and development. Such initiatives include the Dakar Framework of Action (2000) Education for All Goals, United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD), the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD). Specifically the fourth goal of Education For All (EFA) calls on countries to “achieve a 50 % improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all”.

Adult educators present a petition
Source: LitNet

In Uganda however, financing of adult literacy has been inadequate, inconsistent and un-coordinated. Unlike other programmes such as primary education, HIV/ AIDS, physical infrastructure development accessing funding for adult literacy programmes has increasingly become a dream especially for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) in Uganda is an approach designed to impart reading, writing and numeracy skills among adults side by side with other functional knowledge and skills in agriculture, health and other livelihood activities. Whereas adult literacy has diverse meanings, it is however recognized by UNESCO as a key component and a foundation for adult and lifelong learning. By 2001 about 5.5 milion women and 1.4 million men (6.9million in total) in Uganda were non-literate, constituting a 35 % illiteracy rate.

Using the international declarations, civil society organizations in Uganda engaged the central government to prioritise and mainstream adult literacy within national development frameworks such as the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) and influenced the development of the National Adult Literacy Strategic Investment Plan (NALSIP).

LitNet, with funding from Irish Aid and DVV International, mobilized civil society to actively participate in the bottom-up planning to ensure local governments allocate resources and mainstream adult literacy activities within their development plans. These engagements resulted into increased resources for functional adult literacy from government conditional grants under the Poverty Action Fund (PAF), and non – conditional grants and other development programmes such as the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture (PMA).

The Author recommends to systematically link and mainstream adult literacy with national goals and other development programmes such as primary education and livelihood activities. Establish an Adult Literacy Fund for both state and civil society actors. Conduct and share widely, adequate research on the central role of adult literacy in the development process; achieving the EFA Goals and the Millennium Development Goals.

In this paper, you will find an over view of financing adult literacy programs in Uganda, integrating adult literacy into government plans; successes, challenges and opportunities with reference to the role of civil society and the Literacy Network for Uganda (LitNet) in particular.

What is the Current Funding Status of Adult Literacy in Uganda?

Central Government is the main source of financing and lead implementer

The Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) Policy Brief (September, 2007) reveals that, “FAL is funded mainly through the Government Poverty Action Fund (PAF)… The annual budget from PAF is about 3 billion Uganda Shillings which is equally shared between the central government and the district local governments”.

Support from development partners

Since 2002, the Functional Adult Literacy Programme (FALP) in Uganda has also benefited financial and technical support from development partners, namely the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA), the German Adult Education Association (DVV International), the Embassy of Ireland and UNESCO. ICEIDA support to FAL for the fishing communities between 2002 and 2007 amounted to US$ 2,611,000 particularly to Kalagala and Mukono districts.

Key adult literacy civil society actors in Uganda

Other Agencies and Civil society organizations that have supported adult literacy programmes in Uganda include the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), Action Aid International Uganda, Literacy and Adult Basic Education, (LABE) Literacy Network for Uganda (LitNet), Uganda Adult Education Network (UGAADEN), Uganda Adult Literacy Learners Association (ULALA), Uganda Programme of Literacy For Transformation (UPLIFT), Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD), Soroti Catholic Diocese Development Organisation (SOCADIDO), the Institutions of Higher Learning; Makerere University, Kyambogo University and Nsamizi Institute for Social Development.

Civil society engagement with Government

Civil Society Organisations engage with government at different levels in financing adult literacy and basic education, some establish parallel implementation structures, others initiate innovative adult literacy projects such as the Family Basic Education by Literacy and Adult Basic Education (LABE), the Integrated Adult Literacy Programme in Karamoja by ADRA, REFLECT and HIV/AIDS by Action Aid, Public – Private Partnership in Adult Basic Education by LitNet. In addition CSOs conduct research, material production and advocacy for the adult literacy and lifelong learning at all levels.

What Are the Actual Figures from Uganda Government to Adult Literacy since 2002?


Table 1: Government financial releases in Uganda Shillings
Source: Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (Edited)

It can be observed from the above GoU financial release that 50 % of the annual programme budget is retained at the Centre and only 50 % is sent to district local government. It also does not capture financial contribution from non state actors. The financial allocation to FAL is declining from $ 2.18 million in 2002/03 to $ 1.87 million in 2006/07.There is no financial allocation for Civil Society Organizations although the PEAP 2004/5 recommended; “Government will continue to support the FAL activity and will consider the option of contracting out some of the services to CSOs”.

The ICEIDA support has been steadily increasing from $ 83,800 in 2002 to $ 725,000 by 2007. The direct financial contribution of ICEIDA support largely goes to 2 districts with 59 % against 20.7 % released to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.

Between 2002/03–2005/06, the 5 year NALSIP implementation reached out to 1,234,889 adult learners out of the targeted 3.5million non-literates constituting only a 35 % achievement in enrolment. Amount spent per learner from 2002–2006 was 10,835 Uganda shillings about US $ 6.40 which is far below the minimum projected cost of US $ 50 per learner as per the international benchmarks.

Multi – Stakeholders’ FAL sub-county planning session in Gulu District-Uganda, 2007
Source: LitNet

What Has Been the Role of Civil Society Organisations in Influencing Integration of Adult Literacy into Government Plans?

Civil Society Organisations in Uganda are of diverse capacity and operate at different levels. They range from Faith Based Organisations, NGOs, Community Based Organisations and other non-state providers of literacy and adult education including training institutions and individuals. After the development of NALSIP in 2002 it became even more difficult for CSOs to access funding for adult literacy projects as donors put funds for adult literacy through budget support. NGOs however, played a significant role in the planning, programme development and advocating for adult literacy programme in Uganda at different levels as reflected in the engagement model below.

CSOs Role at National Level

CSOs in Uganda, with the Literacy Network for Uganda (LitNet) as lead agency supported the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in 2002 to develop NALSIP for 2002/03–2006/07 that enabled the FAL programme to access funding from PAF under Pillar 5 of Human Development of the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP). The annual government budget allocation for the FAL programme increased from Ug. shs 120 million in 1999/2000 to Ug. shs. 3.6 billion in 2002/03.

Among the key strategic objectives of NALSIP was to strengthen national commitment to the programme and incorporate district, sub-county and community level adult literacy action plans into overall development frameworks. Another key objective was to mobilize additional resources for sustainability of the adult literacy programme and quality implementation of its activities. The overall target of NALSIP was achieving a 50 % improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2007.

CSOs Role at District Level

LitNet, working with other civil society organizations and local governments since 2003, organized sensitisations on the need for adult literacy as a priority area of Government. This orientation targeted policy makers and staff of local governments and NGOs at district and sub-county level to ensure that adult literacy was identified as a priority under the local government development plans. It was found that most local government policy makers were not aware of the need for Adult Literacy and its benefits to community development. Yet a number of Participatory Poverty Assessment Reports indicated that most communities where ranking illiteracy and ignorance as among the key causes of poverty. The sensitization and advocacy meetings were followed by joint reviews and planning sessions at different levels (Village to District) involving district planners, local councilors, chairpersons, policy markers, agriculture extension staff, community members/learners, CSOs representatives and instructors.

  • LitNet supported the establishment of District Literacy and Adult Education Networks comprising of NGOs in FAL, District Community Development Office, Agriculture, Health Departments, and Planning Unit and other policy makers (politicians) to guide and effectively participate in the FAL planning and implementation process in 5 pilot districts.
  • The District Literacy Networks supported the lower local councils in the planning process ensuring that literacy related activities are incorporated into the district and sub-county development plans which increased resource allocation to the adult literacy programme.
  • District Networks signed a Memorandum of Understanding between CSOs and local government which later was used as an advocacy and monitoring tool.

At sub-county level (the smallest administrative unit of government)

  • CSOs mobilized FAL stakeholders to participate in budget conferences every financial year in which CSOs and other stakeholders presented their planned activities and were incorporated into the FAL Integrated plans.
  • FAL Integrated Plans were developed and presented to the Sub-county Technical Committee as well as the sub-county Council for discussion and incorporation into the overall Sub-county development plan.

Half success, half failure in promoting community participation in financing adult literacy in development programmes

The Uganda Local Governments (amendment) Act 1997 Section 36(3) stipulates that Local Governments shall prepare plans incorporating plans of the Lower Councils in the respective areas of jurisdiction. Section 50(b) and (f) of the Act, 1997, mandates villages and Parish Executive Committees to initiate, encourage, support and participate in self-help projects, mobilize people, materials and technical assistance and to monitor projects and other activities by Central Government, Local Governments and NGOs.

The Government of Uganda adopted a bottom-up planning process in line with the decentralization policy. Local communities therefore are expected to effectively participate in setting priorities based on their own local needs vis a vis the national priorities and goals.

By 2003 adult literacy did not feature prominently among the priorities for funding at local government level. This was partly due to poor facilitation during the community planning process and the desire for Local Government Councilors (Politicians) to support tangible projects such as roads, bore holes, desks, construction of class room blocks and health centers other than “soft ware” programmes such as adult literacy.

Adult literacy programmes at community level are run mainly by Volunteer Literacy Educators with minimal support from the government staff and NGOs. It is now being accepted that volunteering has limitations in achieving quality learning outcomes.

The adult learners and the community members make mainly non-financial contributions to the FAL learning programme, such as the learning venue, learning aids, demonstration sites, and sharing their expertise with fellow adult learners/ members. The adult learners were encouraged to participate in planning and advocating for the FAL programme at community and parish level.

In semi-urban and urban centers, adult learners pay fees for language/communication skills (English, Luganda, and Swahili) provided by private learning centres.

Success and learning points

  • Enabling FAL to access conditional grants from the central government under PAF and non-conditional grants from local governments increased resource availability, efficiency and coverage of adult literacy programmes in Uganda.
  • Integrating FAL activities for all actors including CSOs into the overall local government development plans increased resource allocation for adult literacy and reduced duplication of services. It also ensured that the adult literacy programmes address the respective development priorities and goals of district and sub-counties.
  • In Jinja and Gulu districts, FAL attracted funding from other government development programmes and non adult literacy focused organisations; Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA) and Northern Uganda Social Action Fund(NUSAF) respectively, particularly at sub-county and community levels.
  • In Arua and Iganga, the district priorities in use of FAL funds from the Central Government differed from what sub-counties needed, the district prioritized training of new FAL instructors yet the sub-counties (including literacy instructors and adult learners) preferred remuneration and conducting refresher training for the existing active literacy instructors. The district priorities were adjusted and harmonised.

  • Involving adult learners and adult literacy instructors in the planning process through joint planning and reviews with stakeholders makes the FAL Programme transparent, reduces misallocation and wastage of resources.
  • FAL Educators were mobilized to form associations and established incentive schemes. They identified and initiated income generating projects as individuals and as a group.
  • Innovative adult learning programmes still have a higher chance of attracting funding from development partners

                                                                Literacy course Source: LitNet

Still many challenges and limitations

  • The funds from the central government are inadequate and the direct budget support stops at district level, yet facilitating learning takes place at class/ community level below sub-county. This impacts negatively on quality and access of adult literacy services.
  • There is no mechanism for CSOs to access funding from the Government Poverty Action Fund, yet donors are very reluctant to fund adult literacy standalone projects.
  • The adult literacy instructors and learners who could legitimately advocate changes in FAL implementation are not yet organized into strong associations.
  • At local government level, the planning process tends to become political since each councilor tends to favour his/her own constituency/parish. For example, they can plan for FAL to cover all villages in a sub-county without allocating adequate resources. Graduated tax was abolished in Uganda, yet local governments are under-funded.
  • Absence of accurate data on adult literacy programmes from both the government departments and NGOs. Most Civil Society Organisations are less willing to declare their budgets during the planning process.
  • Lack of clarity among adult education professionals and practitioners in the meaning of adult literacy/numeracy and lifelong learning, the methodology and approaches, undermines the advocacy and resource mobilization initiatives.
  • Inadequate research on the central role adult literacy plays in achieving other development programmes such as Primary Education, HIV/AIDS, and Wealth Creation etc. How does adult literacy contribute to achieving the MDGs?

Literacy course
Source: LitNet 

What should we do as stakeholders? Suggestions for the way forward

  1. Systematically link and mainstream adult literacy with other development programmes such as HIV/AIDS, primary education and livelihood activities. Revise literacy and adult education programmes to respond to the diversified, unmet and changing needs of adult learners. This will improve relevance, access to financing and sustainability of the adult literacy and learning programmes.
  2. Advocate for policy guidelines and a strategy for public – private partnership for adult literacy and lifelong learning and promote the private sector in delivery of demand driven adult learning services. Establish a civil society fund for FAL non-state actors that would, among other things, enhance the capacity for innovative adult learning programmes.
  3. Promote the involvement of adult literacy instructors/facilitators’ associations and adult learners to play key roles in advocating, planning, implementing and evaluation of the functional literacy and adult education programmes. Place special attention on remuneration and professional development of adult literacy educators for quality programmes.
  4. We should take advantage of CONFINTEA VI to call for concrete actions in support of adult literacy and lifelong learning at all levels.



DVV International 2008. Adult Literacy Benchmarks, Adult Education and Development Journal Vol. 71. 2008.

LitNet 2006 Public-Private partnership in Adult Basic Education, Report of a Study by LitNet August 2006 (LitNet, Kampala).

LitNet 2005–2008. Progress Review Reports. (LitNet, Kampala)

MGLSD 2002. National Adult Literacy Strategic Investment Plan 2002/03–2006/07.

MGLSD 2007. A Policy Brief on Literacy in Development, Outcome of a Process Review of the Functional Adult Literacy Programme in Uganda 2002–2006.

MoFPED 2004. Poverty Eradication Action Plan. 2004/5–2007/08.

MoLG 2004. Planning Manual for Local Governments.

Patrick Kiirya, Report of Needs Assessment and Baseline Study for Functional Adult Literacy in Fishing Communities of Bugiri District, 2007. MGLSD.


Adult Education and Development


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