Literacy and non-formal education

Preparing class in Sowame, a village in Senegal © UNESCO/Anne Müller

Learning to read and write is a fundamental right. Yet, 38 % of African adults (some 153 millions) are illiterate, two-thirds of these are women.

Africa is the only continent where more than half of parents are not able to help their children with homework due to illiteracy.

Adult literacy rates are below 50% in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.

Only 1 % of national education budget of most African governments is earmarked to address the issue of literacy.

The situation is alarming as literacy is a crucial step to acquire the basic skills needed to cope with the many challenges children, youth and adults will face throughout their lives.

For many disadvantaged young people and adults, non-formal education is one of the main routes to learning. Non-formal education reaches people in their own context and ideally in their own local language.

UNESCO's role

UNESCO Dakar coordinates literacy efforts in Africa, primarily through the Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE).

LIFE is a ten-year (2006-2015) strategic framework through which governments, NGOs, private sector and development partners collective accelerate literacy efforts in 35 countries where illiteracy poses a critical challenge. Africa accounts for 18 of the targeted countries.

UNESCO Dakar works on several fronts:

  • Build capacities among key resources persons (national officials and experts). The aim is to make non-formal education part of sectoral policies as well as monitor and evaluate efforts at national level.
  • Advocate for more resources to non-formal education and the use of national languages. Six LIFE countries (Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) have, for example, significantly increased their budget allocation to literacy.
  • Create and adopt innovative approaches. UNESCO encourages governments and civil society to join hands and explores the use of mobile phones and radios to reach out. In Cape Verde, for example, a radio broadcast literacy project helped reach marginalized populations.

Examples of literacy projects in Senegal

  • Literacy to improve child nutrition and food security

UNESCO Dakar is organizing literacy classes in seven regions of Senegal, as part of the MDG-F project on Children Nutrition and Food Security (NESA). Bringing together five UN agencies in Senegal, the joint programme aims to prevent and treat malnutrition among children in higly vulnerable regions.

UNESCO Dakar is developing training manuals in local languages for literacy classes and on nutrition techniqus. Some 40%of the 359.000 targeted women have so far received training through literacy classes in their villages or were sensitived trough radio broadcasts.

UNESCO and the multinational company Procter & Gamble launched in 2011 a partnership to promote literacy for girls and women. Senegal was selected as the first country to benefit from the intiative and UNESCO Dakar is responsible for coordinating the efforts to improve girls' literacy in the country.

Literacy classes are organized in villages around Senegal, teachers are trained, educational kits and digital resources are prepared. The project is also exploring new ways of delivering education, as it uses internet and mobile phones to reach and teach learners in their local languages.

Less than 45% of Senegalse women could read and write in 2006.

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