Cape Verde’s Directorate-General for Literacy and Adult Education (DGEFA) has been awarded the 2010 UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its Adult Education and Training Programme, under which illiteracy has shrunk since independence.
Literacy education making big strides in Cape Verde
Literacy is making rapid progress among the population of Cape Verde: the illiteracy rate has plummeted from some 60% in 1975, when this Portuguese-speaking archipelago in West Africa acceded to sovereignty, to roughly 20%. The education policy is implemented by the Directorate-General for Literacy and Adult Education (DGEFA), the department in the Ministry of Education and Higher Education that is responsible for non-formal education. Its mission is to provide basic education and basic vocational training for adults.
In addition to boosting confidence and self-esteem through the acquisition of reading, writing and arithmetic skills, the programme aims to empower people to exercise a profession and thus combat poverty. It is also a lifelong community learning programme based on four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together – and even to establish common-interest associations. It also covers gender equality and HIV/AIDS prevention issues.
The poverty rate nonetheless remains high in a country where 30% of the population lack adequate resources (41% are rural dwellers). Concomitantly, the illiteracy rate is higher in rural areas, especially among people in the 35-49 age group and among women. The government literacy programme targets women first and foremost. One woman, Lourença de Brito, who lives in Ribeira Grande de Santiago, the cradle of the Cape Verdean people, says: “If I had been sent to school when I was a little girl, I would certainly be somebody today because I’m inquisitive. But I wasn’t sent to school because I had to work on the farm, tend the animals and fetch wood. Now I am really happy and only God knows what joy I feel!”
The teaching method is based on the work of the Brazilian teacher Paulo Freire, whose best-known work is his . Portuguese language lessons draw on real life in Cape Verde and are held in the national language, Crioulo, in all of the 17 education and adult education centres scattered throughout the archipelago. The trainers are required to adapt the coursework to the communities in which they teach. They use ICTs and the Internet extensively to facilitate exchanges in this geographically fragmented country.
On average 2,000 people complete the training course each year. Since 1979 nearly 100,000 Cape Verdians, out of a population of 500,000, have passed the end-of-course exam.
Courses are divided into three phases, each lasting one academic year, and a fourth optional phase is held to consolidate learning in an attempt to combat “relapse in illiteracy”.
The annual cost of the programme, 440,000,000 escudos (€4,000,000), is defrayed by the State of Cape Verde, official development aid, the African Development Bank and the United Nations.