Economic Empowerment for Adolescent Girls (EPAG) Literacy Strengthening Programme
Country Profile: Liberia
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years, 2015)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2005–2010)|
|Programme Title||Economic Empowerment for Adolescent Girls (EPAG) Literacy Strengthening Programme|
|Implementing Organization||National Adult Education Association of Liberia (NAEAL)|
|Language of Instruction||English|
|Programme Partners||Government of Liberia (through the Ministries of Gender, Development and Education), Nike Foundation, the Government of Denmark and the World Bank|
|Date of Inception||March 2011 to December 2012|
Context and Background
Liberia has witnessed two successive civil wars in recent years (1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003) which caused extensive damage to its economic and educational infrastructure. According to the Ministry of Education (MoE), 80% of the 2 400 primary schools that were fully operational before the civil wars broke out were rendered dysfunctional during the course of the wars due to the prevailing high levels of insecurity in general and, in particular, the systematic targeting of schools as sources of child recruits by rival armed groups. Governmental funding for education was severely reduced since financial resources were diverted and committed to fighting the civil wars. In addition, most schools were extensively damaged and looted while millions of people (including learners and professional teachers) were displaced from their homes. Most perniciously, tens of thousands of children (estimated at more than 20 000) were forced to participate in the war as child soldiers. These developments further undermined Liberia’s educational system and prevented hundreds of thousands of children from attending school.
The effects of the war-induced disruption of Liberia’s educational system are still prevalent today, almost a decade after the end of the last devastating civil war in 2003 and in spite of the impressive progress that has been made in rebuilding the sector since the dawn of democratic governance in 2005. Noteworthy, Liberia’s educational sector is still encumbered by the war-induced shortages of schools and educational resources, the lack of qualified teachers, inadequate funding and high poverty rates (about 85% of the population live below the poverty line, on less than US$1.25 a day). There are also great challenges in re-enrolling the youth (particularly former child soldiers and young women from poor families) whose schooling was interrupted by the war not least because a majority of them are still suffering from the psychosocial effects of participating in the war and therefore find it extremely difficult to re-adjust to the formal school system. Because of these challenges, the net primary school attendance and completion rates (see above) as well as the national youth and adult literacy rates (estimated at 75% and 58%, respectively, as of 2005 to 2010) are still alarmingly low and are among the lowest in the sub-region. Similarly, the quality of education in Liberia continues to be remarkably low due, in part, to the acute shortages of qualified teachers and resources.
The prevailing depressed state of Liberia’s educational system grossly undermines the country’s development as well as young people’s life opportunities and social status, all of which endangers national security and peace. Thus, in an effort to support the State in promoting universal access to basic education and gender empowerment as well as in fostering effective post-conflict reconstruction, peace and development, the National Adult Education Association of Liberia (NAEAL) initiated the Economic Empowerment for Adolescent Girls (EPAG) Literacy Strengthening Programme in 2011.
The EPAG Literacy Strengthening Programme
The EPAG literacy-strengthening programme is an integrated non-formal educational (literacy and life skills training) programme which is currently being implemented on a three-year pilot basis (2011 to 2013) in Montserrado and Margibi counties. The EPAG programme –which is part of the World Bank’s broader Global Adolescent Girls Initiative (GAGI) – primarily targets about 2 500 young women (aged 16 to 27 years) from disadvantaged and poor communities which were also disproportionately affected by the civil wars. As such, a significant majority of the targeted beneficiaries are either illiterate or semi-literate primarily because the civil wars severely interrupted their education. Furthermore, most of the targeted beneficiaries also failed to re-enrol in the formal school system after the end of the civil wars due to poverty and the related challenges of providing for their families while attending school and without the necessary literacy and livelihood skills. It is against this background that the EPAG literacy-strengthening programme endeavours to equip the beneficiaries with effective literacy and livelihood skills in order to enable them to improve their overall living standards.
Aims and Objectives
In addition to the above-mentioned primary goal, the ELP also aims to:
- Support governmental efforts to universalise the provision of basic education in the country,
- Equip illiterate and semi-literate young women with effective literacy skills,
- Empower young women (gender empowerment) to improve their living standards as well as to actively participate in national developmental activities,
- Promote self-reliance among young women,
- Address gender inequalities with regards to access to basic education and livelihood opportunities,
- Nurture a culture of learning among socio-economically disadvantaged women, and
- Support governmental socio-economic reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts.
Essentially therefore, the EPAG literacy strengthening programme endeavours to empower young women in order to enhance the potential to improve socio-economic well-being as well as to actively and sustainably participate in national developmental activities.
Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies
The National Adult Education Association of Liberia (NAEAL) has devised various integrated strategies and methodologies in an effort to ensure the effective and sustainable implementation of the EPAG. Key among these includes the establishment of functional partnerships with the Government of Liberia, local communities and international developmental institutions; establishment of community-based study circles, development of a standardised programme monitoring and evaluation instrument and training of community-based programme facilitators.
Establishment of Institutional Partnerships
The acute shortage of human and financial resources, the dearth of professional practitioners and the lack of effective coordination between various stakeholders often curtail the success and indeed sustainability of community-based non-formal educational programmes in post-conflict societies such as Liberia. In order to circumvent these challenges within Liberia, NAEAL has established functional partnerships with various governmental and non-governmental institutions including UNESCO, the Government of Liberia (through the Ministries of Gender, Development and Education), Nike Foundation, the Government of Denmark and the World Bank. These institutions provide NAEAL with critical financial and technical support necessary for the efficient implementation of the programme. In particular, the institutions strongly assist NAEAL in developing and producing learning materials and in the training of programme facilitators. The EPAG project has also received critical support from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and, by extension, her government, as part of national efforts to promote gender empowerment and equality within Liberia. In addition, local leaders also assist NAEAL in coordinating the establishment of study circles within their communities and in undertaking public awareness campaigns that aim to encourage people to support the EPAG project. They also assist NAEAL in identifying and selecting disadvantaged young women to be enrolled into the EPAG project. The active participation of these stakeholders has therefore been central to the efficient implementation of the EPAG project since its establishment in 2011.
Recruitment and Training of Facilitators
In addition, NAEAL has also recruited and trained 15 programme facilitators, all whom are university graduates with a first degree. The facilitators are therefore highly qualified. Nonetheless, they all lack the skills and experience needed to function effectively as literacy facilitators or educators. Accordingly, NEAL provides all facilitators with professional induction and on-going in-service training and mentoring in a wide range of non-formal education subjects including:
- Non-formal education teaching-learning methods or approaches, particularly REFLECT and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) methodologies;
- Design and development of appropriate teaching-learning materials
- Appropriate study-circle management practices;
- Community mobilisation skills; and
- Programme assessment / monitoring, evaluation and reporting methods.
Upon successful completion of the induction-training programme, each facilitator is assigned to train a study circle (class) of between 5 and 25 learners for within their communities. Apart from providing training services, the facilitators are also required to assist NEAL in recruiting learners, mobilising communities to support the EPAG project, developing learning materials as well as in monitoring and evaluating the learning outcomes. Essentially therefore, facilitators are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day implementation of the programme and are paid US$425 per month.
Development of Teaching-Learning Materials
In order to facilitate the efficient and sustainable implementation of the EPAG, NAEAL has developed a variety of illustrative instructional materials such as study manuals, learner’s workbooks, worksheets and visual aids for use by programme facilitators and learners. The study manuals are used by programme facilitators to enable them to systematically execute their training duties. Therefore, the manuals contain critical instructions on, for example, teaching-learning methods, session topic and learning objectives. On the other hand, the learner’s workbook has exercises for individual and / or group learning. Thus, apart from being used as the principal learning resource, the workbook also enables facilitators to monitor and assess the learning progress or outcomes of each learner on a daily basis.
Recruitment and Retention of Learners
As noted above, EPAG programme facilitators, with support from community members, NAEAL’s field technical teams and other stakeholders, are primarily responsible for mobilising young women to participate in the EPAG programme. To achieve this, the facilitators employ a variety of community-based outreach activities such as education awareness and advocacy campaigns. These campaigns are intended to encourage young women to enrol into the EPAG programme. Once identified, potential beneficiaries are subjected to a pre-enrolment assessment exercise, which aim to establish their literacy skills competencies, needs and future goals. The information derived from this exercise is used to group learners into appropriate study circles as well as to tailor the study programme to suit their needs and goals.
While the task of mobilising and enrolling young women into EPAG programme is relatively easy, motivating them to continue participating in the project has been a huge challenge primarily because most learners have family responsibilities. Accordingly, NAEAL has devised a number of strategies to circumvent this challenge. First, once formally enrolled into the programme, all learners are required to sign a Commitment Memorandum of Understanding (CMoU) with NAEAL. The CMoU is a social contract between NAEAL and the learner through which the latter formally declare his/her commitment to participate in the EPAG programme until graduation. NAEAL also employs community-based outreach and recreation activities as well as the provision of a daily transport stipend of US $1, food and child-care services to motivate learners to continue participating in the EPAG programme. These strategies have enabled NAEAL to maintain a 90% programme attendance rate.
Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods
NAEAL employs REFLECT and PRA methods as its main EPAG programme teaching-learning strategies or approaches. REFLECT and PRA are structured, participatory and experiential teaching-learning methodologies, which have their origins in Paulo Frerie’s pioneering work on educational pedagogy. The methods adapt and build on the learners’ knowledge, opinions and experiences to promote effective learning. Thus, rather than making learners passive recipients of knowledge and information (i.e. rout learning), REFLECT and PRA approaches actively involves learners in the learning process by empowering them to critically examine their own problems, formulate solutions and evaluate their achievements or failures. Essentially therefore, REFLECT and PRA methods combines a structured and activity-based approach to teaching and learning which allows learners to assume a central and active role in the process while the facilitator acts as a guide.
In line with the basic principles of REFLECT and PRA methodologies and in order to facilitate the effective implementation the EPAG programme, NEAL has grouped learners into community-based learning groups or study circles. The ‘study circles’, with assistance and guidance from a facilitator, meet twice a week for one and the half hours over a period of 8 to 9 months. During the actual learning process, study circles employ a wide range of participatory activities such as group discussions, games, songs, role-plays or simulations, story-telling and question and answer sessions. They also extensively use an array of visual learning or instructional aids such as pictures, diagrams, worksheets or cards to complement the aforesaid activities.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The monitoring and evaluation of the EPAG programme is conducted on an ongoing basis by facilitators and senior NAEAL officers. As noted above, facilitators assess, evaluate and record their study circles’ learning progress on a daily using various strategies such as observations and focus group discussions. They also conduct qualitative assessments of individual learners’ progress and achievements by assessing their workbook-based daily exercises. In addition, senior NAEAL officers also visit the study circles twice a month to assess the overall implementation of the programme. During such visits, the senior officers employ a variety of programme evaluation strategies including on-site observations of the teaching-learning processes, focus group discussions with learners, interviews with community members and meetings with facilitators.
The results of the programme evaluation processes have revealed that the EPAG is currently playing a critical role in improving the well-being of hitherto disadvantaged young women. Most importantly, the programme has enabled young women to gain access to basic education and life skills training. This has improved their literacy skills and livelihood opportunities, which in turn, has improved their living standards and the developmental prospects of their communities. The programme has also increased young women’s self-esteem and confidence not least they are now better equipped to be self-reliant.
- Abdullah, Dukuly, Liberia: Civil war leaves school system in tatters. Ipsnews
- Nat G. Gbessagee, Liberia: A New Paradigm in Youth Education, in The Perspective, Atlanta, Georgia, May 15, 2002.
Roye B. Bloh Jr, NEAL Executive Director
Address: Rehab Drive, Paynesville City, Liberia
E-mail: User: naealiteracy
Host: (at) yahoo.com
Last update: 30 June 2013