Starting and managing literacy programmes

LiteracyLiteracyCapacity DevelopmentAdult Education

by Stellah Tumwebaze.

LABE (Literacy and Adult Basic Education) is an organisation based in Kampala working in 14 districts of Uganda. It has wide experience in promoting literacy rights. Here they share some of their experience and help us to consider the basic steps to follow when starting a literacy programme.

Beneficiaries Who will benefit from the literacy programme? Who are we targeting? Are they women, youth, prisoners or farmers? Be very clear about this at the beginning.

Assess their literacy needs carefully Conduct a needs assessment for this target group:

  • Do learners need literacy in the local language or in a second language?
  • What do they need literacy for?
  • How do learners expect to use literacy skills?
  • Do learners want to learn numeracy as well, and for what purpose?

Also find out about the likely learning arrangements:

  • When and where should lessons be held?
  • How long should lessons be?
  • Are instructors available? Should they be female or male?

Design a curriculum framework Using the findings from the needs assessment, develop a curriculum that highlights key learning areas including objectives, content (reading, writing and numeracy skills), and expected learning abilities.

This framework can then be used to develop a local curriculum relevant to the particular needs of the learners. It is difficult to prescribe what should be taught in all literacy centres across the region or area.

Develop literacy materials Materials needed will include:

  • training manuals
  • teaching guides
  • learning materials for learners.

Training and teaching materials can be in the language to be used for training instructors. Learners’ materials should always be written in the language of instruction.

Try to develop learning materials with the learners as well. Participatory tools and techniques such as maps, seasonal calendars and drawings, can allow learners to produce their own materials.

Train literacy trainers and instructors Several different words are used to describe literacy instructors – teachers, educators, facilitators or trainers. LABE use the term trainers for those who train literacy instructors. It is important to build a team of trainers to train local instructors. These trainers come in and provide training for the instructors and then leave. It will be the instructors who are then responsible for running regular literacy classes.

Selection criteria Consider carefully criteria for selecting both trainers and instructors. Consider things such as their level of education, literacy ability in the language of instruction, gender, age, religion and where they live.

Train trainers and instructors We recommend a modular (series of short courses) approach to training. Each module usually lasts for 10 days with 2–3 months in between. The training should equip instructors with the theory of adult literacy, adult education skills and practical skills. If trainers need training, this should obviously be done first so they can use this learning in training instructors.

Enrol learners Once literacy instructors are trained, they should mobilise and encourage potential learners to enrol for classes. When possible, teaching should be integrated with existing groups, rather than forming new classes for learning literacy. Teaching should be based around what people are doing (such as micro-enterprise activities).

Monitoring literacy activities Training should equip trainers and instructors with basic skills in monitoring and assessing the impact of their literacy learning. Literacy trainers should monitor literacy instructors and instructors should monitor and assess progress with their learners on a regular basis.

We hope these guidelines will help you to develop a detailed programme.

Stellah Tumwebaze has many years experience in adult literacy work with LABE. LABE’s address is PO Box 16176, Wandegeya, Kampala, Uganda. E-mail: