Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

BALID’s International Advocacy on Literacy in Development: Challenges and Opportunities

ILD 14

Was lucky to get to BALID (British Association for Literacy in Development)‘s talk on International Advocacy on Literacy in Development: Challenges and Opportunities last Monday evening. David Archer, Head of Programme Development at ActionAid is a key advocate for literacy in development. He noted that adult literacy, and women’s in particular, is the least achieved of the six international Millenium Development Goals, having been squeezed out at high level negotiations given a focus on children’s development goals (apparently oblivious to the influence of family literacy on children’s ability to achieve). He noted that donor harmonisation has given at times disproportionate weight to (frequently progressive and NGO run) priorities where a minimal aid donation may be the only lever for change in a squeezed national budget creating impetus which fizzles out. This is indicative of the management and marketing of literacy projects in a competitive aid environment, where increasingly bold claims create a climate of disinformation; and commentary on lack of adjustment to local context has led to at times excessive consultation at all levels which regardless may not then feed in to the decision-making processes.

Fleury destroyed village school

David referenced a research endeavor where sixty seven literacy programmes across thirty five countries were analysed to produce a set of twelve international benchmarks of effective programmes, including:

  • utilising a broad concept of literacy
  • viewing literacy as a continuum rather than a literate versus non-literate divide
  • governments leading collaborations which decentralise resources and management to local implementation
  • the professional development of (frequently voluntary) facilitators
  • the production and distribution of creative learning materials

which have led to consensus regarding normative international provision. He noted that there is pressure for local education strategies rather than looking for international donor support, currently across fifty nine economically challenged countries. He also identified a lack of literacy statistics beyond a literate/ non-literate divide which on closer analysis could prove largely meaningless, much as literacy in the UK was historically measured as whether an individual could sign their own name. How are literacy levels distributed? Can the impact of primary schooling be accurately assessed? He suggested these challenges would benefit from short, sharp narrative arguments on adult, family and primary literacy.

Economic returns models of literacy development have led to seven key global performance trackers constituted of thirty or forty indicators, primarily concerned with assessment and measurement. They have also contributed to a flourishing of private, assessment-based, schools; and an international market for standardised learning resources. It was wondered why the World Bank’s model was not sufficiently counterweighted by UNESCO’s. As it stands, education is largely domestically financed (as a % of GDP) and countries following IMF (International Monetary Fund) prescriptions have apparently made least progress on educational development due in large part to the capping of public sector budgets. In countries which have for example removed primary school fees and massively increased participation, there have been blocks to proportionate increases in the numbers of teachers employed.

In this context, the tax exemptions made for large corporations, would likely cover the cost of funding entire social budgets, ie education. Zambia grants $2billion loss to large corporations. Progressive taxation progressively spent would significantly reduce the dependence on (and influence of) aid. As a further point, the implications of awareness of a populace that they pay tax (ie via VAT) contributes to a dialogic process of democratic rights and responsibilities and contributes to moving adult literacy away from donor aid. Civil society coalitions such as the Global Alliance for Tax Justice also contribute to these dialogues. One hundred countries now have local education campaigns that did not exist in 2000 when the international Dakar World Education Forum agreements were launched. There is pressure for legislative reform, rather than NGO projects in liaison with government offices, and a suggestion that embedding the benefits of adult literacy within other NGO organisational priorities may be a more effective path forward in ensuring that Every Parent Feeds Their Child.

Brazilian Barrio


BALID‘s next talk on intergenerational literacy, ILD 15, Literacy in and out of school in a Brazilian barrio: implications for policy will be led by Professor Maria Lucia Castanheira and Professor Brian Street will be held in London on Monday 24th February from 5.30-7.30pm. Details on their website.


  1. XXX

    Remarquable poste : pérennisez de cette façon

  2. Thank you for the high quality blog.

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