From Closed Books to Open Doors: West Africa's literacy challenge | Literacy

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West Africa has the lowest literacy rates in the world. This report calculates the scale of the literacy crisis in West Africa, and explores what should be done about it. The report is launched in the context of the 2009 Global Week of Action on education, which focuses on literacy and lifelong learning, and the UN international conference on adult education, taking place in 2009 for the first time in 12 years. In West Africa, there are 65 million young people and adults who cannot read and write -more than 40% of the population- and 14 million children aged 7 to 12 who are not in primary school. Illiteracy is shutting these people off from the jobs, economic opportunites, good health and engagement in democracy that are their rights. The consquences for them, their communities and their countries is devastating. But the literacy crisis can be dealt with, and the doors to these rights opened. In the formal education system, there must be an effort to fill the gap in trained teachers, which we calculate at over three quarters of a million trained teachers. At the same time, governments need to put much greater priority on providing real opportunities to learn to read and write outside school, such as in adult literacy classes and youth training centres.Joint Research Report by African Network Campaign for Education For All (ANCEFA), Pamoja West Africa, the African Platform for Adult Education, Oxfam International and ActionAid.
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    From closed books to open doors – West Africa’s literacy challenge Pamoja West Africa  African Platform for  Adult Education       Acknowledgements  African Network Campaign for Education For All (ANCEFA) is an umbrella regional network of up to 27 national civil society coalitions campaigning and advocating for EFA across Africa. www.ancefa.org   Pamoja West Africa  brings together Reflect practitioner networks in 14 countries aiming to build capacity to facilitate effective participatory community development and local, national and international advocacy. www.pamojareflect.org The African Platform for Adult Education  is composed of four networks  – ANCEFA, FEMNET, PAALAE and PAMOJA – working together so as to advocate for adult learning and education in Africa. www.africacsplateforme.org Oxfam International  is a confederation of 13 organisations working together and with partners and allies in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. www.oxfam.org    ActionAid  is an international anti-poverty agency working in over 40 countries, taking sides with poor people to end poverty and injustice together.  www.actionaid.org © ANCEFA, Pamoja West Africa, African Platform for Adult Education, Oxfam International and ActionAid, April 2009 This paper was written by Caroline Pearce of Oxfam on behalf of the five publishing organisations. A range of colleagues gave support; particular thanks are due to David Archer, Mahamadou Cheick Diarra, Victorine Djitrinou, Chikondi Mpokosa, Mbacké Niang, Kate Norgrove, Karen Showalter, Gorgui Sow, Gerard Steehouwer, Sue Upton, Lindy van Vliet, and Justin Ndongo Yamwemba. The text may be used free of charge for the purposes of advocacy, campaigning, education, and research, provided that the source is acknowledged in full. The copyright holders request that all such use be registered with them (via ANCEFA) for impact assessment purposes. For copying in any other circumstances, or for re-use in other publications, or for translation or adaptation, permission must be secured and a fee may be charged. E-mail : ancefa@orange.sn   Cover photo : Fatimata, from the village of Intadeyne in northern Mali, sits with her classmates at Menaka Secondary School.  Ami Vitale / Oxfam    Contents Executive summary 2 Introduction: a picture of literacy in West Africa 5 1. Closed books – factors behind West Africa’s literacy rates 8 2. Closed doors – the impact of illiteracy in West Africa 12 3. Opening doors? – government and donor commitment 17 4. Open books & open doors! – recommendations for action 21 Key references and footnotes 23    Executive summary The urgency of action In 2009, the world is faced with a dire economic situation. No one hesitates to call this situation a crisis, most governments have rushed to prioritise it, and, in response, wealthy countries have pledged $8.4 trillion in bank bailouts.  At the same time, West Africa is also in the grip of another crisis. It is having a devastating impact on economic security, job opportunities, levels of health, and the quality of democracy. It is trapping 80 million West  Africans behind closed doors, unable to enjoy the living standards, educational opportunities and democratic power which are their rights. This crisis is not in the headlines, is not new, and is not being tackled with $8.4 trillion. But it is nevertheless a reality in people’s daily lives, and demanding of urgent action. It is the education and literacy crisis in West Africa. In this paper, ANCEFA, Pamoja West Africa, the African Platform for Adult Education, Oxfam International and ActionAid highlight the scale and impact of the literacy gap in West Africa, the region with the lowest literacy rates in the world, and make recommendations for action.   We are launching this paper in 2009, a year in which the Global Week of  Action on education focuses on the theme of ‘Youth and Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning’. We use the slogan of the Week – ‘Open Books Open Doors’ – as the theme of this paper. It is also the year of the sixth CONFINTEA conference on adult education, taking place in Brazil. These events invite governments to take more urgent and effective action on education, literacy and lifelong learning. This includes recognising them as fundamental rights, valuing them as key drivers of development, and supporting them with greater focus and investment. Here we present the case and propose a direction for increased action.   The severity of the situation is undeniable. In the introduction to this paper, we draw on recent statistics to show that 65 million young people and adults in West Africa – more than 40% of the population – are unable to read and write. Of these, 40 million are women; less than half of the women aged over 15 in West Africa can read or write. This is both a sign and a cause of women’s continuing marginalisation and poverty. Non-literate West Africans, as well as being predominantly women, are on average poorer and often from rural areas: if we are to expand literacy, through both formal and non-formal education, we need to recognise who the non-literate people are. There has been some progress in raising literacy levels since the 1980s – but this has not been fast enough, and has been slower than in many other African countries. Closed books – factors behind the low literacy levels The low literacy levels in West Africa are determined both by problems in the formal school system, and by the lack of learning opportunities outside this system. We examine these factors – the reasons why books are kept closed – in chapter 1. Firstly, not enough children are in school: there are 14 million children of primary-school age out of school in the 11 West African countries for which data is available, more than half of them girls. They are also disproportionately poor and in rural areas: this inequity in access needs to be addressed. The quality of education is also poor: the disastrous lack of trained teachers and literacy facilitators is a key factor in this. We calculate - 1 -
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