From Closed Books to Open Doors

West Africa's literacy challenge

Published: 13 August 2009

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 centers.

Key recommendations from this report:

  • Governments need for focused, coherent policies: all West Africa’s governments should adopt national literacy strategies as central to national development plans, and ECOWAS (The Economic Community Of West African States) should take up the issue of education and lifelong learning as a priority on which to encourage and monitor national progress.
  • Putting these plans into place requires financing: governments should provide the level of financing they promised 10 years ago, and donors must step up financing, giving West Africa its fair share of the $16 billion in external financing required to achieve Education For All, and giving a greater share of funding as budget support.
  • Most specifically, governments and donors must dramatically increase the numbers and motivation of teachers and literacy facilitators, through increases in recruitment, training and pay, and professionalisation of the status of literacy facilitators.

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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Visit the Global Campaign for Education website.