Reflect & literacy

About 17% of the world’s adults – 796 million people - lack basic literacy. Nearly two-thirds of them are women. The vast majority live in South and West Asia and Sub Saharan Africa with just ten countries (India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Brazil, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo) accounting for 72% of the total number of illiterate adults.

The Education for All goal of a 50% reduction in adult illiteracy by 2015 is likely to be missed by a wide margin, reflecting a long-standing neglect of literacy in education policy. Literacy is the most neglected of all the education goals, with attention and resources largely focused on primary education in recent years. A recent ActionAid study on the financing of adult literacy found that over the past 10 years a large number of countries have decreased their allocations to adult literacy both in real terms and as a percentage of the overall education budget.

Literacy is a right. The 1975 Persopolis declaration and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), explicitly recognise literacy, as distinct from education in general, as a fundamental human right. It also has multiple benefits - human, political, cultural, social and economic. Literacy can improve self-esteem and individual empowerment, influence increased political participation, transform attitudes, improve livelihood options and reduce poverty. Improved levels of literacy have also been shown to have a positive influence on children's health and education and on gender equality.

One of the reasons for governments failing to invest in literacy is the belief that adult literacy programmes are not effective and that adults cannot learn. Indeed short-term literacy programmes aiming for a quick fix may produce mixed and unsustainable results. A successful adult literacy programme recognises that literacy is a continuous process that requires sustained learning and application, involves well-trained and adequately remunerated local facilitators, is participatory and rooted in the lives of the learners, and involves ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

One of the most exciting innovations in adult literacy over the last 15 years has been the development and spread of the Reflect approach, which won UN Literacy Prizes in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010. Reflect has been successful in linking the literacy acquisition process with individual and community empowerment – strengthening the capacity of millions of people, particularly women, to secure their basic rights. As such,Reflect is widely considered a highly effective force for social change and there are many examples ofReflect programmes that report significant development benefits ranging from improved health, women’s empowerment, diversified and enhanced livelihoods, active citizenship, HIV prevention and mitigation, and girls’ empowerment.

Are you using Reflect for literacy? If so do let us know about your experiences by leaving a comment here.