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Human Resources Development andOperations Policy

Working Papers

Literacy and Primary Education

Kowsar P. Chowdhury

February 1995 HROWP 50

Literacy and Primary Education


KowsarP. Chowdhury

I would like to thank Faraaz Siddiqifor his initialhelp in conductingresearch and producing the accompanying graphics. Olivia Lankcesterconducted research, provded useful feedback and edited a late version of the paper. She also contributed subtntally to te section on the importance of adult education. Finally, this study could not have matinlizd without tbe guidance, comments and support received from George Psacharopoulos.

Abstract Literacy rates represent the most telling indicatorof a country's educationalstatus. The core of mass public education, and hence the staring place for literacy for most of the world's population, is primary education. However, a large number of countries have yet to ensure universal primary education, and educationalsystemswith high enrollment are oftenplagued by high dropout rates. This paper reviews the literacy status of developing countries, illustrating the extent of differences across such social lines as gender, region and age groups. The paper argues why it is necessary to eradicate illiteracy. It also reviews the causes of illteracy and necessary measures to eradicateilliteracy. Finally, the paper suggeststhe necessaryroles governmentsand donor agencies can play in eradicating illiteracy in developing counties. Since the formal primary education system is one of the chief means of increasing literacy, this paper focuses on the interrelationshipsbetween literacyand primary education,and suggestsappropriatemeasures to overcome the problems at the primary level. However, it also looks at adult literacy training, both as a means of reinforcing educationalinvestmentsin the "next generation" and enhancing the productivity and well-being of the cunrent adult population.

Contents The Definition of Literacy .



The Status of Literacy in DevelopingCountries ..........................


Rationale for Elninating lliteracy ..................................


Causes of Illiteracy ............................................


Determinants of Low Enrollment and Wastage ..........................


Measures to Improve the Enrollment and Retention Rates ....................


Increasing the Demand for Schooling ................................


Financing of Primary Education.1.................................


The Importance of Adult Education in Tackling Literacy Problems ..............


Whatcan be done? ................

1.....9..... 19

Bibliography ...


Literacyrates representthe mosttellingindicatorof a country'seducationalstatus.There is clear evidencethat literacyraises the productivityandearningpotentialof a population,and improvesthe qualityof life. Yet, in mostdevelopingcountriesilliteracyis an endemicproblem. More than half the populationin Sub-SaharanAfrica and SouthAsia is withoutany literacyskills. The core of mass public education,and hence the startingplace for literacyfor most of the world's population,is primaryeducation. However,a large numberof countrieshave yet to ensure universalprimaryeducation,and educationalsystemswithhigh enrollmentare oftenplaguedby high dropout rates. This paper will review the literacy status of developingcountries, illustratingthe extent of differencesacross such social lines as gender, region and age groups. It asks: why is it necessary to eradicateilliteracy? What are the causes of illiteracy? Whatmeasuresshouldbe taken to save the futuregenerationfrom illiteracy?Finally,whatis the role of the governmentanddonor agencies in eradicatingilliteracyin developingcountries? Sincethe formalprimary educationsystemis one of the chief meansof increasingliteracy,this paperfocuseson the interrelationshipsbetweenliteracy and primary education,and suggestsappropriatemeasuresto overcomethe problemsat the primary level. However,it also looksat adultliteracy training,both as a means of reinforcingeducational investmentsin the "nextgeneration"and enhancingthe productivityand well-beingof the current adult population. The Definition of Literacy Definitionsof literacyhave varied over time and continueto evolvetoday. Literacyis seen by many as a neutral and tchnical skill, analogousto typing or wordprocessing. However, the technicistapproachhas been challengedby thosewho proposea broaderand moreexplicitlypolitical definition. This school of sociologistsand educators reject the notion that literacy is a fixed, measurableachievementor competenceand propose a more relativisticconcept. KennethLevine (1990),for example, arguesthat literacyshouldbe seen as a amltiplicityor hierarchyof literacies, and Graff (1979) makes the point that literacy requirementsvary among different socioeconomic groups, regions and communities. Scribnerand Cole (1981)have definedliteracy a set of socially organizedpractices, reproducedand disse-minatedby a symbolsystem. The Brazilianeducator, Paulo F-riere,has developedthe most explicitlypoliticaldefinitionof literacy. He sees literacyas a process of "conscienfization'which involves "reading the world" rater tan just reading the 'word" (Friere and Macedo 1987). The use of differentdefinitionsof literacymakes it difficultto measurethe numberof literates in the world. Unesco's current methodsand measurementsare widely criticized as too narrow, based on the limiteddefinitionof a literate person as someonewho can "read and write a simple statementon his or her everyday life" (Unesco 1993a:24).' However, due to the lack of other global data on the subject,we chose to use Unescoestimatesin this paper. The Status of Literacy in DevelopingCountries There has been tremendousprogress made in the spread of literacy in developingcountries, especiallyin the last ten years. The global illiteracyrate was closeto 40 percentin 1970compared to only a quarter of the world's populationin 1990. In developingcountries, illiteac rates

' For a moreelaboratediscussionon problemsin collectinglitaery statistics,see Wagner(1992).

2 decreasedfrom over 50 percent in 1970to 35 percentin 1990. It is projectedthat by the year 2000, the illiteracyrates in developingcountrieswill drop finher to 28 percent (Unesco 1990). Thoughthis progressis commendable,not all regionsshow suchimpressiveimprovement. The situationis most critical in developingcountries. More than half the populationin Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are without any literacy skills whatsoever. Almost 48.7 percent of the populationin Arab Stateswas illiterate. In the least developedcountriesas a whole, the illiteracy rate was 77.5 percent in 1990(Unesco 1990and 1993a). Moreover, the total number of illiterate adults is still increasingin sub-SabaranAfrica, the Arab Statesand South Asia. Only 9 out of the 39 sub-SaharanAfricancountriesexperienceda declinein their numberduringthe 1980s,compared to 14 out of 27 countries in Asia and 19 out of 22 countriesin Latin Americaand the Caribbean (UNESCO 1993a). In addition,literacyrates differacross suchsociallines as gender,region and age. For example, Figure 1 demonstratesthat illiteracyrates are higher for each subsequentcohorts. In other words, the younger the age cohort, the more literates there are. The improvedlitra rates amom the ounnr age-gogmsis an indicationof considerableadvancesin the provisionof urimar schooliw in develonint countriesin recent years. High iitercy rates among age cohort 25 and above is an illustrationof lower accessto primary educationin the past.

FIgure 1: Progress in Literacy per Age Group, DevelopingCoumtries





W5-w.i-B-2asa -"-u.s



3 Figure2

Femalelliteracy Rateper Cohort Dwmophuwow -190

.......................................... 0 ...........





Ap Usf ofCan amas.





+Em a



Sane: UNESCO Imel

MaleIllteracyRateper Cohort Dlopg

Ubid - 190

-40 .................

A UmLiofCS..! mrsm SWwDoaphig coma.I





-gma +Em

wa *6-teNo


4 Figure 2 illustratesthe differencesin illiteracyrates for differentregionsin developingcountries by age cohort and by gender. The greater slope of the male graph compared to female graph indicates the differentialeffect of education across gender lines. This means that, despite the improvementof girls' accessto primaryeducation,inequalityin primary schoolprovisionfor girls still persists. For example,in 1988on average girls were 13 percentagepoints behind boys. The gender gap in primary enrollmentwas wide, especiallyin SouthAsia, Sub-SaharanAfrica, and the Middle East and North Africa (Chowdhury1993). Illiteracyrates in rural areas are consistentlyhigher than in urban areas (see Table 1). The gap between urban and rural areas was highest in Pakistn and followed by Nepal (29 percent) and United Republicof Tanzania(28 percent). In addition, gender and region may interactto induce even worse effects. Table 1 shows that rural females lag far behind their urban counterpart in literacy skills. Table 1: Illiteracy Rates by Region and Gender, Selected Countries IlliteracyRates(percent) Country,Region(year)



UnitedRepublicof Tanzania(1978) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGap

29.9 57.9 28.0

45.5 72.2 26.7

Benin(1979) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGap

69.0 93.2 24.2

80-0 97.2 17.2

Afghanistan(1979) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGap

62.5 85.3 22.8

79.2 97.8 18.6

Bangladesh(1981) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGar,

51.8 74.5 22.7

65.9 84.7 18.8

Nepal(1981) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGap

52.6 81.3 28.7

67.0 92.4 25.4

Paldstan(1981) Urban Rural Urban/RuralGap

52.6 83.2 30.6

64.1 93.4 29.3



The above analysisis an indicationtat prmay shool enrollmentshave a profoundimpacton adult literacy. Figure3 showsthe percentageof adultilliterates,and projectsthe adultliteracystaus if: (i) the current downturnin schoolenrollmentcontinue; and (ii) universalprinary educationis realized by the year 2000. This figure displaysthe powerfullinkagesbetweenlow prima shool enrollmentsand adult illiteracy. Figure 3: Number and Percentageof Adult IllIterates, 1950-1985 and Projecdon to 2M25in Dewloping Countries



. .-

090 ~~~800 16





4~~~~I 0%

S4 1980 8NU020



7600to 50








400 1950



1980 Bs 1990



2020 25




Notes: PopWaStoB estimatesand projectioins: UN PopulationDivision Literacyestimates:UNESCO Literacyprojections:basedon currentenrollmentestinmaeprovidedby UNESCOandprojected accordingto the two assumptionsdescribedabove. Rationale for lIminang literacy The social and economic benefits of literacy are well recognized by governments and policymaks. Yet, manydevelopingcounties have failed to ensureuiversal prmay educationthe key meansof increasingLiteracy.This sectiondealsbrieflywiththe economicand socialbenefits for investing in literacy trining through primary education. It shouldbe noted, however, that socioeconomicreturns aside, primary education has long been acceptedas a human right, and therefore, an end in itself.

6 A substantialbody of evidence indicatesthat literacy increasesthe productivityand earning potential of a population.' An educatedpersonearns more and has greater labormobility. Studies of the costs and benefits of schooling,using formal sector earnings as a measure of benefits, consistentlyindicatetat averagerates of return to educationare high in comparisonwith returns to expendituresin other sectors, and that they are highest for primary schooling. These results hold for both social and private rates of return (Psacharopoulos1993). While economic policies are crucial in expandingemploymentopportunities,educationprovidesindividualswith the abilityto take advantageof such opportunities. Recentevidencefrom East Asia indicatesthat by far the singlelargestdeterminantof economic growth for eight East Asian economies was primary education (World Bank 1993). This is confirmedby evidencefrom anotherstudy(Barro 1991). For example, in Koreain 1960, primary school enrollment,at 94 percent, was muchhigher than expectedgiventhe country's incomelevel. This enrollmentrate was associatedover the next 25 years with a growthrate 1.4 higher per annum than it otherwisewouldhave been. This added up to per capita incomes30-40percenthigher than they would have been if primary schoolenrollmenthad been lower in 1960. As well as yieldinghigher productivityin the formal sectors, educationalso increasesfarmer productivity. Evidence from 13 low-incomecountries shows that 4 years of -chooling were associatedwith increasedfarm output of about 8 percent, after holdingland, capitaland labor-time constant(Lockheedet al. 1980). Studieshave shownthat in Malaysia,Ghanaand Peru, on average one additionalyear of schoolingis associatedwith an annualincrease in output of between2 and 5 percent, ting into account farm size, inputs, hours worked and other factors. Similarly, in Thaiand, farmers withfour years of schoolingwere three times more likelyto adoptnew fertilizers and other puts an farmers with one to tbree years of schooling(World Bank 1991). This is attributed to the fact that better-educatedfarmers absorb new informationquickly and are more innovative. Educationnot only has high economicreturns, it also generatesnon-marketbenefits. Literate peopleare more aware of their health and nutritionstatusand likelyto take the advantageof social servicesavailablefor them. This may, in turn, reduce child and mortalityrates. For example, a researchproject based at theAlexandraHealthClinicin SouthAfricadiscovereda strongcorrelation between women's literacy and commitmentto the immunizationof their children (Bown 1990). Reports from the Health Educationand AdultEducation(HEAL) project in Nepal show that neoliterate women were more likely to use oral rehydrationsolution (Smith 1994). Evidence also confirms tbat educatedwomenalso have fewer children(Cochrane1979). Parental educationalso plays a large role in determiningchildren's schoolingand employment. Parents who are educatedare more likelyto understandthe importanceof schoolingfrom their own personal experienceand are more likely to send their children to school. For example, research found that parental education,especiallya mother's education, was an important detrminant of

2 Researchinto the socioeconomic impactof literaqcis troubledby the complexnate of cumsality.It canmot necessaily be concludedthata beneficialoutcomeof literacytraining,suchas higherearningsor reducedfertlity, is causedby the acuisition of literacyper se, sincethe schoolattendanceis undoubtedlyaccompanied by other persona changesand communitychanges. However,in almostall cases,we can presumethat literacyis closely correlatedwiththe outcome. For morediscussionon thisissuesee Bown(1990).

7 schoolenrollmentin Philippinehouseholds(Kingand Lillard 1987). Further, a study in Nepalfound that literate women were more likely to help their children with their homeworkthan non-literate women (Bown 1990). Educated mothersalso provide positive reinforcementof their daughters' educationaland occupationalaspirations (Bach et al. 1985). Literacy also inutils a sense of empowernment to those who hold it. The spread of literacy has, therefore,emerged as a major factor in economic and social development. In fact, dLe linkages between education, health and nutrition are mutual and complementary.The stronglinkagesbetweeneducation,health,nutritionand reducedfertilityresult in synergies,whichcan transformviciouscycles of poverty,illiteracy,malnutritionand disease into virtuouscyclesof learningand healti, equity and sustainabledevelopment. Causes of Uliteracy The quesdon is that despitethe vast educationaladvancesof the last three decades, why do a large number of people remain illiterate? While the causes of low literacy rates are many, the immediatecause is the low levels of enrollhent and retentionat the primary level. Of the 540 million primnary school-agechildrenin developingcountriesin 1990,24 percent still were not enrolled in school. Tremendousexpansionof primary schoolenroDmentrates has been made in all regionsof the developingworld. However,in sub-SaharanAfrica, althoughby 1990the situationhad improvedfrom 1960, the absolute numberand the relative share of the unschooled increasedin the last decade (see Table 2) Table 2: Out-of School Chidren, Aged 6-11 (perent) 1960 Region DevelopingCountries Sub-SaharanAfrica Arab States LatinAmerica East Asia SouthAsia









52 75 61 42 47 56

62 82 72 43 56 71

31 43 33 17 25 40

38 49 43 18 30 53

24 50 24 13 14 27

29 54 31 1J 16 28

Source: UNESCO1993c.

Moreover, gross enrollmentratios at the primary level tend to mask the high absenteeism, repetitionand dropout as well as low attainmentrates amongchildren. To attain literacy, it is not only importantfor a child to enroll in school, but it is also neessary to complete a full cycle of primary schooling. In manydevelopingcountries,however,dropoutrates are quitehigh. Typically, dropout rates were higher in the low-incomecouties, wherefewer 1han60 percent of those who enrolled in primary schoolreached the terminalyear of the primary cycle in the 1980s; the rate for middle-incomecountrieswas about70 percent (Lockheedand Verspoor1991). Predictably,dropout rates were higherfor girls (9.5 percent)than for boys (8.2 percent)in low-incomeconmtriesin 1988; for middle-incomecountries,the rates were 6.1 and 5.9 percentsfor girls and boys, respecfively.

8 Table 3 shows the numberof new entrantsto grade I and the dropout before grade four. The table indicatesthat in 1980,36 million, or around one-thirdof the 103millionchildren who enrolled in primary schooling,did not completegrade four. The dropout rates are consistentlylower in the Arab Statesfollowedby EasternAsia, and highest in Latin Americaand the Caribbeanand Southern Asia. Dropout rates for Sub-SaharanAfrica remainedthe same(28 percent) for both 1980and 1988. Althoughthe numbers of new entranu to primary educationin both 1980and 1988 were lower in Sub-SaharanAfrica than in Latin Americaand the Caribbean,the numberof children droppingout before grade four was considerablyhigher in the LAC region. Table 3: New Entrnts and Dropouts, Both Sexes (million) 1988




DevelopingCountries 103.5 Sub-SaharanAfrica 9.8 Arab States 3.6 LAC 12.1 East Asia 47.6 SouthAsia 29.6 LeastDevelopedCountries 7.4

Not Reaching Grade4

Dropout Rate (percent)

36.3 2.7 0.5 5.3 13.1 14.8 4.1

35.0 27.0 13.0 44.0 28.0 47.0 55.0


Not Reacbing Grade4

Dropout Rate (percent)

94.6 10.6 4.6 12.0 34.1 31.3 8.5

25.2 3.0 0.4 4.7 5.3 11.9 3.4

27.0 29.0 10.0 36.0 16.0 38.0 40.0

Source: UNESCO 1992, Table 1.

The impor of completingthe primary educationcycle for the acqusition of literacy skills cannot be over-emphasized.Bangladesh,for example,had a literacy rate of only 25 percent for the 10-14age cohort in 1980, despite the fact that net enrollmentrates reached 79 percent in 1976 (see Figure 4). Such an enormousgulf betweenthe two indicatorsof educationalachievementmust be explainedpartly by the unumay poor retnion rate of about 20 percent from 1976to 1980. Prmiary educationprovidesthe most opporune time to teach children to read and write. Over 50 percent of sdceduledtime in prmary schoolsis dedicatedto languageskills and LAthwhich form the basis for more diversified learning and higber order thinkinglater on (Lockheedand Verspoor 1991). It is argued that a minimumof 4 year. for formalschoolingis necessary for the acquisition and retentionof literacy skills. However,many countriesare a long way from ensuringthat every child receives this mininmmamount. Therefore, the key questionremais, what obstaclesexist to universal enrolment and completionof primary education in the developingworld? This is the subjectof the following section.

I Thereis, however,somedebateover whetherthe criticalgradeshouldbe 4th or 5th (Unesco1992).

9 Figure 4: Bangladesh Enrollment in 1976, Survival Rate 1976-80 and Literacy Rate 1981 (age 10-14) Pernt




40 . ... . . ......... JO




oUnso daWS




Determinants of Low Enrollment and Wastage The constraintsthat contributeto low enrollmentand school wastagecan be categorizedas: (i) in-school-factors,e.g., availabilityof schnols, quality and efficiency, school process, etc.; and (ii) out-of-school-factors,e.g., direct costs, oppormnitycosts and costs related to cultural demand.4 In-School Facors Lack of physicalaccess to schoolingis a major causeof under-enrollmentin primary schoolsin developingcountries. Childrenoftendo not go to schoolbecauseplaces are not availableor schools are too far away from home. Availability of school places within a reasonable distance is a prerequisite for children's, especiallygirls', school participation. For example, studies of Ghana (Hez et al. 1991) and Bangladesh(Ahmed and Hasan 1984) found that female enrollment is negativelyassociatedwith distance. In addition to access, cultural norms often act as an impedimentto girls' schooling. In such envirrjonents, girls' enrollmentmay be dependenton accessto single-sexschools, separate facilities suck,as lavatoriesand female teachers. Ahmedand Hasan (1984)found, for example,ta families have withdrawngirls from schools lacking latrines in Bangladesh. In Nepal, reports indicatethat the government's strategy of recruiting and training femaleteachers to work in rural areas has had considerablesuccess in boostingfemale enrollments(Unicef 1978).

andLewin(1993);KingandHill(1998; discussion on barriersto schooling seeColclough 4 For an elaborate Chowdhury (1993)andHerzet al. (1991).


The quality of schooling is also an important determinantof participationand retention. Poor quality teaching, curriculum, instructionalmaterialsand school infrastructurecan have an adverse affect on student learning. In Braziland Colombia,for example,80 percent of variancesin student achievementhave been attributedto school quality variables(Heynemanand Loxley 1983). One study found that the use of textbooksin rural Brazil in 1983had a positive andsignificanteffect (7-8 points) on achievementscores (Armitageet al. 1986). A childwho performsbadly in tests and other assessments is more likely to dropout than a child who makes good progress. Indeed, another Brazilian study indicatedthat children whose parents had no education were almost three times as likely to complete primary education if they had two or more textbooks than if they had none (Bustillo 1993). It is oftenargued that gender bias in schoolslowersfemaleeducationalaspirationsand so lowers their propensityto completethe primary educationcycle. The bias is apparent in school authority structures, in male/femaleteacher ratios, in gender stereotypingin textbooks,in the distnbution of teachers by subject(scienceand mathematicsare often taughtby male teachers), in teacher/student interactionsand lasdy, in teachers' attitudesand expectations(Chowdhury1993). Studies of textbooksin India, for example,found that the books containedmanymore male than female characters, and those female characterswho appeareddid so primarilyin domestic,nurtring roles and were representedas passive, admiringand stupid or employed in less prestigiousjobs (Calia 1982). Wondimagegnehuand Tiku (1988), in an Ethiopianstudy, report that 18 of the 31 teachers interviewedfelt that boys were better than girls in aUacademicsubjects. Failure to provide girls with appropriate role models and the support and encouragement they need at school conceivablyis an importantfactor in the persistenceof low female participation. Out-of-schoolFactors Schoolingis often very costly, even when governmentpays for much of it. In poverty stricken societies,the cost of schoolingcan be considerablefor poor parents. The lower the family's income, the more prohibitivethese costs become. The direct costs to parents of schooling include fees, books, transport and clothing. Actual expenditures on schooling amount to about 4 percent of household consumptionin low-income countries, 6 percent in middle-incomecountriesand 8 percent in industrialcountries. There is wide variance around the mean. In India and Pakistan,for example,with per capita GNP of about $350, education accounts for 3-4 percent of household consumptioncompared with 9 percent in Kenya ($370)and 13percent in Zambia($290). Amongcounties with per capita GNP of $1,200- $1,300, education accounts for 9 percent of householdconsumptionin Tunisia, 1 percent in Turkey, and 6 percent in Peru (Herz et al. 1991). In general, direct costs are similar for girls and boys. But in some countries, observationof culturalnorms increasesthese costsfor girls (e.g., parents' reluctance to send daughtersto schoolwithoutproper attire increasesthe cost of girls' school attendance). The opportonmvcosts of schooling include chore time, sibling care, and foregone earnigs. These may vary by sex, income group, region and country. The opportunitycosts of educating children are higher for poor families becmasethese familiesrely more on each family member to contribute to the family's economicsurvival.


Opportunitycosts are incurredfor both boys and girls, but in many culures, the costs are higher for girls, who perform a larger share of family labor.5 For example, in Burkina Faso, time-use studies reveal that girls from the age of 7 on spend 3.5 hours a day on householdchores compared with only 1.5 hours for boys (Herz et al. 1991). In additionto lost work, parents may feel that girls are forgoing important childcare, household, and cr.t training at home if they go to school. Further, in some societiesin Sub-SaharanAfrica, anotheropporunity cost of schoolingis the earlier use that the family can make of the bride price for daughters. Delaying marriage because of schoolingpostponesreceiving the bride wealth and may even reduce its amountif greater value is placed on younger rather better-educatedbrides (King and Hill 1993). Other out-of-schoolfactors include sicknessand malnutrition. Educationalinterventionshave traditionallyignored the fact that childrencannot profit from high quality instructionif they are too sick, weak or distracted to concentrate.Studiesexaminingthe relationshipbetween Protein-Energy Malnutrition(PEM), which is caused by poor diet, and cognitivedevelopmentin infancyor early childhood, have found that while mild to moderate malntrition does not cause primary l ng deficits, it does affect cognitive processes. In addition, research shows that worm infections, impaired hearing and sight, and temporary hunger all have serious affects on school performance (Levinger 1994). Lastly, limited economic oaiortunities affect children's earning potental and thus the returs from their schooling. This lowersparentalexpectationsof the benefitsof their children's education, and so reduces their willingnessto invest in their children's future. Girls are particularlyaffec since, in general, they have fewer opportnities in the labor market thn boys. Moreover, any economic benefits accrued from a girl's educationmay be transferred to another family when she marries. Mfeasuresto Improve the Enrollment and Retention Rates It is critical that access to Drimar education be improved. Increasing access to schooling requires expanding the supply of schoolplaces within children's waling distance. One cost-effectivemechanismfor expandingthe numberof school places is to introducedouble or multiple shifts. This reform has been widely institutedin Senegal,and has allowedan 11 percent increase in enrollment, with only a 2 percent increase in the teachingforce (Colcloughand Lewin 1993). Hence, it has the double advantageof both increasingenrollmentsand reducingunit costs. If multiple shifts shorten the schoolday, the schoolyear can be made longer to compensate(World Bank 1990). Other policy options includeicreasingclass size and introducingmultiRradeclasses. Research shows that vanations in class-size from 25 to 40 students have no consistent effect on the performance of children in achievementtests (Simmons and Alexander 1980; Fuller 1987). Multigrade classes, with appropriatelydesigned instructionalmaterials and teacher traiing, have been shownto be an effectiveway of increasingparticipationand achievementm rural commnities where low populationdensitiesand shortageof skilledteachers are commonproblems. With mali-

Exceptions includeBotswana, Coted'lvoire,Chie, and Nicaragua, whereboyspefrm a lrer shareof familylabor(KingandHUI1993). 5

12 grade classes, rural schoolsare no longer requiredto have five teachersand five separateclassrooms, but can provide instructionfor several grades simultaneously. An evaluationof the Esquela Nueva schools in Colombiafound that the program not only increasedenrollmentrates, but Esquela Nueva studentsalso scoredconsistentlyhigher in achievementtests than studentsin traditionalrural schools (Colcloughand Lewin 1993). Access may also be increased for girls if single-sexschooling is provided. However, before undertakingthe expense of building new schools, there is scope to accommodateparental concern for female modesty and security by making creative use of existing facilities. Schroolscould introduce double shifts to ensure that male and female attendance does not overlap. In other instances,parents may be happy to send their daughte. to coeducationalschoolsif they ate held in religious buildings such as Mosques. In Pakistan, for example, the Mosque School Program, initiatedin the early 1980s, has increasedfemaleenrollmentin some areas (LockheedarLiVerspoor 1991). Teacher shortages are common in rural areas, and incentivesmay be required to encourage teachers, particularly female teachers, to work in remote regions. Incentives may include the provision of boardingfacilities, increasedtraining,or even additionalpay. In Nepal, for example, the governmentofferedhomepostingfor womenteachers,loweredentry requirementsfor some rural girls, subsidizedtheir secondaryeducation,and supportedgirls throughconventionalteachertaining with a monthly stipend, travel expenscs, medicalcare and tutoring. The numberof female teachers increasedand female enrollmentshave improvedas a result (Herz et al. 1991). IL gcneral, formal primary education is the preferred means of teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills. However, nonformaleducationmethods may be appropriatein contexts where a sizable number of studentsdrop out, or fail to be attractedby the formal system, or where formal schoolsare absent.6 Nonformal education programs have proven particularly successful in reaching marginalized groups such as rural females. For example, BRAC's Nonformal Primary Education Program (NFPE) in Bangladesh,has succeededin attracting and retaining children, with 70 percent female enroUlersand a dropout rate of only 1.5 percent for the full three-yearprogram (Lovell and Fatema 1989). By contrast, the dropoutrate in governmentschoolsis quite high; about 48 percent of those who enroll leave school before completing grade 3. In additionto greater internal efficiency, the BRACschoolsoperate at lower unit costs (approximatelyUS$15)than their goverrnent counterparts US$16.4 in 1985) (Lovell and Fatema 1989; Lockheedand Verspoor 1991).

' Nonformaleducationis definedas 'any organid, systematic,educationalactvity caried on outsidete frameworkof the formal(schooling)systemto provideselectedtypes of leamingto particularsub-groupsof the population...' (Coombsand Ahmed1974:8). TheWorldBank'sEducationSectorPolicyPamer(1980)extended its definitionto include"Nonformaleducation- organizedand systematicleamingactivitycarriedon outsidethe formalsystem- is neitherm altemativeeducationsystemnor a shortcutto the rapideducationof a population. Rather, nonformal.rducaticaand trainingprovidesa secondchance for learing to those who missed formal schooling;it enablesthe rural or urban poor, withinprogramsof "integrateddevelopment,-to acquire useSfl

knowledge,attitudes,and skills;andaffordsa widearrayof leamingactivitiesdirectlyassociated withwork..." (WorldBank1980:16)

13 Bodh ShikshaSamiti(BODH),an IndianNGO, has also had considerablesuccessworldng with children in the urban slums of Jaipur, India (Aga Khan Foundation1994). In both cases, most of the studentswere able to make the transitionto the formal schoolsystem after three or four years. Experience suggests that a key condition for the success of nonformal education is to ensure equivalencywith formal primary schools. Otherwise,they tend to be perceivedas secondclass and rejected by studentsand parents. This was the case with the Rural EducationCenters in Burkino Faso, where the program had to be abandoneddue to its unpopularitywith the villagers(Lockheed and Verspoor 1991). Increasing the Demand for Schooling To increase demand for education, steps can be taken to cut the direct costs of schooling. Several countrieshave taken measuresto cut some of the direct costs by eliminatingschool fees, providing learning materials 'mldfree textbooks,free or subsidizedtransportation,diect subsidies to familiesfor the purchaseot materialsand uniformsand schoolfeeding programs. However, reducing the opportumitvcosts to families is often as important as reducing direct costs. Policy options include changmg the school calendar to accommodateseasonaldemandsfor child labor, providingchild care for younger siblingsand institutinglabor-savingtechnologies. In Bangladesh,flexible schedulingin satellite schoolsis one of several strategiesused to increase the school participation of children (Chowdhury 1993). In India, a nonformal evening education program, designedto bring schooldropoutsback to the primary educationmainstream,provedvery effective (Nail 1982). Evidencefrom Colombiaand China also confirmsthe effectivenessof parttime and flexiblescheduling. Provisionof daycareor crechefacilitiesfor younger siblingsnot only fees childrenfor schooling,but also preparesthe youngerchildrenfor readinessfor later schooling. China has one of the most comprehensiveprograms to providedaycare facilitiesat work sites and at schools (Bellewand King 1993). Another interventionsthat may meet the opportuity costs of children participationis the introductionof labor-savingtchnologies. Mobilizing community suppor, by instituting education and information campaigns and encouragingparentalparticipation,is another way of generatingdemand for schooling. If parents understandthe benefits of educationand are activelyinvolvedin its provision, they are more likely to encourage their children to attend. In Chile, for example, parents' interest in their children's educationhas increased since they have become involved in the constructionand managementof schools; studentattendanceand achievementhas improvedas a result (Schiefelbeinet al. 1978). Imnroving the overall quality of schoolinRis another effective mechanism for enhancing children's participationin school. The establishmentof low qualityalternativeinstitutions,such as Pakistan's Mosque schools, is unlikelyto equalizeeducationalaccess in the long run (Warwicket al. 1989). Many counties have addressedthe questionof the q7uality of educationby urovidingtextbooks, reducing teacher absenteeism.and improvmgteacher haining. For example, a project in Pakistan incorporatedmeasures to involvethe village educationcommitteesto help in identifyingmotivated female teachers and to supemse teacher absenteeism. The Uttar Pradesh Basic EducationProject focusses on increasing school quality and efficiencyby strengtheningcommuity participation(by formmgvillage educationcommittees),improvingreadinesstDlearn by introducingearly childhood education and care, improving teacher and staff performance, and improving curriculum and

14 textbooks. In India, efforts such as 'Operation Blackboard"are meant to provideessentialfacilities to all primary schools includingclassrooms, toilets, blackboards,books and learning materials to improve quality (Herz et al. 1991;Chowdhury 1993). Another effectivequality-enhancingmeasure is the improvementof curricula design. Textbooks are the major definition of curricula in developingcountries. However, the curricula presentedin textbooks, particularly the scope and sequence of the material, are often poorly designed and factually iaccurate. Instructional design is important because inappropriately targeted curricula (either too difficultor too easy) frustratestudentsand increasefailure. Hence, improvingthe content of textbooks holds great promise for simultaneouslyimproving the learning of children and stimulatingdemandfor schooling. Removinggender and other biasesin curriculaand materials,and gender-sensitivity training for teachers and administrators, are also expected to enhance the achievementof disadvantagedgroups. Several projects in Bangladesh,India, Senegal and other countrieshave taken initiativesto eliminatebiases in texts (Chowdhury1993). Time-usestudies show that when teachers devotemore time to instruction,studentslearn more. Sufficient instructional time is particularly important in the early grades and for children from impoverishedfamilies who spend few of their out-of-schoolhours on learning (Lockheed and Verspoor 1991). Thus, the expansionof instructionaltime representsa promisingavenueto pursue. This can be done by increasingthe amount of official time allocatedto learning and increasing the amount of acu tme spent on learning. Given the evidence relating to the impact of nutritional deficiencieson cognitive processes, school eedingrogMs (SFPS)are advocatedas a means of improvingchildren's learning capacity. SFPS are also meant to improve girls' and poor children's enrollmentand attndance by offsetting some of the costs of attending school. To be effective,however, SFPS shouldbe designed as part of broader interventionthat also addressesother school factors contributingto learning deficiencies (World Bank 1990;King and Hill 1993). Lastly, teacher training, both pre-service and in-service, is essentialfor improvingthe quality of education. Recurrentschool-basedin-serviceteacher trainingcan encompassareas from practical methods of teaching major subjects to ways to adapt the curriculum to the social and physical environmentof the students, understandinghow children develop and learn, methods of evaluatng teachingand learning, managementof classrooms,and parent-teacherand communityrelations. Inservice training programs in India, Nigeria and Thailandhave provided incumbentteachers with a new repertoireof pedagogicalskills that focuson more participatoryteachingbehaviors(WorldBank 1990). It is not enough, however,that teachers are well trained in subjectmatters and have pedagogical proficiency. Low teacher morale leads to high rates of teacher absenteeismand attrition. Teacher absenteeism reduces student learning time, while tacher attrition increases the costs of teacher training. The causes of lack of motivationare low salaries, poor working conditions, insufficient career advancment opporunities and/or weak support services. For example, when salaries are low (e.g., in Somalia,teachers earn the equivalentof $6 per month, or 25 percent of GNP per capita annually), teachers are likely to supplementtheir incomes by holdig otherjobs. This increases teacher absenteeism. Evidencefrom other countriesindicatesthat substantal proportionsof primary teachershold second, and sometimesthird, wage-earnming jobs. Furtber, in many countries, teachers' career and salary advancement seldom depend on performance. Salaries tend to be tied to civil

15 servicepay scales, with raises awardedon the basis of certificatesand length of service. Thus, there are few incentivesfor teachers to perform well. Career ladders linked to redesignedsalary scaks can have a positive impact on teacher motivation(World Bank 1990). Financing of Primary Education To improve the situationof primary education,govermnentsshouldfocus their attention to this sub-sector. Education in developing countries, in general, is finaced and provided by the government. The expansionof education,therefore, dependson fiscal resources. In recent years, due to intersectoralcompetitionfor limitedpublicfumdsandadversemacroeconomicconditions,most countriesdo not have the abilityto continueexpandingall levelsof educationsimultaneously.Many developingcountriesunderinvestin education. In addition, there is misallocationof resocucesthat favor higher education to the neglect of primary education. Table 4: Public Expenditure per Student as Percentage of Per Capita GNP by Region (around 1980) Region AnglophoneAfrica FrancophoneAfrica SouthAsia East Asianand Pacific Latin America MiddleEast and North Africa DevelopingCountries DevelopedCountries




18 29 8 11 9 2 14 22

50 143 18 20 26 28 41 24

920 804 119 118 88 150 370 49

Source:Mingatand Tan 1985. The present distributionof public resourceson education,therefore, is highlyunequal, as shown in Table 4. In many countriesa considerableproportionof public expendituresfor education goes to middle- and upper-income families, because richer groups are over-representedat all levels of education,and particularlyat the universitylevel. Publicexpenditureper student increasesby each level of education. In African countries, public expenditureper student on higher educationis 28 (FrancophoneAfrica) and 50 (AnglophoneAfrica) times that on primary education. Further, only a small numberof peoplebenefitsfrom high publicexpenditureper studentin higher education. For the developingcountries as a whole, only 7 percent of the school-agepopulationenroll in higher education (Mingatand Tan 1985). In addition,studentswho benefit from highly subsidizedhigher education come from relatively wealthy families. The major portion of subsidies is received by students from the richest class (World Bank 1986). Therefore, there is a need to redress the inefficienciesand inequalitiesby recoveringthe public cost of higher educationand reallocaftngthe governmentspendingtoward the level with the highest social return. This would not only equalize the access to educationalopportunitiesamongvarioussocial groups,but also contributeto the efforts in universalizationof primary education.

16 The Importance of Adult Education in Tackling Literacy Problems In view of the high illiteracyrates in the adultpopulation,a dual-prongedauproachto combatting illiteracy is required. This entails: (i) literacy training for adults and; (ii) primary educationfor children. Despite its declining popularityamong policymakersand educators, adult education is a sound investment. Teaching adults to read and write simultaneouslyprovidespositive reinforcementfor investmentsin the "next generation"and enhancesthe productivityand well-beingof the current adult population. Literate adults are not only more likely to send their children to school and provide them with a nutritious diet, they are also better equipped to participate in economic activities outside the subsistenceand un-remuneratedsectorsand are likely to be imbuedwith greater self-confidenceand capacity for independentaction. These argumentsare clearly borne out by impact studies of recent NGO adult literacy projects (see Box 1). Hence, the potntial impact of adult literacy on the productivityand well-beingof present and future generationscannotbe ignored. However, in the past, literacycampaignsand programs have been met with mixed results. In many cases, the poor performanceof studentsand the extent of drop-out and relapse into illiteracyhas been very disappointing(see Table 5). Table 5: Efficiency Rates of Aduht Literacy Campaigns Country

Initial Enrollment

Tanzani Iran Ethiopia Ecuador Sudan Surkhet(Nepal)

466,000 94,700 36,800 17,500 7,400 7,474

Percent TakingExams

Percent PassingExams

EfficiencyRate (percent)

63 50 59 57 32 50

33 30 43 41 25 94

21 15 25 25 8 47

Source: Abadzi 1994. Table 5 illustratesthe fact that theseprogramsgenerallylackhigh efficiencyrates, rangingfrom 8 percent in Sudan to 47 percent in Nepal. It indicatesthat fewer than 50 percent of participantsin the campaignsreviewedmet the mastery crira set by the programs. This has led to a growing reluctance among governmentand donor agenciesto invest in this area. For example, growing frustrationwith the difficultiesof implementationhas led to a decline in nterestin adult literacyat the World Bank. As a result, the percentageof Bank-financedprojects with an adult literacy componenthas dropped dramatically. In contrastto the high concentrationof

17 projects in the 1970s,7when nonformaleducationwas in vogue, the Bank has only invested in one adult literacy project since 1990. Today, it is generallyargued that resources are better investedin the "next generation." However, such neglect and pessimismis misguided. First, not all literacy programs are doomed to failure. Evidencesuggests that with careful and imaginativeplanning, past mistakes and shortcomingscan be avoided. For example, preliminary analysesof a Health and Adult Literacy pilot project in Nepal indicate that literacygains have been higher than those of previous Nepaleseprograms. Neo-literatewomen in one village unanimously agreed to meet every day for class during the post-literacyphase, even though the class was only intended to meet 3 times a week (Smith 1994). Their commitmentis testimony tO the project's success in motivatingand retaining its participants. Second, past failures provide valuable lessons for the future, and can be used to enrich our understandingof the determinantsof program success. These can be summarizedas follows: (a) Adults will persist in the study of reading if they clearly understand its utility in their own

world. The integrationof literacy training into income-generatingactivitiesand linkingliteracy courses with formal diplomas, for example, may be an effective means of emphasizing the iimmediateutility of literacy. In addition, an effective way of keeping learners motivated is to make the literacy class a place where learners can discuss the problems and needs of their communities. Action Aid, Lr NGO, is currentlyundertakinga research project to explore the possibleuses of ParticipatoryRural Appraisal (PRA) techniquesto generate "dialogue" within literacy programs in Bangladesh,El Salvadorand Uganda (Action Aid 1994). (b) Adult centered approaches. which entail substantive consultationswith participants and attention to the cognitiveProcessesparticular to adult aegnuisition of literacy. are most effective. For example,since adultsdo not remembermeaninglessitemsas easily as children, opportumities to show scripts in context and miniimizeunconnectedwords and sounds shouldbe maximized.8 (c) Provision of opportunitiesto practice reading and writing is critical, particularlyin remote rural areas, in order to maximizethe probabilitythat neo-literateswill retain their newlyacquired skills. Relapse into illiteracy is also influencedby the length of the literacy training. Past experience suggeststhat a minimumof 300 hours of basic literacytraining is required for skills to be retained (Abadzi 1994). However, many questions remain entirely or partially unanswered. Is literacy acquired more efficiently using national languages, or mother tongues? What size of programs should be developed? Is it possible to develop large and efficientprograms? Who shouldbe encouraged to participatein literacyprograms? What activitiesshouldbe financed? Whichteacher characteristics are the most and the least conduciveto the disseminationof adult literacy?Shouldliteracy be taught with numeracy? Hence, it is imperativethat donor agenciesand governmentsinvest in research to

I Out of 305 World Bank-financed education projects between FY1970 and FY1985, 92 had Nonformal Education and Training (NFET) components. Of these, 45 (or 30 percent) had an adult literacycomponent (Romain and Armstrong 1987). '

For a more detailed discussion, see Abadzi (1994).

18 resolve these methodological and strategic questions and so promote a more sophisticated understandingof the determinantsof program success. Box 1: Nongovernmental Literacy Projects - Impact Studies




Young Women's ChristianAssociation


Neo-literatewomenset up and successfully managedcooperativegrindingunit.

AdultLiteracy Or an of mafbwe (AOiL)a


Literacygroupsformedproductionunit, rearing poultry,cultivatingvegetablesetc...



In urban areas, neo-literatememberswere able to keep accountsand communicatewitli customersthroughwriting;in rural areas, literacysills helpedmemberswith measuremensfor textileprintinganddesigning. Ruralmembersalso beganto takean interest;in AIDSpreventionand otherhealdtissues.


ieo-literate womenformed women's orgations; one groupcollectivelyset up and; manageda groceryshop.

-imsi: Learnig



u-l tat y Program|X! - ---

. Nweo-literate womengained self-confidence and - Guinea -- : emergedas chuch leaders. a more active Neo-literatewomenbegan.;to -play .. . = - . ubli part in conmunityorganizations,such as-public -healt groupsand neighborhoodsoupkchens



-:Goi& fan ..-. ...

L-ima, Peci


-:- Chi-::---:ntote Pn











Io-literate womenorganizedthe distributionofa free glass.ofmilkfor childr-nand prgnant womn (provided-bythe ici eo-iterate,womenorganizedg imcome-generation. Liteacy :trining led to the establishmentof a kdindergarten by localwomenj. - Li'teracytrainingheld for

prostitutesled to the s:tting-p of a prinmayschoolby the u literatewomen,for their own andother-local


fror- Bwn 9 199. -




-:=-: :::s.-








~~~~~~~~~~~~ s 0h.

19 In summary, combatting adult illiteracy is a complex and challengingtask. But, it is not unsurpassableand the potentialimpactof adult literacyon the lives of current and future generations demands renewed effort and commitmentto overcomingthe obstaclesof dropout, relapse, and low achievement. In this effort, it is crucial that governmentsand donor agenciescollaborate with experiencedNGOs whose work in the field has alreadyprdvided invaluableinsights. What can be done? Basedon the discussionabove, there are definitivesteps which govermnentsand policymakers can take to promote literacythroughoutthe developingworld. The main policy in the fight against illiteracy inust be to stress universalizationof primary education. This represents a long term, visionary approachto the problem. The most effectiveway to reduce adult illiteracyis to prevent it from developing in the first place. This policy line will save what can be saved: the next generation. To achieve the intendedgoal of eradicationof illiteracy the donor and multilateral agencies shouldhave policy dialoguewith borrowercountriesto set a goal for universalizationof primary educationand take appropriatemeasuresto achievesuch a goal. To achieve the goal there is a need to mobilizeadditionalfunding for primary education. By expanding lending operations to the prmiary education sub-sector, internationalagencies should demonstratetheir full support. Govenment policy and internationallending shouldbe focused on the following: * High priority shouldbe givento measuresthat would improvechildren's access, learningand

completionof primary schooling. * Special measures should be taken to achieve parity between girls and boys and between differentsocial groups in enrollment, leamingand completionof primary schooling. Efforts should be taken to improvethe situationof the most disadvantagedgroups, specificallygirls in rural areas. * Governmentsshouldnot completelyabandonadult illiteracyprogramswhichpotentiallyhave high economicand socialreturns for current adult and childpopulations.Necessarymeasuresshould be taken to overcome the traditional barriers to program success. This should entail on-going research into the relativeeffectivenessof differenttypes of literacyprograms.

An initial step may be to establish a specific definition of literacy to which all studies could adhere. This would allow cross cultural literacy studies to be comparable and yield valid generalizations. It would also contribute to the quantificationof literacy, making it a more manageablesubject. With an stablisheddefinition,researchers couldbetter help policymakersand educatorsin confrontingthe afflictionof illiteracythroughoutthe world for both children and adults.

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