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A Study of Livelihood Skills Training Combined with Adult Literacy

The IIZ/DVV has received an invitation to undertake a documentary study of two strategies to combine literacy education with livelihood training. One strategy is to use literacy programmes to help learners make their livelihoods more productive. The other strategy is to use programmes in livelihood training -agricultural extension, micro-enterprises- to incorporate instruction in relevant reading, writing and calculation. Our aim is to assess whether such incorporation tends to

[a] enhance the effectiveness of programmes in retaining their learners and improving their attainments; and

[b] promote the use of the skills learned both in raising the productivity of livelihoods and in accessing wider information to ameliorate well-being.

The source of the invitation is the World Bank's review of its policies in technical and vocational education for Africa. The Bank wishes to consider the issue within the frameworks of Education for All and Lifelong Learning, not simply within the confines of schools, technical colleges, polytechnics and universities.

The study team headed by the lead consultant Dr. John Oxenham will be looking in depth at four countries in Africa, Uganda and Kenya, and Senegal and Guinea, as well as sifting through the documentation held by a number of bilateral and multilateral agencies in Europe and North America.

While published material on the issue is scarce, we believe that unpublished material, such as project documents, monitoring reports, evaluations and the like, could furnish valuable information and insights on the matter.


Adult Basic Education programs for illiterate adults and out-of-school youth have literacy and numeracy as the lead element that drives the identification of target groups and other strategic decisions. However, in addition, they will often also seek to provide knowledge and skills of a more practical kind which would be immediately useful to the learners in improving their conditions of life. Among these other ‘functional skills’ is training which can give learners some practical knowledge and skills with which to improve their livelihood.

Such livelihood skills will include vocational skills as used in wage labour or in self-employment. Additionally, they include skills used in subsistence production.

Conversely, there are also programs for illiterate adults which have the development of vocational skills as their lead elements but which also include instruction in literacy and numeracy as means of enhancing the business skills of their learners. The inclusion of literacy and numeracy skills can in such cases also lay a foundation for the learners to embark upon more extensive education programs. This approach has been termed ‘literacy second’.

Whilst the first approach tends to have potentially very large target groups which have the one shared characteristic that they are illiterate or semi-literate, the latter approach (with ‘literacy second’) tends to be focused on groups with a particular economic activity whose productivity the programs seeks to improve.

The Africa Region of the World Bank is involved in a number of countries in financing, or in preparing to finance, basic education programs for illiterate and semi-literate adults. It also is involved in programs that mainly seek to develop vocational skills among predominantly illiterate target groups. Governments and NGOs need advice on whether effective training in livelihood skills in fact can realistically be provided as an extension of programs which have literacy and numeracy as ‘lead’ contents--or whether such a combined approach will work better when the livelihood skills and appropriate target groups for the teaching of such skills, drive strategic decisions about program design. In either case, there is a need for advice on key issues in program design.

Especially when literacy and numeracy are the lead elements in combined programs, little is known about whether the practical skills training actually leads to sustainable improvement in the learners’ livelihood, and about how best to design these skills elements. There is a need for an initial stock-taking of what is known, as a platform for provisional guidance on the development of livelihood skills within Adult Basic Education programs, and in order to identify issues in need of resolution.


In general terms, the study will assemble the best available knowledge that can serve as a foundation for decisions to be made by governments, NGOs, the World Bank and other development agencies about combining training in literacy with training in livelihood skills, when the target group is illiterate adults.


The main objective of the study is to derive lessons from programs that have included livelihood skills as part of literacy education and programs that have included literacy skills as part of livelihood training. The final report should provide answers to the following questions:

1. What approaches have been used?

2. What are the documented outcomes and impacts of these approaches?

3. What are the lessons regarding management, implementation and resource requirements?

4. What approaches are likely to be most effective under conditions prevailing in Sub-Saharan Africa, and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

A second objective is capacity development. With respect of the study of Training in Livelihood Skills and Adult Literacy, the carrying out of the study should serve to strengthen and develop capacity in research and effective reporting and communications for policy makers in the four African countries involved.


The chief clients will be policy makers and education administrators in Sub-Saharan Africa, NGOs involved in adult basic education, staff in the World Bank and other donor agencies. More widely, adult education policy makers, professional practitioners, trainers and academics in other regions and countries with high rates of illiteracy can be expected to benefit.


The study will review available documentation both published and unpublished. It will endeavour to locate documentation in English, French and Spanish. It should emphasize the evaluation of programs and innovations tried in the 1990s. Skills training would encompass all livelihoods, including agriculture. It would cover experiences in the rest of the world for perspectives and focus on SSA for illustrative depth. The review should identify and write about interesting examples of successful training of ‘livelihood skills’ in combined programs--and also diagnose reasons for failure in such examples as can be identified as unsuccessful. It should include at least 2 major case studies from SSA.

Approach and activities

Generally, the study will review experiences to date within the two fields that combine literacy training with livelihood training. It will involve consultation held with key agencies and organizations which have supported such skills development (e.g., ILO and its regional offices, especially the JASPA (Jobs and Skills Programme for Africa; DfID, Sida, Unesco and its affiliates, Swiss Cooperation, Dutch Cooperation, ActionAid, IIZ/DVV, USAID, CIDA). Uganda, Senegal, Namibia, Kenya, India and Thailand are among the countries in which there is experience. The Nonformal Education working group of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa would also be contacted. Academic institutions/persons concerned with skills training for illiterates, should be consulted.

It is envisaged that the material gathered for the 1999 Evaluation of Functional Adult Literacy programs in Uganda will be analyzed in greater depth with regard to livelihood skills, and preferably supplemented by additional field work.

It is expected that the other three case studies will also include some collection of field data to supplement documentation.

Project reports and studies from other countries shall be highly appreciated.

The study shall be finalized by September, 2001, its dissemination will be discussed in due course.

Contributions to the study are most welcome, please mail to hildebrand@iiz-dvv.de.