Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Literacy Groups in Ghana: Liberation with Limitation

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Literacy Groups in Ghana: Liberation with Limitation

Article excerpt

Ghana, like many developing countries, struggles with illiteracy even while making progress toward a more advanced economy. Educational statistics from UNESCO (1995) show that in 1995, Ghana had an over all illiteracy rate of 35.5%, with almost twice as many women (46.5%) as men (24.1%) unable to read. Rural women tend to have the highest rates of illiteracy, with older residents of the northern provinces the least able to read (1992, National Functional Literacy Campaign for Social Change Facilitator's Manual). Among some ethnic groups in the north, as many as 95% of the women cannot read.

As a result of the high number of failed literacy projects, adult literacy campaigns have become a low priority for international donors. Instead, donors have preferred to invest in primary and secondary schools for children. However, funding for girls' education and women's literacy became more available after the Education for All conference in 1990 in Jomtien, Thailand. At this UNESCO-sponsored event, governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international agencies agreed to six key principles, including "reduction of the adult illiteracy rate to half its 1990 level by 2000 with special emphasis on female literacy" (Guttman, 2000). The 1995 Beijing Conference on Women reemphasized the need to make education universally available to women. Many writers have since argued that the literacy program has failed worldwide (see, e.g., Guttman, 2000; Massouri 2000); Their analyses of those failures cite generalized problems and a lack of will by international funding agencies and the paralyzing debt faced by developing nations most in need of literacy campaigns.

The research discussed in this essay does not challenge such assertions, but presents a more particularized look at the impact of one campaign for women's literacy groups in Ghana. The program began in the early 1990s, as part of a larger goal by the government to incorporate women at every level in its national development effort. The National Council on Women's Development (NCWD), playing a leadership role in the design of the program, focused on consciousness-raising, income generation, and skills training for poor, mostly rural, adult women using a nonformal education model. Smith (1996/2001), citing a variety of writings, categorizes nonformal education as that which takes place outside recognized educational institutions; is relevant to identifiable, disadvantaged groups; and contains specific learning objectives. NCWD defined education broadly to include programs on such practical, everyday subjects as nutrition, sanitation, agricultural practices, family planning, and civic rights and responsibilities. Ghana's adult literacy program incorporated a synthesis of theories about adult acquisition of literacy with national development as the stated goal. The program used Freireian concepts: everyday issues were the focus of each class; learners were encouraged to see themselves as part of the greater community; lifetime learning was encouraged. The Non-Formal Education Division of the Ministry of Education trained volunteers to teach the literacy classes. In addition, the program used radio to bolster the lessons. The radio programs were a mix of theater, music, and lectures on phonics and the practical lessons covered in the primers. Designers of the program intended that the radio shows provide peer encouragement among learners who spoke the same language but lived very far apart.

My research consisted of primary interviews with administrators, facilitators, and members of 10 literacy groups in two regions of the country, the Northern Region and the Volta Region. I also visited several NCWD skills-training centers. The training centers were incorporated into the nonformal education program. The interviews took place over a 3-month period from October 1997 to January 1998. Using an open-ended interview style, I asked the women how they had benefited from the literacy classes, whether the subjects in the classes were useful to them, and whether they had found it difficult to change their lifelong behavior as the lessons suggest. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.