ISSN 2330-717X

Delving Into Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) – Analysis


The World Declaration on Education for All (March 5-9, 1990) (1) clearly stated that everyone should have the opportunity for education. Expressing a human right, this was a direct political response to pressure at the time from civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations, among others, who saw a role for education in promoting not only good governance and democracy, but also respect for human rights and dignity (2). Thus, attention was drawn to the need to eliminate educational disparities within countries: 


the elimination of educational disparities that may exist to the disadvantage of certain groups” (Article 3 of the declaration). 

the use of diverse educational systems” and the development of “alternative supplementary education” (Article 5 of the declaration).

According to UNESCO, 759 million young people and adults today lack literacy skills. According to the 1958 UNESCO definition, an illiterate person is “any person who is unable to read and write, with understanding, a short and simple statement of facts relating to everyday life“. Other approaches to illiteracy were subsequently developed, integrating the notions of skills and their practical applications. The term “illiteracy” is also used to refer generally to the fact of having attended school without having acquired basic skills (reading, writing, and counting (3Rs)). 

What is functional literacy?

In the Dictionnaire Actuel de l’Education, Legendre defines education as (3): “the set of values, concepts, knowledge and practices whose object is the development of the human being and society. “

Functional literacy differs from traditional literacy insofar as it allows the illiterate learner to be considered as an individual in a group situation, according to a given environment from a development perspective. 


In the course of literacy training, the individual learns to defend his rights and the urgent necessity to formulate his needs and to take his responsibilities in the face of social, economic and cultural problems. Here, the training is not a one-way street as it is in traditional literacy. The beneficiary is active and participates well in the sessions because the lessons meet his needs and promotes his technical, professional and cultural skills (4).

Functional literacy aims at communicating to the learner a knowledge which suggests a behavior to him so that he can act in favor of the environment in which he lives. This concept was launched and defined in the World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and held in Teheran, Iran, from 8 to 19 September 1965 (5). This type of literacy seeks to increase the output of the illiterate through the learning of reading, writing and arithmetic. It must be the result of a development project; and starts with a study of the environment to identify the needs of the populations and all aspects of the problems. The program, strategies and means of action of this form of literacy are defined in concert with the population on the basis of the problems encountered in socio-professional life. It presupposes going beyond the rudimentary learning of reading and writing. The illiterate who follows this education can integrate socially and economically into a new world where technical and scientific progress requires more and more knowledge and specialization. It is a contribution to the liberation of man and his full development, while creating the essential conditions for a critical awareness of the contradictions and the objectives of the society in which he lives (6).

Traditional literacy is ad hoc. It is implemented without any prior study of the needs, and is based on general themes that can serve the initiators (politics, religion, etc.). It does not allow continuity or consolidation of knowledge so that in the end, literate people fall back into illiteracy after a while. It does not consider data such as age, workforce, gender, levels, motivation and working environment. This state of affairs entails constraints and considerably reduces the benefit that each individual should derive from this training. Being a one-way training process in which only the trainer has the knowledge, we note an almost total passivity imposed on the participants. The program of the sessions is therefore imposed and by extension the learner does not participate in the development. This form of literacy ignores the sustainable technical promotion of local populations. The objective of traditional or classical literacy is the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic (3Rs) in order to allow the neo-literate to access written or printed communication in a language.

In this context, the learner is considered to have no significant personal concerns. He is essentially taught to know how to read, write and count / calculate based on the most mundane realities of life, without taking into account his needs and his activities.

According to Foulquié (1971) (7), education means the action of forming the learner, that is to say, of helping him in the development of his specifically human capacities (intellectual and moral).

In the context of this study, education is an operation of transmission of different knowledge in order to transfer capacities for change. It is realized within three distinct approaches:

  • Formal educationincludes all forms of education and training conducted within an organized and structured framework. It includes: the education of basic education, secondary education, higher education, and vocational training.” (8)
  • Informal educationis done in a diffuse way. Its main vehicles are the family unit, social groups, community media and other instruments of communication, the various associative movements, the community, life scenes, street performances, etc.“(9)
  • Non-Formal Educationis a form of education that generally takes place in an extra-curricular setting, striving to take into account the realities of the environment, to open up and to empower the different educational actors involved (families, professionals, and local officials). It is characterized by its varied audience (young people and adults) and the diversity of its contents.“ (10) 

For UNESCO,  literacy, in its full sense, is about what follows (11):

“UNESCO has been at the forefront of global literacy efforts since 1946, advancing the vision of a literate world for all. It views acquiring and improving literacy skills throughout life as an intrinsic part of the right to education. The “multiplier effect” of literacy empowers people, enables them to participate fully in society and contributes to improve livelihoods.

Literacy is also a driver for sustainable development in that it enables greater participation in the labour market; improved child and family health and nutrition; reduces poverty and expands life opportunities,

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world.“

To advance literacy as an integral part of lifelong learning and the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development (12), UNESCO is taking the following approaches to promote this form of education worldwide, with a focus on youth and adults (13):

  • “Building strong foundations through early childhood care and education.
  • Providing quality basic education for all children.
  • Scaling-up functional literacy levels for youth and adults who lack basic literacy skills.
  • Developing literate environments.“

Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) for sustainable development

There is strong evidence on the general benefits of education, especially on poverty reduction (UNESCO, 2011). Education helps mothers feed better their children (UNESCO, 2013), and more educated people are less exposed to health problems (UNESCO, 2011). Education enables girls and women to realize their full potential (Psacharopoulos and Patrinos, 2002) (14) and is one of the main engines of progress and economic prosperity (UNESCO, 2013). 

Educated people are better able to understand, support and design solutions for sustainable cities and communities, on the other hand to use water more efficiently and energy and to recycle household waste (UNESCO, 2013). Individuals with a high level of education are more concerned with protecting the environment. Studies further establish that education is an essential basis for peace, tolerance and existence of a vibrant civil society (UNESCO, 2012, 2013). In short, progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (15) will be limited without adequate education accessible to all.

A significant number of programs bring together the three dimensions of sustainable development, of which the Environmental Protection. This is the case for the Project functional literacy training for women in argan cooperatives, managed by the non-governmental Moroccan Ibn Albaytar Association (16), which aims to promote and highlight a balanced relationship between man and nature. The argan tree serves as a bulwark against the advance of Saharan desert, and also produces an oil used in cooking, in the cosmetics industry and traditional medicine. The literacy program is taught in Amazigh, a Berber language, and combines practical management skills for cooperatives, awareness of the importance of preserving the argan grove, and information on the new family code.

Another example is the Slovak Romano Barardo (Roma Gardeners) program, also implemented by an NGO. Its main objective is to fight poverty through educational and training measures in organic farming for marginalized Roma communities. It enables Romas and other excluded groups to learn ecological agriculture and thus promotes their self-sufficiency food. It, also, helps Romas out of social exclusion through inter-ethnic dialogue and cooperation with other groups in society.

With regard to the empowerment of women at the level of households, their household finances still depend mainly on their husbands’ income, and the traditional role of women as housewives seems to be strengthening. However, they have a new role: to decide together with their husbands on how to manage household income, which contributes to the realization of household projects for improving their lives. Husbands seem to consider this empowering of their wives in a positive sense.

Two important questions arise in what concerns the relevance ofFunctional Adult Literacy (FAL) in this specific context:

1. How does FAL affect the lives of individuals?

2. What is the impact of FAL on the means of subsistence of individuals?

FAL has positive repercussions on the health of participants and their neighbors, on empowering FAL participants and educating their children, as well as, on social cohesion and peace within the community. FAL, also, helps people improve their use of opportunities to obtain and manage financial assets and permits its participants to improve, to some extent, the management of their income-generating activities (IGA).

Through the content and discussions carried out within the FAL, the participants gain new knowledge about the causes of diseases, how to prevent contracting them and how to treat them. This encourages participants to change several of their healthy and hygienic behaviors, showing that they apply their new knowledge and understanding of health problems. As a result, most participants in FAL programs and members of their household report being ill with malaria and diarrhea, in Black Africa, less often compared to the period before their enrollment in the course (17).

Self-respect of FAL participants increases considerably once they learn to sign their name instead of using their imprint. This is strongly linked to (their perception of) how other members of the community consider them. They, also, acquire more self-confidence in FAL circles as they gain new acquaintances. Alongside, they speak in front of others with much confidence and, thus, improve greatly their communication skills.

Through FAL programs, participants acquire skills in problem-solving; they can now examine the problems, analyze them and try to understand and solve them. This encourages behavior change within households and the community. Within households they exhibit more understanding and practice more listening, which reduces Conflicts greatly. 

Within the community, FAL participants manage differently their problems with other members of the community and avoid violence. FAL participants try, also, to help solve problems between others members of the community because their understanding of peace is strengthened, as well as, their problem solving skills and their self-confidence.

Overall, reduced conflict and improved conflict resolution at the community level has been observed on a large majority of the people questioned. Increased solidarity was, also, observed in several communities, which is, also, a sign of improving community unity. These effects seem to be more important than expected, since the literature tends to regard them as long-term impacts of literacy. This can be explained by the fact that FAL participants feel strongly connected to the stories read and discussed during FAL training that highlight the importance of peace and helping to resolve conflicts.

To improve the quality of the FAL, the following actions have to be enhanced further:

Strengthen the use of participatory teaching methods which are suitable for adults: Train facilitators and raise awareness of FAL participants on their advantages unlike teaching approaches up and down, including learning to read and write;

Encourage learners to practice literacy skills outside FAL circles and make sure that the facilitator checks the homework; and

Improve facilitators knowledge and awareness as to their role in discussions.

Improving FAL durability: To improve the sustainability of knowledge and skills acquired in FAL circles, so that participants do not forget them and that they continue to learn, they must be encouraged to continue to meet in groups in order to practice.

Writing skills: write traditional community stories, write regularly a journal for the community and / or write letters.

Reading skills: read newspapers, and government announcements and community books available within the community. Organize a small community library to increase people’s access to books.

Socio-analysis skills: discuss announcements and radio news.

Functional Adult Literacy (FAL), what for?


The purpose of literacy training is to equip the adult so that that he is able to direct his development, independently, using daily life situations as privileged learning opportunities. The training takes place from an andragogic and metacognitive perspective (18).

Andragogy can be defined as an area of ​​social practice aimed at developing, in the adult, the skills necessary for solving the various problems he is facing. The first and most general of the skills to be acquired is: “LEARN TO LEARN” in order to be able to perform independent learning.

With regard to metacognition (19), the general competence “learn to learn” is developed through the acquisition or improvement of metacognitive knowledge. This knowledge is made up of the knowledge that adults have on their cognitive mechanisms, its learning strategies and the variables that hinder their effectiveness. This knowledge directly influences the self-regulation exercised by the adult on his learning process. In turn, self-regulation influences metacognitive knowledge and enriches it.

The goal:

 The goal (or functional ability) of literacy is to enable adults to function effectively and satisfactorily in a variety of everyday situations. This involves the practice of skills such as listening, speaking, reading, writing and numeracy. 

The objectives pursued: 

The objectives correspond to the results that are expected at the end of the training. They are pursued by the adult with a view to satisfying his particular needs. In this sense, the objectives are highly subjective. While respecting the subjective nature of the expected results, it is possible to name the skills that an adult should have as a result of the literacy process. An important part of these skills is formulated in terms of learning objectives in writing, reading and arithmetic (3Rs). 

The rigorous formulation of objectives, likely to be pursued by adults, allows the trainer to systematically assess the achievement of the objectives effectively pursued by each adult. 

In literacy, other objectives must be pursued. These objectives, ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL, go beyond the strict field of learning. Without, in any way, minimizing the importance of the latter, we must recognize that illiteracy, which deprives people of essential communication skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and calculating) also deprives them, and consequently, of the skills necessary to function effectively and satisfactorily in everyday situations. Therefore, it becomes essential to acquire these deficient skills and, to achieve this, defining, pursuing and achieving functional goals is a necessity.

To take into account the above, three spheres of functional objectives have been identified:

Thematic or situational objectives which aim to acquire functional skills that can be used in general daily life situations.

Objectives linked to the tailor-made training process aimed at acquiring functional skills that can be used in the development of a training.

Objectives linked to the learning process which aim at the acquisition of functional skills that can be used in various learning situations. 

It is quite possible to assess the achievement of the above-mentioned functional objectives. The evaluation can, however, only be done from a properly subjective perspective. 

The value placed by andragogy experts on the needs formulated by adults determines the nature of the intervention. Any intervention is therefore planned and made up so that not only can the adult’s needs be met, but, also, so that the adult, himself, takes an active and critical role in the way to meet his needs. For these reasons, particular types of interventions are proposed as a model and approach and, consequently, these are the approaches of customized training and that of the functional learning process.

One of the surest achievements of adult education is that the tailor-made approach leads to the recognition of the capacity of each adult, or each group of adults, to participate in the determination of its educational needs, to the definition of its training objectives, to the choice of the means to be implemented for the realization of their project.

In this sense, tailor-made literacy training has emerged as the model to follow because it makes it possible to respond, as precisely as possible, to the needs of adults, to encourage their participation and to achieve their empowerment throughout the process. Finally, to be, as close as possible, to the life situations of adults and to maintain the concern for the transfer of their learning in these situations.

Functional learning occurs when an individual, while remaining connected to his biological potentialities, to his innate sensitivity, as well as to the fundamental principles of learning (responsive and operative conditioning, etc.), which interact with the environment according to four fundamental learning modes: emotions, perceptions, cognitions and actions.

Concretely, this person:

Intends to learn something that has meaning for him since this allows him to anticipate reinforcements;

Explores his environment to gather information and organize it with regard to his goals;

Analyzes the information and integrates it into his cognitive structure; and

Uses the acquired information to modify living conditions according to his initial anticipation.

Essentially, the functional learning process, which requires a particular andragogic development of the social and private environment of the person (20), corresponds to the spontaneous unfolding of the experience, enriched by the use of a computer and the effort the person makes to ensure functional self-regulation. 

The process is therefore a learning method that can be perfected, adapted to the natural functioning, as is the scientific approach. The functional learning process is proposed not only because it is an important part of the instrumentation, which is the purpose of the training, but, also, because it allows for the type of learning preferred in the customized literacy approach, i.e.:

learning that involves the fundamental aspects of the personality: emotions (feelings, impressions, and intuitions), perceptions (five senses), cognitions (thoughts, images, and patterns) and actions;

learning that fosters, along with the acquisition of skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and counting), the acquisition and the development of learning strategies that can be used in all types of learning environments situations of daily life (trans-situational functional autonomy). In this sense, the functional process – understood from a perspective of instrumentation – makes it possible to make operational the famous principle formulated by Skinner in 1968 (21) and taken up by various research and practice circles: learning to learn

There are other reasons for choosing the functional learning process:

The functional process is developed on the basis of key research findings on learning – particularly Arthur Staats’s social behaviorism (22) – and, in this sense, it is a unifying process that integrates the emotional and cognitive aspects of learning.

The functional process includes four modes that can be related to the four characteristics of the adult student, updated by research andragogy: motivation, time perception, self-concept and andragogy.

Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) strategy

The Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) program is designed around the livelihoods and needs of the learners. In addition to literacy and numeracy training, the training includes a strong occupation-specific component to make the learners understand the importance of literacy in improving their livelihoods.

The program targets anyone aged 15 years or older who did not receive formal education as a child, including men and women, the elderly and youth, and specific groups of marginalized people such as the prisoners, the disabled, the destitute and ethnic minorities.

An important aspect of the project is microcredit to support the establishment and sustainability of income-generating activities at the end of the literacy program.

Goals and objectives:

We have identified the following objectives for the FAL program:

  • To reduce adult illiteracy;
  • To equip learners with essential life skills for personal and community development;
  • To build capacity for income-generating activities and community self-reliance;
  • To empower beneficiaries and their families to improve their living conditions and quality of life;
  • To give youth and adults equitable and adequate access to literacy;
  • To create a culture of lifelong learning among adult learners; and
  • To empower marginalized and vulnerable social groups to participate fully as partners in development.

Teaching and learning methods and approaches:

The basic principle of the FAL program is that it must be directly related to the lifestyle and needs of the population. The program encourages instructors to adopt a flexible, practical and relevant approach that will enable them to reconcile literacy and daily life objectives of the learners and achieve meaningful capacity building.

However, lack of resources is a major obstacle to the teaching-learning approaches used. Local communities do not have the funds to equip instructors, and participants are often too poor to provide necessary learning material. As a result, there is a tendency to revert to the traditional theoretical approach.

For this reason, designing the manuals to incorporate the real problems and situations experienced by participants is an important aspect. To underscore the relevance of the texts, some instructors reported, in some specific environments, very strong reactions from learners who, unaware of the extent of the problems, thought that the text made a very personal reference to their own situation.

The establishment of a literacy class committee, as a forum for discussion of participant and committee problems, is an essential component of the program. This framework gives participants the opportunity to apply their new knowledge and skills and provides a reassuring environment to gain confidence and assert their leadership.

In addition, the FAL program includes a microcredit component designed to encourage graduates to apply their skills by creating income-generating activities.

Monitoring and Evaluation:

The government and NGOs involved in the FAL program ought to conduct numerous monitoring and evaluation activities. Mid-term evaluation reports are used to revise and improve individual programs, while final evaluations are presented to the authorities and donors, who, then, decide whether to continue funding them or not.

The evaluation process begins with a short workshop, facilitated by external evaluators, to explain to participants and instructors the need for evaluation and the methodologies to be used.

Evaluations are organized in a participatory manner to enable everyone to master the impacts and challenges inherent in the final phase of project implementation.

Evaluations cover the following aspects:

Access: is the target group reached or not; number of learners enrolled; and number of functional literacy classes.

Quality: availability and relevance of learning and instructional materials; number of active qualified instructors; local methods of assessing learning achievement; number of learners who have acquired basic skills.

Efficiency: effectiveness of financial resources; institutional capacity; and linkages with other local and national institutions.

Equity: participation and social composition of learners.

Impact: application of skills acquired outside of the classroom; changes in lifestyles and living conditions; changes in learners’ attitudes regarding modern perspectives on topics such as human rights, environmental protection, and health risks.


Engaging participants remains one of the key challenges of the FAL program. There are many factors that prevent people from coming to classes, the biggest barrier being money. Despite the fact that the training is free, many members of the target group cannot leave their livelihood activities to attend the courses. In addition, many fear the subsequent application of tuition fees, as has been the case with previous similar programs. 

For others, fear of embarrassment is the barrier to participation. Many feel that by participating in FAL courses, they demonstrate their illiterate status and lower rank in the community. Fear of embarrassment is a particular obstacle for older community members and men, for whom the disgrace of participating in FAL far outweighs its potential benefits.

Because of the barriers to participation for the illiterate, many FAL learners are actually partially literate people seeking to improve their education. Already aware of the benefits of formal education, they come to the FAL program to take advantage of the skill development offered by the concept of functional literacy. The non-targeting of the intended specific audience is therefore one of the greatest challenges of the program. Similarly, the majority of participants do not come from the poorest social strata, who do not have the time or resources to take courses that they do not understand the importance of.

Budget constraints are probably the greatest challenge facing the program. Due to a lack of resources, over two-thirds of FAL courses have no fixed site and are held outdoors. In addition, because learning materials are very limited, the lack of certain teaching aids hinders the interactive approach advocated by FAL programs and teaching relies heavily on textbooks. In addition, the lack of funding weighs heavily on the quality of instruction. Instructors do not receive salaries or incentives for their work and most are not properly trained. This results in frequent turnover of instructors, who are often ill-prepared, unmotivated, or absent. This situation greatly undermines the constructive nature of the learning environment and affects the effectiveness of the program.

The lack of materials, also, has a negative impact on FAL graduates. There is a notorious lack of post-literacy reading materials in local languages, and graduates have no opportunity to continue their studies as many of them wish.

Development of training and learning materials

The FAL learning materials have to be developed by a team of academics and instructors. they have to be based on pedagogical trends and realities in the field.

The FAL material is based on three complementary works:

Teacher’s manual: this highly structured trainer’s manual explains the objectives and activities to be carried out in the classroom.

Teacher’s manual for reading: this basic book explains the methodology and activities of the program.

Student course book:  this counterpart of the Master’s Manual contains images, texts and exercises for the participants.

Student workbook: other materials will also be available for additional reading, writing and arithmetic exercises.

Human Resources Management

FAL has to have a core educational team of three specialists based at its headquarters. It is primarily responsible for planning, implementation and monitoring activities. It is supported by twelve master trainers during training seminars and supervision activities, while 24 coordinators supervise the volunteers in the different sites. Volunteer instructors must have at least a high school diploma, although no teaching experience is required.

Master trainers and coordinators are part-time semi-professionals. They are often selected from among the best volunteer instructors. Master trainers are trained through seminars and hands-on training.

The initial training of coordinators has two levels: volunteer and field management and supervision. Volunteers undergo three weeks of training to learn program philosophy, technical curriculum, field orientation and communication skills.

Mobilization and awareness activities

Literacy awareness and mobilization are important FAL activities. Posters, brochures, radio and TV programs are to be used to recruit beneficiaries and volunteers and mobilize communities. Community briefings and information sessions are to be organized periodically to raise awareness among local stakeholders and leaders.


The FAL program is a well-established government initiative, with a strong decentralized organizational infrastructure that should foster its sustainability. However, difficulties in retaining trained and motivated staff remain the greatest threat.


Participants benefit from two levels of training lasting 24 months (600 hours),

Level 1: Empowerment (300h): Allows the development of basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic (3Rs).

Level 2: Qualification (300h): Allows the reinforcement of the professional skills (creation and management of cooperatives and enterprises, hygiene and safety, political rights, women issues, etc.).

Lessons Learned

  • Increased investment in training and material motivation of instructors would help make the classes more effective and the program more efficient.
  • Efforts need to be made to raise awareness of the benefits of the program and to protect the privacy of learners in order to attract more members of the target group.
  • For service providers, instructors and donors, regular radio broadcasts are very effective and innovative ways to mobilize learners.
  • NGOs have shown that they can provide considerable support to government-initiated adult literacy programs.
  • Providing a variety of learning and post-literacy materials in local languages is very important for justifying the relevance of adult education and promoting retention and continued application of acquired skills.

Conclusion: Towards a better future

The quality of a nation, let us say, depends on the quality of the skills, abilities and ideals of its people. Literacy improves it. It is a means of personal achievement and development. Being illiterate is a huge intellectual, political and economic handicap.  However, this does not preclude the development of policies tailored to the particular situation in the regions. Often national adult education policies and strategies do not sufficiently address the content and method of adult education in diverse communities.

Educational interventions in these communities require a good understanding of the social, cultural and economic conditions that directly affect them, their particular needs and circumstances. Based on the national structure for adult education, the government should establish a separate department/commission and an oversight body at the national level. This body should have legal status and be intensively involved in issues related to adult education among the grass roots. It should also be responsible for formulating and coordinating adult education programs, and be responsible for monitoring and evaluating the implementation of relevant policies and programs for adult pastoral education in different regions.

Functional adult education should not only be designed to enable grass roots to read and write and perform simple calculations, but also to teach them basic skills that can be used in daily life. The curriculum should be developed on the basis of detailed and sound knowledge of their lifestyle and the social and physical environment of involved individuals. It should enable them to cope with the challenges of daily life and contribute to economic diversification and poverty reduction in their local communities and at the national level, as well.

The proposed FAL program must iron out a certain distortion between political discourses and the social and individual demands of the populations; a distortion that leads to proposing a uniform literacy program with precise and limited objectives that proves to be unsuited to the variety of motivations expressed. This is not to say that the government should propose programs that are adapted to the range of motivations mentioned. However, it might be appropriate to diversify the offer in order to better respond to the needs, particularly for further training and professional integration, expressed by some of the beneficiaries.

The FAL approach also highlights the fact that motivations vary by location, age and gender. Young men in urban areas expect more socialization and qualifying training from this immersion, while women are more interested in an opening to the world and in finding their bearings. Some operators, particularly NGOs, advertise, in addition to the literacy program, the possibility of learning a trade. Very often these are sewing and embroidery trades, mainly for women. Although these skills can be acquired through other activities, this functional side of literacy continues to serve as a bait since it is likely to attract the beneficiaries.

Case Study: Morocco

Literacy in Morocco

The “fight against illiteracy” is therefore engaged in Morocco through a mass literacy policy aimed at all adults over 15 years of age with little or no schooling. The international discourse on illiteracy, which has been taken up by Moroccan national policy, suggests that these illiterate people are eager to learn (Cerbelle, 2010) (23). However, research on the motivations and expectations of the beneficiaries of literacy courses, as well as on their socio-demographic profiles, is rather rare, which suggests that discourse on illiteracy is based more on conviction than on questioning and demonstration.

In Morocco, the contrast between social and economic indicators is striking. While the country can claim to have achieved convincing results in terms of restoring the major macroeconomic balances (inflation control, reduction of the budget deficit, more rational debt management, etc.), its poor performance in the social sphere is highly questionable. The latest UNDP report on human development (UNDP, 2019) (24) reminds us of the enormous backlog that Morocco needs to make up in the social sphere. Indeed, according to the Human Development Index (HDI), Morocco ranks only 121 (out of 189), well behind its North African neighbors. As a matter of fact, almost half of the population is illiterate.

Conscious that consolidating economic achievements requires improving social indicators, the public authorities have made social policy one of their main priorities. Since the end of the 1980s, actions to improve literacy among the population have been one of the main thrusts of this social policy. Despite this awareness, it was not until the end of the 1990s that this political will was translated into reality. Government action, coordinated, then, by the Secretariat of State for Literacy and Non-Formal Education (Secrétariat d’État chargé de l’alphabétisation et de l’éducation non formelle –SECAENF-), has intensified and diversified. In addition to the programs carried out directly by SECAENF or by other ministerial departments, functional literacy programs have been set up in the workplace (by – or in partnership with – companies under the leadership of the OFPPT (Office de la formation professionnelle et la promotion du travail)).(25)

Today, the National Agency for the Fight against Illiteracy (Agence Nationale de Lutte contre l’Analphabétisme -ANLCA-) (26) manages the file, after the abolition of the State Secretariat, on three major levels of literacy, the first covers all segments, while the post-literacy level concerns the strengthening of skills acquired at the first level, in addition to vocational preparation. As for the third level, called functional literacy, it concerns traditional craftsmen, sailors and farmers for a period of two years.

Functional literacy, based on a study conducted within the framework of the “Millennium Challenge Program” (27), concluded that increasing the contribution of the productive sectors to the gross domestic product (GDP) requires the fight against illiteracy among its workers.

According to the National Agency for the Fight against Illiteracy (ANLCA), the philosophy of the fight against illiteracy in Morocco is based on the education of beneficiaries in various basic skills (reading, writing and arithmetic (3Rs)), in addition to skills that facilitate integration into daily life.

Morocco – Human Development Index by UNDP (28)

DateHDIHDI Ranking

For Lahcen Aït Daoud, Mohammed Bougroum, et Aomar Ibourk (29):

“In Morocco, massive illiteracy among young people and adults is one of the major obstacles to the dynamic of development. As with formal education, the effort made by the public authorities in terms of access to literacy programs is proving insufficient. The challenge of literacy for young people and adults outside the school system can only be met through integrated action on access, retention and quality.”

(“Au Maroc, l’analphabétisme massif des jeunes et adultes constitue l’un des obstacles majeurs à la dynamique de développement. Comme pour l’enseignement formel, l’effort consenti par les pouvoirs publics en matière d’accès aux programmes d’alphabétisation s’avère insuffisant. Le défi de l’alphabétisation des jeunes et des adultes hors système scolaire ne peut être relevé que par une action intégrée agissant sur l’accès, la rétention et la qualité. “)

The fight against illiteracy is considered a social obligation of the State and constitutes a determining factor in upgrading the economic fabric, by enhancing the skills of human resources, in order to support the development of the units of production.

Given the relevance of the functional strategy in the fight against illiteracy, a systematic effort has to be devoted by the State on the basis of the priority given to the following categories:

1. The category of illiterate workers, working in the production sector and for whom the retention of their job depends on improving their skills and therefore their output and productivity, (they represent 50% of the Moroccan workforce in the productive sectors);

2. The category of adults who do not have a stable and regular job, especially mothers, and especially those in rural and suburban areas; and

3. The category of young people under the age of 20 who have not had the opportunity to attend school or who have dropped out at an early age, which has led to their return to illiteracy. This category needs a second chance in non-formal education.

The programming of literacy operations is supposed to take into account the specific needs of the categories mentioned, in terms of special pedagogy, appropriate to their age and their social and professional situations. As a result, programs specific to each of them are to be put in place, designed according to an organization, content, supervision and communication methods and appropriate time slots.

Literacy programs aim, as part of a functional strategy, to enable beneficiaries to achieve educational and cognitive objectives which lead them to better master their work; they also prepare them to enroll in continuing education programs, with the aim of raising the level of their professional skills and abilities and, as a result, improving their productivity and performance and benefiting from the positive impact on their personal life, their social relations, the education of their children and the management of their working life.

In order to carry out a national and global functional literacy operation, for the benefit of the first category referred to in 1. (illiterate workers), it is important to involve employers, through chambers and professional associations, at regional and local levels; the aim, within 10 years, is to reduce the proportion of illiteracy in this category from 50% currently to less than 10%, by using all the means available in schools, centers and institutes, and by developing textbooks and appropriate schools, as well as by training teachers and trainers in functional literacy pedagogy. The public authorities are expected to devote the means and put in place the structures necessary for the accomplishment of this mission, in cooperation and in partnership with the chambers and professional bodies.

Non-formal education: For the category of out-of-school or out-of-school youths aged 8 to 16, a comprehensive national program of non-formal education must be implemented to ensure their literacy. This operation must aim to provide these young people with the necessary knowledge and offer them a second chance of integration or reintegration into the education-training cycles, by setting up gateways that allow them access to these cycles. This category must benefit from intensive programs, according to a pedagogical organization that takes into account their specific needs and reduces the factors that have hindered schooling or caused early school leaving.

Decentralization and partnership in literacy and non-formal education: To this end, it is, also, necessary to adopt a coherent national strategy consisting of:

  1. Strengthening national literacy authorities responsible for planning and supervising the implementation of literacy programs, adopting decentralization in implementation and encouraging partnership among all local stakeholders; and
  2. Mobilizing education-training institutions, competent non-governmental organizations and local operators, and putting in place the necessary credits, structures and mechanisms to carry out this national operation.

Role of television in literacy and non-formal education: School television will devote part of its programs to literacy, programming complementary, motivating and culturally instructive courses that will support teachers and trainers in their practice. This channel will also have to publicize successful pilot experiences and highlight the achievements and the means implemented to overcome difficulties.

Annual competitions will be organized between different categories and regions to motivate the beneficiaries of literacy programs and those who ensure the implementation of these programs, by awarding prizes for individual and collective achievements and for the creation of pedagogical means and audio-visual aids specific to andragogy.

For the category of adults who do not have a stable and regular job, and in particular mothers, literacy operations must be carried out in conjunction with integrated development operations, whether rural or suburban, so that they support the functions of beneficiaries in working life, concerning reproductive health, prevention, education of children and management of family affairs.

For Sophie Cerbelle, following a survey undertaken in Morocco, she argues that (30):

“The survey shows that one of the main motivations for enrolling in the programs is being able to read the Quran. In this case and for some sociologists (Meister, 1976), literacy serves to strengthen a traditional type of society where the influence of sacred texts remains very strong. For M.-S. Janjar (2009), this emphasis on the religious sphere is the reflex of any society that has access to the written word. “The individual who becomes literate first appropriates the religious text. For him, it is the characteristic of the scholar. We witnessed the same phenomenon in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. At that time, the best-seller was the Bible. “(Janjar, 2009) This motivation was cited by the majority of the sample (75%) and equally between women and men, between people from urban and rural areas. On the other hand, age is discriminating: people over 45 years of age are more likely than younger people to testify to these motivations. “

(“L’enquête montre qu’une des principales motivations qui incitent les personnes à s’inscrire dans les programmes est de pouvoir lire le Coran. Dans ce cas de figure et pour certains sociologues (Meister, 1976), l’alphabétisation sert au renforcement d’un type de société traditionnelle où l’influence des textes sacrés reste très forte. Pour M.-S. Janjar (2009), cette importance accordée à la sphère religieuse est le réflexe de n’importe quelle société qui accède à l’écrit. « L’individu qui s’alphabétise s’approprie d’abord le texte religieux. Pour lui, c’est le propre du savant. On a assisté au même phénomène en Europe aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles. À cette époque, le best-seller, c’était la Bible. » (Janjar, 2009) Cette motivation a été citée par la majorité de l’échantillon (75 %) et de manière égalitaire entre les femmes et les hommes, entre les personnes issues des milieux urbain et rural. En revanche, l’âge est discriminant : les personnes âgées de plus de 45 ans sont plus nombreuses que les plus jeunes à témoigner de ces motivations. “)

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: Ayurinu

Selective bibliography:

Barbier, J.-M. « De l’usage de la notion d’identité en recherche, notamment dans le domaine de la formation, » Éducation Permanente, n° 128, 1996 : 11-26.

Beauge, F. « Le Maroc que l’on décrit comme féodal et analphabète est en pleine mutation, » Le Monde dated July 15, 2009.

Beder, H. & Valentine, T.  « Motivational profiles of adult basic education students », Adult Education Quartely, vol. 40, n° 2, 1990: 78-94.
DOI : 10.1177/0001848190040002002

Bourdieu, P. Esquisse d’une théorie de la pratique. Paris : Le Seuil, 2000.
DOI : 10.3917/droz.bourd.1972.01

Carre, P. (Ed.). De la motivation à la formation. Paris : L’harmattan, 2001.

Cerbelle, S. L’alphabétisation au Maroc : injonctions internationales, politique nationale et effet sur le terrain, Thèse de Doctorat en Sciences de l’Éducation, Paris, Université Paris 5-René Descartes, 2010.

Courtney, S. Why adult learn? New York: Routledge, 1992.

Fenouillet, F. Mémoire et motivation, Thèse de doctorat de psychologie, Rennes, Université de Rennes 2, 1996.

Frances, R. Motivation et efficience au travail. Liège : Mardaga, 1995.

Gérard, E. « Apprentissage et scolarisation en milieu artisanal marocain. Des savoirs qui s’imposent et s’opposent, » Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, n° 4, 2005 : 163-186.

Houle, C. The inquiring mind.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961.
DOI : 10.2307/359468

Jangar,M.-S. « Mohammed VI, 10 ans de règne, » Le Monde dated July 16, 2009 .

Lahire, B. « Discours sur l’illettrisme et cultures écrites : remarques sociologiques sur un problème social », L’illettrisme en question, Cahiers du PsyEF, n° 2, 1992 : 59-76.

Lahire, B. 1999, L’invention de l’illettrisme. Paris : La Découverte, 1999.

Lescure De, E. Illettrisme en Guyane. Paris : L’Harmattan, 1999.

Meister. A. Alphabétisation et Développement, le rôle de l’alphabétisation fonctionnelle dans le développement économique et la modernisation. Paris : Anthropos, 1976.

Paugam, S.  La disqualification sociale : essai sur la nouvelle pauvreté. Paris : PUF, 1991.

Rochex, J.-Y.  « Pourquoi certains élèves défavorisés réussissent-ils ? », Sciences Humaines, n° 44, 1994 : 10-13.

Rogers, A.  « Adult Literacy/Adult motivation », Adult education and Development, n° 61, 2004: 61-72.

Royaume du Maroc & Organisation Internationale du Travail. Protocole d’accord relatif au Programme de Coopération 2002-2005, Rabat, 2002.

Royaume du Maroc. Recensement Général de la Population et de l’Habitat, Rabat, 2004a.

Royaume du Maroc. Stratégie d’alphabétisation et d’éducation non formelle, SECAENF, Rabat, 2004b.

Simmel, G. On Individuality and social forms. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971.

Unesco. Rapport mondial sur le suivi EPT. L’alphabétisation, un enjeu mondial. Unesco : Paris, 2006.

Vermeren, P. Le Maroc en transition. Paris : La Découverte, 2001.

Walther. R.  « La formation professionnelle en secteur informel ». Paris: Agence Française de Développement, Notes et documents, n° 33, 2007.




3.  Legendre R. Dictionnaire Actuel de l’Education. Québec & Paris: Guérin & Eska, 1993.

4. UN General Assembly, World campaign for universal literacy, 8 December 1965, A/RES/2043, available at: [accessed 28 February 2021]


2043. World campaign for universal literacy

The General Assembly,

Recalling its resolutions 1677 (XVI) of 18 December 1961 and 1937 (XVIII) of 11 December 1963 on the question of the eradication of illiteracy,

Taking note of:

(a) The resolutions adopted in 1964 by the regional economic commissions, Economic and Social Council resolution 1032 (XXXVII) of 14 August 1964 and resolution 1.271 adopted on 19 November 1964 by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its thirteenth session,

(b) The report submitted by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly at its nineteenth session and the note by the Secretary-General on the world campaign for universal literacy submitted to the Assembly at its twentieth session, as well as the particularly encouraging report submitted by the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the action taken by that organization, 

Having received with appreciation the noble and generous message on this question addressed to the General Assembly by His Imperial Majesty the Shahinshah of Iran,

Taking note of:

(a) Recommendation No. 58 to the Ministries of Education concerning literacy and adult education, approved by the International Conference on Public Education at its twenty-eighth session, held at Geneva in July 1965,

(b) The conclusions and recommendations approved by the World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, convened by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and held at Teheran from 8 to 19 September 1965, and in particular the resolutions on the mobilization of human and material resources,

1. Declares that illiteracy is a world problem which concerns all mankind;

2. Affirms that literacy is an essential factor in economic, social and cultural development;

3. Considers that the time has come for all Member States to make vigorous and systematic efforts, as soon as possible, to eradicate illiteracy throughout the world;

4. Invites countries where illiteracy is a major problem to give due priority to literacy in their development policy and programmes and, in accordance with this priority, to mobilize the material, financial and human resources available, whether governmental or non-governmental;

5. Invites the countries which have achieved the best results in the campaign against illiteracy in their territory to take adequate account, in their programmes of bilateral co-operation, of the priority that the countries receiving these programmes have decided to give to literacy in their development plans;

6. Invites those States Members of the United Nations and members of the specialized agencies which employ illiterate foreign workers to organize or develop literacy courses for them with a view to promoting the vocational training and social advancement of those workers residing in their territory;

7. Invites Governments to consider the possibility of increasing, at both the national and the international level, the resources allocated to literacy programmes by having recourse to various sources;

8. Welcomes the literacy programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and invites the other competent specialized agencies, including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as the Special Fund, the Technical Assistance Board, and governmental and non-governmental international and regional organizations, to combine their efforts with those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in putting into effect literacy programmes closely integrated with development programmes;

9. Requests the Economic and Social Council and the regional economic commissions to study, within the framework of the United Nations Development Decade, the most appropriate measures for promoting the effective integration of literacy in development;

5. See: A/6048, annex I. For the printed text, see United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, Teheran, 8 to 19 September 1965, Literacy and Adult Education (Paris, 1965).

See also: A/6048, annex II. For the printed text, see United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Congress of Ministers of Education on the Eradication of Illiteracy, Teheran, 8 to 19 September 1965, Final Report (UNESCO/ ED/217).

6,  Héloïse Nétange, “L’alphabétisation des adultes : le cadre international”, Revue internationale d’éducation de Sèvres [Online], 57 | septembre 2011, Online since 01 September 2011, connection on 01 March 2021. URL:; DOI:

7.  Paul Foulquié. Dictionnaire de la langue pédagogique. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France, 1971.

8.  Marcellin Koba.  Problématique de la contribution de l’alphabétisation des femmes à l’amélioration de la santé communautaire en milieu urbain: Cas de Cotonou en république du Bénin. Mémoire de fin de 4ème année universitaire, Université d’Abomey-Calavi -, Porto Novo, Benin, 2005.

9. Ibid

10. Ibid



The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. The 17 Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015, as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which set out a 15-year plan to achieve the Goals.

Today, progress is being made in many places, but, overall, action to meet the Goals is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. 2020 needs to usher in a decade of ambitious action to deliver the Goals by 2030.

13.  op. cit.

14.  Psacharopoulos, G. & Patrinos, H.A. Returns to Investment in Education. A Further Update. Policy Research Working Paper, 2881. [pdf]. The World Bank, 2002. Available at : TION/Resources/278200-1099079877269/547664- 1099079934475/547667-1135281504040/Returns_Investment_Edu.pdf


2030. Nearly all the countries in the world have promised to improve the planet and the lives of its citizens by 2030.

They’ve committed themselves to 17 life-changing goals, outlined by the UN in 2015. These Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), include ending extreme poverty, giving people better healthcare, and achieving equality for women. The aim is for all countries to work together to ensure no one is left behind. 

The Global Challenge for Government Transparency: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG):

  • Eliminate Poverty
  • Erase Hunger
  • Establish Good Health and Well-Being
  • Provide Quality Education
  • Enforce Gender Equality
  • Improve Clean Water and Sanitation
  • Grow Affordable and Clean Energy
  • Create Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Increase Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • Reduce Inequality
  • Mobilize Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • Influence Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Organize Climate Action
  • Develop Life Below Water
  • Advance Life On Land
  • Guarantee Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
  • Build Partnerships for the Goals


17. Accentuate the secondary positive effects of FAL:

– Encourage participants to directly share their knowledge acquired in the circles; and

– encourage the design of action plans for the knowledge sharing and awareness.

18. Instrumentation aims to increase autonomy by providing adults with the instruments or skills necessary – knowledge and skills – to function in everyday life.

19.  Metacognition is a recent and important area of cognitive psychology.

20.  The social and private environment determines social and private behavior. The social or external environment is made up of people, ideas, events and things. The private or internal environment is made up of physiological and psychological phenomena (emotions, perceptions, cognitions, and private actions).

21.  B. F. Skinner. The technology of teaching. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1968.

On Parent’s Day, in 1952, B. F. Skinner visited his daughter’s fourth grade math class. As he watched the lesson, he became increasingly uncomfortable. Almost every principle of effective teaching that he had studied for more than 20 years was being violated in that classroom. Yet it was a typical class. The teacher showed how to solve the day’s problems, then gave the students a worksheet to do. Some children began to work readily while others shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, or raised their hands for help. The teacher went from desk to desk, giving help and feedback. Skinner knew what was needed. Each student should be given a problem tailored precisely to his or her skill level, not to the class average, and every answer needed to be assessed immediately to determine the next step. The task was clearly impossible for one teacher. That afternoon, Skinner set to work on a teaching machine. Today’s computers have made the mechanical machine obsolete, but the principles of how to design instruction in steps that lead from a basic level to competent performance are as valid today as they were in the 20th century. This book brings together Skinner’s writings on education during the years he was most involved in improving education.

A collection of pieces on the role of reinforcement. Explains how animate and inanimate teachers augment each other to the benefit of the learner. 

22. Arthur Wilbur Staats. Behaviourisme social. Editions Behaviora, 1986.

23.  S. Cerbelle. L’alphabétisation au Maroc : injonctions internationales, politique nationale et effet sur le terrain, Thèse de Doctorat en Sciences de l’Éducation, Paris, Université Paris 5-René Descartes, 2010.


Morocco’s HDI value for 2019 is 0.686— which put the country in the medium human development category—positioning it at 121 out of 189 countries and territories. Between 1990 and 2019, Morocco’s HDI value increased from 0.457 to 0.686, an increase of 50.1 percent.




  • Propose to the government annual action programs aimed at combating illiteracy with a view to its eradication;
  • Propose action programs to the government aimed at strengthening the skills of people freed from illiteracy with a view to enabling their socio-economic integration and consequently preventing their return to illiteracy by linking operations to combat illiteracy to income-generating projects and the fight against poverty, in coordination with the parties concerned by development programs;
  • Seek funding resources for the above programs and develop bilateral and multilateral international cooperation;
  • Carry out the action programs provided for above;
  • Guide and coordinate the activities of the administrations and public establishments concerned and the various non-governmental actors in the field of the fight against illiteracy, in harmony with the annual programs approved by the board of directors;
  • Strengthen and develop, within a contractual framework, the partnership in the fight against illiteracy with administrations, public establishments, local communities, private establishments and non-governmental organizations; 
  • To contribute to the encouragement and support of scientific research and studies in the field of the fight against illiteracy; and
  • Provide services in all areas related to the fight against illiteracy, through:
    • Training in the fight against illiteracy;
    • The development of programs, manuals and teaching materials specific to programs to combat illiteracy and adapted to the specificities of the target categories; and
    • The establishment of statistical tools, a database and monitoring and evaluation tools.


MCC forms partnerships with developing countries that are committed to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens.


29.  Lahcen Aït Daoud, Mohammed Bougroum, et Aomar Ibourk. “ Education non formelle au Maroc : Les déterminants de la qualité dans les programmes d’alphabétisation, “Critique économique n° 32, Automne 2014 : 41-64.

30.  Sophie Cerbelle, “Les analphabètes au Maroc : un groupe homogène en demande d’alphabétisation ?” Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs [Online], 12 | 2013, Online since 26 March 2014, connection on 02 March 2021. URL:

“This article examines the results of a research carried out in Morocco, in Marrakech academy in 2007 among beneficiaries of literacy programs. Qualitative and quantitative methods are being mobilized to show the diversity of the motivations leading people to register in training programs that are strongly correlated to personal characteristics such as age, geographical origins or gender. The analysis shows that registration does not only result from their wish to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills and their hope to join the labour market but also from other types of motivations such as the search for novelty, the willingness to meet new people or a way to escape from boredom. This diversity questions traditional discourses on literacy focusing on literacy skills as a basic need which contributes to the stigmatization of illiterate people. “

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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