A series of 29 booklets
held at the Fifth
on Adult Education
3b Learning strategies
Literacy and learning strategies
This publication has been produced by the UNESCO Institute for Education within
the context of the follow-up to the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education
(CONFINTEA V), held in Hamburg in 1997.
Readers are reminded that the points of view, selection of facts, and the opinions
expressed in the booklets are those that were raised by panellists, speakers and par-
ticipants during the workshop sessions and therefore do not necessarily coincide with
of?cial positions of the UNESCO or of the UNESCO Institute for Education Hamburg.
The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do
not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the UNESCO
Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country or territory, or its authorities,
or concerning the delimitations of the frontiers of any country or territory.
Theme 3: Ensuring universal rights to literacy and basic education
Booklets under this theme:
3a Literacy in the world and its major regions
3b Literacy and learning strategies
3c Literacy, education and social development
3d Literacy research, evaluation and statistics
3e Literacy in multilingual/intercultural settings
3f Literacy and technology
3g Literacy for tomorrow
UNESCO Institute for Education
Tel.: (+49 40) 44 80 41-0
Fax: (+49 40) 410 77 23
ISBN 92 820 10 89-9
Design by Matthew Partridge, Hamburg
Printed by Druckerei Seemann, Hamburg
F o re w o rd
In July 1997 the Fifth International Conference on Adult Education was
held in Hamburg, organised by UNESCO and in particular the UNESCO
Institute for Education, the agency’s specialist centre on adult learning
policy and research. Approximately 1500 delegates attended from all
regions of the world, with representatives of 140 member states and
some 400 NGOs. In addition to the work of the commissions and plenary
which debated the of?cial documents of the Conference The Hamburg
Declaration and The Agenda for the Future, there were 33 workshops
organised around the themes and sub-themes of the Conference.
As part of its CONFINTEA follow-up strategy, the UNESCO Institute
for Education has produced this series of 29 booklets based on the pre-
sentations and discussions held during the Conference. The recordings
of all the workshops were transcribed and synthesized over one year,
edited, and then formatted and designed. A tremendous amount of work
has gone into this process. Linda King, coordinator of the monitoring
and information strategy for CONFINTEA, was responsible for oversee-
ing the whole process. Madhu Singh, senior research specialist at UIE,
undertook the mammoth task of writing almost all the booklets based
on an analysis of the sessions. She was helped in the later stages by
Gonzalo Retamal, Uta Papen and Linda King. Christopher McIntosh was
technical editor, Matthew Partridge designed the layout and Janna
Lowrey was both transcriber and translator.
The booklets are intended to draw out the central issues and con-
cerns of each of the CONFINTEA workshops. They are the memory of
an event that marked an important watershed in the ?eld of adult learn-
ing. We hope that they will be of use both to those who were able to
attend CONFINTEA V and those who were not. We look forward to your
comments, feedback and continuing collaboration with the UNESCO
Institute for Education.
Director, UNESCO Institute for Education, Hamburg
and Secretary General of CONFINTEA
I n t ro d u c t i o n
There has been a stagnation in learning strategies used in literacy
programmes world-wide in recent years. There is indeed a huge gap in
adult literacy between discourses and learning strategy. Although,
ideologically speaking, terms such as “self-esteem”, “participation” and
“solidarity” have been plentiful in adult literacy programmes, in reality
most literacy programmes continue to pursue traditional strategies for
disseminating reading and writing skills.
The demand for new strategies and reassessment of the notion of
literacy stems from the fact that both governmental and non-govern-
mental adult education programmes have made little impact on improv-
ing people’s living conditions. In most less developed countries, poverty
The workshop on “Literacy and learning strategies” held during the
Fifth International Conference on Adult Education, had the important
task of looking for new participatory strategies, learning from other
methodologies and considering people as the basis of a new educational
agenda. The panel consisted of Catherine Stercq, Collectif d’Alpha-
bétisation, Belgium; David Archer, Action Aid, UK; and Enrique Pieck,
Colegio Mexiquense, Mexico. The chair of the session was Luis Benavides,
Centro International de Prospectiva y Altos Estudios, CIPE, Mexico.
New approaches are being developed from ?eld practices in several
parts of the world. Pilot projects are being conducted and then spread
to different countries through a wide range of grassroots organisations
and NGOs. Even government programmes are experimenting with new
approaches which are being developed by international agencies. Of
course these approaches need to ensure a continuing process of innov-
ation and renewal. This can only be attained through networks of prac-
titioners and exchange of information.
The workshop highlighted the need for adult basic education to start
with the learners’ community and environment. Rooted in their culture,
learning should aim at forging links with others and broadening inter-
New convivial approaches to literacy
New approaches to adult literacy and empowerment are being developed
through ?eld experimentation in many developing countries. The crucial
aspect of such programmes are dialogue, ownership and linking adult
literacy with other development activities. Dialogue is the centre stage
of such approaches. Literacy is a collective task of converting the
graphics. This provides structures for dialogue, without constant inter-
vention by the facilitator. The fact that learners construct their own
materials means that they take ownership of the issues that come up –
which would be impossible to achieve using set primers. Because people
construct their own maps, the themes are naturally related to their
immediate reality. This leads to immediate local action and a stronger
link between literacy programmes and other development activities.
With respect to empowerment such programmes promote: self-
realisation; increased ability to analyse; increased ability to solve
problems; increased ability to articulate ideas; increased participation
in community organisations; formal positions of responsibility in com-
munity organisations; community level action to improve local conditions
such as constructing grain-stores, diversifying crops, co-operative buying
or selling, re-grading access roads and other items of infrastructure,
school repairs, water pipes, and action in the environmental or health
spheres. Evaluations have shown that such programmes also result in
better resource management at an individual and household level. There
are marked improvements in gender relations: for example, men taking
on domestic work. There is increased health awareness and improve-
ments in education: for example, increased enrolment of children, and
many parents opening new schools.
L e a r n e r- and community-based approaches involve a literacy process
and an empowering process. The literacy gives people practical skills
which help in the empowerment process, and the empowerment process
in turn creates uses for literacy in people’s everyday lives. The approach
fuses the two processes through a single, well-structured participatory
The importance of basic needs and
p roductive work support
The widespread poverty within developing countries calls for learning
strategies which prioritise the survival needs of marginalised people.
Tr a d i t i o n a l l y, emphasis has been placed on literacy and basic edu-
cation as the main activities within adult literacy. This serves to isolate
adult literacy from strategies and methodologies that consider people’s
needs and daily concerns. This irrelevance of content explains the failure
of many educational programmes. Traditional approaches are mostly
based on universal educational models geared to stereotypes of the adult
population. Many failures could be explained by the fact that official
pedagogy bore little relevance to the way people learn.
Against a background of poverty and economic recession, adult
learning presents an opportunity to foster social and economic inte-
gration, encouraging and strengthening local development. This calls for
an integration of productive aspects into adult learning: to go beyond
the academic rationale towards the needs of work, production and social
and economic inclusion. It is necessary to link adult education to on-
going activities and to develop training programmes that respect local
knowledge, promote on-the-job-training and relate contexts to people’s
contexts and cultures. Learner’s diversity must be given utmost priority.
It is necessary to understand the pedagogy of the informal sector.
Adult literacy strategies should be linked to economic activity and the
way people learn: people’s own pedagogies, rooted in their experiences.
Strategy should relate to the way people tackle their own projects.
P e o p l e ’s own learning processes should be taken into account in
designing strategies, as should native and informal knowledge for meet-
ing survival needs.
Participation is the source of a collective learning process. This entails
a fostering of social and economic projects in different sectors: housing,
c o m m u n i t y, shops, workshops and craft production enterprises. The
projects support each other by sharing experience and valuable know-
ledge on which they depend.
To improve learning effectiveness means understanding people’s
needs. It is necessary to integrate adult learning that provides com-
petencies for economic survival with one that provides social equipment
for greater effectiveness at the local level. An integrated approach is one
which links the technical and the social competencies.
Many lessons can be drawn from these observations when consider-
ing ways to change institutions so that they respond to people’s on-going
activities while providing complementary educational and financial
support. There is need to respect the individual and the community and
encourage a learner-centred strategy.
C o n c l u s i o n
The participants in the workshops came to the conclusion that it is more
important to support individual and community development, and
greater economic and political participation of adults, than it is to focus
on standardised learning using set primers. It was emphasised that adults
are motivated to learn reading and writing once they realise that these
are important tools for communication, for expressing their needs and
demanding their rights. Active participation in creating adult learners’
own texts and graphics has been a signi?cant factor in promoting self-
c o n ?dence and self-worth – and so laying a foundation for future learning.
The workshop participants suggested four steps towards putting par-
ticipatory ideology into action:
decentralising the creation of books and programmes;
promoting basic learning needs through non-formal strategies;
recognising that reading and counting are not enough. Adults need
functional skills to be self-reliant and productive in local economic
promoting communities’ own knowledge and learning traditions.
This document can be freely reproduced. It would be appreciated if
a copy of any publication reproducing this text in full or in part could
be sent to: Publications Department, UNESCO Institute for Education.
The CONFINTEA logo, designed by Michael Smitheram
of Australia, represents the lines on the palm of a hand.
These lines are universal and yet different for each
subject. They celebrate cultural diversity and the joy
Ensuring universal rights to literacy
and basic education
Booklets under this theme:
a Literacy in the world and its major regions
b Literacy and learning strategies
c Literacy, education and social development
d Literacy research, evaluation and statistics
e Literacy in multilingual/intercultural settings
f Literacy and technology
g Literacy for tomorrow