A project aimed at providing literacy lessons and skills to adults in Rwanda’s western province has shown impressive achievements in a period of five and a half years.
The project on “Fostering a social practices approach for adult literacies to improve people’s quality of life in Rwanda” was jointly implemented between October 2017 and March 2023 in Rusizi, Ribavu and Karongi districts of the Western Province by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR-Rwanda), University of Aberdeen and University of Rwanda’s College of Education(UR-CE) with funding from the Scottish Government.
The achievements of the project include :
• Training of five academics at the UR-CE to develop knowledge and skills in the social practices approach to adult literacies education.
• Supporting the development and validation of a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Diploma in the Social Practices Approach(SPA) to adult literacies at the UR-CE.
• Supporting training of five tutors in partner Teacher Training Colleges(TTCs) in Western Province and at least two other tutors in each of the 13 TTCs in Rwanda.
• Training of four adult education practitioners from a non-governmental organisation working in the southern province.
• Training other individuals through the CPD Diploma program such as officials from Rwanda Basic Education Board (REB), district directors of education (DDEs) in the partner districts, and an official from the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC).
• Supporting training of 489 Community Adult Literacy Tutors (CALTs) in SPA by TTC literacies tutors and the NGO Staff.
• Training of 17,135 adult learners from courses taught by CALTs using the SPA in western and southern provinces
• Making indirect impact on 49,696 beneficiaries including families of graduates.
In Rwanda, adult literacy rate for individuals aged 15 years or older is around 73% (NISR, 2018). However, it is nearer 50% if it includes those who can only read a passage with difficulty (Abbott, 2019).
Most of those who are illiterate are women and people living in rural areas. Women and men who are illiterate are excluded from mainstream socio-political and certain forms of informal employment and entrepreneurships (Abbott et al, 2020).
Research conducted by IPAR Rwanda in Western Rwanda showed that only ten per cent of adults had attended an adult literacy course. It also showed that only 14% of those who had attended an adult literacy course gained the skills that they hoped they would gain. Furthermore, 66% still could not read Kinyarwanda and 76% could not write in Kinyarwanda, while 93% could not do simple calculations (Abbott, 2019).
An inability to read matters because it affects individuals in their abilities to read important information, such as medical prescriptions. Similarly, inability to perform simple calculations affects people because they struggle to count money when buying or selling goods at the markets or in shops or counting wages.
Addressing adult illiteracy is central to the Rwanda Government’s policy (Ministry of Education [MINEDUC], 2014), which identified poor provision of adult education due to lack of training for adult literacy tutors, poor funding for the sub-sector, and a dominant use of a teacher-centred approach when teaching adult literacy.
The project involved implementing a culturally responsive, learner-centred, social practices approach for adult literacies education in three districts.
Compared with the teacher-centred approach, the SPA has been found to be more effective for adult learners. In this approach, adult learners are empowered to identify the issues that matter to them and develop relevant knowledge and skills which they can then apply in their day-to-day lives (Street, 2016).
The SPA is practice-oriented and focuses on people’s everyday lives and livelihood practices. It considers learning as purposeful and embedded in people’s social contexts.
Some of the SPA teaching techniques include role playing, working in pairs or groups, problem and solution mapping, singing, dancing, ethnographic walks, case studies (e.g., farming, sanitation), games, etc.
The community adult literacies tutors (CALTs) that have trained are enthusiastic about the SPA. The adult learners have welcomed being active in their learning, contributing to decisions about what they will learn and gaining practical knowledge that helps them in their daily lives.