|Programme Title||Adult and Youth Literacy Programme|
|Implementing Organization||Alfalit International-Liberia, Inc.|
|Language of Instruction||English|
|Funding||Jose Milton & Associates, McCall MacBain Foundation, SEGAL Family Foundation, Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, Alfalit International, USAID|
|Programme Partners||Ministry Of Education, Development Education Network-Liberia, Women In Peace Building Network (WIPNET), Foundation For Women, Liberia Philanthropist Secretariat, McCall MacBain Foundation, Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, SEGAL Family Foundation|
|Annual Programme Costs||US$879,000.00. Annual Programme Cost per Learner: US $95.00 to $145.00|
|Date of Inception||2006|
Liberia is Africa's oldest independent republic, founded in 1847 as a sanctuary for freed African-American slaves (Huberich, 1947, p. 145). Nevertheless, considering the Human Development Index rating of 0,412, ranked 175th in the world, Liberia is among the least developed countries in the world. Conflict helps explain why the literacy rates are as low as they are. Liberia has experienced long Civil Wars from 1989 to 1996 and 1999 to 2003. These have left some 500,000 dead. Of the 46 countries with data indicating they are expected to be a long way from achieving universal primary education by 2015, Liberia appears among those making the least progress—less than 5% increase since 1999. The situation for youth and adults is grave. Liberia’s youth literacy rate is 54.5% with 64.7% for males and only 44% for females. A further problem is payment for teachers. Many are paid no more than US $5 daily on average. This is less than what a regular size family needs to live on on a daily basis.
An Early Grade Reading Assessment found that around one-third of grade two students were unable to read a word. As a result, in 2008 the Ministry of Education launched a new literacy programme consisting of teacher education and support together with structured lesson plans, teaching resource materials and books for children to take home. The new programme managed to increase reading comprehension scores by 130%, compared with 33% for non-participants (UNESCO, 2014, p. 27).
Not-for-Profit Organizations (NGOs) are active in Liberia. Among them is Alfalit International-Liberia, Inc. (AIL). It was established in 2006 with the goal of “Extending The Light Of Literacy To All Liberians.” With the help of Liberian leaders and Alfalit International, Alphalit has continued to serve the Liberian people even as the country was emerging from the affects of devastating civil wars.
Adult and Youth Literacy Project
Alfalit Liberia’s mission is to educate, empower and enable economic independence among the marginalized, disadvantaged, distressed and poorest of Liberia’s population. This marginalized target group is typically found in the outlying areas of the country. The Alphalit organization provides literacy and basic education as the means to unlock opportunities for upward mobility and prosperity. Literacy training is combined with other skills, such as the “Sew to Sell” programme, to help people become part of Liberia’s economy. Alfalit also provides educational assistance and scholarships to thousands of disadvantaged and marginalized school-aged children, as well as to high school graduates, so all might have an opportunity to a receive formal education then attend college and vocational training institutions through the Liberia -Ghana Missions Educational Assistance Programme.
Alfalit’s current focus on Adult and Youth Literacy in Liberia recognizes literacy as an essential first step to any form of further education and provides access to the many programmes that are being offered in the country. These programmes can lead to better health, freedom from abuse, self-sufficiency and an enhanced quality of life. As such, it is very important for Alphalit to work closely with the local communities and their leaders in order to be responsive to local needs. In 2014, the Alfalit programme was running at seventy-six locations in five counties of Liberia with an average of 8,128 learners engaged annually. Over 65,000 learners have been reached since the inception of Alphalit in 2006.
Aims and Objectives
The aims and objectives of Alfalit are as follows:
- Collaborate and partner with the Ministry of Education (MOE) and other educational stakeholders, community cooperatives, local governments and churches to ensure that the Ministry of Education and other educational NGO’s become more aware of Alphalit’s activities as it works towards the realization of a more literate Liberia.
- Establish teaching and learning centres in Liberia for adults and youth who are out of school, Alfalit works with the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders to establish teaching/learning centres. These , in turn, are provided with culturally sensitive educational texts and literacy materials that focus on civics, history, health, business improvement and human rights. These materials also help learners appreciate their own identities, help enhance self-confidence and provide the skills needed to manage complex issues—from citizen’s rights and responsibilities, to property rights, to HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, as well as issues of family and finance.
- Train volunteer teachers and facilitators to provide instruction to the target population. Alfalit works with the Ministry of Education to recruit and train volunteer teachers and facilitators to serve the target population. These teachers are skilled in providing the instruction that helps learners and promotes their desire to continue their education in technical and professional vocations.
- Provide job skills for adult and youth learners. For example, Alfalit’s “Sew to Sell” skills training programme is a sewing class that empowers learners by not only providing foundational skills, but by building learners' interest in transitioning to technical and professional enterprises.
Structure and Funding
Alfalit is governed by a Board of Directors comprised of ten members, all of whom are Liberian citizens,and the board is operated by an all-Liberian staff. Alfalit is affiliated with—but independent from Alfalit International, Inc., which is based in Miami, Florida, USA. Alfalit International, Inc,provided the funding and programme support to start the literacy programmes in Liberia and continues to do so today. USAID’s added support through the Africa Education Initiative has provided over 500,000 textbooks and other educational materials from 2008 to the present. In 2010, USAID started funding Alfalit’s Adult and Youth Educational Programme operations in Liberia through a Cooperative Agreement with Alfalit International. This agreement ends March 31, 2015.
In addition, through the intervention of the office of the President of Liberia, the McCall-Mac Bain foundation has funded the South East Literacy Project (SELP) in six counties in the southeastern region of the country, including Grand Kru, Maryland, River Gee, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe and River Cess. USAID partnered in this effort by providing the Alfalit literacy texts and matching funds. This contributed to AIL’s 48% growth in 2011. Moreover, AIL has provided literacy classes to Liberian market women through donations from the Sirleaf Women’s Market Fund and the SEGAL Family Foundation through the Liberia Philanthropist Secretariat.
Alfalit Liberia collaborates with local organizations working in the literacy sector through training and by supplying text books. Such local organizations include Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET), Universal Outreach Ministry and Faith and Deeds Ministry, among others. These organizations and ministries reach communities that Alfalit may not have the capacity to reach.
The literacy programme courses are offered through three terms. These three terms each last for 9 months, extending from March to November. Each term involves 25 learners per class and all terms are accomplished within a calendar year. Usually there are three class meetings per week, each lasting two hours. This structure normally totals 108 class meetings per term.
The programme structure is as follows:
- Year One, term 1: Learners learn to read and write, gain basic numeracy and achieve a minimum of third grade education
- Year Two, term 2: Learners complete the equivalence of a 4th + grade education
- Year Three, term 3: Learners complete the equivalence of a 6th grade education.
Learning Approaches and Methodologies
Alfalit International developed its first English curriculum specifically for Alfalit by adapting Pro-Literacy’s Laubach literacy method to the Liberian context. The curricula were also expanded to reach a 6th grade level of education .Alfalit’s experience has shown that it is important to tailor the method and curricula to the situation of the learners. The methods and curricula used have to be effective; secondly, they have to be simple so teachers and non-teachers alike can make good progress with their classes. The priority is to teach reading, writing and maths. Once the basics are learned, complementary reading materials are introduced on topics of interest. These materials are fundamental to improving the everyday lives of learners, their families and their communities. Such supplementary reading focuses on topics such as nutrition, health care, home finances and other subjects relevant to community development.
The methodology is straight forward and relatively simple so that it can be mastered by teachers and non-teachers alike and that used by Alphalit has proven effective over the past fifty-three years since it adjusts to the cultural reality of the people it serves. The approach used consists of the following elements and principles as learners read and write together:
- Establish letter-sound relationships. The Laubach Way to Reading that Alphalit uses is a phonics-based, structured, systematic presentation of the basic skills necessary to learn to read and write.
- Learn through association by noting the visual and auditory associations used on the charts provided. A picture will be similar to the shape of the letter and a key word that begins with the target sound.
- Move from the known to the unknown; meaning, go from a known vocabulary to the unknown printed form of that word.
- Introduce familiar vocabulary. Some new words may need to be defined or explained to the students by using a familiar vocabulary.
- Use repetition to strengthen the visual image
- Use meaningful content.
- Provide something new in each lesson, to keep interest high and ensure a sense of progress.
- Ensure independence in learning to allow learners to do as much as they can without being told or “instructed.” Most students will learn the phonics and the skills required to decode new, unknown, words independently if given the encouragement and opportunity.
Alfalit has researched the requirements and curricula of Liberia’s Ministry of Education so that learners may continue their education with Alfalit to a 6th grade level, then receive MOE certification and continue their education in the country’s formal system.
The teaching materials were developed by the Alfalit International founders, board members and volunteers who are, and were, educators, professors and medical doctors who have lived and taught internationally in developing countries. Additionally, educators and graphic artists from Liberia have modified the texts and graphics so that Liberian learners can identify with them. Topics covered in the materials include: Reading (books 1-4, student and teacher editions), Maths (books 1 to 5a), Business & Finance, Science, 1 & 2 Liberia Civics, Liberian geography, Liberian History, Language Arts 1 & 2, Health & Nutrition,(malaria, first aid, tuberculosis, good nutrition for all) and human rights in daily life.
In addition to basic literacy text books—referred to as “Skill Books”—Alfalit Liberia, through Alfalit International, has developed additional text books unique to Liberia. These unique text books help students develop a better understanding of their own culture. For example, the Liberian history, civics and geography materials were written by Liberian writers and printed in the Alfalit Literacy and Basic Education Programmes for this purpose. In addition to these literacy courses, Alfalit has developed some innovative programmes to link literacy with income generating skills, as discussed next.
Sew to Sell
In 2013, Alfalit Liberia set up a pilot tailoring training project in response to learners’ request for an opportunity to enhance their literacy skills and increase their ability to earn money in a dignified way. In the first year, the Sew to Sell programme benefited 30 senior literacy students and graduates in the Montserrado area. In 2014, the Sew to Sell skills training programme was expanded to three centers in two counties—Montserrado and Margibi—with a student enrolment of 225 for nine months of training.
Literacy in the Market Place
Alfalit brings literacy education right into the marketplace by having facilitators work with women by their market tables. This breaches the conventional way of hosting community-based literacy programmes that often require students to converge at a location during their less busy time, typically during evening hours. Literacy programmes hosted at market sites take place during normal market activities and allow market women to do what they are used to do while learning new skills to enhance their businesses.
Recruiting and Training of Facilitators
The Alfalit programme is tailored to the community. It includes training for volunteer facilitators from the local community or areas that are in close proximity so that the newly trained facilitators can relate to the issues of the community. Head facilitators are paid a stipend of $55.00 per month and regular facilitators receive a monthly $50.00 stipend. Head facilitators at the various learning centres are primarily responsible for supervising the activities of the centre, such as keeping track of facilitator activities and keeping records of the centres. Assets of the organization at the centres are placed in the care of the head facilitator who acts almost as a principal of a school. Regular facilitators, on the other hand, are responsible for facilitating the learning process of the adults in their classes. Recruitment of both head and regular facilitator is usually based on recommendations from community leaders. Facilitators must have completed high school and, above all,, must reside within the community of instruction and be known by community members and leaders alike.
Since the inception of the programme in Liberia, the Alfalit facilitators have embraced the challenge of helping educate their fellow citizens as a national responsibility and have demonstrated an extraordinary level of commitment to this task.
With regard to training, facilitators receive a five-day training programme of seven hours per day, including lunch and breaks. The facilitators learn and practice the “Laubach Way to Reading method.” Additionally, they receive training on assessment, testing and proper record keeping. The facilitator is also trained in facilitating Alfalit’s reading and math programmes, health, and other educational areas. Specific texts are provided for these studies. Other training topics introduced focus on characteristics of adult learners. learning Styles, lesson planning and other relevant topics that provide facilitators with the additional resources and training they need. Materials provided include the facilitator’s manual, skill books for the learners, teachers’ manuals, the students’ texts and other supplementary reading materials.
Trainers first must have been trained in the Alfalit methodology and must bring previous experience as facilitators. To be awarded a “Train the Trainers” certificate, the facilitators must attend the Alfalit five day training seminar for facilitators as given by an expert trainer. The prospective trainers refresh their knowledge and observe and learn how the expert trainer conducts a facilitator training seminar. The expert trainer then leads a three day “Train the Trainer” workshop where the prospective trainers must prepare lessons and give one of the lessons themselves. They get feedback from their colleagues and the trainer. Only those whom the expert trainer certifies may conduct future facilitator training seminars. In some cases, the newly certified trainer may assist with a seminar before conducting their own training sessions.
Learners and learner assessments
Although many of the Alfalit learning centres are located in urban communities, Alfalit goes to the poorest, most remote parts of Liberia. It goes to locations where even many of the local community leaders are unable to read and write. The facilitator, as recommended and recruited by the community, is required to conduct a needs assessment of learners using Alfalit’s “goal setting” instrument. The facilitator is also required to conduct pre-post testing of learner skills. The objective of this needs assessment testing is to determine learners’ skill levels at the beginning of the programme and then determine the programme’s impact as the student progresses over the years. During this initial assessment, learners are asked to carry out a series of simple commands in the language of instruction, which is English. They might be asked to “point to your head” or “touch the table.”
Alfalit Liberia uses the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) to measure the progress of the learners. It is an oral assessment designed to measure the most basic literacy skills gains in the early stages of the programme. This is a dual purpose test used in the beginning of level one classes to provided base-line data. Since many students will speak a local language other than English at home, this test also evaluates the student’s ability to understand simple commands in English. The results of this test reveal the needs of the students and guide facilitators as they plan and prepare their teaching interventions. Secondly, this test is used at the completion of Skill Book One to measure the progress of those students who had done poorly in the initial class.
Alfalit is registered with the Government of Liberia and accredited as an institution to operate adult literacy programmes in Liberia. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Liberia recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Alfalit Liberia. The MOE and Alfalit Liberia will be working together to establish prerequisite standards so Alfalit students can receive a certificate from the MOE and continue their education at conventional schools or other institutions of learning, such as vocational schools, if they so desire.
Monitoring and Evaluation of the Programme
As the facilitators teach during the term, field supervisors monitor their performance by visiting the classes. These supervisors provide on-site guidance in one-on-one meetings to either reinforce or correct trainees' performance. Supervisors also provide advice on issues that may surface with the learners. All activities and results are measured against a Log Frame where the goals, objectives, activities, indicators and expected results are documented.
Alfalit’s monitoring and evaluation team makes monthly visits to literacy centres to ensure that the classes are being conducted and if facilitators are following the scope and sequence of the programme curricula. These field coordinators collect such information from the facilitators, verify the students’ progress, evaluate the performance of the facilitators and submit the evaluation forms to the office of training, monitoring and supervision. An internal monitoring and evaluation team makes follow-up visits to centres to provide support to field coordinators and facilitators as well as to verify the data collected from the field.
Data from the monitoring and evaluation forms are then entered by the statisticians into Alfalit’s Alumnos data base system for further analysis and reports. These data are then used to monitor the progress of the students and effectiveness of the facilitators. Reports from the follow-up analyses help the programme determine if the required quantitative and qualitative goals have been realized. The hard copies of the monitoring and evaluation (M&E) forms are filed in Alaflit Liberia’s main office.
Monitoring and evaluation are not only the responsibility of the monitoring staff from the training and Supervision office. Every facilitator and coordinator shares the same responsibilities. Measuring is facilitated to determine the long-term success of the programme and its impact on the community. Alfalit also tracks learner attendance and progress reports as completed by the facilitators. Learner attendance, classroom evaluation of the learners and learners' performance on check-ups and tests are all part of the monitoring and evaluation process.
An important aspect of the Alphalit literacy programme is determining whether or not the newly acquired reading and writing skills, as well as other personal development and empowerment skills developed during the course of the programme, have actually impacted the life of the individual learner and the community in any meaningful way. To make this determination, a profile is made of each learner at the outset of the programme. Some of the information may also be gathered during the course of the classes as the learner and facilitator develop a rapport. For instance, without basic literacy skills, students are not able to register themselves or may not be able to spell their own names. In some cases, students do not know their birth date. Sometimes embarrassed by their situation, they may be reticent to answer questions in the beginning of the programme,. In these cases, the facilitator or some family or community member will usually help with this initial step of getting started.
As they become more comfortable with the facilitators, fellow students are more willing to share information. This helps the facilitators as they complete the required forms. The registration form, for instance, contains all the pertinent information about the student that the facilitator is able to gather, including name, years of schooling (if any), and learners’ reasons for wanting to learn to read and write. Alfalit also requests that learners write testimonies regarding the changes that have come about due to their education. In addition, learners are interviewed to find out if they have experienced any significant change in their lives as a result of the literacy course.
For those with leadership responsibilities in their local institutions, such as churches, mosques, social clubs, etc., the programme seeks to learn how their newly acquired literacy skills have helped them become more effective in their roles. For example, can an usher in a church who is an Alfalit literacy student now prepare the church attendance report for the pastor? By comparing the results of the interviews with the profile information collected during the enrolment phase, as well as the profile at the end of the programme years later, Alfalit has been able to see the significant impact literacy has made on learners’ lives and, more generally, throughout their communities and the wider society.
During the past eight years, Alfalit has provided over 500,000 literacy texts and complementary reading materials, educated over 65,000 learners—approximately 85% of whom are women—has trained approximately 800 teachers in Liberia’s fifteen counties and has reached the most remote regions of fifteen counties. Further, Alfalit has trained twenty-two coordinators, established over 231 centres, and has developed and produced simplified civics, geography and history text books in collaboration with Alfalit International.
Alfalit has seen how Liberians are motivated and eager to learn. Women in particular have found hope and opportunity through literacy, not just for themselves, but for their children and families as well. In Alfalit International’s visits to the centres, it was found that a great number of students had registered to vote in the national elections, providing but one example of ,improved engagement in civic action.
Despite its many successes, Alfalit still faces many challenges. Following are some of these challenges:
- A primary school level is only a first step. It is not sufficient to meet the emerging and future demands of Liberia’s workforce needs. Higher levels of education and training are needed in order that Liberia’s jobs are not lost to foreigners.
- Bad road conditions are one of the main challenges of working in remote areas. Simply getting to the schools and centres in these areas to provide managerial support to facilitators, teachers and learners can present real problems. In many places the roads are not paved and, during the rainy season, these unpaved roads become even worse. A situation like this could continue for weeks, affecting time on task and general programme implementation.
- No electricity in many regions due to the high cost of electricity is a serious challenge. More than 70 % of Liberia does not have electricity services as a result of the civil crises. Another 25% uses power generators to run businesses. The remaining 5 % use power from the Liberia Electricity Cooperation, which is very costly. These challenges affect student learning outcomes because, when it gets dark or becomes too expensive to pay for fuel, instructional time may be reduced.
- A lack of banking facilities in rural communities creates logistical and security challenges in moving funding to various centres.
- Poor or inadequate security networks in rural communities can expose an organization’s assets and resources to incidents of theft.
- Adult learners usually take more time to grasp learning concepts and develop skills than their younger counterparts. As a result, more time and funds are needed to provide literacy services to adults than to the youth.
- Many rural communities lack an adequate communication infrastructure. This can delay the flow and dissemination of information to rural centres.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been a strong supporter of Alfalit International-Liberia (AIL) and its efforts. In May 2014, the Ministry of Education (MOE) of Liberia recognized the impact that AIL has made in education by signing the very first Literacy Memorandum of Understanding with a private literacy organization. Through this agreement, AIL and the MOE work hand-in-hand to tackle literacy challenges and provide non- formal basic education to the underserved segment of the Liberian society. Additionally, the MOE will administer a competency test and issue a certificate to those learners passing the final exam. This will enable them to register in any school to continue their education in the formal system.
Alfalit is working to ensure that local communities have an ongoing sense of partnership and ownership of the Alphalit programme. While the Alphalit organization underwrites the cost of the programme at the moment, its presence, viability and stability is strongly tied to a feeling of community ownership thanks to the involvement of community leaders, including local governments, schools, churches of all denominations and other social groups in all aspects of the project. The Alfalit staff, facilitators and volunteers live in or near the local community target group. They meet with the communities and speak with prospective beneficiaries to find out about the special needs of the community. Class schedules and hours are determined by community participants and volunteers to ensure accessibility and participation. Alfalit trains the volunteers in the Alfalit methodology.and collaborates with other organizations that provide health and educational services to the communities being served.
- Huberich, C.H. 1947. The Political and Legislative History of Liberia. New York, Central Book Co.
- UNESCO. 2014. Teaching and learning: achieving quality for all. EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/14. Paris, UNESCO.
Last update: 7 October 2015