Women’s Functional Literacy Programme, Niger

  • Date published:
    10 December 2019

Programme overview

Programme Title Women’s Functional Literacy Programme
Implementing Organization La Direction des Programmes d’Alphabétisation et de la Formation des Adultes (DPAFA) (Directorate of Literacy and Adult Education Programmes)
Language of Instruction Français, haoussa, zarma-songhaï, fulfulde, kanuri et tamajeq
Funding A combination of government funding and self-financing, with support from UNICEF, UNESCO and the African Development Fund Education Project
Programme Partners UNESCO, UNICEF, African Development Fund Education Project, CARE International and the World Food Programme
Annual Programme Costs 216.000 dollars (budget 2012)
Annual costs per learner: 60 dollars
Date of inception 1987

Country Context

Niger has undergone rapid population growth over the past 20 years, from 7.7 million in 1990 to 16.6 million in 2012 (UIS, 2013). Less than a third of adults (29%) are literate, a figure which disguises considerable gender variation. Some 43% of Nigerien men are literate, compared to 15% of Nigerien women. With only half the Nigerien population aged 15 or above, these percentages represent approximately 2.4 million men and 3.5 million women without basic literacy skills.

Literacy teaching in Niger began in the 1960s when the Organisation and Literacy Campaign Planning Unit (later the Literacy and Adult Education Service) was established to reduce illiteracy rates in rural communities. After several years, and various programmes and projects, the general literacy rate, and the women’s literacy rate in particular, still fell short of expectations. Women, who constituted the largest segment of the non-literate population, were relegated to second position in all development initiatives. In 1985, an evaluation of literacy programmes for women revealed:

  • A failure to identify women’s training needs;
  • The implementation of training programmes which were of limited practical use;
  • Insufficient awareness-raising within communities;
  • The use of poor methodologies; and;
  • A failure to take target groups into account in curriculum development.

This situation led the literacy authorities to establish a Women’s Literacy Office within La Direction De l´Alphabétisation et de la Formation des Adultes (later La Direction des Programmes d’Alphabétisation et de la Formation des Adultes – DPAFA – or the Directorate of Literacy and Adult Education Programmes), in order to address women’s literacy and education needs more effectively. In order to meet the objectives set for the office, a functional mother-and-child literacy programme was set up in 1987, with an emphasis on the quality of life of both mother and child.

Programme Overview

The Women’s Functional Literacy Programme is a country-wide programme implemented on a community level. The organization overseeing the programme is La Direction des Programmes d’Alphabétisation et de la Formation des Adultes (DPAFA or the Directorate of Literacy and Adult Education Programmes), one of the four national directorates of La Direction Générale del’Alphabétisation et de l’Education Non Formelle (DGAENF or the Directorate-General for Literacy and Non-Formal Education). The DPAFA has designed a programme which aims to teach women not only to read and write but also to undertake income-generating activities by promoting training in traditional handcrafts, local production and management.

Gawuna women’s group meeting

The DPAFA’s main function is to contribute to curriculum development, literacy initiatives, and legislation which improve levels of youth and adult literacy. It also supervises the implementation of adult education programmes, organizes literacy awareness-raising campaigns and supports the promotion of national languages. It is under this directorate that the Women’s Functional Literacy Programme has been developed and implemented.

The programme was launched in 1987. Its success in engaging women during its first five years led to the programme being translated into two national languages (Hausa and Zarma & Songhai) in 1993 in order to reach women in rural areas in UNICEF’s intervention regions. Since 1997, the programme has spread all over the country.

Initially planned to last for four months, the programme was extended in 2002 to include other pertinent themes such as girls’ enrolment in education, harmful traditional practices and juvenile delinquency. Its content was revised in both national languages and the programme was translated into three other languages, Fulfuldé, Kanuri and Tamajeq, making it possible to reach women in all rural areas.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to:

  • Contribute to the improvement of women’s literacy rates by establishing centres specifically for women;
  • Promote the wellbeing of women and their children through literacy and skills training by exploring themes that address their concerns;
  • Organize women’s groups to encourage women to attend literacy centres more regularly and to understand the importance of participation in lifelong education centres;
  • Promote the learning of simple techniques and income-generating skills (sewing, knitting, market gardening and culinary arts) to allow women to carry out income-generating activities; and
  • Grant micro-credits to women to support their practice of income-generating activities.

Programme implementation

Teaching and learning: approaches and methodologies

The programme employs a social constructivist approach, which places the learner at the centre of the learning process. The facilitator acts as a guide, helping participants to develop life skills and direct their learning.

Programme content

A preliminary analysis of learners’ needs is made taking into account their real-life situations. This analysis informs the design of teaching materials and educational content built around the learner. This includes basic literacy, numeracy and life skills relating to the economic and socio-cultural development of young and adult women of child-bearing age.

The main topics covered in the programme include:

  • Health and disease: oral hygiene, malnutrition, communicable diseases (measles, cholera, meningitis and tuberculosis), common diseases (malaria, diarrhoea, colds and respiratory infections, and goitre), chronic diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure and sickle-cell anaemia), tetanus and STI/HIV/AIDS;
  • Harmful traditional practices, early and forced marriage;
  • Literacy and development (development issues are discussed by groups);
  • Reproductive health (pregnancy, pre-natal check-ups, family planning, nutrition of newborn babies and expectant and breast-feeding mothers, and weaning);
  • Juvenile delinquency;
  • Children’s rights, enrolment of girls in education;
  • Domestic accidents;
  • Civil status documents;
  • Practical and productive activities (such as sewing, embroidery, knitting and the culinary arts), participation in the community and management of income-generating activities;
  • Agriculture and rearing of animals, including poultry farming;
  • Craft trades; and
  • Environmental education.
Une apprenante bénéficiaire d’un atelier de couture.

A learner who benefited from a dressmaking workshop.

The material is based on content relating to the above themes, selected after an analysis of the learners’ needs. The courses last 12 months and are organized into three-hour lessons held five days a week. Because participants are engaged in agricultural work, courses are spread over two years, with courses taking place over six months each year.

Materials include a teaching guide for facilitators, two learner textbooks, reading books for newly literate learners, posters, flipcharts and abacuses. The facilitator’s guide is designed to help in the preparation of teaching and learning activities, and contains a list of the various themes and steps to be followed in implementing the curriculum in subjects such as languages, mathematics and social environment. There is also material for practical activities such as knitting, sewing, embroidery and culinary arts. Information and communication technologies are being introduced into teaching through the use of calculators and mobile phones that have become a practical support for demonstrations of mathematical operations.

For the teaching and learning activities, the women are organized into groups according to their age. Members of the committees of participating women’s associations are trained in management and each group is offered financial support to engage in income-generating activities using the practical and productive skills they have been trained in (sewing, embroidery and knitting) and other gainful activities. Participation of all women in the association in the adult education programme is mandatory and is financed by the government and its partners.

Recruitment and training of facilitators

Facilitators are generally recruited on a part-time, paid basis. The average remuneration is CFA F50,000 per month (US $105). Facilitators are former students or newly literate adults who must pass an exam assessing whether or not they fulfill the selection criteria and have an appropriate level of education. The facilitators receive one month of initial training and a 15-day refresher course each year. Training is provided by the literacy authority’s decentralized technical units, in particular the Teacher Training Institute for Literacy and Non-Formal Education, which provides initial training for literacy workers.

Enrolment of learners

As well as older women, the programme also targets young women over the age of 15 and people from some ethnic groups. The number of participants varies as more centres are opened up around the country. Each centre has an average of 50 participants divided into two groups of around 25 (one for adult women and the other for young women over the age of 15) with different schedules during the day. One cohort has classes in the morning and the other one has evening classes with the same facilitator.

Assessment of learning outcomes

Learners in the centres are assessed by the facilitators at three points during their training. Their progress is assessed in each of the three subjects: languages, mathematics and social environment. They sit attainment evaluation tests at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the courses. At the end of each course, a final evaluation is conducted by the General Directorate of Literacy and Non-Formal Education (DGAENF), with the support of their decentralized units. There is an annual general assessment of learners in all programmes at the end of each year.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Programme activities are monitored by the central and decentralized technical units of the DGAENF. Quality is assessed by the departmental and municipal inspectorates four times during the six-month programme. Village literacy committees have been set up to monitor the literacy centres. The regional units conduct one or two inspections and the central department collaborates with the supporting project or body to hold a general inspection at some stage during the programme implementation. With regard to the African Development Fund (ADF) Education Project, two joint inspections are held during each campaign and a completion report is drawn up at the end of each project phase.

Impact and challenges

Impact and achievements

After very large numbers of women enrolled in the mother-child literacy programme in 1987, the Adult Literacy and Education Directorate (DAFA) rolled the programme out to other regions. In addition, the government requested implementation support from international partners such as UNICEF and UNESCO. UNICEF provided assistance from 1987 to 2003 and UNESCO from 1995 to 1999. When DAFA was restructured in 2003, the Women’s Literacy Office was replaced by the Directorate of Literacy and Adult Education Programmes (DPAFA). The DPAFA unit, and women’s and girls’ education, continued to be supported with funding from the state and the ADF Education Project.

Following the excellent results achieved when the programme was first implemented, the government introduced it on a national scale and included it in the DPAFA’s annual work plan. Measures have therefore been taken, as outlined in the government’s education policy paper for the period 2013–20, to consolidate achievements and further expand the programme by establishing new groups. So far, 56,960 people have participated in the programme since its inception in 1987.

Le tissage de nattes, AGR d’une apprenante du centre de Hamdallaye

Weaving mats , an income-generating activity of one of the Hamdallaye learners

Since the programme was first introduced, 1,284 centres have been opened in the country’s eight regions and the number rises each year. The young and adult women who attend the centres have organized themselves into women’s groups. In total, 811 groups have been formed and all group members appointed to the management committees (chairwoman, treasurer and secretary) have been trained in management and association-related activities. Documents have been provided to women’s groups explaining how to obtain authorization and working statutes for the management and implementation of income-generating activities, such as animal fattening, small-scale commercial activities, groundnut oil extraction, neem oil production, soap production, market gardening, grain bank management and the sale of various grains. These achievements are the outcome of action taken on the following fronts:

  • Annual campaigns, conducted since the programme’s inception, of community awareness-raising for women’s literacy and girls’ enrolment in education;
  • The recruitment and training of 1,284 facilitators along with supervision arrangements for the 12-month duration of the programme); and;
  • The training of 2,483 women’s group management committee members to participate in the community and in the management of income-generating activities.

The groups are now independent and sustainable, and the literacy and income-generating activities continue in the lifelong education centres in villages where they have been built. In areas where there is no lifelong education centre, the women engage in income-generating activities individually or collectively, while meetings and literacy lessons are held in premises built by the women.

The number of participants has increased rapidly since 1987. During the 2012–2013 campaign, 132 centres were opened to train 3,960 young and adult women. This number continues to grow. The 2013–2014 campaign sought to enrol 5,460 learners in 182 centres. The programme has been so successful that the government has adopted policies to enable the extension of those centres in all of its territory.

Programme challenges

The main constraints encountered during the implementation of the Women’s Functional Literacy Programme were:

  • The failure of some women’s group members to meet loan repayment deadlines;
  • The admission of members who had not been trained and did not fully understand the group’s dynamics;
  • Difficulties in organizing women into groups; and
  • External problems that can hinder activities planned by the women (e.g. it is difficult to rear small ruminants when there is little rainfall and insufficient animal fodder).;

Most of these problems have emerged as a result of inadequate monitoring and evaluation. In response, groups are now monitored for at least two years after their formation. Another difficulty the programme faced was the expropriation of the women’s lifelong learning centres by traditional and administrative leaders who wished to use them for other purposes. Measures are being taken by the decentralized units of the Ministry of National Education, Literacy and Promotion of National Languages to remedy this and the president of the women’s groups has sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior Affairs demanding that occupants leave the centres.

Lessons learned

Separating the classes into two groups, one for adult women and one for young women over 15, makes it easier for the young women to open up and speak about things they usually wouldn’t say in the presence of adults. It takes into account the particular social pressures that may make young women feel uncomfortable in the presence of adults.

A participant selling galettes and beignets

A participant selling galettes and beignets

Motivation can also be a challenge, but the implementation of lifelong learning centres has supported women in becoming more motivated and interested in literacy teaching and learning in their villages. By training the women to take charge of the groups and the income-generating activities created through them, the programme has helped to overcome the challenge of integrating group members and fitting them into the group’s dynamics. The construction of specific premises, to boost the long-term sustainability of these activities, has proved a real success, allowing the women to continue to organize themselves and carry out income-generating activities, thus improving living conditions.


A unique feature of this programme is that the participants contribute, from the very beginning, to the development of mechanisms that secure the programme’s sustainability. All members of the women’s groups pay a monthly contribution of between CFA F500 and F1,000 (US $1.05 to US $2.10), depending on their financial capacity, towards income-generating activities that help to respond to community needs.

The women have drawn on those contributions to obtain financial support from UNICEF, UNESCO, the ADF Education Project and other partners. In this way they have built a fund that can be used to finance various operations and to grant loans to group members for income-generating activities. However, securing the funds and putting in place the monitoring necessary to assure women’s empowerment remains a challenge for the programme.

The construction of lifelong education centres has enabled these groups to become independent and sustainable, while establishing them in their own adapted premises.

Having started at a local level, this programme has been scaled-up and rolled out throughout the country. It has also inspired several partners, such as CARE International, through Mata Masu Dubara, a national non-governmental organization, and the World Food Programme, to set up similar programmes.



Hatchabi Kouriram
Literacy Programme Director of the Directorate-General for Literacy and Non-Formal Education (Ministry of National Education)
E-mail : hatchabi (at) gmail.com

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 26 July 2017. Women’s Functional Literacy Programme, Niger. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 3 June 2023, 06:45 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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