“We also wanted to learn”: Narratives of change from adults literate in African languages

  • Authors: Joel Trudell (SIL International, Cape Town), Ian Cheffy (SIL International, High Wycombe)

  • 13 September 2017

Volume 63, Issue 5, pp 745–766


This article discusses the impact of literacy programmes on those who learned to read and write in their own African languages. It draws on adult learners’ reflections on the significance of literacy and numeracy in their everyday lives as evidenced in interviews conducted in 2014 and 2015 in rural sites in five African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon, Burkina Faso and Ghana. The research approach was influenced by the Most Significant Change (MSC) method of monitoring and evaluation, which collects and examines narratives that reveal beneficiaries’ perceptions of change related to a given programme. This study emulates this approach in that it seeks to learn about perceived changes attributed to literacy acquisition from the perspectives of the beneficiaries, without imposing pre-established indicators. In the rural adult learners’ view, literacy enabled lifelong learning outcomes that rivalled the results of primary schooling. Literacy programme graduates demonstrated extensive ongoing learning after they learned to read, write and calculate, consequently acquiring new literacy practices and new understandings of themselves. Even though many of those interviewed had been unable to attend school, they viewed the practices of reading and writing that they developed outside of school as equivalent to the practices of adults who had been educated in primary school.

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