Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) Programme, Uganda

  • Date published:
    28 August 2013

Programme Overview

Programme Title Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) Programme
Implementing Organization Government of Uganda (Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development)
Language of Instruction Local languages
Programme Partners Various international donors and NGOs, including ADRA, ActionAid, World Vision, WEP and Save the Children
Date of Inception 1997

Background and Context

Although significant improvements in illiteracy rates have been observed over the past two decades due to the reintroduction of government literacy programmes in 1992, 25 per cent of the Ugandan population remain illiterate, and there are significant disparities between male and female literacy rates. Uganda also continues to struggle with relatively widespread poverty, unemployment and poor access to health; 64.7 per cent of the population still live on less than USD$2 per day, and at 79.16 deaths for each 1,000 births, Uganda’s Infant Mortality Rate is one of the worst in the world.

The Ugandan government first launched a mass literacy campaign in 1964. This campaign was available in 22 languages, with a primary reader, and a text for further reading, available in each language. In 1966, under the guidance of UNESCO, the notion of functional literacy was first introduced to these programmes. However, this change did not make a significant impression, since the necessary adaptations could not easily be grafted onto existing materials published in 1964. By the time Amin’s government was overthrown in 1979, Ugandan literacy programmes had completely lost steam, and there was very little government provision for adult education. This was to remain the case until the early 1990s.

In 1992, the Government launched the Integrated Nonformal Basic Education Pilot Project (INFOBEPP). This new initiative adopted the principles of functional literacy which UNESCO had attempted to install in 1966, and so literacy programmes were designed to link people’s education to their everyday lives and their needs. Early evaluations of this programme showed positive signs of enthusiasm from participants, with many classes beginning outside of the pilot area as a result of intense demand. In 1997 this pilot programme developed into the government’s official Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) programme, which was to be implemented across the country.

The Functional Adult Literacy Programme (FAL)

The Functional Adult Literacy programme, delivered by the Ugandan government with assistance from various NGOs, was designed to be a literacy programme that would focus on linking literacy to people’s livelihoods and needs. The programme incorporates a great deal of skill-specific training, in addition to literacy and numeracy, and attempts to link the two to show learners how literacy is important and can be used for personal development in their everyday lives.

The target group for the programme is anyone over the age of fifteen, who had missed the opportunity of formal education during childhood. A large range of people are targeted, including men and women, older people and youths, and specific groups of marginalised people such as prison inmates, those who are disabled and ethnic minorities.

A significant aspect of the programme is the availability of micro-loans, to support the development and continuation of income generating activities after graduation from the literacy programme.

Aims and Objectives

The Government of Uganda identified the following objectives for the FAL programme:

  • reduce adult illiteracy rate from 35% to 18% by 2012;
  • equip learners with essential life skills for personal and community development;
  • build the capacity of the community for income generation and self-reliance;
  • enable beneficiaries and their families to attain improved living conditions and a better quality of life;
  • to provide equitable and adequate access to literacy education to youth and adult women and men;
  • build a culture of lifelong learning among adult learners; and
  • empower marginalised and vulnerable groups in society to participate fully as partners in development.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Organisational Arrangements

Uganda’s Functional Adult Literacy programme is implemented across the country, on a decentralised platform. Local Councils are responsible for the establishment and organisation of FAL classes in their district. This responsibility includes the provision of funding and materials to classes, the recruitment and training of instructors, and the monitoring and evaluation of classes.

In some areas NGOs have helped to fill the void when not enough resources have been allocated by governance structures. ActionAid and World Vision have both been very active in training instructors for government led FAL programmes, whilst the Adventist Relief and Development Agency (ADRA) have implemented their own FAL programme and classes, based on the government set framework.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Instructors teaching on government led FAL programmes are unpaid volunteers. Roughly three quarters of the instructors come from the districts and communities in which they teach, and over 85 per cent are teaching in their mother tongue. Unlike similar programmes in other countries, only 10 per cent of the volunteer instructors work also as primary school teachers. Only a further 4 per cent receive a salary from other professions, whilst the remaining 86 per cent are either looking for employment or working in subsistence occupation. On the NGO-led FAL programmes, instructors are fully trained and paid a monthly allowance.

The median level of schooling for instructors is S2 (two years of secondary education completed), but this varies widely across regions. The programme design offers two weeks initial instructor training, followed by future follow-on and refresher training weeks. However, in practice, only 78 per cent complete initial training programmes, with roughly half of these going on to further training at a later date. Recently, the government has launched a new service for professional online teacher training, which seeks to fill the gap where educators have no opportunity to attend normal training courses.

Mobilisation of Participants

Mobilisation efforts vary across regions, but in general a relatively pro-active mobilisation strategy is employed. Officers from the Local Council begin the process by visiting villages and persuading their local governance body to hold a class. An instructor is then identified, and it becomes the role of the instructor to identify and mobilise the individual learners.

Some areas such as Kalagala and Buvuma have employed the use of innovative radio programmes to enhance their mobilisation efforts. Every morning between 07:30 and 08:00 in Kalangala, a special FAL programme is broadcast on one of the major local radio stations. Each day, the programme discusses a key issue of local or personal importance which relates to the FAL course curriculum, and encourages listeners to enrol in the FAL classes to discuss the issue further whilst developing their own skills.

Participants have also been drawn to the classes under their own initiative, as they seek to improve their personal capacities for a variety of reasons.

Training-Learning Methods and Approaches

The basic principle of the FAL programme is that it should relate directly to the lifestyles and the needs of the people. Instructors are encouraged to use a hands-on, flexible approach that will enable them to work literacy targets into people’s everyday issues, and to provide the relevance that will lead to meaningful capacity building.

However, resource limitations are a major restriction in the teaching-learning approaches used. Local Councils do not have the funds to provide instructors with a wide range of materials, and participants are often too poor to contribute materials such as ingredients to cooking classes for example, so most classes are based on a more traditional textbook-centred method of learning.

An important aspect therefore is the way in which the textbooks have been designed to incorporate the real issues and situations being experienced by participants. To demonstrate the relevance of the texts, some instructors reported very intense reactions from some learners who did not recognise how widespread the issues were, and thought that the text was making a very personal reference to their own situation.

A key aspect of the programme is the development of Literacy Class Committees, in which the class participants meet as a group to discuss personal and committee based issues. These sessions provide an opportunity for participants to apply their new knowledge and skills, and to gain confidence in public speaking and leadership in an unthreatening environment.

Furthermore, FAL graduates are encouraged to apply their skills to new income generating activities through the provision of micro-loans.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Extensive monitoring and evaluations exercises are performed both by the government, and by the NGOs involved in the scheme. Reports from mid-term evaluations are used to review and improve the programmes in each district, whilst end of term evaluations are presented to authorities and donors who will then decide whether or not to grant further funds to the scheme.

The evaluation process begins with a short workshop, led by the external evaluators, to build a common understanding amongst the participants and instructors about the need for evaluation, and the methodologies that will be employed in the process.

Evaluations are conducted through a participatory approach, enabling a more thorough comprehension of the impacts and challenges inherent in the final stage of project implementation.

The evaluations cover the following aspects:

  • Access: whether or not the target group is being reached; number of learners enrolled; number of functional literacy classes.
  • Quality: availability and relevance of learning and instructional materials; number of trained and active instructors; local methods of evaluating attainment; number of learners demonstrating competence in basic skills.
  • Efficiency: efficiency of financial resources; institutional capacity; links with other local and national institutions.
  • Equity: participation of learners and the compositions of learners’ backgrounds.
  • Impact: utilisation of skills learned outside of classes; changes to peoples’ lives and living conditions; changes in learners’ attitudes towards modern views on issues such as human rights, environmental conservation and health risks.


By 2008, FAL had reached out to more than 2 million people across Uganda. FAL can therefore be considered to have been highly influential in the nationwide improvements in adult literacy rates, from 56 per cent in 1994 to 75 per cent in 2008. Significantly, the literacy rate of adult females in this time period has increased at a greater rate than that of males. This may also be attributed to the FAL programme, since approximately 75 per cent of those trained through the programme so far have been women.

However, according to UNESCO statistics, the number of people trained by FAL is higher than the total number of people who have become literate during this time period. This suggests that FAL is not successfully reaching their target group, and is instead providing training to members of society who are already literate. This is discussed in further detail in the next section.

The reported impact of the programme for individuals has been very positive. The majority of learners testified that the classes had increased their self-esteem and their participation in political and economic activities. 69 per cent of FAL graduates reported having membership of a social group or association, compared to 14 per cent of illiterates. Many men and women reported being much more involved in local governance and decision making, including acceding to influential and important roles within these governance structures. Learners also declared informed improvements in hygiene, agricultural practices and dietary habits.

External evaluation testing has verified these positive reports. Tests have shown that newly graduated literates have better awareness of important lifestyle practices such as sanitation and hygiene, and that there is good retention and application of new knowledge. The evaluations also show that FAL graduates have more progressive attitudes to certain issues. For example, 47 per cent of FAL graduates use family planning methods compared to 14 per cent of illiterates in the same district.

The FAL programme has also demonstrated success in individual capacity building and skills development. On average, FAL graduates perform better in basic tests than primary grade 3 and 4 pupils, and a large number of participants report new income generating activities, which they attribute to their FAL training. Many people would like to move beyond their basic skills and continue into further education; whilst this is a challenge due to resource limitations, it demonstrates success in developing a culture of learning.


One of the key challenges of the FAL programme remains in mobilising participants. Many factors prevent people from coming to the classes; the most significant barrier is money. Although classes should be free of charge, many of the target group cannot afford to neglect their subsistence activities to travel to and attend classes. Furthermore, many fear that fees will be introduced to the programme, as they have been in similar programmes that preceded FAL. In fact, 52 per cent of learners reported having to pay for basic materials, whilst a further 33 per cent said that they had been required to make contributions to instructors in order to undertake the classes.

For others, fear of embarrassment is a barrier to class participation. Many people are worried that their participation in FAL classes will assert their status as an illiterate and inferior member of the community. Some refer negatively to FAL participants as fala, which by unfortunate coincidence is Swahili slang for stupid or idiot. Fear of embarrassment is a particular barrier for older members of the community, and for males, who consider that the stigma of being a FAL participant far outweighs any potential benefits.

Due to the participation barriers facing illiterate people, many of the FAL class participants are actually partly literate people, looking for further education. These people have experienced formal education and understand its benefits, and they come to the FAL programme seeking the skills development aspect offered through the notion of functional literacy. The failure to target to specific intended audience is therefore one of the programmes greatest challenges. The Ministry estimates that only 30 per cent of those enrolling on the programme are actually illiterates, whilst the rest have completed primary school education to at least grade 3 and come to the programme for the functional skills. Similarly, most participants do not come from the poorest and most deprived parts of society, who do not have the time or resources to attend classes, which they do not understand the value of.

Budgetary restrictions are perhaps the most important challenge of the programme. Due to resource limitations, over two thirds of FAL classes do not have a specific venue and are taught outside, and learning materials are severely limited; the desired interactive approach of FAL programmes is hindered by the availability of diverse teaching materials, so the teaching is normally very textbook-orientated. Furthermore, financial limitations are a great burden on the quality of instruction; instructors do not receive any payment or incentives for their work, nor do most of them receive adequate training. The result is that there is a great turnover of instructors, and that these instructors are often unprepared, unmotivated or not regularly attending. This is an outcome which severely hinders the constructiveness of the learning environment and impairs the efficiency of the programme.

The low availability of materials also has a negative impact on the FAL graduates. There is a distinct lack of post literacy reading materials in local languages, and no provision for the further education which many graduates of the programme desire.


The FAL programme is a well-established government initiative, with a strong decentralised organisational infrastructure which should support sustainability. However, the biggest threat to sustainability remains in the difficulties experienced in the retention of trained and motivated staff.

Lessons Learnt

  • There is great demand for adult education classes in Uganda. When the pilot programme was launched in 1997, an equal number of classes sprang up outside of the pilot scheme area due to raised awareness and expectations.
  • Further investment in the training of instructors, as well as the provision of material incentives, would make the FAL classes more effective and the programme more efficient.
  • Efforts must be made to raise awareness about the benefits of the programme, and to protect the confidentiality of learners in order to attract more participants from the target group.
  • The regular radio broadcasts in Kalangala and Buvuma, are considered by providers, instructors and donors to be a highly successful and innovative way of mobilising learners.
  • The NGO sector has demonstrated that it can greatly assist government-led adult literacy programmes.
  • The provision of a diverse range of learning and post-literacy materials in local languages is very important to the relevance of the adult education classes, and to the retention and continued application of learned skills.


  • Okech, A (2001) Adult Literacy Programs in Uganda, The World Bank, Washington D.C.

  • Okech, A (2005) Evaluation Practices in Adult NFE and Literacy Programmes in Uganda: A Situational Analysis, UNESCO Institute for Education (UIE), Hamburg.

  • Rogers, A (2008) Report of Consultancy on Functional Adult Literacy Programme in Kalangala and Buvuma Islands, ICEIDA

  • Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (2008) National report on the development and state of the art of Adult Learning and Education in Uganda, Kampala


Ministry of Gender,
Labour and Social Development
P. O. Box 7136 Kampala
e-mail: ps (at) mglsd.go.ug
Web: http://www.mglsd.go.ug

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.).. Last update: 24 July 2017. Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) Programme, Uganda. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 30 November 2021, 10:13 CET)

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