Literacy in Local Language, a Springboard for Gender Equality, Mozambique

  • Date published:
    25 August 2015
Literacy in Local Language, a Springboard for Gender Equality
© Associação Progresso

Programme Overview

Programme Title Literacy in Local Language, a Springboard for Gender Equality
Implementing Organization Associação Progresso
Language of Instruction Portuguese and local languages (Yao, Nyanja, Makua, Makonde and Kimwani)
Funding The European Union, the Irish Embassy in Maputo
Programme Partners Local community leaders, Direcção Nacional de Alfabetização e Educação de Adultos (Ministry of Education and Human Development); Serviços Distritais de Educação of Sanga, Muembe, Chimbunila and Lago districts, Niassa province; Direcção Provincial de Educação e Cultura (Provincial Direction of Education and Culture) of Niassa province; ServiçosDistritais de Saúde, Mulher e Acção Social (Districtual Services for Health, Women, and Social Action) of Sanga, Muembe, Chimbunila and Lago districts, Niassa province; Direcção Provincial de Mulher e Acção Social (Provincial Direction of the Woman and Social Action) of Niassa province, FórumMulher (Mozambican network of organizations working on gender issues); ORERA – Raparigas emAcção (Girls organization), Niassa province; Community Radios in Lichinga, Lago and Sanga; MEPT - Education for all Movement; GMD - Mozambican Debt Group
Annual Programme Costs 2,444,008.00 Meticais (approximately $63,360.27) over 18 months for Alfabetização, Esteira para Igualdade de Género. 6,429,679.00 Meticais annually (approximately $166,687.74) over 12 months for “Teaching to Read to Learn”, for 2014. • Annual Programme Cost per Learner: 788.39 Meticais (approximately $20.40) over 18 months for Alfabetização, Esteira para Igualdade de Género. 2,449 Meticais (approximately $63.49) for “Teaching to Read to Learn”.
Date of Inception 2012

Country Context

Mozambique has experienced sustained growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) over the past few decades. In spite of this development, the country continues to struggle as the upward trend in GDP has not been translated into significant reductions in poverty, or improvements in life quality for most of the population. Mozambique was ranked 178th out of 187 countries in the 2014 Human Development Index, and 21st out of 28 participating sub-Saharan African countries in the 2010 Education For All development index.

In education, the country has worked towards expanding school access and guaranteeing equal gender participation. The net enrolment rate for children in primary school has increased from approximately 70% in 2004 to 87.4% in 2013, and for girls from 66.08% to 85%. But despite the government’s efforts, Mozambique continues to face low school retention and transition rates, as well as poor learning outcomes. Gender disparities still favour men over women in education, as reflected in the disparities in literacy rates found in data disaggregated according to sex (67.35% for men and 36.45% for women in 2009). Such disparities are also found in health, access to public services, and employment.

Although Mozambique is a multilingual country and the majority of the population does not speak Portuguese, bilingual education remains, for the most part, in the planning and piloting stage. During the first trimester of 2015, the Ministry of Education and Human Development (MINEDH) announced that, from 2017, all primary school children will be able to study in one of sixteen Mozambique languages in addition to receiving education in Portuguese later on. In spite of this encouraging development, for most adult learners bilingual education is not yet a reality. Although the ministry is preparing a plan to introduce adult literacy in local languages across the whole country, the current curriculum for adult literacy continues to be available only in the official language.

The educational challenges facing the country are exacerbated in the central and northern parts of the country where most people in moderate to extreme poverty live. Niassa, the country’s largest province, is located at the northern end of Mozambique. The sparsely populated nature of the province makes the provision of public services difficult. In addition to difficulties with the provision of education, large parts of the population also lack access to health services and clean water. The province of Niassa also ranks among the Mozambican provinces with the highest adult illiteracy rates. According to the national population survey, 60% of people have low or non-existent literacy skills, including 75% of women. However, reading and writing tests conducted in 2012 by Associação Progresso found that literacy rates among adult men and women were no higher than 6% and 10% respectively. The difference in rates can, in part, be attributed to the difference in transition rates from primary to secondary school between girls and boys. While, in recent years, girls’ access to the first cycle of primary school has increased compared to boys, there is still a noticeable drop in the participation of girls from the fourth class of primary school (first cycle) onwards.

Niassa also has the highest rate of child marriage in the country. Twenty-four per cent of women aged between twenty and twenty-four married before the age of fifteen. Tradition and local culture contribute to the continuation of some practices that prejudice women’s development, including the negative treatment of widows, domestic violence, early marriage and early pregnancy, and forced school drop-out for girls.

Although Mozambican laws recognize the right of women to protection against any form of discrimination, gender differences in terms of access to opportunities continue to be an issue, even more so in rural areas such as Niassa. Associação Progresso has identified two main reasons: people’s lack of awareness of the regulations, and the lack of development and financial opportunities that results from poor literacy among women.

Programme Overview

Established in 1991, Associação Progresso is a Mozambican non-governmental organization with a mission to support rural communities in improving their living conditions and management capacity, with special attention paid to the most vulnerable: women and children. With gender equality a central theme in the organization’s programmes, Progresso has implemented several literacy and reading initiatives since its inception. Since the national primary school curriculum reform of 2003, Progresso's initiatives have included the provision of bilingual education (in Portuguese and local languages). In 2009 the organization signed a partnership agreement with the German Adult Education Association (DVV-International) for the implementation of FELITAMO, an adult literacy programme in the Makonde language. In following up this programme, Progresso has expanded its work on adult literacy, with a special focus on women.

Teaching to Read to Learn and Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality

In 2011, with financial support from the European Union, the Teaching to Read to Learn (TRL) project was created and has now been implemented in nine districts (four in Cabo Delgado, five in Niassa). This project has focused on literacy teaching and learning in local languages for adults, with women and young people the priority target groups. It is projected to end in November 2016. In 2012 the organization began a new programme, Alfabetização, Esteira para Igualdade de Género (or Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality), with financial support from the Provincial Fund for Civil Society of the Irish Embassy in Maputo. The two programmes have since then been implemented simultaneously, creating the 18-month project, Literacy in Local Language – A Springboard for Gender Equality (hereafter referred to as ‘the integrated literacy-gender programme’), which aims to provide literacy classes in local languages with attention to awareness-raising and advocacy on domestic violence and human rights.

Target Groups

The integrated literacy-gender programme has so far been implemented in 64 classes in rural communities. Communities were selected on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Existence of good community-school relations.
  • Presence of functioning literacy classes in local language for at least a year.
  • Interest and willingness from local leadership in discussing gender issues.
  • Proximity of the communities to one another.

The programme works simultaneously with two main target groups:

  • Women and men already enrolled in literacy classes in twenty-five rural communities in the districts of Muembe, Sanga, Chimbunila and Lago, in Niassa province.
  • Local leaders, including village chiefs, leaders of male and female initiation rites, matrons and religious leaders. Working with community leadership is considered essential to achieve the desired changes in the recognition of women’s rights.

The first target group included approximately 3,200 women and 64 literacy classes in local languages. Under the leadership of trained literacy teachers, participants learned the basics of legislation on women's rights and discussed how some cultural practices can prevent or hinder the achievement of these rights. Students could read about women’s rights using materials specially prepared for early readers. They were also shown how to apply community monitoring instruments focused on gender-based discrimination, and encouraged to participate in advocacy campaigns against violence and in support of gender equality.

The second target group was the local leadership of the 25 target communities – a total of 250 community leaders (10 per community), including village chiefs, leaders of male and female initiation rites (to adulthood), matrons and religious leaders. These leaders were trained in gender issues and legislation, and encouraged to reflect upon, debate and revise cultural practices that hinder women’s and girls' school participation (i.e. enrolment, attendance and completion) and development.

To promote the enrolment of people with disabilities in their literacy classes, Progresso translated some of the local-language literacy texts into Braille and provided training to literacy teachers in how to teach blind people.

Progresso sees working with teachers and students to promote literacy as the engine of change. It works with local leadership in order to ensure the sustainability of results.

Number of Participants

The literacy in local language component, Teaching to Read to Learn, reaches between 5,000 and 5,500 (young) adults annually. Over 70% of them are women. Since its inception, it has engaged approximately 21,000 young adults (70% women) and collaborated with around 300 literacy teachers, supervisors and technical education staff. Since 2012, 4,629 students have graduated from literacy classes in four districts in Niassa. The discrepancy between the numbers of people participating in the programme and the number graduating is due to the fact that not all learners completed the school year, while others might have attended but did not participate in the final exam.

Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality has so far reached a total of 3,100 students, 70 literacy teachers, supervisors and technical education staff at district and provincial level, and 250 community leaders.

Aims and Objectives

Progresso' s strategy is to promote gender equality through the opportunities provided by literacy classes. The literacy classes in local languages provide the perfect space for dialogue and the introduction of the basic concepts of gender theory. Progresso sees this as an opportunity to disseminate the laws concerning women’s rights, and organize community monitoring of gender-based violence practices, particularly traditional cultural practices that hinder the achievement of women’s and children’s human rights.

The overall objective of TRL was to ‘contribute to the eradication of illiteracy among young people and adults in eight districts, giving priority to women and people with disabilities in order to increase opportunities for their social development’. The Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality project aims to promote gender equality and women’s participation in twenty-five communities in four districts in Niassa province. The provision of literacy classes in local languages is a starting point to involve community leaders in raising awareness and action.

Programme Implementation

Structure and Organization

The literacy courses are organized according to Ministry of Education guidelines. Lessons follow the national programme and curriculum within which literacy and numeracy are the main subjects, with life skills integrated into both. Classes are offered in the afternoon and last between two and three hours. Students and teacher are allowed to negotiate which days and hours would work best for the class, with the proviso that the total number of teaching hours is at least 300 per academic year (10 months).

Progresso’s evaluations have found that one academic year is often not enough time to complete the prescribed content. This is due to the poor conditions in which adult literacy classes take place. Classes frequently take place outside, under a tree, or in improvised spaces, for example a participant’s yard or the local church. In addition, adult learners – and women, in particular – do not have much time for classes during the day and attending for two or three hours each day can be difficult. However, the biggest factor driving participants’ failure to complete the course is poor teaching quality. There is also high turn-over among teachers, which contributes to quality issues in teaching. Given the above mentioned limitations, Progresso’s courses generally take between eighteen and twenty months for the completion of teaching and testing/evaluation, including literacy, numeracy, life skills and transition to a course taught in Portuguese. Adult learners who pass the initial reading and writing exam can continue their studies on courses where they can learn Portuguese, allowing them to go further through the mainstream adult education system. This is important since Portuguese is the official language used in district and state offices and newspapers.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches, Methodologies and Course Structure

In line with guidelines from the Ministry of Education and Human Development, Progresso is using the analytic/synthetic method for literacy teaching: beginning with a word, or a sentence, focusing on everyday life contexts. Words are introduced using pictures in the literacy textbook. The word helps to introduce a new syllable, then a new family of syllables, until students complete a syllable table. With the support of these tables of syllables, learners build their own words that are discussed by the whole class. Each lesson also includes sentence exercises and the reading of a short text. The text is read by learners, so they can practise reading from the very beginning, and discover the meaning of the text as they discuss its content in relation with their own lives. Each revision lesson combines a different global method with the oral development of a story (a text) by the group. The story is written down by the literacy teacher. Throughout the literacy course, the students do most of the reading, and are not asked simply to imitate their teachers.

For local language adult literacy teaching, the method was further developed in collaboration with provincial education staff and experts, all of them native speakers of a specific local language. The methodology applied is the analytic/synthetic method, which was adjusted for its practical application in local languages. These experts were also very much involved in the development of textbook content and teaching manuals.

Classes generally comprise twenty-five students per teacher, in line with the minimum requirement, established by MINEDH, for payment of a subsidy (around US $20 per month). Drop-out, however, is high and many classes finish the year with only half the required number of students. That said, evaluation of Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality found increased retention rates in the classes that participated in the project.


Programme Content and Teaching Material

Although MINEDH has developed a general curriculum for adult literacy teaching, there has not been a specific curriculum for literacy teaching in local languages. To address this gap, Progresso has prepared textbooks for literacy and numeracy in five local languages. These languages are predominantly spoken in the northern provinces of the country: Yao, Nyanja, Makua, Makonde and Kimwani. Following the national curriculum, efforts were made to ensure the necessary adjustments were in line with the linguistic logic of the local language of instruction and were culturally appropriate. Since a written form of these languages had not been developed before, intensive work was needed to test textbooks with native speakers within the communities, including teachers and trainers. This was done to ensure that the language used was linguistically correct and comprehensible to speakers with diverse dialects of the same language. Once the orthography of the languages was agreed, reading and life skills materials could be developed and/or translated into different languages.

The production of material follows the process described below:

  1. Material is developed by community workers.
  2. Material is tested in community groups and associations.
  3. Material is translated into the local language by expert linguists in collaboration with literacy teachers.
  4. Illustration and editing is done by Progresso’s publishing section (which specializes in local language publishing).
  5. Published material is shared with MINEDH and the provincial and district education authorities.
  6. Material arrives in classrooms.

As non-state adult literacy providers are free to introduce life skills contents and develop specific materials according to their own priorities, Progresso has developed a wide range of reading and other material on life skills, covering issues such as:

  • Nutrition
  • Mother and child health
  • Preventable diseases including malaria
  • Clean water and sanitation
  • Themes relevant to income generation, such as livestock, planting and caring of indigenous trees, and financial education
  • Civic education and human rights, including land law, family law, and the law against domestic violence
  • Natural resources management

With regard to the gender component of the integrated literacy-gender programme, Progresso has produced and delivered two booklets on gender-based violence and a set of posters that explain the law against domestic violence.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Monitoring conducted by Progresso in 2014 characterized the facilitators and teachers of its adult literacy classes as follows:

  • Seventy per cent of the teaching body is male.
  • More than 50% are younger than 25.
  • Facilitators live in the community in which they teach.
  • Facilitators have completed at least full primary education (Grade 7), with some educated to Grade 8 or Grade 9.
  • Facilitators do not have formal professional teacher training.

These characteristics are shared by the majority of literacy teachers and facilitators in the country. People volunteer to become literacy teachers. The government pays them a small amount of money (equivalent to US $20 per month) as an incentive. MINEDH offers them a contract for the 10-month duration of the school year. The contract can be renewed in subsequent years and does not depend on student retention. Teachers retain their jobs even if large numbers of students leave their class before completing the course.

The make-up of the country’s education system helps explain why facilitators for adult learners do not typically have formal preparation. Mozambique has five institutes for the training of adult educators, at which people with a 10th grade general education receive one year’s professional training. Graduates find employment in provincial or district education directorates as technical staff providing support to literacy teachers. The institutes do not prepare educators to work directly with adult learners, but to oversee and support those who do. Some of the institutes’ graduates are part of the training team set up by Progresso to provide initial training to literacy teachers.

Although literacy teachers are hired and paid by the state, their training is generally delivered by implementing agencies, such as churches and civil society. Progresso offers two seven-day workshops during the first year of a facilitator’s recruitment, as part of the initial teacher training for its literacy programmes.

The main components of the first workshop are:

  • basic concepts of andragogy;
  • reading and writing in the local language; and
  • methodologies for initial reading and writing in the local language.

The second workshop focuses on numeracy and life skills teaching. In both workshops extensive time is dedicated to practising teaching in simulated and real classroom situations. This is followed by discussion of performance with a view to overcoming challenges and improving various aspects of teaching.

In the context of Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality, a seven-day seminar was offered to literacy teachers involved in the project. The seminar provided basic information about gender theory and Mozambican legislation on women’s rights, and shared methodologies on how to teach life skills subjects in literacy classes. Seminars also discuss objectives, action plans, indicators and instruments proposed for the community monitoring system.

Provincial and district training teams are selected for the training of literacy teachers. For the literacy training seminar, trainers were selected from the provincial teacher training institute and from provincial and district technical education staff. The criteria for selection concerned the technical skills involved in teaching initial reading and writing, experience of teaching adults, skills and experience in teaching in a local language, attitudes and commitment. For the numeracy classes, trainers from the provincial teacher training institute were included in the team. For the gender project, trainers were selected from technical staff at the District Directorate of Education and staff from the District Directorate for Health, Women and Social Action.

For this project, Progresso has trained twelve trainers, three per district. Trainers have provided capacity development training to 64 literacy teachers and 250 community leaders, 113 of them women, in 25 rural communities.

Enrolment, Establishing Learning Needs and Assessment of Learning

Local campaigns are organized at the start of each school year to encourage young adults who do not know how to read and write to enrol in literacy classes. The campaigns use radio messages and involve local leaders, public education and Progresso staff. Once candidates are registered and classes are formed, literacy facilitators administer an oral test to assess the reading and writing skills of learners. This helps them adjust lessons to the existing knowledge of the class. The literacy facilitator also discusses with learners what subjects they would be interested in exploring in the context of life skills learning. She or he informs students about the education material already available and takes notes on what new material might need to be produced in response to students’ expressed needs.

At the end of a course, students take a final written test set by district education staff and approved by provincial education authorities. Final tests entail: reading simple words, image reading (students should be able to write the appropriate word next to an image), linking images and written words, grammar exercise, constructing words with a syllabic frame, writing a composition of between three and five lines, and a simple numeracy test. Students receive a certificate of participation, signed by the Provincial Directorate of Education and Progresso after successfully completing the 300-hour literacy and numeracy programme. Although recognized nationwide, certificates may hold little practical use if learners do not follow the transition to a Portuguese taught course and acquire reading and writing skills in the official language.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The quality of teaching is assured by means of a short initial training course followed by regular supervision and one-day upgrading sessions organized by supervisors (some of whom are graduates of the training institute for adult educators) delivered monthly. Monitoring of the programme is conducted at different levels and in different places:

  • At community level, the impact of the gender programme is assessed through community monitoring. Literacy teachers and students collect data on a form with indicators relevant to: women’s and girls’ participation in education, gender-based violence, traditional practices that prejudice women and girls, and women’s participation in community-based organizations and local government. The indicators were first conceived by provincial education and Progresso staff, and later discussed with community leaders and adjusted according to their contributions. Collected data is disaggregated at class and village level and later collated for presentation to community leaders and district authorities.
  • The performance of literacy classes is monitored by supervisors. Each supervisor works with ten literacy teachers, assisting classes at least twice a month and organizing one-day training sessions once a month. Supervisors report to technical district staff, who write quarterly reports to the provincial education directorate and to Progresso’s provincial office.
  • Progresso provincial staff visit at least one district each month. Provincial education staff and Progresso staff arrange quarterly joint supervision visits to literacy centres, where they assist classes, discuss performance with literacy teachers and provide in-service training.
  • Progresso staff from headquarters visit provincial sites twice a year for monitoring.
  • Donor representatives visit project implementation sites once a year.

Progresso provides annual narrative and financial reports to donors, the European Union and the Irish Embassy in Maputo. Financial reporting includes yearly external audits carried out by an international audit organization. Programme outcomes are evaluated against previously defined indicators (described in the following section). The Teaching to Read to Learn project is internally evaluated each year with provincial and district education staff and Progresso project managers. The European Union produced a results-oriented monitoring report in 2013 in Niassa province to assess performance and outputs.

Complementary Programme Components

An important part of the gender component of the integrated literacy-gender programme is raising awareness among community members. Progresso promotes it through an activity called community monitoring, carried out by literacy students and their teachers. In addition to its awareness-raising function, community monitoring also has a clear instructional effect: as students work with survey forms and systematized data, they apply and improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills through hands-on activity. The application of recently acquired reading and writing skills is encouraged through the collection of data and the production of reports with aggregated data. Narrative reports have so far been written primarily by the literacy teacher under the supervision of the district technical staff, while students are encouraged to write sentences to add to the final reports. These reports have been presented to local leadership as well as public institutions and civil society organizations at district and provincial level. Indicators included in the community monitoring survey forms concern school/literacy class attendance and drop-out, participation in initiation rites, early and forced marriage, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, treatment of widows, and women’s participation in local governing bodies. A practical exercise on community monitoring is conducted in a neighbouring community followed by an evaluation by seminar participants.

In 2013 Progresso devised a strategy with the organization of community libraries. Instead of having libraries in a fixed location, such as classrooms, the organization built wooden boxes to be used as mobile libraries in all literacy centres of the project. Some 171 wooden boxes were produced in order to provide a space in which to maintain the reading material. This material can be used in the classrooms for collective reading and discussions. Some communities have allowed students to borrow books to read at home. The portable libraries are managed by the literacy facilitator with the support of his/her supervisor.

A moment from the campaign against domestic violence lead by Progresso learners

A moment from the campaign against domestic violence lead by Progresso learners

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

In 2012 Progresso set two main targets for the Teaching to Read to Learn project, to be met by the end 2015:

  1. Provide 48,750 young people and adults (70% of them women, including 5,850 with disabilities) with literacy, numeracy and life skills sufficient to improve the quality of their life. In 2014, after a mid-term evaluation, project targets were revised, leading to an increase in districts to be covered (from eight to nine) and a decrease in the number of students to be enrolled in the two provinces (from 48,750 to 22,500).
  2. Contribute to the creation of human and institutional capacity to achieve the structural changes necessary for the effective eradication of youth and adult illiteracy, especially among women and people with disabilities, based on the use of native languages in literacy and life skills teaching.

For the Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality project, as a key aspect of the integrated literacy-gender programme, Progresso set the following specific targets:

  • Raise the awareness of adult students in sixty-four literacy classes in twenty-five communities and train them so that they can promote change in traditional practices that are harmful to women and girls (such as initiation rites for children under 16, early marriage, early pregnancy, violence against women and children, and inhumane treatment of widows).
  • Increase the knowledge of 3,200 (1,625 in year one) women and men of the laws that govern gender equality and women’s rights and increase their ability to relate the content of such laws to traditional and cultural practices that limit development opportunities for women.
  • Support the empowerment of 250 local, traditional and administrative leaders at community level so that they have the knowledge and skills to act according to the law in addressing issues concerning women’s human rights.
  • Increase participation of women in local governing bodies, consultative councils and community-based formal and informal institutions in the four districts covered by the project (Lago, Sanga, Muembe and Chimbunila).

The Teaching to Read to Learn project has created real momentum for literacy in local languages in Niassa province. While local language teaching for adults was limited to two districts and five classes up until 2012, between 2012 and 2015 Progresso supported the delivery of more than 800 literacy classes in local languages, in collaboration with community leaders as well as education authorities at provincial and district level. The project gave an important boost to local language teaching, not only in Niassa (and Cabo Delgado) province, but across the whole country.

While Progresso provided textbooks and additional reading and education materials in five local languages and delivered training in literacy in local language to trainers and teachers, the government assumed responsibility for the payment of incentives to more than 200 teachers and supervisors each year. By doing so, the government raised the social status of local languages in general and of those who teach or learn to read and write in their mother tongue, in particular. In this context, an important result of the project is the prominent place MINEDH gives to adult literacy teaching in local languages in its new strategic plan for adult education (under preparation).

The Teaching to Read to Learn component of the integrated literacy-gender programme will end in November 2016. Although an impact evaluation is expected to take place in October and November of the same year, a preliminary evaluation of the gender component found increased retention rates in the literacy classes that participated in the integrated project. The external evaluation of the project (provided by a monitoring and evaluation specialist contracted by Progresso), conducted in June 2014, concluded that it was an innovative project with the active involvement of communities and a strong connection to community-based organizations. It stressed that the link between literacy and community discussions on gender contributed to changes in behaviour and attitudes within the target group. The interaction and participation of strategic partners, both public and private, was also considered an important positive point.

Advocacy and lobbying activities, carried out as part of the project, were important from an awareness-raising perspective. Changes in awareness have led to visible changes in attitudes and actions towards women and girls. For example, men and women increasingly share daily chores, and parents avoid practices that lead to school drop-out, particularly among girls. An important decision was also taken by community leaders with regard to the timing of initiation rites. Instead of being in the middle of the school year, leaders decided to conduct these traditional practices during the school holidays. They further agreed to regulate the age of children participating in initiation rites, avoiding the participation of very young children. The evaluation concluded that the project achieved most of the expected results. The evaluator recommended that Progresso should double its efforts to replicate and continue the programme. An external evaluation indicated that, as more women in literacy courses continued studying until the end of the course, the project has also helped to reduce the drop-out of girls from primary school.

At the general end-of-project meeting, held June 2014, all project participants (community leaders, literacy teachers, supervisors and technical district and provincial staff from the district directorates of Education and Women and Social Action, donor representatives and civil society) expressed their positive appreciation of the programme, because of the changes it had brought about in the perception of gender relations and their connection with day-to-day gender practice. The open and frank discussions during the sessions on women's rights, gender and culture greatly helped leaders, teachers and students to gain a different perspective on gender relations. According to a community leader in Messumba village (Lago district), ‘The debates were like a flashlight!’

Lastly, by selecting communities located in close proximity to one another, the organization increased the possibility of achieving a change in traditional practices throughout the community network. As a result of Progresso’s work, one leader decided to move the initiation rite from the middle of the school year, which used to cause a significant drop-out among girls, to the summer holiday at the end of the school year. His decision was followed by neighbouring communities.



I gave up studying … in 2001, when I lost my parents. At that time I had not yet learned to read and write. I decided to continue in 2012 in a literacy class. To facilitate my learning I chose to attend the literacy course in my mother tongue … The same year I married Alabia Aly, and we now have two children. We're both attending literacy classes. To give time to my wife and respect her rights, we divide household activities. This week it’s my turn to fetch water and bathe our children. I don’t mind if my neighbors talk, my wife is not my machine, but she is a human and deserves rest, just like me. Imede Abasse, a student from the integrated literacy-gender project

[The] advisory board in [my community] consisted of three women against seventeen men. During the sessions women never contributed on a particular subject. When they were asked to speak, they would answer: ‘We agree. It’s just like the men said’. In 2014 the advisory board was revitalized. Currently, nine of the twenty members of the new advisory board are women and they are very active in the board and in the community. I think it’s because of their active participation that women in my neighbourhood have changed a lot lately. When we have meetings to discuss development issues, they give their opinions. Thanks to the women we now have a water tap with clean water in (the community). Traditional leader of a Progresso community

Lessons Learned

  • Making use of literacy groups to reflect on common problems and discuss possible solutions is a widely accepted concept in literacy teaching. But combining this approach with the teaching of reading and writing has often been problematic as it requires a high level of pedagogic and didactic skills on the side of the teacher. The gender project enriched the reflective approach with active teaching of reading, writing and numeracy. Specific lessons were prepared and activities undertaken to effectively link life skills teaching with the teaching of reading and writing.
  • The community monitoring component of the gender component of the integrated programme turned out to be a powerful instrument for the involvement and sense of ownership of literacy teachers and students, as well as of a wider group of community members, particularly local leaders. For Progresso, systematic community monitoring represented a new way of working with communities. For education staff, community monitoring provided insight into how to make literacy teaching interesting and useful for learners.
  • Establishing a direct link between teaching in the classroom and social mobilization work with community leaders turned out to be a highly effective approach to bringing about inclusive and sustained change in gender relations, particularly in creating opportunities for women’s and girls’ participation in community development activities.
  • A particular aspect of local culture is its oral nature. Rural communities are generally small, communication is easily maintained in person, and, for the most part, there are no written words in the village: no street names, no signs, and few advertisements. Hence, the need to read is limited. Therefore, any literacy programme has to include provision of educational and reading materials so that adults can experience the benefits of being able to read.
  • Installing portable libraries in literacy centres helped to keep books in good condition.


  • Tradition and patriarchal culture are dominant in rural communities, determining every aspect of life. Following tradition, women do not decide autonomously on issues that concern their health, their money or their marriage. Likewise, women often need their husband’s permission to participate in literacy classes. Social mobilization is important in changing this and other aspects of tradition that prejudice women.
  • Most literacy teachers have very few academic qualifications and little professional training. Additionally, their volunteer status and low pay can lead to low motivation and high staff turn-over. Professionalizing literacy teaching for adult learners is a huge challenge for the Mozambican government.
  • Poor infrastructure. Classes are often held outdoors or on someone’s property.
  • Students have difficulty reconciling learning with their work and family responsibilities. This is particularly true for women.


An important facet of the integrated literacy-gender programme lies in the organisers’ aim of guaranteeing its sustainability beyond the 18-month implementation. This has been pursued through different strategies: a strong partnership with the Ministry of Education and Human Development and its local branches, capacity building among local providers, the creation of relevant learning material, and the establishment of complementary projects for the maintenance of said material, even after the end of the project.

The cost of facilitators is covered by MINEDH. Additionally, some of Progresso’s own facilitator trainers graduated from one or other of the institutes for the training of adult educators.

The Teaching to Learn to Read project invested in human resources, particularly trainers of literacy teachers for local language teaching, literacy teachers and supervisors. The gender project followed the same strategy to sustain its activities: training of a team of gender trainers in each district, and training of literacy teachers and supervisors on the technical aspects of gender questions, and also on how to integrate gender concepts into their everyday teaching. District gender trainers were trained to lead discussions with community leaders on sensitive issues. Leaders experienced the positive effects of organized dialogue and felt inspired to continue dialogue sessions on social problems in the community. Progresso expects that knowledge transfer and awareness-raising will continue in the years to come thanks to literacy teachers and their acquired gender knowledge, and the presence of educational and reading materials on gender subjects which will remain in the literacy centre libraries.

Since education authorities assumed payment of the subsidy for literacy teachers, no interruption is expected to occur when the project terminates. Progresso will advocate for regular recycling of trained teachers in order to maintain quality standards.

The project provided study and reading materials in local languages that can be used beyond the project life cycle. Additionally, both facilitators and learners will be able to continue to use the material, accessing it through portable libraries in literacy centres. The portable libraries were conceived in order to keep books in good condition.

Proposals are being prepared to raise funds to replicate the project in Cabo Delgado province. Possible donors are being contacted for another project which seeks to broaden and deepen the Literacy, a Springboard for Gender Equality project in Niassa province. The lessons learned with the implementation of the integrated projects will be essential for the development of integrated approaches, as foreseen in the new strategic plan for adult education for the period from 2015 to 2019 presently being elaborated by MINEDH.



Ms Tinie van Eys
Senior Programme Officer
Av Ahmed Sekou Touré nº 1957
258. 21430485/6/258.21323140

Last update: 24 August 2015

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 August 2015. Literacy in Local Language, a Springboard for Gender Equality, Mozambique. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 31 May 2023, 23:05 CEST)

PDF in Arabic

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