After over 30 years in Benin, the SDC started a new approach to supporting adult literacy in 2014. Until now, the SDC has acted as "project owner" in this field, managing the funding for the 608 literacy centres in the north of the country, as well as the organisation and management of the classes offered. With the programme for the support of decentralised management of literacy in Benin (PAGEDA), the SDC wants to transfer project ownership to the local authorities. It believes that only this transfer of skills will guarantee the longevity and ownership of the teaching.
Among other goals, this new approach fits in with the objectives of the decentralisation process that began around ten years ago in Benin. This process places responsibility for adult literacy in the hands of the municipalities. However, they do not have the funds or the competencies to take on this role.
Study of three different methods
In this first phase of the project, the SDC plans to study three different strategies for supporting local actors in the departments of Borgou, Atacora and Alibori in the north of the country. The idea is to get municipalities, inter-municipal associations and socio-professional organisations involved in the funding and demand-side management of literacy classes for adults, as well as in general management and the development of an advisory service. Once the best method of operating has been developed, the project will be put in place for 12 years.
Ensuring the link to vocational education
For the SDC, a link between literacy classes and vocational education must be ensured by the municipalities so that literate people can contribute to stimulating the country's economy. This is why synergies are planned between this project and another SDC project for supporting vocational education. Adult literacy classes will therefore include practical training in partnership with craftsmen's and producers' socio-professional organisations. Finally, the project also supports two NGOs that are politically advocating adult literacy locally.
To be complete, this new approach also values the development of a literate environment in the departments concerned, for example by funding libraries and general written culture, particularly in national languages.
High demand for classes
There is high demand for adult literacy classes among the inhabitants of the northern states, which are among the poorest in Benin. For example, the illiteracy rate is 63.1% (71.2% for women) in Borgou, and 86.9% (91.9% for women) in Alibori according to 2011's official figures. Since 2004, Switzerland's support has reduced this figure by 14% in Borgou and, on average, 4% in Alibori, according to an SDC report published in 2011. According to Benin's statistics from the same year, nationally 65.7% of people over 15 are illiterate.
Minimal public funding
Adult literacy classes play a crucial role in the country's economic development. These non-formal opportunities for education are, however, dependent on NGOs and funding from development cooperation agencies. Owing to a lack of resources, local authorities see them as support activities and continue to favour formal primary education. The share of the general state budget for education attributed to adult literacy and education is only 0.24%.
A human right
Despite difficulties on the ground, the SDC tries to contribute to guaranteeing access to education for all. This access is now recognised as a human right. The SDC hopes that adult literacy will be recognised as a goal of the post-2015 development agenda and, thereby, as a direct factor for economic, social and cultural development.