ABDVol.31 No.1

From Jomtien to Dakar and Beyond: Literacy, Adult Learning for Empowerment
Myrna B. Lim

Ten years ago in 1990, at the Jomtien Conference, the conference greatly emphasized that "education is a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages, throughout the world". Policy-makers, decision-makers, representatives of government and civil society agreed on the basic global strategy of universalizing access to quality basic education. It particularly included adult literacy as one of its six major worldwide goals, to reduce adult illiteracy to around one-half of its 1990 level by year 2000, placing strong emphasis on female illiteracy.
 Unfortunately, despite numerous world declarations and commitments, the number of adult illiterates continues to increase and today, 125 million children in developing countries are still denied any form of organized education.
 Ten years afterward, on 26-28 April 2000, a thousand and more delegates, from both government and civil society, convened in Dakar, Senegal, to attend the World Education Forum. The task was to review and discuss the global assessments on Education For All in terms of achievements, lessons learned, causes of failures, challenges and opportunities. The process required looking back and looking forward to a future beyond Dakar.
 The global assessment, an unparalleled store of information, studies and analysis showed quantitative achievements, but it also found that educational progress has been uneven and far too slow, particularly in developing countries. Furthermore, the assessment showed that the main focus during the last decade has been on formal education with inadequate attention given to non-formal modes of learning and acquisition of life skills.
 The Dakar Framework For Action on Education for All is a collective commitment to action. Six goals have been identified, from early childhood, literacy, adult learning and skills building, and are focused on ensuring lifelong learning for all. Strategies were identified in pursuit of the education for all goals. It further recognizes that to achieve the goals of education for all is the concern not only of governments but also of civil societies, particularly the NGO community. The Dakar framework now lays emphasis on the forging of partnerships and alliances between all stakeholders. The innovative and community-based approaches and experiences of NGOs have now been acknowledged, and they are recognised as potent partners in the achievement of the vision of EFA, for the next decade and onwards.

The Notre Dame Foundation for Charitable Activities, Inc. - Women in Enterprise Development (NDFCAIWED): An NGO Response

An Episode in the Life of a Learner

Bai is a 41-year old Muslim mother of three children and married to Monim Adim who works as a security guard at Philippine Shell in Parang. She is one of the many unfortunate Filipinos who, perhaps because of poverty or cultural beliefs, has been deprived of a good basic education. She is an illiterate. Wherever she goes, her inability to read and write posed a great liability.
 "No employer would choose to recruit someone who is illiterate. It is harder to manage your own business if you can't read nor even write your own name. I can't help thinking as well that my children are ashamed and humiliated for having an illiterate mother."
 The WED project gave her a new hope and a new beginning. She enrolled in the literacy programme in 1995. Bai knows how to read, write and do numbers. Because of her motivation and persistence, in early 1996, Bai qualified and enrolled in WED's Garments and Handicrafts course. She wished even then to help her husband in the cost of sustaining their family.
 "My skill was noticed even before I finished the course, so I never found it difficult to sell my products. I sew malong, pants, uniforms, blouses, polo shirts, curtains and hair accessories. I bought sewing and clothing materials with the P2,000.00 I borrowed from WED. I earn a little over P1,000.00 monthly from sewing and the amount is a big help to us already. I can buy food and necessary things for our home out of my profits. At least now, I don't have to rely solely on the income of my husband."
 Bai Adim is just one of the thousands of women whose lives have been transformed by the "Women in Enterprise Development" project of the Notre Dame Foundation for Charitable Activities, Inc. of Cotabato City, Philippines. The WED envisions the empowerment of women with skills and knowledge. Functional literacy, adult education and entrepreneurship training are viewed as prime interventions that will enable illiterate, unskilled, unproductive women to develop indigenous entrepreneurship and gain control of their lives. WED project is anchored on the concept from "illiteracy to entrepreneurship".

The Women in Enterprise Development (WED) Project

The WED is a comprehensive project which provides diverse project activities: functional literacy and adult education; entrepreneurship and skills training; credit assistance; marketing assistance; cooperative formation; technical assistance and business consultancy and research/advocacy promotion.
 Since its inception in 1984, the WED has been considered as a Philippine model project on literacy, adult education and enterprise development. It was a recipient of the UNESCO-King Sejong International Literacy Prize award for 1997 and the 1998 Philippine Rafael M. Salas Population and Development Award.
 The NDFCAI-WED sees the impact of functional literacy and basic education in alleviating poverty and transforming the lives of many women and girls by letting them participate in their own development.
 Literacy and education have been identified as critical areas and are doubly significant for women and out-of-school youths. WED feels that attention must be focused on the educational needs of these marginalized and deprived individuals. Beyond the concept of education are human rights. Numerous studies have shown the strong correlation between educational levels and increased economic productivity, improved health, delayed marrying age, lower fertility, increased political participation and community involvement, thus acquiring a better quality of life.
 Literacy and entrepreneurship as components of education are viewed as important steps in the process of enabling individuals to be productive members of their communities. Small and micro-enterprises, often home-based, more flexible and less structured than other employment sources, allow women and girls to combine productive activities with family responsibilities. If the woman is head of the family, this feature makes micro-enterprise doubly attractive as a way to manage the family and earn a living.

Partnership and Alliance Building: The Mindanao NGO Literacy Network

The Foundation, recognized for its strong networking ability and project management capabilities, was chosen as the Lead Philippine Partner for UNESCO-World Education's project. This project opened new avenues and opportunities for smaller Mindanao NGOs to gain institutional capability.
 The main focus of the project is to improve and strengthen the institutional capabilities of NGOs engaged in literacy work through capability-building training. Today, the Mindanao NGO Literacy Network has 22 Mindanao NGO members, who are engaged in literacy, education and training activities. With its shared vision of a literate and progressive Philippines, particularly Mindanao, it has joined forces with Asian Development Bank and the Department of Education, Culture and Sports-Bureau of Non-formal Education for the implementation of the literacy projects serving the majority of Mindanao. Through the partnership, the network and the government are building a bridge to reach those who are unreached and touch the lives of those who are unserved. To date, it has served a total of 54,337 adult learners for 1999 and a planned 49,750 for the year 2000 under its Mindanao Literacy Project for Peace and Development. It has forged partnerships with government institutions and local government units (LGUs) because the goal of sustainability is closely linked with the increasing roles and powers of LGUs in human resource development.

Challenges and Opportunities

Dakar and Beyond: Meeting our Collective Commitments

Strong public commitment to Dakar Framework for Action or Education for All 2015 is the cornerstone of success. Political commitments need to be translated in terms of putting education, whether formal, non-formal or informal, high on our national agenda. Commitment must manifest itself in sustained sectoral policy frameworks and strategies, effective capacity to implement quality education programmes and projects, increased efficiency and innovation. Engagement of civil society as effective partners needs to be developed and promoted.
 Governments are the principal source of funding and centrally responsible for providing education, but governments alone cannot deliver. Civil societies engagement and partnership are the key to EFA success for this millennium.
 The civil society - NGOs, community-based organizations, and private schools - offer huge potential for expanding both educational access and quality. With effective partnership in place, these can all contribute to societal efforts for access, quality and equity in education. Special focus must be given to the emerging role of Non-Formal Education as a Major Actor, in the achievement of EFA goals.

Literacy For Tomorrow

Literacy for tomorrow has to be built upon the experience of the past. Institutional partnerships for the delivery of literacy and adult learning must be ensured. Relevant mechanisms that are participatory and community-based must be created.
 Literacy must focus on forward-looking strategies. Literacy for tomorrow must address the issues of cultural citizenship, democracy and peace, new technologies, globalization and global communities, and gender. These are emerging crucial issues that need to be integrated in all lifelong learning endeavours.
 Literacy should promote inter-cultural communication and understanding, which is a lifelong process, rather than cultural confrontation. They are particularly true at this time when intra-community conflicts within a society are more common and a greater concern. Literacy for tomorrow must aim to promote dialogue, solidarity, and understanding.

Quality is as Important as Quantity

Expanding access to education is central to the achievement of education for all, but access alone is not enough. The country's education quality, formal or non-formal, is very much related to its long-term growth and development. Far greater concern should be given to the quality of educational services and delivery mechanisms.
 Most literacy projects are often implemented where a large number of learners live. But there are still communities that remain excluded, such as ethnic, refugees, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, street and working children. These excluded groups need to be served and attended to.
 Together with quality education relevance, responsiveness, affordability and accessibility of education are deemed important.

Sharing Financing Responsibility for Literacy and Adult Learning

Financing of literacy and adult education cannot and should not rely solely on budgets of governments. The private sector, business, NGOs and even individuals are called upon to contribute to provide support to education and invest in human resource development.
 The role of families constitutes a bigger chunk of support. Radical ways must be designed to motivate adult learners and their communities to contribute to the sustainability of the NFE activities. Today, there is an urgent need to look beyond grants and funding. What civil society and their governments must do together, collaboratively, to assure lifelong learning, is the most critical concern that must be addressed.


Education is a basic human right. The long-term goal of education is to ensure that everyone completes an education of adequate quality, acquires literacy skills, and has the opportunities for lifelong learning.
 For those involved in non-formal education, focus must be given to include the excluded - to consider more innovative approaches, to adequately respond to emerging learning needs. Literacy and adult education will need to focus more than ever before on which kinds and what levels of literacy are required by the learners and within their respective communities and society. What is now needed is a greater focus on program quality that focuses on professional development, learner motivation, community participation, knowledge-based curriculum design and openness to new NFE approaches.

Myrna B. Lim, Executive Director, Notre Dame Foundation for Charitable Activities, Inc.-Women in Enterprise Development (NDFCAI-WED), Krislamville Subdivision.
She is responsible for the conceptualization and management of the diverse projects by the multi-awarded NDFCAI-WED. Her grassroots work experience and expert in literacy, continuing education and enterprise development have earned her a number of consultancy work with international bodies such as UNDP, JICA, CIDA, and World Education, Inc. and Board Membership in the various government councils on education, trade and economy. She has been a resource speaker in various local and international trainings/conferences in the areas of non-formal education, literacy and continuing education, capacity-building on literacy, NGO/GO partnerships and networking, managing literacy resource centers, gender and development, literacy and enterprise development. She is an awardee of the prestigious Rafael M. Salas National Award for Population and Development for 1998.