UNESCO endorses SIL-sponsored African Intermediate Literacy Course (ILC)

(October 2006) Twenty-three participants from five African countries graduated from the three-year Intermediate Literacy Course (ILC) at Ruiru, Kenya. The closing ceremony marked the successful completion of this three-phase pilot program. Dr Patricia Davis, course director and SIL staff member, stated the extraordinary fact that among the original students qualified for the ILC at the outset three years ago, “…there has been a one hundred percent student retention rate.”

Dr. Davis surprised and delighted the graduates with the announcement that the ILC had been officially recognized and endorsed by UNESCO. Along with graduation certificates, the course participants also received a copy of UNESCO’s endorsement letter. This action is seen as a positive outgrowth of the broader partnership between SIL and the UN’s education arm.

Senior Education Advisor at UNESCO’s Nairobi office, Dr. Susan Nkinyangi, presented some keynote remarks. She stated that as UNESCO has revised and broadened its literacy goals for the year 2015, their definition of literacy has been modified. The agency now views literacy as a wide continuum of skills and practices. With this new perspective, ethnic minority languages are also acknowledged as crucial to defining and monitoring literacy, and therefore the ILC has attracted UNESCO’s attention because of its focus on mother-tongue languages.

The graduating participants come from five countries across the continent of Africa: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Sudan. Their current teaching and administrative positions represent different levels of literacy program involvement, with varying kinds of challenges:

  • running start-up single-language programs
  • working in situations with strong local cultural resistance
  • operating large programs for displaced people groups
  • giving direction and management of country-wide, multiple-language programs.

Together, directly or indirectly, they influence education programs meeting the needs of over 168,000 literacy learners across Africa.

The two participants from Burkina Faso had been recruited at the outset to translate all of the course materials into French. Their diligent work on this task for the past three years created an open door for the startup of a French version of the course in 2007. This effort represents a milestone in the development of quality training programs and materials for use in Francophone Africa. Three of the staff from the recently-concluded ILC, plus the two translators from Burkina Faso, are to form the core of the staff for the French course next year.

As part of Dr. Davis’ report on the course she noted: “Course participants have delighted us by their enthusiasm, determination to control the material even though it means hard work, and obvious spiritual and academic gifts. We expect them to make a significant impact on illiteracy in Africa.”

Dr. Davis also noted several positive outcomes:

  • “A corps of literacy project leaders has been prepared who are well grounded in both theory and practice.
  • “The diverse student body has served to make the course a rich learning laboratory, and these highly-motivated learners have made the most of the opportunities. In addition, a sense of international community has been created among the participants who will enable them to encourage one another in the future.
  • “Staff has been developed to head the course both in English and French, and several of the current participants are now capable of moving into teaching assistant positions—and eventually into academic head positions—in future courses.”
  • Among the original students who were qualified for the ILC at the outset, “…there has been a one hundred percent student retention rate.”

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