Adult education and learning are an integral part of the right to education and lifelong learning.
It comprises all forms of education and learning that aim to ensure that all adults participate in their societies and the world of work and help them to develop basic education skills, such as literacy and numeracy.
Unfortunately, many people when they think of education, they usually associate it with formal education.
There is no argument that children and youth are the primary beneficiaries of education.
But it is important to bear in mind that the right to education is, like all other human rights, universal and applies to everyone, irrespective of age.
According to international law, the aims of education include the ‘full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity and to ‘enable all persons to participate.
The right to education, therefore, recognises the importance of education as a lifelong process.
The early years are considered foundational for lifelong learning, where each level of education lays the building blocks for further education throughout a person’s life.
Adult education and learning is an integral part of the right to education and lifelong learning and comprises ‘all forms of education and learning that aim to ensure that all adults participate in their societies and the world of work.
But it was strengthened soon after the 1964 Revolution during which the first President, the late Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume came out in full force to give it prominence because he recognized the need to have a literate population and considered illiteracy as an obstacle to development.
He, therefore, pursued efforts to increase literacy rates among adults, both in towns and villages.
The concept of his government’s adult education programme mainly focused on reading, writing and arithmetic.
Later, the concept of adult education changed from basic literacy to lifelong learning which was implemented by the expansion of night schools.
The curriculum of basic literacy included skills of reading, writing and arithmetic.
The duration of the programme was for two to three years.
Apart from imparting skills in reading, writing and arithmetic, the curriculum also included stories of historical importance, lessons giving information on health, hygiene and first aid.
In the 1990s, the government launched the national adult literacy programme to manage literacy interventions in the country and the centre for literacy and adult education was established.
The centre performed several responsibilities to make adult literacy an integral part of national development.
Among them was curriculum development which was designed in such a way that adult learners are flexible.
The curriculum also provides an opportunity for them to engage in activities that would improve their livelihoods.
Information on agriculture, health, nutrition and small-scale businesses is disseminated to the rural masses through this programme.
Literacy centres also produce teaching and learning materials for adult learning to facilitate teaching and learning processes.
But despite those efforts, Zanzibar has recently experienced a slight drop in illiteracy levels among adults.
Now efforts are underway to reduce the illiteracy levels by organising, establishing and maintaining successful functional literacy classes in both Unguja and Pemba through community development offices in the districts.
The clienteles for this programme are illiterate adults-men, women, the youth and people with disabilities.
So far most of those who have come forward are women. They dominate the literacy programs for several reasons:
– Women historically had less access to formal education than men.
– The changing economy has forced women to assume extra responsibilities outside the home which make them look for formal skills.
-Women’s schedules are often flexible enough to allow them to attend classes.
-Literacy classes provide women with needed socialization opportunities.
– Some cultural norms prevent men from attending classes with women.
– Women consider adult education classes as a forum of social gathering.
People who are literate can participate fully in development activities happening in their communities. They know the importance of increased involvement in public life.
In addition, improved literacy leads to improved health decisions which in turn lead to reduced healthcare costs for the nation. Communicable diseases are easily avoided if people are able to read and understand preventive messages of such diseases.
In political life, a literate citizen is more likely to vote and express tolerant views than an illiterate one.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted literacy activities across the country because of many misconceptions about the disease and because the classes are not functional there is a challenge to iron out the misleading information.
Most illiterate people can’t afford digital technology to access information on the Covid-19 pandemic, but many of them are unable to use digital technology.
There is a need to incorporate digital education in the curriculum of adult literacy and education to fill the digital literacy gap.
In this age, it is imperative to provide youth and adults with information and communication technology skills.
There is also the need to explore the inclusion of digital education in the provision of non-formal education to basic literacy graduates, like those who enroll in English classes and upper primary lessons.
Despite the Covid-19 challenge, literacy activities have continued to help rural masses recover from the shocks of both poverty and the pandemic.
Learners and graduates of literacy lessons have been encouraged to establish income-generating activities to get extra income to improve their livelihood.
Some literacy classes have formed income-generating groups, such as those of poultry farming, growing vegetables and beekeeping.
Some literacy classes have been encouraged to form village savings and loans groups. Through literacy skills imparted in them, they are able to know the saving and sharing process.
Financial literacy, which is part of the content in the curriculum, equips people with knowledge and skills to manage their finances more efficiently and make sound financial decisions.
Budgeting skills, understanding interest rates and practicing savings are some of the concepts people need to know during the pandemic period.
With low financial literacy skills, people resort to making unreasonable financial decisions. Lessons learned in literacy classes help people handle financial affairs in the face of the pandemic.
Establishing investments, having multiple sources of income and saving have rescued people from the shocks of the pandemic and poverty.
However, adult literacy and education continue to face numerous challenges. Among them is poor patronage for adult literacy classes across the country. In most cases, the classes are flooded by female participants.
Poor infrastructure, lack of teaching and learning materials and shortage of adult literacy instructors are some of the problems the sector is experiencing. Central to these challenges is limited funding for adult literacy and education programmes.
There is a need for concerted efforts to deal with illiteracy among adults in Zanzibar. Much energy must be placed in the implementation of adult literacy activities by different stakeholders.
The government, development partners, civil society organisations and religious institutions must work hand in hand to help uplift the sector.
Stakeholders should not work in isolation to avoid duplication of their work.
Most of the NGOs in Zanzibar have concentrated their energy on basic education and ignored adult education which one can describe as an ignored sector.
Government and non-state actors can collaborate in infrastructural development that can provide a conducive learning environment for adult learners.
These stakeholders can team up to establish community learning centres that can accommodate various forms of non-formal learning at one place, like adult literacy in mother tongue languages, the teaching of English as a second language and non-formal skills training for the youth.
Stakeholders in adult literacy and education can also support the sector with teaching and learning resources to help adults improve their reading, writing and numeracy skills.
A well-planned and implemented adult education rogramme can go a long way to help many adults, women and those in the marginalised groups, such as people with disabilities to at least move a few steps away from extreme poverty.
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