Literacy in the 90's
The Role of SIL

This informative booklet, now published here on the Web, was originally printed in the 1990s. As a historical document, it reflects SIL's work in literacy during that decade.

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Cost and Cost Effectiveness: Can We Afford Universal Literacy?

Evaluating the cost effectiveness of a literacy effort is very difficult. The Experimental World Literacy Program (EWLP) reported costs per literate ranging from $32 (U.S. dollars) in Tanzania to $332 in Iran [Gillette 202]. A program in which SIL participated in the Philippines reported a cost per literate of $71.94 (U.S. dollars) including direct project costs as well as the estimated value of in-kind support from participating volunteer agencies [Walter 34].

The research and development costs of initiating a literacy program for a previously unwritten language are major, a rough estimate being $150,000 to $200,000 dollars. Clearly, a poor nation having 50 languages within its borders must view such costs as prohibitive.

Considered from the perspective of cost-per-literate, a country having five million citizens who are illiterate faces a potential expenditure of up to 1,500 million dollars (using the EWLP figures) just to attain basic universal literacy, to say nothing of additional literature, schools, vocational training, follow-up courses, etc.

But, in the case of literacy, cost cannot be counted merely in financial terms. One must compare the cost of achieving a given rate of literacy with the cost to individuals, communities, and nations of a large illiterate population. What about the cost of malnourished children, of unproductive labor, of non-competitive businesses, of high attrition rates in existing schools, of a discouraged and lethargic populace? If we could count these costs, we might find that literacy, although initially expensive, is, indeed, a bargain!

Non-formal literacy in Ghana
Non-formal literacy in Ghana

With limited budgets and inadequate technology, it is important to make use of every resource available. NGO's (non-government organizations) and volunteer organizations can substantially reduce the actual cost of literacy programs from 25 to 60 percent making such programs more viable for emerging nations.

As a volunteer organization interested in lesser known languages, SIL specialists are available to do linguistic research and to help with literacy programs - a contribution SIL is happy to make in its goal of serving the minority peoples of the world.

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