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Literacy Training Course for Africans

SIL Intermediate Course for African leaders in Literacy and Education – endorsed by UNESCO

SIL Training Course for Africans

SIL provides high caliber training for prospective field workers, for example, instruction in Literacy Program Planning and Literacy Materials Development. In recent years, requests have increased for SIL to provide similar high-level training on site for Africans who have some grassroots experience in literacy and education. Consequently a three- phase Intermediate Literacy Course (ILC) was developed and conducted at the Ruiru Training Centre near Nairobi, Kenya. Africans from five different countries, each speaking their own language, enthusiastically participated in the course.

Course participants at the Ruiru Training Centre
Course participants at the Ruiru Training Centre.

Course Purpose

In the words of the ILC Academic Director: “The course is designed for Africans – for those who have potential to become literacy consultants, high-level literacy trainers, and/or literacy project coordinators and who need the tools for these roles.”

UNESCO Recognition

Over the past 3 years (2004-2006), the African Intermediate Literacy Course has drawn attention from various sectors. For example, participating in the second session closing ceremony was Mrs. Joyce Kebathi, Director of Adult Education, Dr. Susan Nkinyangi, the Senior Educational Advisor from UNESCO to the Kenya Ministry of Education, and representatives from SIL Africa Area, BTL, LEF/Partners in Ministry, and the University of Nairobi. After orientation to the complete course plan, the UNESCO representative offered UNESCO endorsement for ILC. Consequently UNESCO co-signed the certificates that the 23 participants received after the third session upon their completion of the course.

UNESCO representative  at the closing session
 A UNESCO representative at the closing session.

A UNESCO website announcement, Intermediate Literacy Course “Opening new chapters in literacy” 2004-2006, states:

“Sub-Sahara Africa has one of the lowest adult literacy rates in the world.”

“As lead agency for the United Nations Literacy Decade, UNESCO is pleased to acknowledge the contribution made [by this course] in furthering the professional development of those responsible for literacy programmes in the region.”

(See complete UNESCO statement. Also in French.

Course Results and Impact

The Intermediate Literacy Course purpose is being achieved beyond expectations as the twenty-three participants who completed the course are applying what they learned to literacy programs in their home countries: Cameroon, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Burkina Faso.

Several of the graduates have done so well that the course staff recommended that they be assigned as teaching assistants for the next Anglophone course to begin in 2007. The caliber of the participants, what they brought to the course coupled with what they learned, is reflected in their words of wisdom for best practice. (See their comments in a section appended at the end of this article: Literacy Advice.)

French Translators French translators of ILC content.

During the course, the participants from Burkina Faso took on the task of translating the materials and lectures into French. A complete French-speaking staff is now prepared to direct and teach the course in Burkina Faso beginning in 2007. As this training is replicated in the future, hopefully the localized version planned for Francophone Africa will experience success comparable to the 2004-2006 course.

Scope of Influence

Impact and influence of the course may be judged in part by the extent of the programs represented by the ILC participants. During the 2005 phase of the course, a quick survey of the programs represented by the participants yielded the following information:

Burkina Faso:
adult literacy learners
adult literacy learners (4 projects represented)
adult literacy learners.
Kenya – BTL:       
adult literacy learners.
Kenya – LEF:     

adults and children (3 projects represented)

adult learners

learners approximately-books and expertise provided by other organizations that do the teaching.

literacy learners

Course Staff

Literacy learners celebrating 
International Literacy Day
Literacy learners celebrating International Literacy Day

Staff members were carefully chosen for their teaching and French language abilities. The staff included a Kenyan educator with extensive administrative experience as Course Coordinator and an SIL International Literacy Consultant with a PhD. in Education, as head of the course. Co-instructors of the course were other SIL trained literacy and education consultants with extensive field experience in Africa and in the development of literacy and language programs.

In appreciation to the instructors of the course, beneficiaries of a literacy program in one country sent gifts of T-Shirts promoting the alphabet of their language/mother tongue. The staff wore them proudly as they listened to a case study from that area.

Literacy T_shirts

Course Content – for each phase

2004–19.5 days

Topic Hours of guided study, readings, homework, application
11.5 Aspects of literacy progams and planning 30  
8 Education topics
11.5 Orthography design and dialect issues 22.5  
10 Reading theory 13  
2 Cross-cultural issue
10 African case studies and analysis
56 75  
Total academic hours: 131  


1 computer instruction – optional
8 hours miscellaneous–course opening and closing, evaluations, etc.  

9 Total course hours: 140  

2005–20.5 days

Topic Hours of guided study, readings, homework, application
7.5 Aspects of literacy progams and planning 7  
11 Education topics 8.5  
6.5 Orthography design and dialect issues 14.5  
4 Reading theory 3  
11 Learning theory 22  
1.5 Cross-cultural issues 1.5  
2 Management 5  
3 Training, workshops 3  
2 Marketing, distribution, mass media 1  
African case studies and analysis 6
64 Total academic hours: 71.5  

2006–22 days

Topic Hours of guided study, readings, homework, application
13 Reading methods, general 15  
9 Reading methods, Gudschinsky Method 24  
9 Reading methods, Multi-Strategy Method 14  
8 Reading methods, Inter-Active Whole Language 12.5  
3 Transitional primer development - L2 to L1 6.5  
9 Practice teaching 3  
7 Page layout  
African case studies & analysis
72.5 75  
Total academic hours: 147.5  


11 hours miscellaneous. - course opening and closing, attendance at International Literacy Day ceremonies    
Total course hours: 158.5  

For the complete three phases of the course, this equals 192.5 instructional hours, plus 221.5 hours of guided study, readings, homework, and application exercises for a total of 414 academic hours. Total course hours, including opening and closing ceremonies, evaluations, and attendance at International Literacy Days, came to 447 hours. (See also: UNESCO website for a downloadable PDF file outline of the course content.)

Literacy T_shirts
Participants in small work group.

Course Structure

The course structure included the following:

  1. African case studies (program reports). Time was allotted in each phase for each participant to report on their individual programs and progress during the past year.
  2. Readings. Readings were screened for their English difficulty level to accommodate participants whose first language was not English, and more appropriate readings were substituted where possible.
  3. Theoretical content. Because of language difficulty, several of the more abstract theoretical readings were omitted.
  4. Discussion. Two to three hours daily were assigned to small and large group discussions in the first two sessions, with staff or upper-level participants facilitating the sessions and available to clarify questions arising from the lectures or the readings. The majority of the class, who were global learners, reported this to be an important part of their learning process. (A small minority of analytic learners may have preferred less discussion.)
  5. Primer project. The Gudschinsky Approach primer project was assigned to individuals to be done in each participant’s mother tongue, rather than as a small group assignment. This assumed that working in a known language would be more profitable for the learners than trying to develop material in their second or third language.

Original planning did not include so much time to be spent on primer construction, on the assumption that participants already had experience in this area. More time was allotted because of requests received and the obvious need for more expertise in this area.

Participant working on assignment at Ruiru Training Centre
ILC participant practice teaching a primer lesson.

Goals accomplished

A corps of literacy project leaders has been prepared who are well grounded in both theory and practice. They are now more capable of assessing situations, of planning and implementing programs independently, of explaining concepts to others—and display more confidence in doing so. Many participants are being requested to assume increased responsibilities on orthography committees, as project managers, as trainers, and as advisors to peers and even Ministry of Education officials. They report that they find themselves stepping into these responsibilities with new skill and confidence as a result of the knowledge gained in the course. Their reports also tell of increased community activity with a view to making programs sustainable for the long term.


  1. A basic course in linguistics must be a prerequisite for such a course as ILC. In the time allotted, a course like ILC is unable to provide the linguistic background that orthographic and dialectical problems require of the participants. Lack of linguistic knowledge hampers primer making, where spelling, word divisions, and an understanding of functional grammar and language patterns become crucial factors in the preparation of effective reading materials.
  2. Five staff members seems to be the minimum number needed for a student body of this size (21- 24 students). The load is heavy because, in addition to teaching, staff members spend many evenings in mentoring groups and consulting on assignments. A sixth staff member, added for session three because of its heavy consultant mentoring component, was also fully occupied. Secretarial duties need to form part of one staff person’s assignment—photo coping, keeping of the official records, preparation of CDs, thank you cards, etc.
  3. The mix of experienced and younger staff members seemed a perfect blend and afforded less experienced instructors the opportunity to prepare as high-level trainers for future courses.

In conclusion

The participants of the three-cycle Intermediate Literacy Course held in Kenya can be expected to make a significant impact on illiteracy in Africa. Already they represent over 146,000 literacy learners, but in the years to come they will be instrumental in assisting thousands more who reach out for education in generations to come.

Respected role models among their people, these participants demonstrated a passion that has carried them through severe physical and financial hardships. Their vision – to extend themselves by building capacity in others – is already coming to pass.

See also: SIL International Media Release – UNESCO endorses SIL-sponsored African Intermediate Literacy Course (ILC)

Participant working on assignment at Ruiru Training Centre
Participant working on assignment at Ruiru Training Centre

Intermediate Literacy Course overview by Pat Kelley from information submitted by the ILC staff. Photos by Craig Combs.

Practical Advice from Practitioners about Literacy and Education Programs

The ILC participants had a lot of wise and practical comments and advise to give as a result of their experience and their training. The following are some of their comments which are organized according to the roles the participants currently fill in various Literacy and Education Programs. *





*By request, in some cases pseudonyms have been used.