The Ngbaka Literacy Program

Two hundred thousand adults have learned to read and write in their mother tongue since the program began in 1983.

Ngbaka People Fight Illiteracy

With its complex linguistic, economic and political situation, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) hardly seemed like fertile ground to plant a multilingual literacy and language development program. But in the remote northwest corner of the country, the Ngbaka people began an adult literacy program in the Ngbaka language in partnership with SIL International.

Two hundred thousand adults have learned to read and write in their mother tongue since the program began in 1983. As people became literate, their confidence empowered them to start their own NGO and income generation projects.

Mother Tongue Instruction Improves Primary Schools

In 1993, educational authorities asked Ngbaka literacy program advisors to upgrade primary schools. Because children beginning school in rural areas did not speak Lingala, the language of instruction, the dropout rate by year three was 70 percent.

Three pilot schools began in that year. Teachers walked students through six stages of reading, writing, and arithmetic skills in their mother tongue. In these early years of primary school, the use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction has made all the difference. The first class is taught only in Ngbaka. The second class introduces Lingala, and the third class introduces French. After seven years of this project, 80 percent of children passed the arithmetic test, 78 percent passed the reading test, and 65 percent passed the writing test. Dropout rates have diminished markedly and teachers and parents are very encouraged. By 2001, the Ngbaka children 's education program has grown to over seventy schools. Even with three languages in the curricula, the cost per student each year is only USD 1.00.*

*The program uses volunteer teachers, already existing schools or building facilities, and locally developed teacher and student materials only. In addition, students and teachers share materials, and teacher training is held in Ngbaka villages.

Ngbaka People Form NGO to End Ignorance

In 1994, the Ngbaka NGO Sukisa Boyinga (End Ignorance) was formed to represent all areas of the adult literacy program and administer its partnership with SIL, educational authorities, and local Protestant and Catholic Churches. It provides teacher training and coordinates outside training in subjects such as accounting and English. Sukisa Boyinga also helps to establish committees in Ngbaka villages. These committees shape the vision and goals of the programs in their own villages. They customize the program to fit the needs and farming schedules of the people. In some villages the committee also administers a revolving fund for students and staff to create income generation projects, benefiting both the village and literacy program. Despite the poor economic conditions, literacy groups have been able to pay back 100 percent of the loans to start these micro-enterprises. They have also consistently earned profits between 20 and 60 percent. The use of the mother tongue in both primary schools and adult literacy programs has united Ngbaka communities because children can share what they learn with their parents since they also now know how to read. Literacy has enabled the Ngbaka people to improve their living standards, encourage further education as children are learning Lingala and French, and has given them all a stronger sense of who they are as a people.