Illiteracy among out-of-school youth constitutes a major impediment for achieving national development. The World Bank estimates that more than 130 million youth, 15 to 24 years of age, are illiterate. These numbers probably understate the problem since a high percentage of youth who claim they are literate are unable to pass a simple literacy test.
The consequences of chronic illiteracy in developing countries spill over into an array of interrelated areas: economic growth, health and family well-being, social justice, school productivity, and family/social cohesion all eventually suffer. On the positive side, assisting young people in acquiring and improving their literacy skills helps them successfully transition into their adult roles as workers, parents, and citizens. Since they are young, any investment in their education will accrue a return over three or four decades, increasing the likelihood of a positive return on investment.
In order to help youth reach their fullest potential, literacy programs must integrate the teaching of literacy (reading, writing, numeracy) with the teaching of other skills that young people need to become productive members of society such as basic life and employability skills, entrepreneurship training, or technical vocational education. These integrated literacy programs can have a variety of developmental goals for their participants, including: (a) preparing them for re-entry into the formal school system; (b) helping them enter the workforce; and (c) assisting them with starting their own businesses.
EQUIP3 has been incorporating an integrated literacy approach into its nonformal basic education programs in order to help out-of-school youth progressively advance in the livelihood track of their choice. Our approach to designing and implementing integrated literacy programs involves several key elements.
Identifying which development sector is the appropriate place to situate the program
The most obvious place for such a program would be within the education sector. But other development sectors such as business, health, and agriculture have served as a home for literacy programs or supported them in collaboration with education sector agencies or NGOs.
Identifying the skills (literacy and non-literacy) that learners need to master within the context they are expected to be applied
For example, a program that helps youth learn literacy skills so that they can better participate in community governance would teach skills such as: how to record the minutes of a meeting, form and express opinions, collaborate, make public presentations, etc.
Utilizing expertise from relevant sectors (e.g. business, health, agriculture)
For example, a program that integrates the teaching of literacy and numeracy into the learning of basic employability skills needs the input of prospective employers and/or program graduates.
Ensuring that available literacy materials are of sufficient quality
The most effective programs rely on well-designed materials that learners and teachers can use both within and outside of instructional settings.
Ensuring that there are sufficient human resources available to implement the program
Many countries lack enough trained teachers to adequately staff their primary and secondary schools. Programs must identify where the human resources will come from to implement an out-of-school youth literacy program.
Ensuring that the program provides out-of-school youth with the necessary exposure to become functionally literate
Limited research suggests for the average young person or adult, between 200 to 300 hours of instruction are needed to acquire a level of skill sufficient to use and retain over time. Additional hours spent in group instruction or self-directed study can be expected to result in greater skill attainment.
Evaluating the effectiveness of the program on at least two dimensions
The first is the degree to which targeted literacy and numeracy skills have been mastered. The second is the degree to which learners are able to apply these skills in real-life situations.
EQUIP3ís Haitian Out-of-School Youth Livelihood Initiative (IDEJEN) provides nonformal basic education and job training for out-of-school youth ages 15-24. IDEJEN uses an approach that integrates the teaching of literacy and numeracy with life/employability skills, HIV/AIDS awareness, and vocational training.EQUIP3ís Literacy and Community Empowerment Project (LCEP) in Afghanistan provided practical literacy skills for rural, marginalized youth within the context of broader civic and livelihood development. Through a cross-sectoral strategy emphasizing literacy and the interconnected elements of civic engagement and economic empowerment, young people were granted opportunities to gain functional literacy skills, voice, and increased livelihood opportunities.
EQUIP3ís Preparing Us for Work Project in East Timor prepares rural youth to earn a better livelihood. Youth participants gain hands-on work experience, complementary training, and skill-building activities in the areas of literacy/language learning, employability and life-skills training, entrepreneurship training, and vocational skills building.
EQUIP3ís Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) Project in the Philippines works to improve access to quality education and livelihood skills for youth in Muslim areas of Mindanao. The program aims to improve learner achievement and develop new instructional programs related to the livelihood and employment needs of out-of-school children and youth.
Literacy for Out-of-School Youth: A Program Guide
EQ Review on Literacy, October 2005: This document explores the many different and changing faces of literacy programs today.