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Preparation of this note was supported by U.S. Agency for International Development Grant, AID/DPE-1406-G-SS-1032-00.


During the past decade, adult literacy in international development has become out of fashion. A marked decline in international interest in promoting adult literacy has followed the disappointing results of the Experimental World Literacy Programme (UNESCO, 1976). Many development planners now question the need for literacy in settings where printed materials are few. Others look with dismay at the seemingly meager accomplishments of traditional literacy projects--high dropout rates, low levels of skill acquisition, and frequent instances of relapsing into illiteracy after training is completed.

Lack of interest on the part of technical assistance agencies and among planners and educators has meant three things. First, there has been a failure to examine the nature and consequences of illiteracy in the wake of rapid change in developing countries. Second, there has been a lack of appreciation of the extent to which illteracy is being addressed in development activities in sectors other than education. Finally, planning and carrying out literacy instruction, in general, has neither improved nor adapted itself to changing circumstances.

This note considers these issues with respect to the planning of literacy programs in specific situations. The focus is on literacy training for specific needs brought about by rapid change in Third World regions. In such situations, training is planned around activities which do not primarily, or even secondarily, promote adult literacy. Rather, training focuses on content areas related to development which demand specific literacy skills.

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