Adult Literacy in Angola

The fight against illiteracy continues in Angola, as the state, NGOs, volunteers, and women’s rights groups all weigh in.

Image credit: Unsplash / Kimberly Farmer

You may have never heard of the International Literacy Day, celebrated on September 8 every year, because basic literacy skills—that is reading, writing, and rudimentary mathematics—are taken for granted by many these days.

However, we should remember that 15-20% of children worldwide are still deprived of the chance to receive even a primary education, which drastically limits their potential economic and social growth in the future. The developing African nation of Angola, as such, takes advantage of the opportunity every year on September 8 to raise awareness about literacy.

Angola’s former Minister of Education, Pinda Simão, delivered speech a few years ago on this day’s occasion, discussing the achievements of the ministry’s strategic plan for raising the rate of literacy among adults. The plan provided free basic reading and writing classes to over 430,000 adult citizens between 2012 and 2015, with 92% of the participants achieving satisfactory results at the end of the course.

The national strategic plan was developed in cooperation with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to rehabilitate the country’s war-stricken education system and spread literacy. The strategy capitalized on “mobilizing the efforts of various local, national and international NGOs, nonprofits and volunteer organizations to act as a single united front aimed at improving education and literacy in Angola,” according to a blog post by the Borgen Project—a charity watchdog.

Similar programs are still in progress in 2023. Indeed, the fight against illiteracy in Angola is an old and ongoing struggle.

Since independence in 1975, there have been campaigns on-and-off to reduce illiteracy. And the illiteracy rate which was once around 85% has dropped to around 25% of the adult population. However, the country is still far from the standard expected by UNESCO: universal basic education for everyone.

NGOs have played a major part in the implementation of literacy initiatives since the early 2000s. Given the widespread influence of religion—and in particular Christianity—in Angola, many of the NGOs active in the field are in linked to churches of one denomination or another.

The Rosto Solidário training center located in an underprivileged suburb of Luanda, for instance is working in cooperation with the Salesian Sisters—a Christian women’s NGO. The center offers more than basic literacy, offering vocational training to locals, especially women. The center is hoping to enable its students to acquire the kinds of skills which are likely to help them land a job in the context of Angola’s job market.

The Lutheran World Foundation (LWF), another Christian NGO, takes pride in being the first foreign NGO that came to Angola, in the 1980s. Focusing on the eastern parts of the country, the NGO summarizes its mission as “helping the most vulnerable realize their most basic rights,” which obviously also include reading and writing skills.

Secular NGOs and individuals are of course also active in the country. A combination of local and international volunteers, especially from fellow Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil and Portugal, are handling the largest part of workload. Go Volunteer Africa—a volunteer mobilization group—cites “teaching and education” as one of the areas that volunteers coming to Angola are most interested in.

The strong emphasis on women is well-placed, as not everyone is affected equally by the problem of illiteracy. Research conducted by the ISCTE Institute at the University of Lisbon in 2020 discovered that the women living in rural areas are more likely to not have received any education. According to some estimates, as much as 60% of women in the rural areas of eastern Angola lack any reading or writing skills.

The shortage of classrooms, teachers, and—most importantly—motivation are known as the main barriers ahead of education campaigns targeting illiterate adult women.

Women’s literacy in Angola is inevitably tied to the empowerment of women in the country, which has been championed by the government in recent years.

The government has called for the empowerment of women, enforcing two new landmark pieces of legislative, including the Labor Code and the Family Code. Both laws are “designed specifically to end the disparities in employment, land ownership, health and basic human rights between genders,” according to the Borgen Project.

These laws paved the way for the participation of women in all social arenas in the 2010s. We, as a result, are now seeing a surge in the early 2020s in women’s enrollment in adult education programs.

Even if eradicating illiteracy is impossible in this generation, there is a good chance that a nearly perfect literacy rate is achievable for the next one. As Angola’s population is predominantly young, investment in the education and literacy of the future generation will be the best course of action.

The country has seen a rise in the percentage of school-age children attending school, with enrollment experiencing a threefold growth between 2002 and 2013 and consequently growing to over 90% over the decade which has passed since then. This is surely a heartwarming development, though the continuation of local and international help will be critical in the coming years.