APLICA Participatory Liberating Literacy Instrumented by Active Communities

Country Profile: Angola


21,472,000 (2013)

Official language


Local languages

Umbundu, Kimbundu, and Kikongo, among others

Total expenditure on education as % of GDP (2010)


Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 67.28%
Male: 78.63%
Both sexes: 72.93%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 60.69%
Male: 81.98%
Both sexes: 71.14%

Statistical sources

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleAPLICA Participatory Liberating Literacy Instrumented by Active Communities (Alfabetização Participativa Libertadora Instrumentada por Comunidades)
Implementing OrganizationAngolan Association for Adult Education (Associação Angolana para Educação de Adultos)
Language of InstructionPortuguese
FundingMinistry of Education, DVV International, ICCO, IBIS
Date of Inception2000 – present

Background and context

After facing a 27-year civil war (1975–2002) that caused 1.5 million deaths, improving education in Angola is among one of the great challenges the country strives to overcome. The Angolan life expectancy at birth is no more than 48 years. This is reflected in the high percentage (43.2% of the population) of youth citizens aged 14 years or younger. Approximately 70% of the people live in poverty and 54% live in extreme poverty. Although at 2% the rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence is lower than the average of the sub-Saharan countries (5.5%; 2009), it is estimated that the number of individuals living with HIV equals 180,000, out of which 60% are women. Gender inequality represents another major issue in this nation, especially with regard to access to education. It is estimated that out of the 800,000 school-age children who are out of school, 433,600 are girls (1998). Furthermore, the ratio of female to male gross enrolment rates in primary education is 81%, and the differences between males and females in the rates of youth and adult literacy equal to 16% and 26%.

Illiteracy rates in Angola remain very high and constitute one of the greatest societal challenges which need to be addressed. The Literacy and Schooling Acceleration Programme (Programa de Alfabetização e Aceleração Escolar, PAAE) developed by the federal government is an example of how the public sector is responding to this obstacle. The PAAE was designed as part of a 14-year strategic plan to meet the millennium development goals concerning education and literacy. It is a national literacy campaign that, according to the country`s preparatory national report (2008) for CONFINTEA VI, has had an average annual rate of literacy growth that corresponds to 9.02%, and a total addition of 180,000 new literates in between the years of 2002 and 2008. However, since national expenditure in education is still very low, 2.6% of GDP, and has remained unchanged for the past ten years, it is clear that education is not a current priority on the government’s agenda for public investments. As a result, in order to improve national literacy rates, the engagement of civic society, such as the Angolan Association for Adult Education (Associação Angolana para Educação de Adultos, AAEA), has become extremely necessary.

The AAEA was established in 1998 with the mission of increasing educational provision through innovative and inexpensive non-formal services for adult learning in order to fight against poverty and exclusion, especially among the underserved communities. It also endeavours to put an end on the “culture of silence”, the alienation and the lack of voice and self-governance of oppressed and impoverished persons in the developing world in the face of authorities, leaders and members of the elite. This national organisation has contributed to the expansion and consolidation of the practices of the Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques (REFLECT) approach, a participatory methodology developed in the 1990s, which has been used worldwide by over 500 organisations. This approach has been denominated in Angola as the APLICA Participatory Liberating Literacy Instrumented by Active Communities (Alfabetização Participativa Libertadora Instrumentada por Comunidades).

The programme APLICA

APLICA, initiated in the year 2000, is not only a methodology for promoting literacy skills and adult learning as an end in itself, but also aims to promote social changes by empowering learners with the newly-acquired abilities as well as through group discussions and team collaboration. Other innovative characteristics of this programme include using tailor-made materials, employing participatory techniques, developing a forum for sharing ideas and experiences among participants, and promoting learning and knowledge about human rights. Furthermore, the curriculum includes cross-cutting issues that are highly relevant to the social context where the programme is embedded, such as HIV/AIDS and gender. Finally, the programme offers a high degree of flexibility in terms of methodology, schedule, duration and location of so-called learning circles, which vary across communities in order to address personal, working and educational challenges of its participants.

Aims and objectives


The primary aim of this programme is to fight poverty and social injustice and to diminish inequalities in gender and education access by providing non-formal education and empowering learners to produce sustainable changes in their communities. The programme also endeavours to:

Programme implementation

Recruitment and training of facilitators

The minimum requirement to become a facilitator is to have completed at least grade four at elementary school, which implies that he or she must have a well-established repertoire of the basic abilities in written language. They also need to be respected within the community where they reside and intend to work, and be aware that the learning experience goes beyond the learners in that it also includes the facilitators themselves in a constant exchange process of self-development and the acquisition of new abilities and knowledge. Because of the long-lasting history of low schooling among females, their lack of time and the heavy burden of domestic duties that most often lies on this group, the majority of facilitators are males. The facilitators’ recruitment process starts when the organisation reaches out to a community and disseminates its work to leaders, such as clergymen, secretaries and programme coordinators. Then these leaders present the association with a list of names of potential candidates who are selected by AAEA staff. The expected roles of facilitators include leading the circles, participating in monthly meetings with other facilitators from the municipality, writing monthly reports about their work and challenges and electing the vice-coordinator and coordinator of the region. The number of facilitators varies according to the population density and the demands of each community, and can be as low as ten or reach up to 30 facilitators per municipality. For the last two years, there has been an average of 245 facilitators and the ratio of facilitator per number of learners equals about 1/20.


Facilitators are required to participate in a five-day pre-service training which includes group discussions about illiteracy, an introduction to the APLICA approach, an overall view of the pedagogical and social theories developed by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, an exercise to identify the differences between child and adult learning, and a guide that contains the tasks activities. The two-day revision workshops, held twice a year, are an additional resource, intended to revise earlier contents, to enhance facilitators’ knowledge and teaching practices and to present new tools to be used in the circles. In addition, AAEA offers workshops on cross-cutting issues which help facilitators to expand their knowledge and understanding about topics that are relevant to themselves and their community. For instance, the training about HIV/AIDS aims to increase awareness and produce discussions among facilitators and coordinators about essential facts, such as sexual behaviours and transmission. Facilitators receive a monthly stipend of US$50 for working part-time in the circles. Some facilitators receive additional resources (US$100) from the government which cannot yet be guaranteed to all participants.

Enrolment of learners

The work of AAEA was designed to target mainly youths and adults. Because of the gender inequalities with regard to access to formal education, which was particularly predominant during the civil war (1975-2002), the country has a greater number of male adults with higher levels of schooling who do not need classes aimed at promoting basic competencies, as opposed to the female counterparts. Thus, as a result, the vast majority of the participants (70–80%) of the APLICA circles are women. In addition, even though out-of-school children are not among the target groups for this programme, they can participate, especially those who live in more distant rural areas which often have no schools or limited capacity to provide educational services to all young learners. Also, within the last few years, there has been a greater participation of adolescents. Considering that Angola is a very young country in terms of its demographic characteristics, the average age of participants varies from 21–35 years.


The country is organised into 18 provinces, 164 municipalities and 535 communes. The coverage of the programme reaches only nine municipalities of three provinces (Luanda, Bengo and Kwanza Sul), but has enrolled over 36,000 participants since its inception in 2000. The average annual intake of new participants is 4,000, but in 2011 there are 7,000 learners enrolled in the circles. Approximately 42% of the country’s population still live in rural areas, and considering the extensive rainy seasons in addition to the lack of efficient transportation systems and the absence of paved roads in many areas, geographical location constitutes an important issue to be addressed by AAEA. Furthermore, a survey conducted in the country revealed that 84% of the respondents from rural areas had never passed grade four, whereas in urban areas 53% had moved on into higher grades. In order to tackle this challenge, the circles are mostly available in rural areas and the cities’ outskirts.

The desire to learn how to read and write and expand general knowledge, the opportunity to improve employability and enhance management skills as well as the ability to communicate in Portuguese are just a few examples out of the many factors which have motivated Angolans to join the APLICA circles. The minimum requirement to enrol is the individual recognition of the need and importance of learning as a result of a personal decision. Students are recruited by local community leaders from religious and public institutions who are responsible for identifying prospective learners and requesting from AAEA an implementation of one or more APLICA circles.

Teaching/learning approaches and methodologies

As previously stated, the Angolan Association employs the APLICA approach, an adaptation of the methodology known as the Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques (REFLECT). REFLECT/APLICA proposes the integration of teaching literacy with empowering learners with knowledge and competencies in order to give them self-assurance and the necessary abilities to promote social, political and economic development within their community. This approach uses the participatory rural appraisal techniques, created and disseminated by Action Aid and based on the teachings of Paulo Freire, which aim to enable local populations to analyse their own reality in order to produce sustainable changes in their surroundings.


Facilitators and participants meet in the learning circles about three to four times a week for two hours, usually before or after work. The term circle is used in order to represent the type of activities and the structural arrangements that take place in the learning meetings. Learners are not expected to sit in desks and passively listen to the facilitators’ instructions and lectures as in a school-like format. Rather, learners place themselves in a semi-circle and the activities start with the creation of a graphic on the floor, such as a map, matrix, calendar or diagramme, using various materials that include pieces of cardboards pictures, rocks, cans, construction papers and others. Facilitators guide all the learners to discuss a specific topic, usually relevant to their daily lives which then results in the final display. The next step requires them to place the graphic on the wall, choose a word related to the discussion – the so-called generating word – learn how to read and write it and rearrange the syllables of the generating word to acquire new words. Finally, learners engage in a process of discussing and planning concrete actions based upon their previous dialogues. Actions may include a cleanliness campaign around the community, meeting community and political leaders in order to advocate for improved living conditions or for matters that are important to them, visiting peers who have not attended classes, etc. In more advanced levels, participants are also required to produce a text about their discussions and include the newly-acquired words.

Facilitators are given a copy of the so-called Mother-Manual, a guide that contains ten units with various topics and all the steps to be carried out in the circles. It includes guidance to discussing themes, ideas for generating words, and reading, writing and numeracy activities. Examples of units include a matrix of health in which the objective is to discuss participants’ opinion about different kinds of treatment for diseases; a community map to promote a discussion of the history of the village to expand the participants’ knowledge about their own background; and an agricultural calendar which gives them the opportunity to discuss their working plan and one-year timetable enabling them to learn from each other and improve their own practices. All these units include the four-step approach – designing the graphic, choosing the generating word, learning to read and write and taking action. The amount of time necessary to finish all the units varies across groups, but it usually takes between eight to ten months.

The language of instruction and of the materials is Portuguese, though not all Angolans speak the official language as their mother tongue, especially in rural areas where the programme is highly concentrated. Because Portuguese is spoken by the vast majority at least as a second language and in some circles the dialogue is carried out in the participants’ mother tongue, communication is not an acute challenge for the success of this programme. Also, in many areas circles meet in various locations, such as schools, facilitators’ houses and churches, and are completely free of charge. Learning is evaluated through a participative assessment which engages participants, facilitators and technicians in order to identify behaviour changes in the personal lives of both learners and instructors. Students who wish to have their newly-acquired literacy skills certified, have the option of participating in a formal assessment offered by the Ministry of Education.

Funding support

The programme’s annual costs are US$180,000, whereas the cost per learner varies between US$70 and US$100 according to the location of the circles. Though the government provides some limited funding, including the stipends being paid to a number of facilitators, the great majority of resources come from a combination of three different sources. DVV International, a non-profit German organisation aimed at supporting and strengthening adult education programmes around the world, contributes roughly 35%, which is used to cover part of the salaries of the AAEA staff and the everyday running costs of the two offices. ICCO also provides about 35% towards remaining expenses that not covered by public funding. This is a Dutch inter-church organisation that distributes global financial and technical support to local organisations in order to promote sustainable economic development and democracy in the developing countries. The final 30% of the costs are provided by IBIS, a Danish organisation focused on creating equal access to education, especially among poor and marginalised Africans and Latin Americans.

Monitoring and evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation system of the AAEA is currently under restructure to improve its practices and provide well-established participatory monitoring. The main objective is to guarantee quality assurance of services by tracking the results of the activities and using the information to reformulate actions, tools and trainings. In 2010, the association started carrying out workshops to train facilitators and coordinators to monitor the circles in their municipalities. They used the framework Counting Seeds for Change, a practical guide to help practitioners (i.e. facilitators, trainers and coordinators) to assess the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of the REFLECT programmes in an effective and coherent manner worldwide, including Angola. Prior to the establishment of this new approach, part of the monitoring was carried out in regular meetings, which are still effective despite the additional workshops implemented last year. These gatherings brought together participants, facilitators, local public authorities, religious leaders and staff from the Ministry of Education and AAEA to discuss, analyse and the track progress of the circles, as well as to identify flaws, gaps, provide ideas for further improvements and assess the benefits for the persons involved.

Some of the indicators examined in monitoring the programme are the number of participants in the circles, learners and facilitators’ attendance, duration of implementation of circles, number of days the circles meet and their timetables, characteristics of participants and facilitators, assessments of reading, writing and numeracy skills and behaviour changes. The data collection system employs a bottom-up format, in which the facilitators report to the coordinator of their municipality who reports to the regional supervisor. The supervisor sends the information to the provincial coordinator who gathers information from all the different localities and reports to the national coordinator. In addition, observations of the circles are carried out by the coordinators of each municipality who are also a facilitator of their own circle and by the staff of the funding organisations.

So far, one external evaluation has been carried out in order to assess the effectiveness of the methodological approach employed by AAEA. In 2008, DVV International evaluated the extent to which APLICA has successfully achieved its goals in teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills, and has improved the quality of life of learners and facilitators. Data were collected through questionnaires, individual and group interviews, document analyses, participative observations and literacy and numeracy assessments. The main result from this evaluation revealed that learners had successfully acquired basic reading, writing and numeracy skills as a result of their participation to the APLICA circles. The majority of the sample was able to perform as high as level four (out of five) of the literacy test, meaning they were able to read, comprehend and answer questions about a simple text, and level three in numeracy, i.e. they were able to perform basic arithmetic operations. Additional results showed that:

Reports from AAEA also present the many benefits that the circles have produced among learners and facilitators. First of all, a great improvement in the infrastructure of some communities has been observed. Due to the action plans designed during the sessions of the circles, learners have achieved many changes in their surroundings, such as building latrines and meeting halls, cleaning streets and houses, improving the hygiene habits of community members, including non-APLICA-learners, and improving access to drinking water. An impact on the relationships among community members in terms of solidarity, better communication and social integration has also been reported. For instance, there are learners who have voluntarily offered to take care of domestic chores for peers who are unable to perform these tasks, in addition to several reports of individuals who have demonstrated a greater ability to deal with conflicts within families and communities. Other benefits include diminishing and/or eliminating the “culture of silence” in some communities, especially among females. For example, as a result of increased knowledge about human rights, some women from a specific circle carried out a protest in their community to raise their voices against the domestic violence they experienced. Furthermore, APLICA has produced results that go beyond the expected outcomes, since it has benefited the learners not only in their capacity as citizens and community members, but also as parents. Participation in the programme has resulted in greater awareness with regard to the importance of education, and as a consequence it has produced increased children’s school attendance rates and greater parental support in homework and academic activities.


The primary challenge in the implementation of the APLICA circles in Angola, according to AAEA, has been to raise public awareness about the importance of literacy and education for the promotion of human development. There is still a lack of understanding about the interconnection between human rights and education, including literacy, which results in the low financial investments that the federal government has provided to formal and non-formal adult education programmes in Angola. Another major challenge is that donors have not yet fully realised that adult education activities should not only target the development of literacy and numeracy skills, but they should also promote the development of broader competencies, such as life skills and the empowerment of participants through increasing their awareness about diseases, gender issues, democratic participation and human rights. In this sense, AAEA has advocated for the Education For All goals, and for the implementation of comprehensive non-formal adult education programmes in the country.

Additional challenges are:

Lessons learned

The following key lessons have emerged during the 11-year implementation experience of REFLECT/APLICA in the Angolan context:


One great challenge AAEA has faced since the inception of the APLICA circles is the lack of long-term funding partnerships and strategies to secure sustainable investments. Despite the need for constant renegotiation with donors, the association has been able to successfully maintain over time partnerships with three different organisations, DVV International, ICCO and IBIS, which have provided the bulk of the necessary funding. Due to the existing high rates of adult illiteracy combined with the lack of governmental actions to address this problem, the need for initiatives such as the one offered by AAEA is pressing, a fact that has contributed to the sustainability and expansion of the APLICA circles throughout Angola. At the very beginning of the programme, the circles were implemented in only two municipalities of two provinces. To date the circles have reached three provinces with direct implementation of AAEA, and one additional province through the work of another civil society organisation. The APLICA circles constitute one of the few projects in the country that provides literacy classes in distant rural communities.

Other factors which have strengthened the work of AAEA include its positive acceptance and the active participation of learners and community members in promoting the circles in their surroundings; the project model’s enabling of communities to develop a sense of ownership of the circles, since learners and facilitators are in charge of requesting, executing, monitoring and assessing the activities; and finally the establishment of partnerships with other initiatives which have promoted the work in the field of adult education, such as Promoting Female Literacy in Angola and Mozambique (Projecto de Alfabetização Feminina em Angola e Moçambique, FELITAMO).



Vítor Manuel Barbosa
Presidente da Direcção
Associação Angolana para Educação de Adultos
barbosa (at) netangola.com

Additional contact information:

Fátima Ramos Sebastião
Directora para Administração e Finanças
fatimaramossebastiao (at) gmail.com

Last update: 12 September 2011