GILLBT Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Ghana


23,000,000 (2007 estimate)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):

44.8% (1990-2004)

Official Language


Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP


Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

34% (2005)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

71% (1995-2004)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)
  • Total: 58%
  • Male: 66%
  • Female: 50%

Programme Overview

Programme TitleGILLBT Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationGhana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)
Language of InstructionBuli; Kasem; Sisaala; Passal; Frafra; Mampruli; Kusaal; Deg; Gonja; Birifor; Vagla; Hanga; Anufo; Tampulma; Chumburung; Nawuri; Bassar; Adele; Gikyode; Nkonya and Ielemi
Date of Inception1972


Ghana’s official national policy, outlined in Vision 2020 (1996), states that all children have a right to ten years of primary education from the age of six to 16. Teaching should be in the local language for the first three school years, followed by seven years in English, the official language of Ghana. The central objective of Vision 2020 is to reduce poverty and improve people’s quality of life, as well as increase citizens’ awareness of their rights. Unfortunately, however, it has encountered some major obstacles. Despite the Ghanaian government’s commendable effort to promote literacy, only 15 of the 63 local languages are currently supported in terms of materials and language training provisions for teachers.

Since 1972, the Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT) has been carrying out a successful, community-based literacy programme among 34 language groups in those regions of Ghana with the highest poverty rates and the lowest levels of education. The situation in the northern and central parts of the country is considered to be worse than elsewhere, with an adult illiteracy rate above the national average of around 30 percent and a proportion of out-of-school children in excess of the estimate of 25 percent nationwide. For this reason, GILLBT activities specifically target these regions.


The goal of the GILLBT literacy programme is to facilitate the empowerment of the rural adult population in order to free them from their social, economic, spiritual and political exclusion. This specific literacy programme focuses on 22 language groups that are mainly located in the less developed rural areas of Ghana, in the northern part of the country and in the North Volta region.

The targeted language groups include Buli; Kasem; Sisaala; Passal; Frafra; Mampruli; Kusaal; Deg; Gonja; Birifor; Vagla; Hanga; Anufo; Tampulma; Chumburung; Nawuri; Bassar; Adele; Gikyode; Nkonya and Ielemi

Main Objectives

The literacy programme provides basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. Functional literacy training is followed by advanced literacy in the local language and English to provide further learning opportunities. Other components include HIV prevention, income-generating activities, a rights-based approach to empowerment and gender promotion.

GILLBT has developed a Five Phase Model to manage the programme. The aim of this model is to raise the level of education of rural minority language groups. Once enough learners and organizers from each language group have acquired literacy skills, they can become self-sufficient. The goal is to devolve responsibilities progressively to local communities, thus preparing them for independent, self-sustaining management.

The functional literacy classes incorporate business practices such as book-keeping and related techniques from the initial start-up stage to the marketing phase, together with information that raises learners’ awareness of citizen rights and peaceful ways of reform. The aim is to enable literacy to play a functional and meaningful role in daily life, thereby:

Programme Implementation and Responsibilities

GILLBT has evolved a programme structure that specifies the functions of the programme’s stakeholders and main participants, making local people the main decision-makers at the project level. Regional Coordinators liaise between the organization’s headquarters in Tamale and the local projects. Their main role is to monitor and supervise progress. The head office also solicits support, and networks with donors and other organizations. As a result of the devolution of responsibilities to local people, GILLBT’s headquarters are relatively small. In addition to the National Literacy Manager, the Literacy Department has 12 national and regional members of staff coordinating all language projects.

The programme is divided into five main sectors, namely:

  1. material development;
  2. gender promotion;
  3. education and training;
  4. research; and
  5. database and micro finance.

Facilitators and Teaching Approach

The facilitators are recruited by local village literacy committees in conjunction with the zonal literacy supervisor. They are trained in their local language (including its grammatical structures), as well as in adult learning techniques and participatory approaches (PRA). Annual courses for facilitators are also part of the programme. Apart from teaching, courses for learners include discussions and participatory sessions, exchanges of ideas on issues of interest and drama activities. Each graduate receives a certificate after passing a final test.

Facilitators initially received an annual remuneration of 6.5 Ghanaian New Cedis (equivalent to US$5.4). Additional funding has been found to support a number of specific language groups (Frafra, Buli, Gonja, Deg, Sisaala, Passal, Mampruli, Kusaal, Kasem), which means that facilitators now receive 16.3 Ghanaian New Cedis (equivalent to US$13.5) each year. The average number of learners per facilitator is 18. The learning achievements of participants are assessed through written and oral tests.

Main Achievements

Since it was inaugurated in 1972, the GILLBT programme has achieved the following:

The programme has transformed the everyday lives of its learners. People now sign their names instead of using thumbprints and are able to arrange hospital identity cards for their children. Many learners have found jobs, or entered formal schools or tertiary institutions.

GILLBT literacy activities possess the characteristics essential to ensuring a successful literacy programme. The organization has a committed staff, an effective administrative and management system, strong local involvement and support, and appropriate and culturally-sensitive instructional methods and materials. There is a large volunteer force of teachers and supervisors at grassroots level that contributes to the programme’s sustainability.

Sustainability of the Programme

The communities targeted by the GILLBT programme mainly depend on subsistence farming, with a little additional income from cash crops. Since the programme was first launched, local people and community leaders have expressed a desire to become literate in their mother tongue. To facilitate this, the communities have made people available to be trained as volunteer supervisors and teachers. Moreover, they have provided volunteers with a range of incentive packages in the form of food or free labour for farms. This is just one example of the extent to which the programme is now owned by the community.

Empowerment is an integral part of the programme. Both the Development Training Programme (DATP) and the Gender Promotion Programme (GPP) focus on capacity-building and help women to apply for funds and achieve financial autonomy.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring is an integral and ongoing part of the programme. Participants’ learning achievements are assessed through written and oral tests, while the teachers themselves are monitored by local and regional supervisors, as well as local literacy coordinators. Additionally, donors receive a progress report every six months, and once a year, a donor representative travels to Ghana to help evaluate the programme.

Funding and Partners

GILLBT does not have long-term, guaranteed sources of funding, and there is an over-reliance (70 percent of the annual budget) on a small number of external donors. These benefactors have continued to support GILLBT largely because of its reputation for managing its resources wisely.

The programme’s main donors include SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) International, the Oikonomos Foundation (Netherlands), Wycliffe Australia, and the Tearfund (UK). GILLBT is also working in close cooperation with the Ghanaian government’s Non-formal Education Department and the University of Ghana’s Institute for Adult Education in Lagon.

Future Challenges

Despite the success of the GILLBT projects and other programmes in the field, illiteracy remains a problem in Ghana, especially in the poorer northern regions. The government’s leadership is essential for the promotion of functional literacy, and it is hoped that it will continue to provide the same level of support in future.

However, the programme cannot rely indefinitely on volunteerism alone. The community-based nature of the project, together with the social recognition gained from voluntary work, has thus far enabled it to continue its activities. However, in future, the project must be financially prepared to meet demands for some form of remuneration from teachers and supervisors. Moreover, the accessibility and availability of qualified teachers, as well as their motivation, are serious issues that must be addressed in order to guarantee the future of the programme.

Lessons Learned

The voluntary services provided by the communities have contributed to the expansion of the projects by enabling GILLBT to use its limited resources to purchase essential teaching and learning materials. By involving local community members in the management of project activities, the programme has been able to continue even without guaranteed long-term funding.

The involvement of volunteers has furthermore proven to be an efficient way of achieving community participation, ownership and support. The general view is that the involvement of volunteers at different levels of the project has helped to reduce overall project costs. The volunteers have also proved committed managers of the GILLBT literacy programme.

The Institute’s success in sustaining large-scale literacy projects for this length of time is a major achievement. Over the past decades, GILLBT’s literacy efforts have stood out from those of other national actors supported primarily by major international donors.



George Maalug Kombian
National Literacy Manager
Ghana Institute of Linguistics, Literacy and Bible Translation (GILLBT)
P.O. Box TL 378
Email: litadmin_gillbt (at) / george_maalug (at)

Last update: 8 December 2009