Economic Empowerment and Functional Adult Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Kenya


42,749,000 (2012)

Poverty (population living below the national poverty line of US$ 1.25)

46.1% (2006)

Official Languages

English, Kiswahili

Other spoken languages

Kikuyu, Dholuo and Luhya

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP (2010)


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

82% (2008)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years, 2010)

Female: 94%
Male: 92%
Total: 93%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2010)

Female: 84%
Male: 91%
Total: 87%

  • UNESCO: EFA Global Monitoring Report (2012)
  • UNICEF Info by Country
  • World Bank: World Development Indicators (2013)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleEconomic Empowerment and Functional Adult Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationKenya Adult Learners’ Association (KALA)
Language of InstructionOfficial languages (English and Kiswahili), other languages (Kikuyu, Maasai, Dholuo)
FundingChurch World Service; Pro Literacy Worldwide; Self-financing
Programme PartnersChurch World Service, Pro-Literacy Worldwide, UNESCO Nairobi Office, Kenya National Commission for UNESCO, Directorate of Adult and Continuing Education, Partners in Literacy Ministries, Toronto Adult Student Association, National Institute for Adult and Continuing Education, Girl Child Network, International Council for Adult Education, Bible Translation and Literacy, and Learners’ Associations in Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia
Annual Programme CostsKES 4,000,000 (approximately US$ 45,800)
Date of Inception1990

Context and Background

Kenya is one of the developing countries in the world. Based on measures of health, education and income, the Human Development Index (2012) ranks the country 145 out of 187 countries, in the category of Low Human Development. Despite remarkable economic growth in recent years, with a growth rate of 4.3% in 2012 and an expected growth rate of 5% in 2013, poverty and income inequality are still major problems in the country. Nevertheless, the World Bank Report data on Kenya (2013) shows that these issues are being gradually addressed; the overall rate of absolute poverty declined from 51% in 1997 to 46.1% in 2006. In rural areas the proportion of the population living in absolute poverty declined from 53% in 1997 to 49% in 2006, whereas the urban poverty rate decreased significantly over the same period, with a downturn from 49 % to 34%. Whilst overall poverty rates remain high, people in rural areas tend to be poorer than urban citizens.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, since 1999 the annual population growth rate in Kenya has remained around 2.6%, meaning that an estimated 800,000 young Kenyans enter the job market every year (World Bank 2013). The World Bank has also indicated that fewer Kenyans are now employed in family farming. The formal business sector is only able to produce around 50,000 new jobs each year. This significantly increases the importance of the non-formal sector in creating employment and reducing poverty.

In this respect, the Kenya Adult Learners’ Association (KALA) plays an important role in promoting micro-enterprises and advancement in the informal business sector as a way of alleviating youth unemployment and high rural poverty in Kenya. The World Bank states that strong job growth is only possible with the legitimization of the informal business sector, which can increase household productivity. Accordingly, the Economic Empowerment Programme implemented by KALA tackles the vulnerability of farmers to climatic conditions – a serious challenge to development in rural Kenya – by equipping participants with skills which allow them to engage in other income generating activities besides farming (World Bank 2013).

Kenya introduced mandatory free primary school education in 2003, which saw 104% enrolment in primary schools, and in 2008, the Kenyan government extended the concept of free basic education to include public secondary schools, covering tuition costs only. Yet even with these policies in place, there are still some 1.2 million children who are not attending school (UNICEF). Gender disparities in education are also high: as of 2010 84% of females are literate, compared to 91% of males (UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report 2012).

By focusing on women and youth in rural areas as main target groups, KALA’s literacy programme addresses some of the country’s major problems: educational shortcomings, poverty, unemployment and social marginalization.

Overview / Introduction


The Economic Empowerment and Functional Adult Literacy Programme has been implemented by the Kenya Adult Learners’ Association (KALA) in various rural areas of Kenya. The programme aims to provide hands-on training to economically empower adults and youths by equipping them with basic literacy and functional skills. Economic empowerment refers to entrepreneurship and management training, which enables the target group to pursue income generating activities. Such activities lead to important supplementary income, thereby reducing the dependency of households on income from weather-dependent activities such as farming. One of KALA’s aims is to put learners in a better position to make important decisions which influence their general livelihoods.

Adult learners are also able to acquire skills in the prevention, control and reduction of health issues that may reduce their working capacities, as well as undertake kitchen-garden programmes which demonstrate new methods of food production.


Aims and Objectives

Programme Implementation

The Economic Empowerment and Functional Adult Literacy Programme is categorised into four component areas:


The first area is the empowerment of women and youth groups through the application of economic and literacy skills (functional adult literacy). Women make up the majority of enrolled learners. The programme specifically strengthens the ability of women and youth to actively pursue income generating activities. The focus of women is hereby on non-farming income generating activities as a supplement to income from harvesting. Literacy skills are particularly important for women, especially in rural areas, because their access to both land and a sustained income is limited due to prohibitive systems such as the land tenure system. Literacy skills are therefore important because they enable women to engage in self-employment such as running small-businesses, as a means of making a living and maintaining a consistent income. In general, empowering women is seen by KALA as a continuous process, which raises their social position and enables them to participate fully in decision making processes at the community level.

The second aspect is based on developing the economic literacy skills of women and youth through incorporating the national adult literacy curriculum developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, a state body responsible for curriculum development, to achieve the set objectives of the programme. Through this basic adult literacy curriculum, adult learners acquire reading, writing and arithmetic skills, while KALA integrates supplementary entrepreneurship and management training outside the traditional reading and writing context. The general curriculum also takes the wider needs of women into consideration, as it addresses dynamic issues affecting women - human rights, economic empowerment, environmental conservation, civic engagement and health education.


The third component of the KALA literacy programme is a supplementary kitchen-garden programme, which is meant to improve women’s knowledge of agricultural production and food provision. In addition to contributing to women’s empowerment, the kitchen-garden programme has a domestic importance, as women are the main providers of food at the household level. Due to unpredictable weather patterns, subsistence farming cannot always guarantee sufficient food supply, or indeed a surplus income. Issues of poverty and hunger in rural areas are therefore alleviated through the kitchen-garden project.

The fourth aspect focuses on health. In order to improve health conditions in rural areas, the KALA literacy programme includes primary health education, as well as information on HIV and AIDS control, prevention and care. Women also learn about the care of orphans and vulnerable children, enabling them to provide children with basic health care services. For this purpose, participating women visit orphans on various occasions to evaluate their health and other needs. The majority of these orphans live with hosts in the rural community, as their families often cannot afford to send them to orphanages. Living at home provides children with an opportunity to support the family income, and the home visits they receive help to achieve this by ensuring their health needs are closely monitored.


The course design of the KALA literacy programme is principally based on the needs of learners, which are determined through individual or group assessments. Each learner has to complete a basic entrance examination that determines each participant’s existing level of understanding, consisting of simple literacy and arithmetic tests. These are conducted in English, Kiswahili and other languages, depending upon the requirements of the community. Participants are able to articulate their interests and perspectives on literacy and thereby take an active part in their education. At the end, the most successful learners are accredited by the national examination body with an official certificate and can continue to secondary education. At this stage KALA helps to find a sponsor for the most successful adult learner. This support is designed so that he or she can contribute meaningfully toward the programme in future, for instance as a programme facilitator. There are two general modalities for teaching the adult education courses: the formal and non-formal.

Formal learning is structured in such a way that learners begin their classes in the morning and finish in the evening, with intermittent (morning and lunch) breaks. The learners in this modality study on a full time basis.


The non-formal system does not strictly follow the prescribed curriculum. Instead adult learners decide on when to attend class and the teacher acts a facilitator. He or she will guide the learners professionally. Most of the adult education is non-formal as it involves peer exchange talks among participants, providing them with an opportunity to network and to exchange experiences and knowledge. The only kinds of materials used are textbooks, which are developed by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and other organizations specialized in adult education. Pro-Literacy Worldwide, for instance, provide a Literacy Solutions handbook which offers simplified and easy to understand learning references. Covering basic literacy in Kiswahili and English, the textbooks are intended to serve as a means of self-orientation for new participants, and are not a formal requirement of the course.

The courses are structured to fit learners’ busy time schedule. The basic literacy course takes place at times when they are not busy, mostly in the afternoons. Adult learners determine their individual availability. The lessons last for 2 hours a day and take place on a minimum of two days per week, up to a maximum of five days per week. Continuous education courses target youth and take place five times a week. The courses are meant for young people who have dropped out of primary education or did not finish secondary education. The average course duration is about three years.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators


The programme facilitators are part time workers, who receive a monthly remuneration of 3000 Kenyan Schilling (approximately US$ 36). They receive training by the Directorate of Adult and Continuing Education in partnership with KALA. To qualify for this training they must possess a certificate of secondary education. They are then given structured training in adult education, including methodology and delivery, which lasts for up to three months. This ensures that facilitators are specially trained to deal with adult learners. Presently the facilitator/learner ratio is 1 to 40.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The monitoring and evaluation process undertaken by KALA is an opportunity for learners to express criticism and point out problems about the literacy programme. It enables learners to take an active role in the design and implementation of the programme. KALA assesses the result of the programme mid-way and at the end of the programme, and also monitors the literacy levels of learners on a monthly basis through feedback sessions with learners and facilitators.

The impact of the programme on a learner’s life and on communities as a whole is evaluated using a bottom-up approach. The indicators used to judge the effectiveness of the programme, among others, include the number of adult learners enrolled, the number enrolled who go on to secure employment, and whether learners feel they have been empowered and involved in decision making processes. All learners at both the primary and secondary level are provided with a mandatory certificate of achievement once they complete the course. KALA also conducts monthly follow-up visits to monitor the progress of the learners.

Programme Impact and Challenges


Since its inception, the KALA literacy programme has benefited over 75,000 participants, and it reaches around 2,500 learners annually. The programme has particularly benefited women and youth with low incomes. KALA was successful in reaching out to grassroots communities and in establishing groups of people who learn together and mobilize their efforts to undergo income generating activities. It also managed to influence policy makers in the government to put an emphasis on community and gender education, a feat achieved through continuous partnership between the government, the private sector and key development partners.

The empowerment of women through literacy has meant that women have become more actively engaged in decision making at the household level, allowing women to pursue and advocate their own interests. One impact of the programme has been the alleviation of women’s marginalization within society, as improved literacy has given women a greater level of social, economic and political status.

In order to better the economic prospects of women in rural communities, the KALA literacy programme teaches women how to work their land more effectively, which raises their agricultural productivity and improves their income. Women who complete the programme also have a greater chance of pursuing self-employment as a means of generating supplementary domestic income. The focus of the programme is generally on literacy because it has a positive effect on learner’s employment opportunities. Generating and promoting micro-enterprises has a lasting effect on people’s independence and it increases their chance of surviving food shortages and their associated health alignments. Literacy is therefore an integral part of the sustainability aspect of KALA’s economic empowerment programme.


Besides economic empowerment and the teaching of functional literacy skills, the programme has also been successful in the dissemination of information through newsletters, increased collaborations and networking with key stakeholders and partners.

There has also been a transformation of national management systems at the class room level - part of a two-way undertaking between KALA and the adult learners. In an innovative measure, each class now has a voluntary management committee, comprised of both adult learners and the class facilitator. The facilitator is responsible for articulating the concerns of the class to the committee, which discusses and responds to issues collectively. This allows adult learners to take a managerial role in their class and make important decisions. As a requirement of each class, the committee is responsive to the needs of learners and puts adults in the position to measure how much they have achieved.

Communities participating in KALA’s efforts have also benefited as a whole from the community libraries and resource centres set up in aid of the project, thus promoting a culture of lifelong learning.


Due to high enrolment rates by adult learners, the capacity of KALA is insufficient to provide enough facilitators for all 22 adult learning centres distributed across the country. This goes along with a lack of funding that leads to a shortage of material and human resources.

The first challenge the programme providers encounter are high fuel costs, which make it difficult to conduct monthly monitoring and evaluation visits to each of the learning centres. The poor road network in Kenya also makes it difficult to travel and monitor learning centres. This is especially true during the rainy season. The weather, in the form of unforeseen climatic changes, also hinders the successful implementation of the literacy programme, and especially affects learners with agricultural based businesses.

Another challenge for learners are the long travel distances to classes, which means that there is a big demand for more learning centres closer to where learners live. A prevailing sense of insecurity in areas with a history of social tensions also prevents learners from participating in the programme. Because of the distances required to travel to some literacy centres, adult learners forced to walk at night are also prone to attacks by humans and wild animals.

For programme facilitators, their poor remuneration has at times led to a lack of motivation. It is also difficult for the facilitators to advance KALA’s objectives due to shortages of both relevant materials and personnel to provide them with continuous training in the provision of adult education.


There is an urgent need for adult education in Kenya, but the means of making the programme a success in all parts of Kenya are limited. This jeopardises the sustainability of the programme. The major challenge, as noted previously, is a shortage of funds to reach all the earmarked learning centres.

As of November 2013, KALA has secured funding for six of the twenty-two learning centres, which are achieving sustainable progress due to their undertaking in small scale businesses. This process has harnessed close working partnerships amongst the community members, who are able to share their problems, encounters and experiences together. Given the programmes success, it is likely to spread to other areas if enough funding is available.


Although KALA has sourced funding for the remaining sixteen centres, it can be guaranteed for only one year at a time. At the end of this period KALA will have to solicit more funding. It is possible the programme might face some financial difficulties, leading to a sense of uncertainty for learners and facilitators alike. Participants only contribute their time and a very limited amount of money, which is held in savings for the members of each group. Learners are not officially obliged to make any financial contribution towards their learning. KALA estimates the annual costs in US dollars to run these centres to include $10,080 for materials, $15,172 for facilitators’ honoraria, and $11,592 for monitoring and evaluation.

A final obstacle to be overcome is a lack of trained personnel to handle adult education. The facilitators in these centres need constant training, both in the field and in the classroom. As most of the facilitators are males, female facilitators also need some extra motivation to take part in the programme.

Lessons learned

  1. There is a commitment by adult learners to engage in the programme. If resources (time and financial) were less constrained, many more adult learners could enroll in the programme.
  2. Adult illiteracy cannot be countered by simply applying the three R’s approach (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic). Including an additional economic dimension to the programme boosts not only the enrolment rate, but also the overall literacy rate of participants, as it provides them with the incentive to ‘learn to earn’. This has had positive impacts upon household relations in the rural communities.
  3. Entrepreneurial training is effective to adult learners as it gives them a sense of ownership of the projects they are running. In addition, it can ensure these adult learners are better able to manage their household incomes. Since most of the adult learners have varied knowledge and skills but lack formal education, KALA has realised the need to give these adult learners the opportunity to participate in the decisions which determine the kind of education they receive.
  4. Motivation of adult learners and facilitators alike can be achieved when these constituents are allowed to share their experiences and ideas freely. By being provided with a sense of ownership to the programme through measures such as the shared class committees, adult learners feel committed to the progress or goals they have set for the programme.
  5. Involving adult learners in the design of the programme, from the inception to development phases, will make the programme a success.
  6. At the end of the entrepreneurial training, learners are better able to run their businesses in a profitable manner.


Contact details

Ms. Magdalene Gathoni
Position: National Coordinator
KALA Centre
Off Nairobi-Naivasha
P.O. Box 19343-00202 Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 733 641 551 or +254 716 362829
Email: magdalenewamwea (at)

Last update: 4 December 2013