Basic Education Programme for Adults

Country Profile: Egypt



Official Language


Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

3.76 (2008)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1.25 per day):

2.00% (2008)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15–24 years)

Female: 86.05% (2012)
Male: 92.35% (2012)
Total: 89.28% (2012)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)

Female: 65.75% (2012)
Male: 81.67% (2012)
Total: 73.86% (2012)


UNESCO Institute for Statistics
The World Bank Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleBasic Education Programme for Adults
Implementing OrganizationCaritas Egypt
Language of InstructionArabic
Programme PartnersMISEREOR (German Catholic Bishops’ Organization for Development Cooperation), General Agency for Literacy and Adult Education (GALAE), UNESCO, UNICEF, Care International, Save the Children US, and more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at national and grassroots levels. Funding in 2012–2013: Katholische Zentralstelle für Entwicklungshilfe e.V. (KZE), MISEREOR and the Egyptian Adult Education Authority (the programme’s health and environmental awareness components are partly supported by the Ford Foundation and Caritas Germany)
Annual Programme Costs €650,000 (around US $885,000)
Annual programme cost per learner: €65–€75 (around US $88–$102)
Date of Inception1972

Context and Background

There are many well-established and long-running literacy programmes in Egypt. However, population growth and the period of unrest that followed the Arab Spring of 2011 diverted government interest away from adult literacy and complicated efforts to improve levels of literacy in the country. Egypt’s population of around 82 million people is growing at a rate of 1.76% each year, with the strongest growth among the rural poor – those most inclined to choose immediate financial security over the long-term benefits of education.

Although education is both free and mandatory education for all Egyptian children aged between six and 15 years, parents in deprived communities still often remove their children from formal education to work at home or in the fields. Illiteracy rates are highest in the rural villages of Upper Egypt, where as many as 40% of people are unable to read or write. Although the proportion of people with poor literacy has been falling over the past decade, the absolute number of illiterate adults has increased. According to government data from 2010, in the region of 17 million adult Egyptians – almost one quarter of the population – can neither read nor write.

The problems are particularly acute for Egyptian women who are often dissuaded from pursuing an education in order to follow more traditional roles as housekeepers and providers for the family. Girls are at particular risk of being withdrawn from school early by their parents who, in many cases, expect them to marry early and move away from home. Unsurprisingly, drop-out rates are highest among girls, while women account for 69% of all non-literate adults in Egypt. These issues are especially prevalent in less developed areas, where parents are unlikely to see the returns of a basic education for their children as exceeding the costs. As a result, many Egyptian children and young people find themselves trapped in intergenerational cycles of illiteracy.

Programme Overview

To alleviate these problems, Caritas Egypt supports adults to achieve functional literacy and helps them to understand and resolve the problems they face in their daily lives, through literacy, dialogue, and problem-solving. Caritas Egypt was founded in 1967 in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, and was recognized by the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs in the same year. The Basic Education Programme began in 1972, providing education for non-literate women in poor rural villages. Since then it has expanded and evolved. In 1972 the programme offered 10 classes. Today it provides around 1,000 classes nationwide. Some 600 of these are run directly by Caritas Egypt, with the remainder run in partnership with local NGOs.


The 18-month Basic Education Programme engages approximately 10,000 new learners each year, 85% of them women. It is delivered in deprived areas in and around the cities of Cairo and Giza, as well as in more than 200 other, more remote, areas of the country. The programme draws on Paulo Freire’s concept of learning as a means of liberation for participants. Women develop reading and writing skills by studying topics which are relevant to their day-to-day lives, such as human rights, violence against women, men and marriage, nutrition and childcare. Supervisors, teachers and students alike are encouraged to learn from one another and to contribute to the programme’s overall progress. The programme’s motto is ‘Learning for Action’, reflecting Caritas’s wider commitment to helping people in need, regardless of their religious and political beliefs, or their ethnicity.

Aims and Objectives

Taking a holistic approach to learning, the Basic Education Programme for Adults aims to:

Programme Implementation

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

Inspired by the ideas and methods of Paulo Freire, the programme takes a student-centred approach to ensure that learners not only actively participate during the sessions, but are also equipped to become emissaries to their communities, capable of sharing what they have learned with others. The programme focuses strongly on raising participants’ awareness of their human rights, with activities designed to stimulate action beyond the classroom. This is done, for example, by linking literacy learning to environmental and health awareness.

The programme comprises two nine-month courses and includes:

The classes take place four times each week and last approximately three hours. Mostly, they are held in local houses or community rooms at no charge. Dialogue is at their heart. Learners are encouraged to discuss a problem or topic directly related to their welfare. The students share what they have learned with those unable to attend classes, through peer education. Peer education is sharing information, experience and skills among others who have a similar background. It is used to educate members of the public regarding health issues and to promote health awareness. Some students try to help their peers improve their literacy so they can share what they have read in class. This encouragement can make a crucial difference in convincing people who may have little time for learning or be ashamed of their poor literacy to attend classes. A health programme has been developed to respond more systematically to the needs of participants and their communities. It has four principal components: general hygiene; nutrition; reproductive health; and health and the environment.

Caritas estimates that around 90% of participants are literate by the end of the training cycle. On average, 2,000 young programme graduates pass the government’s literacy exam, administered by the General Agency for Literacy and Adult Education, each year. Learners who pass this exam receive a certificate which enables them to enrol on formal education courses.

Child Nutrition Initiative

Caritas also runs a child nutrition programme for the children and siblings of learners, involving nutrition surveillance, food awareness training and the provision of nutritious food. Reaching between 1,800 and 2,000 children each year, the programme identifies and registers under-nourished children and provides them with meals at education centres. The centres also offer dry foods which can be taken home, stored and prepared when necessary. Mothers usually bring their children to the centres twice a week. They are taught how to prepare healthy meals and are given information on the importance of nutrition to overall health. The children are given monthly medical check-ups to monitor their progress.

The Village Libraries

Cultural and social activities are an integral part of the programme, and are the primary tools used to engage students in community issues. This is especially true for the post-literacy phase of the programme, which has been run through village libraries since 2000 to prevent newly literate adults from lapsing back into illiteracy and to support them in becoming more active citizens. The libraries contain a variety of books useful to learners at different levels of literacy. In one province, Minia, ‘mobile libraries’ allow the wider sharing of books with other classes in the area. Learners in nearby classes can choose from books displayed in a portable cabinet, which can easily be transportedto surrounding villages. Other community-based projects conducted through village libraries include training on electoral voting procedures, using interactive role play.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The programme is run by instructors – or facilitators – supervisors and regional coordinators. The facilitators are usually young people living in the village. In many cases they have experienced the same problems the participants are experiencing and are able to empathize with them. They receive training to help them become instructors, after which they are supported in class by supervisors who visit every week to monitor progress and to ensure good practice. Each supervisor is responsible for at least five classes. They report to the regional coordinators who each have oversight of between 20 and 25 classes. The regional coordinators meet once a week with the supervisors to solve problems and to take forward the programme action plan. An annual meeting with Caritas’s General Director considers the overall direction of the programme and examines alternative learning solutions.

Facilitators typically work full-time and are paid between 8 and 12 LE or Egyptian pounds (US $1.12 to US $1.68) per class. The average ratio of facilitators to learners is 1 to 17. As the course progresses, the facilitators receive further training, according to their needs and those of their students. This can include training on health, environmental awareness and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. The training is in the form of small workshops and conferences at which the trainees can thing their experiences.

The health training components of the programme are provided by volunteer doctors under the direction of two public health/community medicine specialists.

Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)

In some village libraries, library supervisors are provided with laptops and given training in their use, especially on how to access and search the internet. The use of laptops represents an important improvement in the programme libraries’ capacity to communicate with one another. Through digital interaction, workers in village libraries are able to learn about current trends in the areas of development and culture and to share their experiences. ICTs have also been used to provide online training manuals in literacy and health education to facilitators and supervisors.

Monitoring and Evaluation

If the drop-out rate in any particular class exceeds 30%, Caritas is obliged to close it. The facilitators take primary responsibility for supporting learners and monitoring their progress, with the help of a solid support structure, which includes weekly visits from supervisors. Regular meetings and training sessions support the facilitators’ professional development and the improvement of their teaching methodology, giving them an opportunity to evaluate their experiences and address any difficulties.

Impact and Achievements

In April 2013 an external evaluation of the programme was commissioned by MISEREOR, a development organization which has been a long-time financial supporter of Caritas. Inquiry sessions were held at the Caritas head office in Cairo, in the regional offices (training and coordination centres) of Minya and Assiut, and in rural villages in Upper Egypt, where rates of illiteracy are among the highest in the country. The inquiry found evidence of remarkable social change in the villages which participated in the programme. This included increased self-confidence and civic participation among women (for example, in voting in elections and understanding their social rights), the breaking down of taboos and harmful practices (such as female circumcision) and an increased respect for women in rural areas, as well as the economic empowerment of course participants.

In the Assiut, Sohag and Luxor governorates, the Basic Education Programme has helped create new links with several NGOs at a number of different levels. The most dynamic link was in Assiut, where the Mir village library engaged all seven of the NGOs active in the village to work together on fighting drug addiction among young people. This sort of activity not only increases the efficiency of the village libraries, but also strengthens the sense among ‘marginalized’ people that by working together they can achieve meaningful socio-economic change. On average, no more than 15% of learners drop out of the classes each year – a testament to both the enthusiasm of the learners and the support they receive from programme facilitators. Nine out of every 10 learners who take the official examination are successful. Since the programme’s inception, more than 200 literacy graduates have been engaged either as programme monitors, assistant librarians or health visitors. Identifying malnourished children in nutrition classes has also had a positive impact, significantly reducing levels of child malnourishment. Caritas estimates that between 1,800 and 2,000 children aged five years and younger overcome the condition each year as a result of the classes.


Sameh N, a village library coordinator, reports that ‘some people may refuse working with Caritas in fear of criticism’. The comment is indicative of the negative attitudes many villagers still have towards education – particularly women’s education. In rural communities in particular, community members have been reported to ‘totally refuse’ women’s participation in literacy classes. Other challenges include the fact that many women do not possess birth certificates or ID cards, and the problem of encouraging participants to continue their education after the programme has finished. Only 15% of students go on to access formal education.

Positive Lessons

One key lesson of the programme has been that the most effective learning, training and management is based on dialogue. Through the continuous exchange of ideas at all levels, Caritas has been able to identify areas in need of improvement and to suggest new ideas for programme implementation. Another important lesson concerns the identification and registration of malnourished children in nutrition classes. As mentioned above, this has had a major positive impact on reducing levels of child malnourishment.


Many of the communities that benefit from the programme remain underdeveloped, limiting the amount of local funding available to sustain the programme. The majority of classes take place in local houses or community rooms at no charge. The cost of books is partly covered by those who can afford to pay for them. Caritas devotes significant effort to finding new sources of funding, presenting proposals to a range of funding agencies and potential donors.

Following MISEREOR’s positive evaluation in June 2013, more Caritas centres and villages will be visited, with online questionnaires posted to NGOs, the government, programme partners, employees and teachers in the programme to discuss future developments. Because of their success, some community libraries have achieved self-sufficiency and have been registered officially as NGOs. Their member boards now comprise many newly literate people. At present, three more village libraries are trying to register as independent associations.

The concept of learning for liberation has been used by local and international NGOs throughout Egypt, including UNICEF and Care International. The Basic Education Programme is now looking to foster greater interaction with grassroots civil society partners to support efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of education in promoting human rights.



Salah Sabri Sébeh
Head of Basic Education Programme for Adults
Caritas Egypt
PO Box 43, Chubra,
1 Mahmoud Sedky Street, Khouloussy
11231 Cairo, Egypt
E-Mail: slhssebeh (at) or cariteg (at)
Tel: +201001190389