Fight Against Illiteracy (Lutte contre l’illettrisme)

Country Profile: France


63,458,000 (2012)

Official language


Other spoken languages

Alsacien, Basque, Breton, Catalan, Corse, Flamand Occidental, Francique Mosellan, Franco provençal, Langues d'oïl, Langues d’oc

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP

5.8 (2010)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

Total: 95.4% (2012)1
Male: 95% (2012)2
Female: 96.2%(2012)2

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over)

Total: 93% (2013)3
Male: 91% (2013)3
Female: 94% (2013)3

1: Young people aged 17-20)

2: Young people aged 17 and above

3: Adults aged 18-65

NOTE: There is no data in the UNESCO Institute for Statistic’s (UIS) tables for France concerning literacy rates. Data has been taken from French national literacy agency ANLCI, French statistics agency INSEE and the French Ministry of Education to complete the missing data. Where age ranges do not correspond exactly with UIS data, this has been indicated.

Statistical Sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleFight Against Illiteracy (Lutte contre l'illettrisme)
Implementing OrganizationSavoirs Pour Réussir Paris
Language of InstructionFrench
FundingGovernment and private sector:
Agence de Cohésion Sociale et pour l’Egalité des chances
Fondation SNCF
Fondation France Télévisions
Fonds Transmission et Fraternité
Fondation Caisse d’Epargne pour la Solidarité
Ville de Paris dans le cadre de la Politique de la Ville
Programme PartnersMissions Locales, local training centres, local housing centres including emergency housing,
Antennes Jeunes de la Ville de Paris
ESAT de Paris
Fondation d'Auteuil
Annual Programme Costs€146,000 (US$ 197,000)
Cost per Learner: €1,081 (US$ 1,461)
Date of InceptionMay 2007

Country Context and Background

France, an industrialised country in western Europe, is facing a challenge not uncommon to industrialised nations today: providing help and training to people who have been through formal education without acquiring basic literacy skills. In France, these people represent 7% of the adult working population aged 18-65, or 2.5 million people (INSEE, 2012). This study was made by the Enquête Information et Vie Quotidienne (Study of Information and Daily Life) and is a follow up from a previous study carried out in 2004. A comparison of results from the 2004 and 2012 studies show that the number of adults experiencing serious difficulties with their basic literacy skills has reduced from 9% or 3.1 million adults in 2004 (ANLCI, 2013).

Each year in France, an average of 122 000 young people aged 18-24 (17%) exit the education system with no qualification (9%) or with only a Brevet des Collèges (8%), a national diploma of general education given to lower secondary school pupils at the age of 14 to 15 (MEN, 2012). In 2011, 11.9% of these young people were identified as also being in a precarious situation, not in employment, not in formal education and not in training (MEN, 2012).

In 1998, as part of a reform of the national conscription system of military service, the French Government launched a new programme called JAPD – Journée d'Appel de Préparation à la Défense (Call-up Day for Defense Preparation) and renamed in 2010 as JDC – la Journée Défense et Citoyenneté (Citizen and Defense Day). This National Citizen and Defense Day is a mandatory one-day programme for each boy and girl of French nationality to attend. Between their 16th and 18th birthday, they must go to their town hall to register for this programme. On completion of the programme, each person receives an attestation, without which they will be unable to sit for state exams or enroll in university. The programme is designed to inform each participant of their rights and obligations as a French citizen as well as answer questions concerning national defense. A census is also taken, including a series of tests, some of which are designed to evaluate the young people's French and their literacy and numeracy skills.

The results from the first census in 1998 revealed that 12% of participants were lacking basic literacy skills. A call was made to remedy the situation and for two years an action-research project was undertaken to find the best approach to help the young people in difficulty.

Each year almost 80,000 of the 800,000 young people present at these National Citizen and Defense days are identified as having difficulties in literacy, with 4.6% experiencing serious difficulties (AN, 2004; MEN, 2012). As the tests are completed using hand-held machines, results are available immediately. Before the day is over, participants showing results with low literacy levels are called into a short interview where their results are explained and they are told what options they have to get help. There is no obligation for them to attend remedial programmes, but for those who wish to get help, they can be put in contact with centres for young people where they will receive follow-up and help.

Programme Overview

Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris is an association registered under the French Association Law of 1901, based in the capital Paris. It was started following the 1998 action-research project, mentioned above, and still follows the pedagogy and goals that were developed at that time for working with young people lacking basic literacy skills. This action comes under the 2012-2015 Parisian Plan to fight against illiteracy. Where possible the association works in partnership with other local associations such as CEFIL (Centre d'études, de formation et d'insertion par la langue) and ARFOG (Accueil et Reclassement Féminin – Oeuvres des Gares), to give help and guidance to young people, organize group outings and produce a journal.

Savoirs pour Réussir Paris welcomes young people over the age of 16 who have major difficulties with their basic literacy skills. The majority are no longer in formal education, some may be in training and a few are still in school. Many of the participants have an outside job and those with family responsibilities are not in the minority. While the young people are mainly of French origin or are French-born, many come from a culturally diverse background, some of them mastering several local languages from the region or country their parents come from. Each of them have followed their schooling in French. Low self-esteem and a lack of confidence are common difficulties to each young person, each considering their life experience to be of little value to themselves and to others.

In order to give these young people the individual help and attention they need, the association limits the number they accept onto the programme. By keeping groups small and admissions low, each young person is able to get the individual help they need and didn't always receive when they were in formal education. In this way, no participant is overlooked and each young person counts.

Key initial focus is given to rebuilding the young person's confidence and self esteem before even tackling the literacy skills. As culture is something common to each one, this is woven into the programme in many ways. Through shared culture and learning about the value of different cultures, the young people start to see that they too have something of value, something to share and step by step their confidence starts to grow. This also contributes to their basic knowledge which is necessary to help build literacy skills.

Through a series of workshops and one-on-one tutoring sessions, participants are engaged in an interactive and intercultural learning experience that draws from their daily activities and experiences which is fully adapted to their needs.

Autonomy and the concept of learning to live together are at the heart of the programme. The focus is not solely on improving a person's basic skills, but also on each individual progressing and developing as a valued member of society.

General Objectives

The main objectives of the programme are to help the young people to:

Programme Implementation

Teaching – Learning Approaches and Methodologies

The innovation of the programme lies in the fact that it remains individualised and tailored to each participant both in workshops, pedagogical focus, individual help, starting and completion dates, along with the possibility to change workshops mid-course. The length of each course is also fully dependant on the needs of each learner and can be extended or reduced as required. For participants who for legitimate reasons are unable to attend the programme for an extended period, the door is open for them to reintegrate it when their situation permits this again.

Most workshops last two hours, taking place on a weekly basis between September and June, outside of public holidays. In July and August only three workshops are held each week, these being designed to create holiday logbooks. Each workshop brings together 4 to 8 young people (with a maximum of 10) and is run by one, sometimes two fully trained facilitators who are volunteers.


For participants who are unable to attend workshops due to work requirements, family responsibilities, or because on a social level it is too difficult for them to integrate a group setting straight away, one-on-one tutoring sessions are organised weekly to meet their needs. These sessions usually last between 1-2 hours, depending on the availability and level of concentration of the young person. They cover the same content as in the workshops and are given by the volunteer facilitators or by the paid employees.

The teaching methods and pedagogy used are based on the needs of the participants with a high level of individualisation to adapt to the progress of each person. Starting with the interests of the participants, these are gradually enlarged to include other areas. The methods aim make the learning process meaningful to the learner and are designed to be fully interactive. Other pedagogical methods elaborated by the laboratory of linguistics at Paris V University are also employed, focusing on the participation of the young people. The workshop on reading techniques and some of the language games described in the following section are some examples.

Programme content (curriculum)

The main themes covered by the pedagogical material are basic knowledge and skills, including, reading, writing, oral expression, numeracy and spatio-temporal identification.

The curriculum is developed by the paid employees either through purchasing material or by creating tools, sometimes from exercises found in books or on websites. The curriculum is adapted to the needs of each participant, with decisions being made jointly by the volunteer facilitators and employed members of the team. Different manuals and pedagogical tools are used, such as Lettris – a pedagogical language pack comprising the Lettris case, Lettris Numeracy, Lettris Library collection; authentic documents and language games such as Tripot Linguistique, developed by a doctor in linguistics. Cultural excursions are also organised.

ITCs are not systematically used in each workshop, however, each year two sessions of Passport Internet Multimedia (PIM) are organised. Passport Internet Multimedia is a certificate based on basic IT skills (searches on the web, e-mails, Office). Participants who pass the workshop are awarded a PIM certificate, recognised by companies and future employers.



The programme covers various themes and objectives, developped in the following workshops:

Coming to terms with the written language, to begin with as a personal and individual form of expression. Making it clear that we write to someone.
Coming to terms with handwriting, first as a gesture and movement. Through a variety of tools, working on building connections between sound and word formation.
Reading Technique
Reading and understanding short texts of a few lines, mastering the combinations of letters and syllables, working on written syntax.
It Gets Better By Reading
Understanding a narrative text, developing attentive reading skills, distinguishing what is written and the margin of interpretation in a text.
Positioning reading, learning to give advice and to defend ideas, expanding vocabulary, learning about the news.
Wonders of the World
Working on fundamental knowledge through cultural heritage and outings. Promoting the learning of citizenship and intercultural dialogue.
Numeracy and Everyday Life
Coming to terms with the foundations of mathematics, starting from situations drawn from everyday life. Encouraging logical reasoning, introducing basic scientific processes.
Clarifying articulation and pronunciation, mastering oral syntax, practicing public speaking.
Taste Our Snacks
Understanding and methodically following a recipe, discussing mathematical concepts (proportions, quantities, volumes), respecting hygiene, developing ones taste.
Passport Internet Multimedia
Using TICs, searching on the internet, mastering the basic concepts of email, word processing, spreadsheets. Obtaining a “Passport to Internet Multimedia” (PIM).
As Seen On TV
Deciphering audio-visual information, developing a critical sense, exchanging different points of view.
Café Philo
Discussing philosophical questions, developing independent thinking skills, confronting ideas, leading arguments and debates.
Gardening (Seasonal workshop)
Rebuilding basic literacy skills through the practice of gardening. Preserving the observations of nature through writing, building self-confidence and promoting better integration through a shared community activity.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris is made up of a triptych comprising a board of directors, two paid employees and thirty trained volunteer facilitators. Each person has a specific role, also complementary to the heart of the association.

The facilitators are voluntary part-time workers. The facilitators are trained by the association, at the beginning and at regular intervals throughout the year. They receive mandatory training on developing literacy skills and on dealing with written texts.

Meetings are held once a month to exchange practices. Other complementary training courses are offered on themes that interest the facilitators. The minimum requirement to become a facilitator is to master the basic skills of literacy, numeracy and the French language. Facilitators are also expected to be patient, creative and open-minded.

Enrollment of Learners

The main target groups of the programme are adults, young people who have dropped out of the school system and young people who have a state recognition as a handicapped worker.

There are currently, on average, 120 participants each year, and a total of 333 since the creation of the association. Each group has an average of five participants. The number of new people joining the programme each year is shown in the following table:


When a young person wants to enrol at SPR, they are first received in an interview where they are given an assessment so their needs can determined and they can be offered workshops and individual tutoring catering to their specific needs.

Assessment of learners' progress

Each participant receives a certificate of completion at the end of the programme.

Mid-course and end-of-course evaluations are made where participants are evaluated on the following elements :

Each of these elements are in turn broken down into five sub-themes. This also enables the evaluation to measure the impact of the programme on the young person's life. Any evolution, behavioural changes as well as interactions witnessed as part of the group all make it possible to identify progress made.

In addition to the above evaluation, positive results are also recorded when participants exit the programme to enter training or employment. The following table shows the different reasons for leaving the programme since 2009:


Monitoring and Evaluation

An annual report of activity is submitted to each of the financial partners. A short overview report, including statistics, is sent to the Ville de Paris and ANLCI (Agence Nationale de Lutte Contre l'Illettrisme) every six months. An external monitoring committee meeting is held twice a year where results and updates are presented. This committee includes representatives from the Mission Locale, Ministère de Travail, Ministère de l'Éducation, financial partners and the Ville de Paris. An external audit of the national network of Savoirs Pour Réussir was taken in 2009. Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris also established a quality approach system in 2010.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and achievements

Since the programme's inception in 2007, 333 young people have benefited from it. In 2012, 4,770 hours of face-to-face teaching was given with a total of 16,442 hours given since the beginning of the programme. Thirty five percent of participants leave the programme to follow training and 20% leave for employment reasons.

Other results frequently observed include:

The young persons being able to understand and interpret what they are reading
The participants being able to write on their own a short paragraph of text of their own making, having an improved syntax and using a wider range of vocabulary
Spatio-temporal Identification
The participants being able to place themselves in the space of time
The young persons demonstrating greater autonomy in managing their personal finances

Participants also frequently:


A social bond is also recreated with the other young people and adults. Volunteer facilitators have all expressed satisfaction from working with the young people, watching their progress as much in their basic skills as in their well-being.

Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris has just completed a project in association with the General Delegation for the French Language (Délégation Générale à la Langue Française), the National Library of France (la Bibliothèque Nationale de France) and the Louvre Museum in Paris (le musée du Louvre). Young people participating in the project were taken on four visits to the Louvre Museum and two visits to the National Library of France. Through what they saw and the memories and experiences that certain works of art brought to their minds, they each selected one or two pieces and wrote about what this meant to them. While this was a challenge for them, making them think about what they wanted to write and having to select specific vocabulary, they each persevered to the end of the project. The written pieces, along with various photographs have been compiled and published in the form of a small museum guide Accessing the Written Word through Cultural Action for Living Together (Accéder à l'Écrit par l'Action Culturelle Pour Vivre Ensemble). It will be made available at the participating museums for visitors to read and is also available online at the link provided at the end. Savoirs pour Réussir Paris also completed a similar project in association with the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux Arts de la Ville de Paris and the Mairie de Paris in 2011.


Since 2009, Savoirs Pour Reussir Paris has regularly been the focus of articles published in journals and magazines in Paris and France. On average two or three articles are published each year with several requests being turned down.

In June 2012, Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris was included in a television documentary report. They have also appeared on the French national television station TF1. These opportunities have also been used as a learning experience for the participants to learn about the behind-the-scenes workings of a television station.

In 2011 the photograph reporter Virginie de Galzain made a photographic report on Savoirs Pour Réussir Paris to bring to light the hidden problem of illiteracy in France. Since its creation, exhibitions for the report continue to be held in various locations in France, with two planned for 2014 in and around Paris.

One noticable way the visibility of the programme can be seen is in the way the young people access the programme. Figures for new inscriptions in 2013 show how participants learnt about the programme:

Challenges and lessons learned

Projects that have been associated with cultural establishments such as museums, libraries and art galleries have received the full backing of the young people and the facilitators.

The workshop Writing Aloud for remediating language through song was designed to meet a real need for work on articulation, hyphenation and the rhythm of words and sentences. It has replaced the workshop Oral Expression, set up to help young people prepare for interviews but no longer meeting the participants needs.

Other workshops need to be developed such as for Logical Reasoning (to teach participants to be logical, methological and develop their cognitif skills), vocabulary and the Highway Code. Projects also need to be set up in partnership with other local associations such as the Centre social et culturel de la Maison du Bas-Belleville, “Espaces Dynamique Insertion” training centers, CEFIL (<9>Centre d'études, de formation et d'insertion par la langue) and new cultural establishments such as Opéra comique, Cité de l’Architecture.

A recent cooperative project with the magazine Afriscope, where the young people were sharing their experiences with illiteracy, could have been better prepared and better followed through with.


Financing is a key challenge common to many programmes. Despite the programme having full recognition from key actors and partners and the recognition of illiteracy in 2013 as a National Cause in France, securing financing remains the greatest challenge faced and is becoming increasingly difficult. In France, literacy training programmes have largely been decentralised, meaning that each year they must secure financing for the following year. Public funding comes through a call for tenders, which is obtained through bidding and frequently fierce competition.

When the programme started it existed in 21 different regions in France, but through a constant decrease in funding as well as changes made in the board of direction of the main financial partners, it is now present in just five regions (Alsace, Nord Pas de Calais, Champagne Ardennes, Rhône Alpes and Languedoc Roussillon) besides Paris.


Contact details

Name of contact person: Marie-Odile Chassagnon
Title (position): Director
Full address: 5 rue de Tourtille
75020 Paris
Telephone: +33 (0)1 58 53 50 20
Fax: +33(0)1 43 66 79 05
Mobile: +33 (0) 6 35 57 95 71
Email: savoirspoureussirparis (at)
Website :