Community Education Centres for Literacy and Vocational Skills

Country Profile: Sierra Leone


6,743,000 (2009)

Official Language


Total Youth Literacy Rate (15–24 years)

52% (2000–2006)

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2000–2006)

Total: 37%
Male: 49%
Female: 26%


Programme Overview

Programme TitleSupport to Strengthen the Capacity of the Community Education Centres for Literacy and Vocational Skills for Women and Girls.
Implementing OrganizationMinistry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST – Adult and Non-Formal Education Unit).
Language of InstructionEnglish and Krio
Programme PartnersUNESCO and Government of Sierra Leone
Date of Inception2007

Context and Background

Sierra Leone has just emerged from eleven years (1991–2002) of a brutal civil war which severely devastated the country’s educational system both physically and in terms of human resources: about 1,270 schools were destroyed; qualified teachers fled the conflict zones or even the country and 67% of all school-age children were forced out of school. Because of this but also coupled with years of general under-funding of the educational sector, literacy rates plummeted, with current estimates suggesting that only about 37% and 52% of adults and youths respectively, are literate. Literacy rates are reportedly even lower for female youths (42%) and adults (26%) due to the combined effects of war, poverty and socio-cultural practices (e.g. early marriages and the general practice of educating the boy rather than the girl-child).

Since the end of the war and with support from the international community, the government of Sierra Leone has made significant progress in rehabilitating the educational sector. The State has, for example, supported the reconstruction of schools; trained teachers; supplied schools with educational materials and enacted the Education Act (2004) which guarantees free and compulsory primary education. As a result of these initiatives, primary school enrolment and retention rates had more than doubled by 2005. However, the educational sector is still bedevilled by huge challenges, including shortages of qualified teachers, learning materials and classrooms as well as high rates of poverty. Because of these problems, a significant proportion of children and youths are not attending school and there is a high rate of school dropouts. Additionally, school achievement rates are generally poor.

In an effort to address these challenges and in order to foster effective post-conflict socio-economic rehabilitation, reconstruction, peace and development, the government of Sierra Leone adopted the National Education Action Plan (NEAP) through which extensive literacy and non-formal education programmes were initiated. According to the NEAP, the focus of literacy and non-formal education programmes is on out-of-school children, youths and adults but especially women and girls and those who have never been to school such as former child soldiers. In order to effectively address the diverse needs of learners, the State has streamlined its projects to target particular groups of needy people. One such targeted programme is the Support to Strengthen the Capacity of the Community Education Centres for Literacy and Vocational Skills for Women and Girls.

The Programme

The Support to Strengthen the Capacity of the Community Education Centres for Literacy and Vocational Skills for Women and Girls programme was started in 2007 and is being implemented by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MSET – Adult and Non-Formal Education Directorate) in partnership with various local NGOs. Currently, the programme benefits about 2,500 learners per year from eight of the country’s thirteen districts.

The programme targets out-of-school children and functionally illiterate youths and adults, particularly those from deprived social backgrounds, such as war victims, returnees, orphans, refugees and internally displaced persons. The provision of non-formal educational opportunities to victims (and perpetrators) of war is particularly important not only because it reduces the likelihood of their re-engaging in violence but also because most are now young adults with family responsibilities which prevents them from attending formal classes.

It is an integrated life-skills programme which combines literacy, vocational and life skills training activities with the provision of financial and technical assistance (through a revolving loan/credit scheme) to enable participants to establish income-generating activities. To this end, the programme emphasises training in the following areas (which has to be completed over a ten month period):

Aims and Objectives

The programme endeavours to:

Programme Implementation

The community plays a critical role in the implementation of the programme and provides venues for literacy classes in so-called Community Education Centres (CECs) with technical support from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST). The community is also responsible for managing the CECs by way of centre management committees and for mobilising programme participants through public sensitisation campaigns.

Apart from community support, the programme is also sustained by voluntary facilitators, who receive a small stipend and are recruited and trained by MEST and its partners. 250 facilitators (204 males and 46 females) are currently engaged under the programme. Following their recruitment and initial training in adult literacy and non-formal education teaching methodologies, facilitators receive ongoing professional training through Community-based Teacher Development (CbTD) workshops. These workshops also allow facilitators to share field experiences and therefore to learn from each other.

In general, facilitators are encouraged to employ learner-centred teaching-learning approaches in order to enable learners to master both literacy and vocational skills.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The monitoring of programme activities is conducted through monthly and field supervision and observation of teaching-learning activities at the CECs. Facilitators also conduct periodic assessments of the learners’ progress by setting them tests and exercises at the end of each module.


Although the programme is still in its pilot phase, its effect on the learners and their communities has been significant. Notably, the programme has:


Lessons Learned

In order for non-formal education programmes to succeed and to be sustainable, strong links should be established between literacy and vocational skills training and livelihood activities. In short, mature learners are rarely motivated to participate in programmes which do not address their own existential challenges or improve their living standards. Hence the livelihood component of non-formal education should be emphasised.



Olive B. Musa (Mrs.)
Director, Adult and Non-Formal Education Directorate,
Address: Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, New England,
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Phone: +232 76 75 53 15
Email: musaolive (at)