What is a community-based literacy program?

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In its purest form, a community-based literacy program is one in which most of the initiative and most of the decision-making responsibility for the program resides at the community level.


Community-based literacy programs have some or most of the following characteristics:

  • The program is initiated and authorized by the local community
  • The community assumes responsibility for the classrooms and at least some of the equipment
  • The community selects and supports the teachers
  • The community makes most of the policy decisions about program operation
  • The community participates in the development of materials

Here are some positive implications of a community-based program:

  • Community initiative generally helps mobilize the community.
  • The community assumes most of the operational responsibility so that outsiders do not have to involve themselves in this area
  • The community assumes responsibility for most of the infrastructure, staffing, and financing of the program so that external resources are not needed.
  • The program will most likely address local felt needs.
  • The program will be sensitive to local cultural values and mores.

Here are some negative implications of a community-based model:

  • When there are strong local clans, factions, or conflicts, local control may mean unequal program coverage.
  • Local decision making is not guaranteed to be good decision making. You may have to do a lot of delicate problem solving when working in this mode.
  • When a proposed program depends upon local initiative, there could be a delay of many years in implementing a program. The “window of opportunity” could be lost if external resources of any sort are needed.
  • In some settings, the local community is so destitute that it is difficult for that community to mobilize the resources needed to get a program moving.
  • In some cases, literacy represents “new technology” for the local community. No one locally is prepared to give knowledgeable leadership to the initiative.
When should you use the community-based model?

Deciding when to use the community-based model is based on a combination of philosophical, pragmatic, and policy factors.


There are some who consider community-based programs to be the best or the preferred model. Others, however, give various situational reasons why this model cannot always be used, and may not even be the preferred option.


Here are some general guidelines:

  • The community-based model has much to recommend it such as the value of local initiative, the democratic ideal, cultural sensitivity, and local assumption of responsibility. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that local control will preclude undesirable features in the program such as the exclusion of women, the increase of power of local power brokers, or the appointment of incompetent teachers.
  • A community-based program is most suited to smaller, more homogeneous communities.
  • A community-based program is most suited to communities where there is some existing sophistication in terms of education, management, and problem-solving.
  • A community-based program may not be a good option for a community or people group where survival is a constant concern.
  • A community-based program may not be a good option when there is a strong history of local conflict, jealousy, and infighting.
  • A modified community-based model may be necessary if elements of a program such as materials, training, and resources are tied to a larger regional or national program.
  • A community-based program is especially appropriate when there is good local leadership and a reasonable to high amount of local motivation to participate.
See also

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Page content last modified: 2 July 1998

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