What is an Empowerment literacy program?

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An Empowerment literacy program is one which focuses directly or indirectly on reducing social, economic, or political inequities between two groups through literacy.


There is a common sentiment that “knowledge is power.” Literacy is a form of knowledge. Also, literacy gives one access to even greater reservoirs of knowledge. In contact situations between literate and nonliterate groups, those who are literate almost invariably have an advantage over those who are not. In situations where illiteracy has been institutionalized as a means of social control or discrimination, literacy is a powerful and effective liberator. It is a means of empowerment.


In a sense, all literacy programs have an element of empowerment. Here, however, we are distinguishing a program type as an Empowerment program because empowerment is a central (although not always explicit) feature of the program.

Indicating conditions

Here are some conditions that indicate the choice of an Empowerment literacy program:

  • An educated elite or middle class is taking advantage of a disadvantaged target group of semiliterates or preliterates.
  • A sector of a community such as women, certain clan groups, or those who live in a certain area, has limited opportunity (access to work, access to education, access to political voice, and vote) because of intentionally limited access to literacy or education.
  • A given group or community is socially or politically dominated on the basis of language and access to education.
  • Illiteracy is blocking efforts to improve health and welfare of the masses.
  • Illiteracy is limiting the value of any efforts toward political change.
Program goals

Here are some typical program goals of an Empowerment literacy program:

  • To provide literacy as a vehicle of self defense and empowerment
  • To enable new literates to survive and successfully cope with current realities
  • To organize new literates to confront and solve their problems (such as health, education, environment, and economic needs)
  • To make available to disadvantaged people the tools and information needed to solve major problems

In deciding what kind of literacy program to plan, be sure that all partners are included in the decision-making process. Decision making is an empowering process.

See also:

Networking in a language program

Possible strategies and activities

Here are some recommended strategies for an Empowerment literacy program:

  • Use practical and functional approaches to materials and classes.
  • Emphasize and teach reflection and problem solving.
  • Encourage and provide assistance in local institution building.
  • Encourage collaboration and networking with other agencies, especially official agencies.
  • Help the target community to identify their needs and aspirations.
  • In program management, emphasize local decision making and management.
See also

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