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Overview: Literacy and Post-Literacy in the 1970s and 1980s: The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL)

Social and Political Background

With expanding industrial development (bauxite mining, tourism) and ongoing rural-urban migration, Jamaica faced the need to integrate unskilled workers into new social surroundings and to develop secondary and higher education resources to foster economic growth.

Campaign Evolution

Voluntary training of illiterates dates back to 1954 but was systematised and extended until 1972, following an Unesco-supported evaluation that had found an adult illitercy rate of 40-50% (400.000-500.000 persons) in 1970. A National Literacy Board was established, consisting of university, churches, trade unions, libraries, and business representatives to implement the National Literacy Program.

The program’s national headquarter included a field operations, technical services, evaluation and research, community relations, and administration and finance department. Geographically, the administrative structure consisted of zones, ares, and over 4000 district committees.

After disappointing evaluation results in 1973 indicating a high dropout rate and lack of educational skills, the four-year schedule to eradicate illiteracy was abandoned, the program renamed JAMAL and the board renamed JAMAL Foundation (see organisational charts here). Its initial objectives were to eliminate illiteracy in the shortest possible time, and to strengthen adult literacy.

Although JAMAL classes were open to all illiterates, the mostly targeted groups were the 15-35 aged, shift workers, seasonal or shift workers, unskilled and jobless.

In 1981 a new government broadened JAMAL’s tasks giving it monitoring duties to ensure childrens’ school attendance, thus to prevent illiteracy. Second, it had to support non-literate youth offering literacy and occupational skills training. Third, JAMAL was to provide post-literate reading materials.


In addition to the above mentioned structure, planning and evaluation of the project was taken seriously. The Evaluation and Research Department produced planning tools like a directory of classes and an overall statistical data profile on students, teachers and class levels.

In the field, Adult Education Centres (AECs) addressed non-literates aged 15-20 years, offering teachers’ courses as well as literacy and skills training on a shift basis. Elder adults attended evening centres and additional evening courses. Further capacities were provided through different types of media as described below.

On the occupational skills level, one community college and two secondary institutions made up the necessary training infrastructure besides a total of 23 projects covering seven parishes.


It was mainly young school graduates, school teachers and part-time volunteers who were engaged. A Teacher Training Program was used to deepen teaching techniques (here you find examples on reading games and word domino) to foster social, psychological and communication skills as well as to raise the participants’ awareness of their role as volunteers and the program’s developmental context and implications. Initial 12-20 hours training courses were supplemented by follow-up sessions in the field. The large quantity of volunteers invoked additional training mechanisms like the use of electronic media, e.g. recording class lectures for later analysis.

Methods and Materials

The JAMAL programs highlighted qualitative and quantitative nonformal education and the lifelong education approach, addressing the curriculum to everyday needs. Therefore four levels of illiterates were identified: total non-readers (level 1), lapsed literates (level 2), readers with comprehension problems (level 3) and advanced readers with weaknesses in comprehension, English, and basic mathematics (level 4).

The methodology to teach reading skills to adults comprised four stages (not to be mistaken for the above mentioned illiteracy levels): Getting familiar with reading materials by word recognition techniques (level 1, get examples on phonics), developing reading mechanisms e.g. by learning letter sounds (level 2), independent reading (level 3) and working on supplementary materials (level 4, equivalent to Grade 6 of the Primary System). For all levels, basic readers were accompanied with workbooks and a teacher’s guide. Levels 5 and 6 were established to provide neo-literates with ongoing support.

Supplementary materials covered all levels except level 1 covering the topics nation building, history and cultural patterns, agriculture, self-reliance, religion, health and nutrition, industry, and fiction. When implementing the FULFIL (Follow-up Literature for Individual Learners) project, additional materials for advanced readers derived from a national writing contest.

Regarding occupational skills for young adults, courses were offered in woodwork, machine-shop skills, lithography, needlecraft, designing, dressmaking, home management, house-keeping, silk-screen printing, basketry, straw work, agriculture, and candy making. Beside the income-generating motivation these courses were hoped to provide basic services to rural areas, and to reduce the pressure of urbanization.

Interlinked Mechanisms

JAMAL printed the quarterly Let’s Read and distributed it to the parishes program managers. Let’s Read aims at assisting the learning proces and to add to motivation providing information and fun, featuring regularly columns like "JAMAL News", "Phonics", and "Puzzles". Due to financial problems it had to be reduced to quarterly appearance and to 5.000 copies per number.

In co-operation with a leading newspaper JAMAL produced the "New Reader’s Page" supplement appearing twice a month, covering selected articles of the Gleaner in a simplified and largely typed form. Crossword puzzles and news on the JAMAL program were added. The New Reader’s Page was to provide a feeling of success by giving access to world news in a "real" newspaper.

Radio and television programs were used mainly to contribute to the motivation and training of volunteer teachers. This was achieved through broadcasted lessons helping them to prepare their subjects and to enlarge their methodological skills ("Teaching Box", "TOTAL"-Training of Teachers of Adult Learners). Programmes like "SKIT" directly addressed classes . "Into the Light" and "Lamplight" programs were more entertaining and gave information on JAMAL activities. Of course, the use of mass media was limited by lack of infrastructure (e.g. competition for time) and technical support.

Results and Evaluation

In 1983 there existed 3.895 centers with a total of 7.495 classes. 88.728 students enrolled and 39.082 attended. From 1972 to 1983 a 214.000 students graduated from JAMAL classes.


Jamaica Ressources

Essential country statistics


Official data on education

Information provided by ministries/secretaries of education to world databases

  • World Education Forum: Report in the EFA 2000 Assessment by the Education for All Forum.

  • International Bureau of Education (UNESCO), World data on Education Database 4: Jamaica Report (online version: 1994). CD with current information available on request.

  • Official site of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Read about the education programmes, plans and projects.

  • Official site of the National Council on Education. Read about this policy institution.


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