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Overview: The National Strategy for Literacy

Since the 1950s, strong efforts have been made to bring formal schooling to the rural areas. The 1958, Law No. 118-58 introduced a national education system open for all Tunisian children. At that time national efforts began to fight illiteracy, and particularly to enable young people to enter the job market. A policy shift occurred in 1987 in adult education and in the fight to meet illiteracy through additional early intervention strategies via preventive programs at the pre-school level. 

The Tunisian education system underwent considerable reforms in 1991 in order to adapt to the globalization processes, focusing on more effective teaching methodology. Education policy in Tunisia promotes the empowerment of human resources as a means for social and economic development. Also, since the early 1990s the education policy has aimed at better integration of governmental and non-governmental activities in the field of literacy.

In 1994 the first National Strategy for Literacy was announced, as national and regional Literacy Commissions were formed between 1992 and 1996. The Commissions were staffed by representatives of all the Ministries, as well as by professional organizations, and were headed by the Ministry of Social Affairs. The newly created approach to literacy included the following points, as summarized in the chart of the Tunisian National Commission for Education (Science and Culture, 1997, pp. 8-9):

  • the integration of reading and writing skills, other basic skills, and social communication;

  • preparation of motivating pre-literacy programs, working mainly through topics related to citizenship, family, health, social, and economical issues;

  • developing mobilization and promotion mechanisms to introduce the literacy programs to the population and to potential partners;

  • defining the distribution of roles, responsibilities, and inputs between the ministries and the partners;

  • developing a cycles-based training system for literacy and adult education teachers;

  • authoring the terms of reference for integrating literacy and adult education into other education and development programs;

  • developing and testing new methods for family literacy; and, 

  • installation of literacy and adult education centers encouraged to develop close relations with their neighborhoods and surrounding infrastructure for spill-over effects.

Non-Governmental partners, such as the Tunisian National Women's Union, had their impact both on strategic planning and the running of the education centers. In 1993, 17 organizations had reportedly established 485 education centers (319 governmental and 166 run by other organizations and associations). IBE finds their ongoing growth impressive: 

"In 1995-1996 it was 513 centers (153 in 1993-1994) and a total number of 18 104 beneficiaries (4505 in 1993-1994)" (UNESCO/IBE: World Data on Education. 4th ed. 2001.).

The Ministry of Education provided both infrastructure and educators, just as all institutions related to education were to integrate literacy into their primary activities. The Ministry of Public Health added its expertise on issues related to health and hygiene, and the Ministry for Agriculture also offered its resources. Experts of the United Nations system also supported this program development. 

Regarding evaluation,

"...a system for planning, evaluation and follow-up has been established that consisted of a series of questionnaires. It' s aim is rationalizing the measures that are undertaken to realize the National Literacy Strategy. This system was first used at the regional and local level since the 1994-1995 school year" (UNESCO/IBE: World Data on Education. 4th ed. 2001.

Adult Education was considered to be closely linked with parallel programs for professional training and vocational skills development. These programs focused on young people with a minimum of 9 years of school education (which is the regular basic education in Tunisia), workers interested in ongoing qualification, and those who did had not obtained a school degree earlier (follow here a summary in French on the vocational training and professional education in Tunisia).

Other programs more specifically addressed the needs of rural girls and women, aiming at their social and economic empowerment to increase social stability and to meet rural-urban migration flows. In 1997 there were 13 centers working in these areas under the authority of the Ministry of Professional Education where learners receive basic and professional training in agriculture, artist-crafts, and dressmaking. The activities of several international agencies' activities were also integrated into these programs. In 1996, there were 759 girls and young women enrolled (Tunisian National Commission for Education, Science and Culture, 1997, pp. 20f).

Although today the Tunisian Ministry of Education indicates an enrollment of 99% of all six-year-old children (Ministry of Education, 2001, p. 5), adult learning still aims at conquering a level of illiteracy that is seen to be incompatible with the achieved national level of development:

"The interest in this category of citizens is based on the principle of an education for all. This is fundamental for the education system and expresses itself through the necessity to reduce an illiteracy rate tat is still so high, and thus incompatible with the level of development Tunisia has achieved in all fields." (Ministry of Education, 2001, p. 85. Translation ours.  p. 85).

At the end of the 1990s, several strategies were amended to improve the structures and conditions for literacy training, including officially recognizing certification achieved through the education centers and reducing barriers between education in the formal and non-formal sectors. More emphasis was put on those skills considered valuable for direct improvement of the participants' living conditions, and on teacher training (click here for the French document on this topic.)

Programme National pour l'Enseignement des Adultes - PNEA

PNEA, the Tunisian Program for Adult Education, was originally launched in 1992. It was then called the National Program for the Eradication of Illiteracy. 


Following a 1999 demographic survey that revealed the program's difficulties in meeting the targeted numbers, in 2000 the former administrative structures were reformed and a General Coordinator was installed to head the organizational structures on the national level (find a presentation of the revised program approach). Decision-making was reconfigured and three sections were formed, one covering education, the second working on information, communication and programming, and the third being responsible for administration and finance. These units repeat on the regional level, with every region headed by a regional coordinator. The consultative Council of Committee Representatives completes the national structure. It is comprised of members of the regional and local committees formed by governmental and non-governmental actors active or interested in the field of adult education. Besides these mixed forums, local non-profit schools were subcontracted to offer PNEA courses leading to a public-private partnership both in content design and implementation. Unfortunately, there is no detailed information on the impact and distribution of responsibilities between the two sides.


In 2000, the program gave work to more than 2,500 trainers with experience as educators and teachers, including many with university training. The number of non-governmental teachers included in this program and their level of quality are, as yet, unknown. 


Tunisian adult education programs aim at reducing the overall illiteracy rate to 20% in 2004. Its primary target groups are those aged 15-19 and 30-49. From 2000 to 2004 the programs plan to cover 250,000 learners and to reduce the illiteracy rate among those aged 15-29 to less than 3%. The districts with the highest illiteracy rates are given priority status. 


"Although the National Literacy Program holds responsible for transmitting reading and writing skills, it was decided that these contents were to be closely intertwined with economic, social, and cultural understanding, as well as with recognizable social competencies on the bases of society's and the learner's real needs. This means that working on Literacy opens a new horizon that provides the individual with the opportunity himself to improve his situation, to increase his feeling of being a part of the community, and of being one of the cooperating parties.

The National Literacy Program does not stop with fighting core illiteracy, but extends to help the fight against cultural illiteracy. Together with the learner, this means to address social development, the unfolding of critical thought, the strengthening of national identity, and the deepening of feelings of belonging to a cultural community (Ministry of Social Affairs: Strategies for Illiteracy Eradication, Tunis n.d., p. 3. Translation ours).

The curriculum outlines specific purposes of the PNEA, dividing each of those into general aims as follows (a summary of the original table is shown here):

  1. Fighting illiteracy within the perspectives of the learner's basic needs by

    • Providing the learner with the basic abilities to respond to his educational needs.

    • Strengthening trust in his mental capabilities to explain his environment.

  2. The deepening of his sense of national community, civilty, and culture through

    • Encouraging behaviors and views that make him respect the organizational structures of social life;

    • Enabling him to participate in organizations and to take over responsibility;

    • Enabling him to cling to his national culture's originality while being responsive to knowledge and technology from outside;

    • Strengthening self-confidence;

    • Cultivating one's social sense and taking roots in human values.

  3. Increasing his awareness for community issues through

    • Encouraging autonomous problem solving in daily life;

    • Assigning to him basic professional abilities;

    • Deepening his awareness on community income issues;

  4. Ensuring sustainability of the achieved literacy status through

    • Continuously raising his cultural development after attending PNEA courses, and,

    • Continuity in raising his professional development.

Materials and methodology

In 1992, three phases for addressing adult illiteracy were established: one phase for motivation, one for literacy training, and a follow-up phase. These stages were rethought in 2000. Today the motivation phase is followed by a two-year phase of face-to-face education (the so-called "basic course," with 7.5 hours weekly). This course precedes an intensive or "completion course" of 15 hours per week, over a 6 month period. Both courses are followed by a follow-up phase. Additionally, it is planned for this stage to root voluntary learning within the communities. The learners should autonomously continue to use their new literacy skills supported by a relative or a neighbor. A distance education element for lifelong learning is planned, too, utilizing multimedia and a TV-based course:

"Additionally, the Ministry engaged in preparing educational programs for the post-literacy level and prepared audiovisual materials in co-operation with the Tunisian television broadcasting institution, that were designed for enhancing social communication" (UNESCO/IBE: World Data on Education. 4th ed. 2001)


  • Ministry of Education: Le Developpement de l'education en Tunisie 1996-2000. N.p., 2001

  • Ministry of Social Affairs: Manahij Mahwu Al-Ummiyah. Strategies for Illiteracy Eradication. General Directorate for Social Empowerment, Directorate for Literacy and Adult Education. Tunis, n.d.

  • Tunisian National Commission for Education, Science and Culture: Education des Adultes en Tunisie (1987 - 1997). A l'Occasion de la Cinquieme Conference Internationale sur l'Education des Adultes. Prepared in Co-Operation with the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry for Professional Education, The Ministry of Education and the Tunisian National Women's Union. Hamburg 1997

  • UNESCO/IBE: World Data on Education. 4th ed. 2001

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