“It’s no longer enough to be a good mechanic – nowadays there contracts and forms to fill in …”

Literacy and learning for adults

Working with our partners we help communities and individuals build successful and fulfilling futures.

The Diapalante Community Education Centre welcomes everyone regardless of age or background. Children attend in large numbers but it is often the adults who feel the most pressing need for help. Many Senegalese adults have jobs that do not provide an adequate income to support a family, leading to constant financial struggle and to long hours of work. The long hours make it difficult to look for other work or gain the skills needed to seek better work. So the Centre operates on a “drop-in” basis offering learners as much flexibility in attendance and learning objectives as possible. Adults often need more individual attention than youngsters both because of work commitments and because they are often learning formally for first time or after only a brief period of schooling.

Diapalante provides free education to adults – men and women who never attended school, whose schooling was cut short or who need new workplace skills. Some learn to read and write in their mother tongue, while others learn Senegal’s official language (French), the international business language (English) or business skills. They come to improve their ability to do their job or improve their job prospects or to support their children’s early education. Everyone’s long term aim is to shield their families from the worst effects of poverty.


Senegal is one of the world’s least developed countries. Though literacy levels are rising many adults (48%) are unable to read or write. Poverty often curtails education before children reach the end of secondary or even primary school. This lack of education can hinder people’s efforts to find good employment or manage businesses effectively. The Diapalante Community Education Centre helps break this cycle by offering free adult education which targets skills that adults need for their work.


The Centre offers a rare but much needed opportunity for adults to become literate or improve sought after language and business skills. In Senegal these are key skills that improve work opportunities and financial security. Diapalante’s free courses enable adults to catch up on missed education and learn around existing work or family commitments. Motivated by an immediate and real need our adult learners make rapid progress and gain marketable skills which help them break the cycle of poverty.

Long-Term Impact

The project helps adults earn an income which will support their families. Previous beneficiaries: Mariam and Bintou learned to read and write. Mariam to help her children get a good start in school, Bintou to help her start a hairdressing business. Maguette improved her French to train as a midwife. Modou uses his English to sell Senegalese art internationally. Gaye now runs a builders suppliers using English to buy supplies from abroad and French to fill in the government paperwork.

Joséphine’s struggle to succeed at university is typical of many students. Progress is difficult if school didn’t lay good foundations, when students don’t have access to textbooks, when interrupted by strikes or by illness or by periods when students can’t pay fees. It is common for a student to face some or all of these problems and after years of struggle at university, too many leave without a degree.

In Senegal many people speak multiple languages. There are the many local languages, predominant among these is Wolof. The official language and therefore the written language is French. Though nobody’s mother tongue French is the language of administration used in government, school and formal settings. The use of French in school is a stumbling block for many and it is a major contributory factor to the low literacy levels among adults. Arabic has a special status in Senegal. It is the language in which Islam’s holy book, the Qu’ran, is written. 95% of Senegal’s population are Muslim and the study of the Qu’ran in Arabic, is a priority in daily life, but little acknowledged in the formal educational programme.

Nowadays the situation in Senegal is changing. Makhtar is losing work as more and more organisations require him to be able to read contracts and issue invoices etc to secure their work. He is unable to read, understand and sign contracts which are in French, Senegal’s official language, learnt in school but not a mother tongue. He can speak some French and knows the French vocabulary associated with his work but needs to improve his reading and writing skills. Unable to pay for private lessons, he heard about the Diapalante Community Education Centre about 2 months ago. He now attends 2-3 times a week sometimes for a group lesson but often for a one-to-one session as his learning has to fit around his work. Makhtar is making rapid progress towards his goal as each newly learnt phrase is relevant to his work and contributes to improving his livelihood.

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