A mass literacy campaign was started in 1951 as part of an overall community development program. The primary aim was to teach adults to read and write in their own languages as well as in English. Efforts continued during the 1950s and the 1960s, and in the 1970s an extensive literacy campaign was launched under the direction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare using mass education teams. Literacy classes for adults were also conducted by local units of the Peoples' Education Association, a voluntary organization founded in 1949. This group, which included teachers, graduates, students, and interested persons, had branches throughout the country. Despite such organizational efforts, it was estimated by the United Nations in 1970 that about 70 percent of the nation's inhabitants above the age of fifteen (57 percent of males and 82 percent of females) were illiterate. The 1970 figure was a 5 percent improvement over an estimated 1960 adult literacy rate of 25 percent.
Responding to the continued high level of illiteracy in the country, the government established the Institute of Adult Education in 1970 at the University of Ghana. The Institute was to furnish resident tutorial staff drawn from universities, colleges, and secondary schools to teach a wide range of classes in different parts of the country. The Institute also organized an annual New Year School attended by leading educators, government officials, and numerous social welfare organizations. At such times, the achievements of the Institute as well as the future direction of adult education in Ghana were assessed.
During the 1989 New Year School held at the University of Ghana, for example, the relationship between adult education and economic development was emphasized in a speech read by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, the head of state. Also in 1989, reliable press reports held that the adult literacy rate in Ghana was about 40 percent of the total population; of the 60 percent of the population that was illiterate, 57 percent was female. Even though the 1989 figure was an improvement over that of 1970, the National Council on Women and Development still expressed concern and described the low percentage of literate adult females as alarming. The council attributed female illiteracy to high dropout rates in the elementary schools and called on the government to find ways to enforce compulsory education in the country.
As part of an effort to improve the overall awareness of women's education, various nursing and para-medical associations organized drama troupes as a means of instructing illiterate as well as rural women about the importance of nutrition, of child care, of family planning, and of sending their children to school. In the early 1990s, the impact of such activities on the nation's literacy rate could not yet be assessed.
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