The study reported in this paper examines the provision of adult education in Rwanda.Illiteracy is a severe problem for sub-Saharan Africa and a significant barrier to eliminating poverty. To have no or few literacy skills is to be excluded from socio-political activities, forms of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Eradicating illiteracy has been a policy objective of the Rwandan Government for the last 20 years. However,in practice,it has never been a high priority, not least because it would require external development aid and very few funders are interested in it. This paper reports on a survey of one of Rwanda’s five provinces, key informant interviews and focus group discussions. We illustrate the problems for literacy classes,and their tutors and organizers,of extreme poverty and of the lack of a ‘culture of reading’ in which learners can apply what they have learned. Severe deficiencies in organization, infrastructure, tutor training and learning resources are also reported. Running adult literacy courses in a low-income country is not easy, but what has been delivered in the past has failed to meet adult learners’ expectations or to make a sufficient improvement in their lives.

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