Literacy and education in fishing communities

More accessible and better oriented literacy and education programmes for fishing communities will improve their livelihoods while diversifying their income-generating activities, according to a new report prepared by FAO.

© FAO/D. Minkoh

9 May 2006, Rome – The report will be presented on May 10 by Professor Bryan Maddox from the University of East Anglia. It is based on field work carried out mainly by the Sustainable Fisheries Livelihoods Programme, a partnership between FAO, the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom (DFID) and 25 countries in West and Central Africa.

“Fishing communities often face educational disadvantage due to geographical and social marginalisation. Education providers are often unable or unwilling to provide services tailored to mobile and migratory populations which include many fisherfolk,” the report says.

“Literacy and education are crucial for fisheries management, environmental conservation and livelihoods diversification,” says FAO expert Benoît Horemans, who coordinates the Programme.

“However, they should be task oriented, flexible and responsive to the fishing communities’ needs and aspirations. This is what we call “functional” literacy which, in contrast to formal schooling, has an applied, real-life orientation,” Mr Horemans explains.

For example, fishermen should be given appropriate education to deal with satellite navigation, understand the mechanisms of microfinance and use new information and digital technologies, such as mobile phones and the Internet.

In Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia, although levels of school attendance in fishing communities are high (60-80% having attended school), people have not gained enough functional literacy skills to enable them to access resources and to understand official documents, the report points out.

Vernacular literacy

The FAO/DFID report also underlines the importance of “the vernacular literacy and numeracy practices of small scale fishing communities which often go unnoticed”.

The report recommends to building on existing strengths: “Fishing communities’ existing traditions and practices are an important resource to build on.”

The report highlights some examples of successful literacy projects/programmes in fishing communities, such as the Bay of Bengal Programme, the Icelandic Development Agency’s Programme on Lake Victoria in Kenya, where adult literacy classes for women encouraged debate on health and business issues such as improving the income of traditional enterprises and developing new sources of income.

The Education for Rural People Global Partnership and the FAO Interdepartmental Working Group on Training, which includes experts from both the Fisheries and the Sustainable Development Departments, participated in the elaboration of the report. Its ultimate goal is to reduce the education gap between rural and urban communities with a view to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.