Learning from your surroundings
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CTA. 2000. Learning from your surroundings. Spore 88. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
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In the struggle to raise literacy rates in ACP countries Education for all has long been a priority for ministries, international agencies and local NGOs. One approach is functional literacy, which has to be an integral part of the development...
In the struggle to raise literacy rates in ACP countries Education for all has long been a priority for ministries, international agencies and local NGOs. One approach is functional literacy, which has to be an integral part of the development process, whose many goals include poverty reduction. It is not a question of bringing literacy to people through the route of classical education, but rather of empowering the most marginalised to improve their own living conditions through the right to knowledge. Illustration M.Roesch For decades it has been clear that education, in the widest sense of the term, is the backbone for the multitude of approaches, whether they be cultural, social, economic or political, which determine how a country can develop. This is the case for all developing countries, including the ACP States. A study by the International Institute for Applied System Analysis of literacy among women in Cape Verde demonstrates this vividly: the higher the level of literacy the lower the birth rate, with all the implications this has for women in using their energies and, for a country, in changing its population growth rates. While literacy rates in some ACP countries are crippingly lower than anywhere else, efforts are being made to improve them through developing policies of universal education, often under the exhortations of international agencies. Such approaches are well intended, but they are not rooted in everyday realities. For generations, in rural areas where access to education has been limited or even non-existent, the benefits of literacy are not part of the fabric of development. This explains why illiteracy is so high in largely agricultural societies: according to the Canadian International Development Research Centre, in 1999 70% of people in Burkina Faso were illiterate, 60% in Mali and 57 % in Senegal. Functionality, proximity and flexibility Functional literacy should not be seen as a replacement for formal education. It is simply an extension of the formal approach, in a more focused way, both in terms of the audience it is aimed at (more often than not rural adults) and of its methods. The three key elements are functionality, proximity and flexibility, as exemplified by campaigns in Zimbabwe, where functional literacy workers are selected from the target community itself, in order to best respond to the expressed needs of the students . Given the variety of situations and target groups, there is also a great variety of educational methods and subjects. Nonetheless, they nearly always follow the same blueprint. They start with a series of steps to win the confidence of the students and to persuade them of the value of a better life through being able to read, write and count. They build on that by enabling the beneficiaries themselves to develop their own learning programme, by making it functional and letting it evolve gradually, linking it continually to the realities of their daily lives. The success of functional literacy approaches depends a great deal on the extent to which an individual can identify with it. Increasingly, local languages are taken as the basis for branching out into learning the national language. The underlying method here is, to use the jargon, that of intercultural complementarities , linking one reality to another. Whether applied in Papua New Guinea, Burkina Faso or Côte d Ivoire, the method consists of becoming literate in a person s mother tongue, through mastering its spelling, reading and use, before moving on to the official national language and learning its basic vocabulary and syntax. The successes of functional literacy can only be sustained and developed if a favourable literate environment is established. It is with a firm eye on the after-literacy phase that the International Reading Association (IRA) provide technical assistance in teaching methods to organisations in, for example, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The IRA (see page 10) is organising a Pan-African conference (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Nigeria in October 2001 on the topic of 'Building Communities Where Literacy Thrives'. In the Dominican Republic, the government s RADECO programme of radio assisted community basic education, which is backed by USAID, uses interactive radio to build upon functional literacy work by broadcasting special programmes in non-formal education for isolated communities. Another approach lies in producing bilingual publications to consolidate the benefits of functional literacy. Indeed, many functional literacy workers would like to pursue the approach even further and insist on using bilingualism in official forms and traffic signs. That, though, may be seen as making functional literacy a goal in itself, which is not a sound attitude. As a report of the Department of Education, Training, Community and Cultural Development of Tasmania in Australia puts it: 'Literacy means learning to read, and to write your name. Functional literacy means learning to read and write enough to do everyday things. But we want more than that for our children of the next millennium'. Sooner or later, we shall have to build schools and technical training centres for the beneficiaries of functional literacy campaigns to be able to become the true developers of the rural world. To know more: Reading, writing and cultivating J Millican, Wageningen Agricultural University, CESO, CTA. 1992. 92 pp. ISBN 90 6443 010 1 CTA number 531. 10 credit points See page 10 for Links on Functional literacy
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