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The findings > Thematic Studies> Literacy>Part 3
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3. DOMAINS OF INNOVATION
 
Innovations are central to future success in literacy and adult education, and learner motivation, once access is achieved, is a key dimension for any programmatic improvement. This is true whether one is in Bangladesh or in Bolivia. A major problem consistently mentioned by service providers and policymakers is that participation levels drop off rapidly after the first weeks or months of programme participation. Many varied and valid reasons have been cited as causes of this problem, such as: inadequate programme quality; lack of time and resources of learners; poor quality of textbooks and pedagogy; lack of social marketing; and so forth. There is little doubt, however, that the general factor behind all of these technical issues is that learners, for whatever sets of reasons, do not feel motivated to participate and remain in such voluntary programmes.
 
 
If adult learners, as the adage goes, vote with their feet, how can service providers provide more incentives for them to stay in the programmes. We know that disincentives (such as government mandates, controls, punishments) are relatively ineffective for learning (and may have long term negative consequences as well). But it is not always clear to the learner, teacher, or policymaker why a learner should take time away from other important home and work activities to participate in a non-formal education programme. Indeed, this is a common perception given by adult learners when they quit a programme. It is not obvious, furthermore, what incentives ought to be. Since there are many different types of learners in many different life and cultural contexts, only further research on this question will enable programmes to better tailor their offerings to favor increased motivation and participation.
 
However, there are some areas where flexibility and choice, as in the marketplace, make considerable sense, such as choice of language for learning, choice of programme design (e.g., for farmers, mothers, workers), and choice of 'follow-on' programmes such as certificates for school entry for youth, job training for adults, and so forth. Tailoring programmes to better fit the learning consumer is a necessity for the future, and one that many national literacy programmes have yet to face directly and with the additional resources required. In the sections below, a number of domains are described where innovations are happening now, or will be required in the future.
 
 
3.1 Language policy and planning
 
Most countries have formulated an explicit language policy which states which language or languages have official status. The decision on national or official language(s) is usually based on such factors as major linguistic groups, colonial or post-colonial history, and the importance of a given language to the concerns of economic development. Official languages are also those commonly used in primary school, though there may be differences between languages used in beginning schooling and those used later on. The use of mother tongue instruction in adult education remains a topic of continuing debate, with mother tongue literacy favored by most experts until the early 1990s (Wagner, 1992). However, with the advance of primary schooling, there appears to be growing a diversity of views, especially among adult learners in many countries where access to the economic market place drives motivation for particular (often colonial) languages.
 
 

Box 4. Language Development for Literacy: The Shiyeyi in Botswana

Since independence, the government of Botswana has practiced an exclusive language policy, in which only English has been used in government circles, at the exclusion of all 26 languages represented in the country, with a limited use of the national language, Setswana. However, in recent years more positive statements have been made in Parliament regarding the use of other languages in education and society. Such statements have provided an environment conducive to NGOs developing other languages for use in public education and also out-of-school literacy programmes. One such organization is undertaking to revive the language and culture of the Shiyeyi-speaking people in north-western and central Botswana. By the 1990s, it was documented that most of these people, especially the young, did not speak Shiyeyi. Following some pioneering work by a South African linguist working with indigenous scholars, an organization was formed in 1995 called Kamanakao, "the remnants," to develop and maintain what remains of the Shiyeyi language and culture, as part of the overall national Setswana culture. The main strategy of Kamanakao Association has been to conduct participatory training and research workshops in villages throughout the Shiyeyi-speaking region. These workshops have been to collect data for developing the orthography, to record oral literature, and survey speakers on their attitudes towards Shiyeyi with regard to preferences for literacy. In the past, adult literacy materials written in Setswana, the national language, have been largely unsuccessful in non-Setswana-speaking communities; in addition, children in non-Setswana speaking areas have underachieved year after year. The Shiyeyi-speaking people recognized the considerable benefit that could be derived from mother-tongue literacy in their communities. Literacy classes in Shiyeyi were started in several rural areas, and other areas have been targeted for future classes for adults and youth. Adapted from Nyati-Ramahobo (1998).

 

In numerous developing countries, a significant proportion of students in primary school are either illiterate in their mother tongue or receive only a few years of mother tongue instruction before a second language is introduced as a medium of instruction. Poor second language literacy proficiency is a principal cause of high repetition and wastage rates, and of low achievement in academic subjects in primary and secondary schools, with profound consequences for employment and other externalities of schooling.

 

5. Vernacular "Bridge" Literacy in Egypt

The gap between the Arabic language of formal education and adult literacy (fusha) and the Arabic dialect or vernacular spoken at home, at the marketplace and most everywhere outside of school walls appears to be a major cause of low learning achievement rates in schools and low adult literacy in the Arab region. The important linguistic distance which separates fusha from the learners' personal experience, familiar topics, and concrete real world materials is a cause of serious pedagogical problems, leading to lack of adequate language competence and learner self-confidence, as well as poor quality of education, and high repetition and drop-out rates in formal and non-formal schooling. One method for improving this situation is the use of vernacular (or dialectal) Arabic as a "bridge" literacy. The use of vernacular Arabic in the early stages of Arabic literacy is aimed at giving early assistance to adult learners. It makes the learning of the decoding skills easier by connecting the letters of the Arabic script to known and more accessible relevant language patterns and forms. Some NGOs are successfully using vernacular adult literacy in Egypt to improve the learners' motivation and learning achievement. In the British-supported Egyptian Adult Literacy Training Project, Aswatna ("Our voices"), contains a selection of vernacular student writing with more than 100 pieces written by adult literacy students. Because it is the product of real-life experience, vernacular writing is now used to stimulate class discussions and promote an enhanced mobilization. Adapted from Maamouri (1998).

 
Because of the significant political aspects of first and second language policy, many donor agencies and developing country officials have been reluctant to review language policies as they affect literacy work. Nonetheless, there are a number of important areas of work which need to be addressed beyond the confines of the debate over "which language/literacy should come first." For example, more needs to be known about such issues as: (1) the use of 'bridge' dialects to facilitate the learning of standard language literacy (see Box 5); (2) how the implementation of language of instruction policies affects literacy after schooling; (3) the effects of using second language literacy in school on wastage and grade repetition; (4) the implications of using the second language literacy for academic subjects like mathematics, science, health, nutrition, and agriculture; (5) skill retention of mother tongue and second language literacy skills in daily life after leaving school; and (6) whether (or under what conditions) mother tongue literacy should be a precondition for the introduction of second language literacy in school-based and non-formal settings (see Box 6). These specific areas of inquiry are more tractable and less political than the mother tongue vs. second language debate, and they may be more relevant to improving the effectiveness of literacy programmes. Overall these issues fall within the broad context of the cultural appropriateness of literacy programmes, a matter that remains still much in contention (Street, 1999).
 
 

Box 6. "The Fire That Never Dies" - Guarani Literacy in Bolivia

For over a decade, the Guaranis have been undergoing a process of ethnic and cultural revival. This process began when some Guaranis who had received basic education became aware of the dramatic situation of their people, and in the late 1980s the Proyecto de Educación Intercultural Bilingüe Guarani was launched, beginning with bilingual education programmes to be offered in all the communities where small development projects operated. For these a Guarani reading primer, a mathematics primer, and a Spanish as a second language manual had been prepared. Beginning with 500 students in 22 primary schools, the programme grew to 3000 pupils in 40 schools by the mid-1990s. Subsequently, a literacy campaign was designed, with two complementary lines of action: one for absolute or functional illiterates, and another for those who although literate in Spanish were not able to read and write in Guarani. The literacy primers were organized under the general title Tataendi - "the fire that never dies" - because "in our homes the fire is always lit...The one hundred years that have passed since the Kuruyuki massacre (in 1892) have only been like ashes that have tried to kill the fire of our culture...Now it is our turn to keep and feed the tata [fire] our ancestors have left us. We want this tataendi to become a big fire capable of giving light and warmth to the whole Guarani people." Only weeks after the opening ceremony, training workshops were begun for literacy teachers, and in just the first four phases of the programme, over 12,000 adults learners were served. Through their involvement in the campaign, these literacy teachers discovered what it meant to be Guarani as well as how important it was to organize their campaign around their language and culture. The Guaranis' involvement in a successful bilingual education programme allowed them to see their native language and bilingual education as potential resources to construct a viable and different future. The Guaranis have provided a lesson on the importance of indigenous values and indigenous culture, as well as about how the direct involvement of a population can contribute to improving the quality of education and to promoting literacy among communities which had not before felt the need to read and write. Adapted from Lopez (1997).

 
3.2 Empowerment and community participation
 
The notion of empowerment through literacy has been a constant refrain since the inception of literacy campaigns (Arnove & Graff, 1987). As noted in the final declaration of CONFINTEA-V, "It is essential that approaches to adult learning be based on people's own heritage, culture, values and prior experiences and that the diverse ways in which these approaches are implemented enable and encourage every citizen to be actively involved and to have a voice." Clearly, empowerment is a centrepiece of adult education. Indeed, much of the rhetoric surrounding the importance of literacy utilizes the metaphors and imagery that connote empowering the individual against potential oppression, and there is a great amount of anecdotal evidence that empowerment can be a product of literacy learning (e.g., Box 7). Nonetheless, very few studies have adequately measured more than attitudes about empowerment, and it is difficult a priori to know how to measure this variable.
 

Box 7. Teaching Nomads in India

The Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra's (RLEK) adult literacy programme, under the aegis of the National Literacy Mission, works with the tribal community of the forest dwelling nomadic Van Gujjars, who inhabit the forests of the Siwalik range of mountains. For centuries the community of the nomadic Van Gujjars has lived in these forests and the Himalayan highland pastures where they go during the summer months. They have developed a sustainable relationship with their environment and have become a part of its biodiversity; their lives revolve around tending their buffaloes and their milk products which dictates their nomadism. RLEK perceived the illiteracy of the Van Gujjars to be the root cause of their exploitation. To remedy the situation it started a unique and innovative adult literacy programme for them in the early 1990s. Copious illustrations were used in the RLEK primers and these also related to their physical background, thus constantly maintaining the transparency of the visual medium. To prevent recidivism the volunteer teachers trekked up and down with their pupils during their annual transhumance. They also stayed with them in the highland pastures. These two factors, the development of the primers and the involvement of the volunteer teachers, were the principal agents that led to the success of the adult literacy programme. This success was appraised through holding of 'saksharta melas' (literacy fairs) where the neo-literates came out from the forests in thousands to exhibit their newly developed skills "I was reluctant to join because I was afraid of the written word" told a young Van Gujjar mother in her local tongue to a journalist, "now no more". Adapted from Kaushal (1998).

 

On the other hand, there is a growing research base on community participation and the decentralization of management of literacy and adult education programmes. One recent report on non-formal education programmes in Africa provided considerable evidence on the impact of such programmes for innovation and sustainability (see Box 8). In addition, some agencies, such as the World Bank, have embarked on a major effort to support NGOs as the providers of service (as contrasted with national governments), in such countries as Ghana, Senegal and Morocco.
 
 

Box 8. Local Capacity Building in the Sahel

Decentralization movements in West Africa have created major new training needs at the local level - needs which the existing school system cannot meet on its own. Research conducted in 40 communities in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Niger, found remarkable examples of the assumption of new functions and responsibilities by grassroots actors. In Burkina Faso, for instance, local associations have undertaken literacy instruction in areas lacking primary schools; community organizations in other regions have supported local investment, dam- and road-building, and the establishment of maternal and child health centres. Overall, 26 of the 40 sites studied were financially self-supporting, 23 had taken over prime management responsibility for all their own operations, and 19 were affiliated with some broader and autonomous federation. The common fact among successful experiments in local-level assumption of development responsibility seems to lie in the close interweaving of training and the application of knowledge - and thus in the development of practical opportunities for individuals, collectivities, and associations to deploy and gain tangible benefits from their newly-acquired skills. The evidence indicates that the emergence of genuinely empowering local initiatives and the further development of this self-governance movement hinge on a process of local "capitalization" along five convergent dimensions: physical, financial, institutional, intellectual, and cultural - which are closely interrelated. Mastery of the technology of writing - whatever the written code used - appears to constitute a threshold of institutional development at the local level. There is a surprising variety of latent knowledge and skill in communities, resources which organizations need to build upon; and it is most often literacy and non-formal education programmes that serve to bring out this diverse human resource and to prepare it for its new responsibilities in the new social contract. Adapted from Easton (1998).

 

3.3 Learning, instruction and materials design
 
While adult education programmes have typically emphasized acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills, in recent years it has been recognized that these must be integrated with a variety of development objectives that enable learners to apply their skills in the lifelong learning process. Innovative methodologies are being devised which address "the social, cultural, and economic development aspirations of learners" (UNESCO Institute for Education, 1997).
 
While the traditional teacher-led classroom is still the norm in much of the world, particularly in developing countries, significant progress has been made toward addressing adults' multifaceted learning needs. In many instances authoritarian methodologies and skills-based curricula, emphasizing copying and memorization, have been replaced by a variety of student-centred approaches. Facilitators are trained to draw out learners' own knowledge and capitalize on their prior experience. In addition, some literacy classes offer opportunities for adults to learn how to incorporate traditional ways of knowing with basic education skills that will help lead them into fuller participation in the modern world. Programmes such as REFLECT (see Box 9) take a bottom-up approach to curriculum and materials design, requiring learner input from the very inception and allowing significant learner control over the direction and conduct of literacy classes. The success of such programmes in encouraging community activism and alleviation of poverty has generated interest in many countries throughout the developing world.
 

Box 9. Community Development in El Salvador

In late 1993, ActionAid (UK) began a two-year research project to explore possible uses of Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) techniques within adult literacy programmes. This led to the development of the REFLECT approach (Regenerated Freirean Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques), which seeks to build on the theoretical framework developed by Paolo Freire while providing a practical methodology. Notable features of the REFLECT approach include the absence of pre-printed materials such as textbooks or primers; instead each circle of learners develops its own literacy materials through construction of maps, matrices, calendars and diagrams which represent local realities and afford learners the opportunity to systematize their existing knowledge through detailed analysis of issues with immediate relevance to their lives. Learners implemented new soil management and planting techniques, adopted new methods of pesticide and fertilizer use, undertook ongoing study of local soils and construction of conservation structures. Also, learners commented on the value of the knowledge they had gained regarding recent peace agreements relating to land reform, because they could directly apply their knowledge not only to accessing land but also to applying newly-learned agricultural techniques to make it more productive. Discussions in the REFLECT "literacy circles" led directly to collective action at the community level and contributed to community participation in community organizations. Through group construction of a natural resource map, learners examined the local water problem, after which they organized to obtain funds for water tanks from a national NGO. There was a dramatic change in learners' involvement in community organizations, as several took up formal positions of responsibility in the local cooperative, credit committee, women's group, and education committee, all within a year of participating in the literacy programme. Adapted from Archer and Cottingham (1996).

 

Important linkages between ongoing literacy programmes and post-literacy have been made through the direct involvement of learners in the development of literacy materials relevant to current issues of, for example, health, agriculture, technology, or income-generation. Not only do learners have the opportunity to apply their basic skills while still under the guidance of facilitators in the programme, but they take leadership roles in strengthening the learning environment for themselves and their fellow citizens. Some programmes employing learners in writing materials in the mother tongues of historically marginalized people have also been instrumental in dramatic increases in ethnic pride, political solidarity, and citizen participation.
 
In countries undergoing major political and economic transformations, adult basic education and literacy programmes are increasingly called on to link the non-formal to the formal education sectors, through professional development, post-literacy, and work-related instruction. This linkage requires diversification of instructional content as well as methodology, and may incorporate new technologies (as described below). One important area that is in need of further innovation is that of improved concatenation in materials development and production between formal and non-formal education domains. For too long the formal and non-formal sectors have been producing materials that are of little use to either sector, when better coordination can have multiple benefits.
 
3.4 Gender and family
 
Of the areas in greatest need of innovation, there is none higher than that of literacy for women and within the family. This stems from the widely perceived need for greater literacy among women, and the reduction of the gender disparity discussed earlier. Some governments and agencies have made commitments to women's literacy programmes without fully understanding what would make a women's programme different from that of a male-oriented programme. One of the most obvious distinctions is that, in LDCs especially, women are most often found as caretakers with small children near by (whether the women are the biological parents or not). This simple demographic fact is widely known, but relatively few literacy and adult education planners have taken this dimension into account. One programme that has is MOCEF, which offers a mother-child literacy programme in Turkey (see Box 10).
 

Box 10. Mother-Child Literacy in Turkey

Developed from a 10-year research project by Bogazici University in Turkey, the MOCEF Mother-Child Education Programme functions as a home-based intervention project aiming to provide early enrichment to young children and literacy education for their mothers. Such a multipurpose programme assists in motivating learners to participate and incorporate learning objectives into everyday life. The MOCEF target group is mothers of 6-year-olds, who meet for 25 weeks, approximately three hours per week, beginning with group discussions on child development, health, nutrition, and creative play activities, continuing with classes focusing on discipline, parent-child interaction, and expressing feelings. MOCEF's educational programme for women living in low-income areas of Turkey has graduated some 9000 former illiterates since 1995. It is based on an innovative curriculum based on the life of an illiterate woman living in a large city in Turkey. Recent studies comparing the effectiveness of this innovative curriculum to the traditional or "classic" courses offered by the Ministry of Education show substantial advantages for the MOCEF participants. Researchers attribute the programme's success to the sensitivity of instructors and materials designers to the needs of the women in the programme. This has led to an integrated curriculum design incorporating not only basic decoding but also word-recognition and immediate, functional application of literacy skills, as well as exercises emphasizing comprehension of text and critical thinking. Adapted from: Goksal (1999).

 
As noted earlier, literacy (and illiteracy) are embedded within cultural situations. For a "women's literacy" programme to be effective, it is essential to understand the aspects of women's lives that might be affected by literacy and adult education programmes, as well as the consequences of those programmes. Understanding these complex dimensions, while taking into account social and political realities, has posed many problems over the years. Nonetheless, the past decade has seen a number of useful examples of women's literacy programmes (see Box 11, for example).
 

Box 11. Promoting Women's Literacy in Nepal

Women have traditionally had a very low rate of literacy in Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries. Literacy levels for adult women had risen from about 12% in 1981 to about 22% in 1990 and 28% in 1996, still considerably below the 35% reported for adult men. The Women's Empowerment Programme, though basic literacy, legal literacy, and economic participation activities, was designed to increase women's literacy, improve the legal environment for females, and encourage women's economic participation in the market economy. Eight international partner organizations carried out one or more of these programmes through Nepalese NGOs in 28 districts of the country. The programmes were based on the notion that women's education and empowerment enables them to become effective agents of change in their households and communities, which in turn enhances the well-being of their families and society at large. It was found that women who had participated in the programmes reported an increase in self-confidence and greater autonomy within their daily lives, and that those who had participated showed greater involvement in the care of children, reproductive management, and how family income is spent (76% of women surveyed reported using income to alleviate economic hardship in their households). Increases were found in women's involvement in collective community activities and social issues. Participants surveyed 10 years after taking the literacy classes were found to be still engaged in social actions and income-generating activities, even more than those who had only recently begun attending literacy classes. Adapted from USAID (1998

 
3.5 Multi-sectoral issues of health, agriculture and commerce
 
Literacy and numeracy skills are utilized in many life contexts even though most BLC instruction takes place in organized instructional settings. A major challenge rests in determining the ways that literacy can be fostered and utilized in everyday work settings. From a policy perspective, more needs to be known about how literacy education can be infused into the significant development work of other sectors, such as health education and agricultural extension.
 
For example, there is growing support for use of the idea of a comprehensive "service centre" to provide basic educational training to other sectors' workers. Relatively few examples of this approach have been attempted, and little is known about their potential impact. In the health sector, literacy and health information (especially as a result of the HIV/AIDS epidemic) have been increasingly put together (see Box 12).
 

Box 12. Women, Health and Literacy Education in Senegal

The TOSTAN Basic Education Programme in Senegal was developed by a team of villagers and non-formal education specialists to improve the educational situation of villagers, particularly women. Its goals are not only to reduce illiteracy, but also to help the population achieve health and self-development through the use of adapted educational materials. TOSTAN means "breakthrough" in Wolof, the language spoken by approximately 70% of the Senegalese people. In addition to providing rural people with the opportunity to obtain basic education in their own language, the two-year programme also integrates elements of traditional culture into the curriculum and promotes community ownership and problem-solving to improve living conditions in the villages. The programme includes a module on the use of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS), which prevents the dehydration caused by diarrhoea, a frequent cause of death among young children in Senegal. The steps to mix and administer the ORS are taught using diverse active learning techniques, including charting and demonstrating the method, and playing a card game to help participants understand the elements for making the solution as well as the negative practices that can lead to diarrhoea and dehydration. The facilitator also engages the learners in discussion about these issues, which constitute a problem they deal with often in their everyday lives. As a result of these teaching methods, learners plan strategies based on what they have learned in the programme that will improve their communities' health conditions. Adapted from: TOSTAN (1996).

 
3.6 Post-literacy and income-generation
 
Many countries with longstanding literacy programs (e.g. India) are now increasingly concerned with the "what comes next" issue, after elementary basic skills are taught. Often called the "post-literacy" aspect of adult education, this question follows directly on the earlier discussion of changing standards of literacy for changing societies. One way to deal with this issue is to try to work out a set of skills standards for the formal and non-formal sectors, as has been in process in South Africa (Box 13).
 

Box 13. Adult Basic Education and Training in South Africa.

In the new South Africa adult literacy work is conceptualized as "basic skills" or "generic skills" training and is seen as the starting point of a programme of Adult Basic Education and Training which is meant to have equivalence to the ten years of formal schooling to which children are now entitled. Learners currently in classes are encouraged to write national exams in accordance with the levels, standards and outcomes specified by the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). However, recent research in South Africa has shown that unschooled people do not necessarily see themselves as "illiterate", even if they have not been to school. Many poorly schooled South Africans attach value to their own "common-sense" or "practical" ways of accomplishing a range of activities in their lives, and they often see their own procedures and skills as being more direct and reliable than "school knowledge". Similarly, it is apparent that literacy is a significant part of the activities of many people who have not been formally taught to read and write. There is evidence both in South Africa and elsewhere that unschooled workers develop complex task-related skills over time that allow them to operate with efficiency, including in such literacy-linked activities as making judgments in relation to volume, quantity and cost, for example, and in interpreting diagrams that include literacy. Thus, a focus on the conventional transmission of standard literacy in adult classrooms is bound to lag further and further behind the complexity of social forms of communication as they develop within communities undergoing dramatic change. The message of such a perspective is clear: alternatives to centrally designed programmes will help to encourage the diversity of meanings which adults create from texts and situations in a post-literacy environment. Adapted from Prinsloo and Breier (1996).

 

Similarly, the post-literacy question is also tied with income generation. This is not just the case in policy makers' minds, but also in the minds of many adult learners. After all, why should they take valuable time away from other activities for a literacy programme if it is not going to lead to some tangible benefit. Increasingly, literacy and adult education planners are no longer content to restrict programming to instructional content, but are further trying to see how instruction can lead to concrete benefits for the learners (see, for example, Box 14).
 

Box 14. Income Generation in Laos

After years of war and isolation, the Lao People's Democratic Republic is undergoing widespread economic and political reforms, in the process of opening up to the outside world. In the countryside, however, the rural poor and especially ethnic minority groups have little opportunity to participate in the new nation. Providing formal education for these disadvantaged communities is made particularly difficult by low literacy rates in the myriad indigenous languages used by these groups, some of which are not written, and the inability to speak, read, or write Lao. The Minority Women's Literacy and Basic Skills project has implemented a non-formal education programme to provide a means for disadvantaged minority women ages 15-45 years to learn in one or two years the basic elements of the primary curriculum. In addition to functional literacy in Lao, women are trained in critical life skills and trade-related activities, such as weaving and sewing, health and hygiene, agriculture and gardening, and principles of modern income generation. The women are encouraged to develop and market their traditional regional handicrafts and employ modern designs and sales strategies. In addition to income generation, the women's interaction in the marketplace expands their opportunities to participate in modern Laotian society. Another benefit of this approach is to use interest in money-making activities as a vehicle for introducing literacy and numeracy, which has benefits in other aspects of daily life. Villagers who did not previously see any benefit in learning Lao took an interest when they saw they could apply their literacy skills in selling their products. The project has attracted the interest of the Laotian government as well, lending support to non-formal education approaches and strengthening the government's efforts at decentralization. For while the Project could not directly reach all the disadvantaged women of Laos, it has helped to strengthen the capacity in the country to expand non-formal education to marginalized populations and ethnic minorities. Adapted from UNESCO (1997).

 
3.7 Technology and distance education
 
There are new and exciting ideas concerning the utility of technology for literacy and adult education provision for out of school youth and adults. Much of this work is still in its infancy and evolving very rapidly. Technological solutions to instruction - known as computer based education (CBE) or computer assisted instruction (CAI) - have been used, primarily in industrialized nations, for more than a decade, and the presence of microcomputers in the classrooms of schools has continued to grow at an exponential rate (Wagner & Hopey, 1999). With adult instruction, growth of CBE and CAI has recently begun to show similar growth patterns, but it remains limited to a few sectors in a limited number of countries. Especially promising is the use of CBE and CAI in second language/literacy instruction. Another use of technology for literacy entails telecommunications networks, such as the Internet, for distance education. Now available in all countries of the world (though with widely varying penetration), the Internet offers tremendous possibilities to improve the communications infrastructure for literacy and adult education programmes within and across countries. Broadly speaking, distance education - using radio, television and telecommunications - is likely to see a dramatic growth in the decade to come, though some programmes have built a track record of over a decade already (see Box 15).
 

Box 15. Gobi Women and Distance Education in Mongolia

In the face of major political change, survival may depend on each individual's opportunity and ability to learn new skills and practices. But in a country with a widely-scattered population and few resources, how can instruction effectively reach those in need? Non-formal distance learning may prove crucial in helping populations in such circumstances to survive. The 1990 transition from communist to democratic economy devastated the rural population of Mongolia, particularly the nomadic people of the Gobi Desert. In the wake of this change, a tremendous burden of labour and management of livestock fell to the women and those children kept out of school to help. Women's traditional roles now included taking care of the animals and using meagre resources to produce marketable goods, requiring skills relied on 60 years earlier that were now unfamiliar, forgotten, or in need of improvement. The Gobi Women's Project, started in the early 1990s, is a non-formal distance learning programme utilizing print and radio lessons to communicate and renew a number of survival and income-generating skills important to the nomadic women of the Gobi Desert. The project provided radios as well as batteries for them and relevant booklets. Learning materials were supplemented by newsletters, demonstration materials, and information sheets. Teachers travelled to the women's homes to check their progress and help them with any specific problems. The programme covered such topics as health, survival and income generation, business, as well as literacy and numeracy. Participants reported that not only were they satisfied with the new skills they acquired through the programme, but they also enjoyed the interaction with teachers and other learners and gained a sense of self-sufficiency within their environment. Adapted from Robinson (1997).

 

As many have pointed out, the cost of technology has been until relatively recently too high even for industrialized countries' educational programmes, not to mention the developing countries. But the price-to-power ratio (the relative cost, for example, of a unit of computer memory or the speed of processing) continues to drop sharply. While the cost of the average microcomputer has remained constant for about a decade, the power of the year 2000 computer is 1000 times greater than that produced by a PC in 1980. If present trends continue, the capabilities for CAI and CBE literacy instruction and for telecommunications are likely to go far beyond the elementary approaches of today. One of the challenges over the coming years will be how to achieve the economical use of technology for education in developing countries. Various opportunities are now becoming apparent. The International Literacy Institute (ILI) has, for example, developed a CD-ROM based teacher training tool for adult educators which is now in the process of being adapted to local and regional needs in a number of countries. On the cutting edge of technology, the ILI's sister organization, the National Center on Adult Literacy, has been helping the U.S. Department of Education develop online instructional and training tools for adult educators and learners in the United States (see Box 16).
 
 

Box 16. LiteracyLink: Internet-based Adult Basic Education in the United States

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Education committed five years of support to PBS Adult Learning Service, the National Center on Adult Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Kentucky Educational Television to build, for the first time, an instructional system using the latest in video, on-line, and computer technology to help adults receive literacy instruction and gain high school diplomas or equivalencies in the United States - in a program known as LiteracyLink. This program is designed to serve the more than 40 million Americans who require basic skills instruction. As an on-line lifelong learning system, it incorporates the latest Internet technologies (Java and streaming video), video technologies (digital, closed-circuit, broadcast, satellite), and computer technologies (digitized audio and video, computer-generated graphics, interactive multimedia, and text). LiteracyLink has two major goals: (1) increase the access of adults to learning opportunities that will enable them to obtain their high school diplomas, and (2) improve the quality of instruction available to individuals and adult literacy providers nationwide through enhanced resources and expanded staff development. As of late 1999, thousands of adult educators in dozens of sites across the U.S. have participated in the teacher training part of the project, which incorporates an electronic community of teachers, a series of on-line workshops with professional certification, a collection of web sites that have been evaluated for adult learning, and a database of Internet-based lesson plans. Adapted from Wagner and Hopey, 1999.

 

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