01.09.2016 - Education Sector

A literacy prize recognizing the needs of rural poor in India

© Jan Shiksha Sansthan Malappuram

“This is not a prize for directors or government officials. This is a prize that recognizes the struggles of the rural poor,” said Mr Ummer Koya, Director of the Jan Shikshan Sansthan (JSS-Malapurram) organization based in Kerala, India.

The organization, which provides literacy and skills training for disadvantaged minority communities in Malapurram, Kerala, has been awarded the 2016 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy for its programme, Vocational Skill Development for Sustainable Development.

The programme has helped women like Bushra who lives in the small town of Pathappiriyam and was having great difficulty in maintaining her family. She took training classes in literacy and craft making and was able to sell her hand made notebooks and cloth bags in the market. Once her business grew she was able to employ two other women from the course.

Although Kerala has one of the highest literacy rates in the country, this success story has not always reached traditionally disadvantaged groups such as women, ethnic minorities, ‘scheduled tribes’ (the official designation given to groups of historically disadvantaged indigenous people in India) and migrants, who often live in financially under-developed and marginalized communities.

Innovation to tackle deep-rooted challenges

The 4.5 million inhabitants of Kerala’s Malappuram district, face deep-rooted challenges such as endemic poverty and acute shortages of learning opportunities and professional teachers.

JSS-Malappuram is an NGO founded in 2006 and functioning under the sponsorship of the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India. It provides non-formal education to the illiterate and training in different vocational skills for neo-literate adults. The organization also helps beneficiaries to find work or to start an enterprise individually or as a group and has trained around 53,000 people, 41,000 of them women.

Instruction is offered in Hindi, English, Malayalam and other regional languages, including Paniya. Textbooks are written in the community’s local language and are also available in Braille. Classes on subjects including health, sanitation, national integrity, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, legal literacy are also part of the programme.

The programme makes uses of technology such as LCD projectors, computers and audio-visual equipment. The ‘talking pen’ – an electronic pen that reproduces the sound of written text – is used in the programme’s literacy teaching.

“With tribal people who are not ready to learn to read and write, the talking pen is used as a primer tool. They can move it across the letters of the alphabet or the words of a song for example and hear them at the same time,” said Mr Koya.

The programme was awarded the prestigious national Sakshar Bharat Award by the Government of India in 2014. 

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