©North Catholic University Foundation, Colombia

The North Catholic University Foundation in Antioquia, Colombia is awarded the 2010  Honourable Mention of the UNESCO King Sejong Literacy Prize for its Virtual Assisted Literacy Programme

Literacy through ICTs: improving social cohesion in multilingual contexts

Bringing learning opportunities to remote areas and marginalized people requires innovative solutions. The North Catholic University Foundation in Antioquia, Colombia, has found one which manages to reach the unreached, narrow the digital gap and bring communities together at the same time as it tackles illiteracy.

The Virtual Assisted Literacy Programme is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for indigenous populations, displaced people, marginalized ethnic groups, single mothers, abused women and victims of subversive groups. First implemented in Guajira, a northern Colombian department inhabited by Wayuu Indians, the programme breaks through geographical distances and greatly improves social cohesion. In 2008, the programme started out with 327 participants, but by 2010 the programme was already benefitting 13,864 learners.

Because adults have different learning needs and thus make up a heterogenous group of learners, they are difficult to provide for. The Virtual Assisted Literacy Programme responds to their different needs, aspirations, availabilty and provides a solution to limited acces due to geographical location. Learners attend literacy classes, which are reinforced by online resources and are also given the opportunity to learn and use their newly acquired skills in their mother tongue. Increasing communication through the Internet in multilingual contexts opens new horizons whilst allowing people to maintain close connections with cultural traditions. One learner told a facilitator, “I had never held a pencil in my hand. Now, as an old man, I know I have the possibility to learn more. I hope that all the people in the Guajira can do the same as I did”.

The Virtual Assisted Literacy Programme is a true example of how ICTs can effectively be used in today’s knowledge societies and knowledge-based economies where communication is increasingly computer-based and multi-dimensional, requiring advanced levels of literacy acquired through ICTs. The Colombian programme has pioneered providing literacy through the so-called “many to many” communication provided by the Internet by giving the learners the chance to learn by using forums, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, chats, etc. whilst increasing their knowledge and their abilities to read, write and interact “many to many”. Even as it facilitates contact with the wider world, the programme also stimulates communication amongst family members, guiding them to solve family problems and conflicts and turn their backs on violence. Relevant discussion topics include conflict resolution and protecting and defending human rights.

This model is already being replicated in the Dominican Republic. Properly contextualized and adequately supported, it could very well represent an important leap forward in literacy practices and techniques.

Camilla Addey

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