Adult Literacy Using Information Technology
Country Profile: Lebanese Republic
4,100,000 (2007 estimate)
Arabic (other common languages are Armenian, English and French)
|Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP|
|Total Number of Internet Users per 100 people|
20 (2005 estimate)
|Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)|
|Programme Title||Adult Literacy using Information Technology|
|Implementing Organization||ECE - Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, American University of Beirut.|
|Language of Instruction||Arabic|
|Funding||Rothmann Family Foundation and UNESCO|
Context and Background
Lebanon’s rates of access to education and youth/adult literacy rates are amongst the highest in the Middle East. About 90% of its youth and adult population is literate, while 98% of children aged six to eleven years attend school and 91% of children aged three to five enrol in early childhood education programmes, with few gender disparities. However, with Information Communication and Technology (ICT) increasingly shaping modern life and modes of production, the ability to function effectively in both the family and the work environment is no longer guaranteed by basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. Today, literacy also entails the acquisition and effective use of computing and ICT-based literacy and problem solving-skills. Adults who lack these skills are unable to function effectively in daily life. This, in turn, cripples national productivity, economic development and cultural growth. It has thus become imperative to resort to ICT-based programmes in order to effectively combat illiteracy and in turn, to build the necessary intellectual capital among citizens for increased productivity and improved standards of living (socio-economic empowerment). Consequently, the American University of Beirut (AUB, Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering) initiated the Teaching and Learning How to Use Information Technology Literacy Programme principally to combat illiteracy among adult Lebanese through computer-aided learning.
Teaching and Learning How to Use Information Technology Literacy Programme
The Teaching and Learning How to Use Information Technology Literacy Programme was designed and developed in consultation with the Ministry of Social Affairs through the National Committee for Literacy (NCL). It was born out of the realisation that traditional methods of combating illiteracy require the training of sufficient numbers of adult education teachers and facilitators. However, as demonstrated in many Arab countries including Lebanon, the training of adult educators is often hindered by a lack of funding. As a result, the effectiveness of adult education programmes has often been undermined by a lack of qualified personnel. The provision of ICT-based literacy training programmes is therefore an innovative intervention which addresses these challenges. In addition, it generates a high degree of motivation among learners, which speeds up the learning process. Most importantly, it enables learners to make the transition from acquiring basic literacy skills to developing computer (ICT) skills.
As highlighted above, the programme is based on – and thus endeavours to enhance – a literacy skills training model initiated by the NCL (Ministry of Social Affairs). The NCL has two different adult literacy programmes: one targeting the working class, who cannot pursue daily tutoring, and another, more structured programme with three levels, each comprising 160 hours of instruction over nine months and averaging about five hours per week. These programmes are accompanied by textbooks, workbooks and instructor’s manuals. In the case of the structured programme, books are distributed for each level and organized into lesson units.
The major objective of the project is to combat illiteracy by teaching learners how to read, write and count in an interactive way through the use of computer-based images, sounds and text. The learner/user learns by viewing images, hearing sounds, speaking words into a microphone, writing letters and words on a writing pad, a touch screen or a tablet PC. Secondly, the programme also aims to build local skills in order to increase individual productivity and thus enhance national development.
Programme Implementation and Methodologies
The programme’s core technological component helps learners to recognise speech and writing. This component also focuses on basic numeracy and consonants, the latter in their long and short vowel forms, drawing on examples of syllables, words and phrases. Teaching and learning are informed by and based on the following principles and methodologies:
- Interactivity: In a computer-based approach, teaching must rely on interactivity. New skills can be learned but must also be tested progressively, and revisited if necessary.
- Self-paced learning: Larger classrooms entail a great deal of compromise when it comes to pacing lectures. Individualised teaching allows learners to pace themselves, but discipline suffers. Information technology can balance these aspects by providing the convenience and flexibility that learners need while also catering to their particular strengths and weaknesses.
- Learning through leisure: Computer-based approaches can often be designed in such a way as to engage users by providing what superficially seems to be a game, but actually strengthens their understanding.
The novelty of this approach lies in its ability to tap into information technologies in order to provide an educational model that not only reaches more people and enables them to become literate faster, but also familiarises them with the fundamentals of information technology. As such, the programme succeeds both in providing much-needed literacy and numeracy competencies and in bridging the “digital divide” by helping graduates from programmes that use technology to make the transition from literacy skills to computer skills. This approach can in turn lead to the development of a whole range of technological systems that help participants to learn both autonomously and interactively, such as speech and handwriting recognition programmes.
Programme Impact and Challenges
Computer-aided literacy learning is accessible and provides learners with an opportunity to develop computer skills and access a large body of information and learning tools.
Although the project was welcomed by members of the National Committee for Literacy and Adult Education (Ministry of Social Affairs), others were less enthusiastic. This prevented the programme from receiving much-needed official recognition, and financial and technical assistance.
It was also realised that no measure or amount of technology and creativity can replace experience in pedagogy. Consequently, the project draws on the experience of those involved in traditional literacy programmes and assures them that its aim is not to undermine their roles but to demonstrate that their expertise can be used in ICT-based literacy training and encourage them to adopt ICT-based literacy teaching methods. The challenges are therefore to overcome literacy professionals’ initial resistance to the new ICT initiative by training them and assuring them that the new skills that they acquire will in fact improve their job security and prospects.
Although the thrust of the project was originally to combat illiteracy by providing IT-based education for adults, the same approach can be used for teaching children. Indeed, when we were presenting lessons that made use of computers, images and sound, participants would invariably ask for a copy of the lesson so that they could use it to teach their own children.
The project was received with much enthusiasm by the Ministry of Social Affairs. As a result, the NCL provided key textbooks for use in the literacy programmes and also offered to provide test subjects to assess the project and compare it to their own teaching methodology. It is hoped that the State will continue to fund the programme or integrate it into the national system, thereby ensuring the sustainability of ICT-based literacy learning and education in Lebanon.
However, it should be emphasised that this programme was not designed exclusively for Lebanon. It is hoped that the cooperation with Lebanon’s NCL will lead to the project being adopted by other Arab countries, as the programme’s aim is to combat illiteracy across the Arab world, with the cooperation of national NCLs, UNESCO, and, potentially, the Arab League. This is, however, dependent on the availability of sustainable funding. Currently, funding from the Rothmann Family Foundation has been diverted to University department at the University, with a one-off allocation from UNESCO to pilot the project. Plans are underway to approach other financial partners for assistance.
Although the project is still in its pilot phase, one key lesson that has emerged is that technology and creativity cannot replace the pedagogical experience itself. Hence, in order to combat illiteracy effectively, technology and pedagogy should be interwoven, under the guidance of experienced educators. This was ascertained during follow-up discussions with the NCL. In addition, with State cooperation, the initiative has the potential to empower the Arab world’s illiterate adults, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Prof. Mohamad Adnan Al-Alaoui
Electrical and Computer Engineering Department
Faculty of Engineering and Architecture
American University of Beirut
179, Bliss Street
Beirut 1107 2020
Tel. +961-1-350000 Ext. 3520/3525
E-mail: User: adnan
Host: (at) aub.edu.lb
Last update: 2 February 2012