Literacy in the 90's
The Role of SIL

This informative booklet, now published here on the Web, was originally printed in the 1990s. As a historical document, it reflects SIL's work in literacy during that decade.


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Adult Literacy: Where the Future Is Now

One-on-one literacy (Amaya language, Bolivia)
One-on-one literacy (Amaya language, Bolivia)

The vast majority of SIL's work in the field of literacy has focused on adults. Attention to adult literacy is seen as being important for two reasons. First, adults are the ones who bear the responsibility of seeing to the welfare of their families and communities. They must make decisions having long term consequences for themselves and their children. They need to make use of every possible resource to carry out this responsibility well.

Secondly, experience has shown that when children become literate while their parents remain illiterate, a process of social disruption and disorientation is apt to set in, producing confusion on all sides. A culturally sensitive approach to literacy must give serious attention to this issue.

For those living where there is frequent contact with the national socioeconomic system, literacy is a watershed skill. A Blaan man from the Philippines made this point cogently when he said, "Years ago, when we voted, we had to put our thumb print on the ballot to show that we had voted. Even then, we couldn't read the ballot so we didn't know for whom we had voted. Now, we can read and sign our ballots like any educated Filipino. Tomorrow, a Blaan name will be on the ballot. Then we will know that we have arrived."

Barai literacy class in Papua New Guinea
Barai literacy class in Papua New Guinea

Large scale programs measured in terms of thousands of literates include (but are not limited to) the Bimoba and Vagla programs of Ghana [Bendor-Samuel and Bendor-Samuel (general Reference)], the Adivasi Oriya project of India [Gustafsson], the Blaan and Tboli projects of the Philippines [Walter (general reference)], the Pez project of Colombia, the Kabiye project of Togo [Summer Institute of Linguistics Annual Report 5] and the Kanite project in Papua New Guinea. Besides these, hundreds of smaller projects have been organized around the world with many thousands of literates coming from such programs.

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