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 As a historical document, it reflects SIL's work in literacy during that decade.


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Models: Mixing the New with the Old

In Papua New Guinea, Barai literacy workers hold classes outdoors.
In Papua New Guinea, Barai literacy workers hold classes outdoors.

Language and culture form the matrix by which we express ourselves and meet the world. If we lose these, we lose much of our identity.

UNESCO has recognized the importance of linking education with the environment and social structure of the learner [UNESCO 1976, 139]. To be effective, classes need not take place in a costly cement-block building. They can be held in churches, mosques, factories or even in the open air.

Similarly, materials should be specific to the local environment. Adults must recognize their surroundings in the pages of their primers and readers [Lestage 23]. Reading materials are most effective when focused on common local problems and when pictures and illustrations evoke images familiar to the learner.

In India, an Adivasi Oriaya literacy instructor teaches basic writing skills using the local script.
In India, an Adivasi Oriaya literacy instructor teaches basic writing skills using the local script.

To that end, SIL adapts its literacy instruction to the environment and social structure of the learner. Illustrations and stories reflect familiar settings. Artwork is often supplied by local artists. Easy readers contain stories reflecting local experiences, values, and legends.

It is important to make use of existing social structures. Among the Adivasi Oriya of India, gurus have been the traditional wise men and scholars. Now, "guru groups", each with no more than ten students, are used to teach literacy in Adivasi Oriya and Telugu, a state language [Gustafsson (in process; general reference)]. In another case, the Murle of Sudan, a semi-nomadic group, have adopted the each-one-teach-one method. Using SIL-developed literacy materials in Murle, a handicapped man learned to read in his own language. He taught the skill to a friend, and his friend taught someone else. Many Murle speakers have learned to read in this way even when SIL literacy workers have not been present.

In Papua New Guinea, story telling is a well-polished art and the best story tellers are highly respected. Literacy specialists have made use of this fact by inviting story tellers into the classroom. The stories told are recorded on paper or on a blackboard and then used to begin building new reading drills. Students are captivated and respond enthusiastically to classroom activities.

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