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 As a historical document, it reflects SIL's work in literacy during that decade.


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Technology Transfer: Teaching my Neighbor to Fish

A Deg literacy teacher (Ghana)
A Deg literacy teacher (Ghana)

An ancient proverb extols the merits of teaching a hungry man to fish rather than giving him a fish every time he gets hungry.

SIL has sought to apply this principle in three distinct areas related to literacy. First, instead of teaching classes of illiterates to read, local people are taught to become teachers. These local teachers may not be as expert in their teaching as the literacy specialist, but they can get the job done effectively and will continue to be a part of the local community long after the specialist has departed.

In Colombia, a workshop is held for indigenous teachers and writers.
In Colombia, a workshop is held for indigenous teachers and writers.

Secondly, rather than being the only source of new materials in a language, the literacy specialist seeks to train local people to write and produce materials in their own language. This has not been easy, but is a necessary step to achieving a complete transfer of literacy technology [Wendell (general reference)].

Thirdly, literacy programs consume financial resources. Instead of permanently supporting literacy activities with external funding, local programs are initiated to help fund literacy activities. Though not always successful, these efforts demonstrate to the local community the need to assume responsibility for community directions.

A Barai Nonformal Education Association meeting in Papua New Guinea
A Barai Nonformal Education Association meeting in Papua New Guinea

The transfer of technology is also needed at the conceptual level-the level of linguistic theory, pedagogical principles, graphic and printing arts, the theory of reading, curriculum design, evaluation, long range planning, etc. Whenever possible, SIL literacy specialists have sought to train sophisticated and well-educated national personnel in this more advanced technology. Training programs and seminars have been organized in universities and professional contexts to accomplish this objective.

Major strides have been made toward achieving this goal in the Philippines where many years of training and assisting Filipino professionals have resulted in the development of a solid corps of literacy specialists. These young professionals have the know-how to develop literacy programs among that country's minorities and the commitment needed to invest years of effort in such programs [Walter 62-66].

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