There is a general concern about the conditions for achieving sustainable literacy in a foreseeable future. In this respect this paper is a plea to reconsider the key role of literacy teachers/facilitators and their function in the process of rural empowerment, development and sustainable Literacy. In the search for relevant documentation, I have been struck by the quasi-absence of research publications in this respect. Policies for literacy, adult education and learning and related subjects have generated huge mountains of literature, but the same cannot be said about the role of literacy facilitators.
Even the otherwise highly instructive arid well researched Global Monitoring Report 2GG6 on Literacy, published by UNRSCO, remains suspiciously silent on the subject of teachers/facilitators in literacy, except for a brief reference to a paper by A.Rogers, 2005, on “Training adult literacy educators in developing countries” ! A recent, UNESCO sponsored publication, by H.Bhola and S.Gomez, 2008, “Signposts to Literacy for Sustainable Development”, explores the prospects of different literacy policies, but fails to put the facilitator at the heart of action. H.Bhola proposes some excellent but not specific ideas about the role of facilitators on page 67 and further on, S Gomez, on page 161. stales that “in order to progress towards integral models of literacy we need a body of professionals who are able to assume these new approaches” Unfortunately not much more is being developed on this particular issue, the focus of this publication remaining however on literacy, sustainable development and the necessary political will.
Yet, it is widely accepted that in primary education a well trained and motivated teacher can really make the difference. So why can this not be the case in adult literacy and teaming (ALL)? Why is so little attention given to the teaching staff in literacy?
This article will first critically examine the scope of adult illiteracy in South-Asia and then develop arguments pointing to the central position of the Literacy teacher, their lack of adequate training and low professional profile, and the need to upgrade their professional and social competencies, as agents for social change and empowerment. Finally ideas will be developed as to how to improve the status, role and performance of literacy teachers/facilitators at national level, and how to convince policy makers to focus their attention on this issue.
What is the situation today?
In certain countries of South Asia the number of adult illiterates outnumbers students attending primary education schools This is the case in Bangladesh, but also in India, Pakistan and Nepal, where together the total number of adult illiterates is probably beyond the 450 million benchmark, a staggering figure indeed.
In these countries with huge numbers of illiterates, in Bangladesh alone some 60 million, only a small number of adults are following literacy classes, organized by either the Government or NGOs, they are taught by so-called “facilitators11. The “facilitators” are usually not considered by the national authorities as being part of the teaching profession In Bangladesh, thousands are employed by NGOs as literacy facilitators but are not considered as teachers in the traditional sense of the word In view of the persistence of the official target of rapidly improving adult literacy performances in a sustainable manner, various promising strategies have been proposed and applied, but with little or limited success. My argument here is that the ultimate objective of the sustainable acquisition of literacy can only he achieved if current literacy strategies also give full consideration to the central place of the teachers/facilitators, as well as provision of relevant training and status, to let them perform their task.
Ironically the same South-Asia countries are also confronted with growing numbers of enrolled students in primary education, like governments without exception have chosen to give priority to formal primary education in the silent hope that rising net enrolment tales would gradually, over the next years, reduce the adult illiteracy rate. A former finance minister of Bangladesh even ventured to describe any literacy training of adults as a pure waste of public money. ‘He was then not aware that even primary education, because of its low quality (drop-out, repetition, low levels of learning, etc) and the absence of a literate environment in rural areas, regularly produced neo-literates in large numbers. All recent research indicates that in South-Asia the growth of primary education enrolments is not likely to reduce significantly the number of adult illiterates in the years or decades to come. So what strategy should be employed lo reach sustainable literacy within a foreseeable future1‘
We would have to look first at primary education and its limitations as well as its strength. Agreeably the focal point of all learning in primary education is and will be the teacher. Everything turns around his activities, training, professional capacities, and motivation
The very same arguments holds for adult literacy!
Indeed learners m primary education, and despite the above mentioned low-quality teaching are instructed by teachers whose profession is widely recognized, in terms of salary [often insufficient), as well as in terms of legal and social status. These teachers usually benefit from pre-service training and sometimes in-service training. Of course all these elements are not always satisfactory and much remains to be done to enhance the quality of teacher training for the formal primary education sector.
Experience has shown that established teacher unions appear to be most rigid on the question of whether or not to regard those who work in adult literacy as teachers. The principal argument used by teacher unions is that PE teachers are trained in recognized institutions and usually have acquired a certified diploma allowing them to teach. In addition such teachers are expected to develop a teaching career, may undergo in-service training, may even become school principal etc. In the eyes of the Government and the unions, teachers at the primary level and beyond, represent a well structured and recognized profession in contrast to literacy “facilitators”, who often work on the basis of voluntary work, with no or little training. Even international organizations like UNESCO, are unable to reach a clear decision as to the training and status of the literacy teachers/facilitators. The argument being here that apparently facilitators are recruited without academic qualifications or diplomas. A secondary school leaving certificate, or even less seems to suffice. This may be true, but in the light of the growing numbers of adult illiterates, became of low-quality primary education, it has become an urgent task to consider the large number of literacy facilitators operating in the countries mentioned above, especially their training, status and professional outlook. A major reason to shift the official attitudes, and re-consider the central role of literacy teachers/facilitators stems from the fact that until now, many literacy projects have simply failed to reach the objective of sustainability, especially in terms of post-literacy. Millions of dollars or EUROS have been invested over the last years without showing any significant results.
First of all, before requesting that literacy facilitators be considered as teachers, one has to assess the scope of the problem of illiteracy in a given country. Let me look at the case of Bangladesh. It is assumed there are more than 60 million adult illiterates in the country (following the assessment by Education Watch, 2002, and UNESCO assessment, 2005, of literacy). If wide-spread literacy activities were to be started, the task of adequate training of “facilitators” would be truly gigantic.
For the time being, in Bangladesh, NGOs are largely delivering the task of teaching the 3 Rs, often under difficult circumstances, and with very limited resources. One may assume that presently only a small fraction of the 60 million illiterates arc actually following any kind of literacy course. Probably several thousand “facilitators” are involved in this difficult task, usually on a part time basis, and only for a limited number of months. Once a batch of illiterates has been taught, the “facilitators”, because of the perceived lack of professional perspectives, often return to civil live or other obligations. As a consequence the loss of experienced and motivated human resources goes hand in hand with the failure to achieve sustainable literacy.
Experience has also shown that literacy alone( the 3 Rs ) is not enough. In rural areas many project have demonstrated that a savvy combination of 1) skills training (income generating skills), ii) literacy (3Rs) and iii) micro-credit provides the highest chances for learners of acquiring sustainable skills. This strategy is now employed in a growing number of literacy projects across South-Asia Courses would start with skills training first, functional literacy being introduced gradually as the skill training raises increasingly the need to complement acquired practical skills with literacy Jo transform the former into effective and marketable skills. In many cases acquired professional skills appear to be more sustainable than literacy since practical knowledge in skills or trades is more easily transferable in daily life. Contenting the 3Rs, the absence of a literate environment in rural areas diminishes considerably the sustainability of acquired literacy. The complex inter-linkages generated by first teaching practical skills lo be followed by functional literacy, highlight the difficult task and social responsibility by the “facilitator”.
• Andragogy or the art of leaching adults
Those imparting literacy and skills, for now we have to look at both, have usually not received any significant pre-training for this complex task Pre-training is often reduced to a few days or at best a few weeks, and therefore cannot meet the requirements of in-depth training to face the various difficulties that arise when teaching adults. Adults, men or women, young or older, have high expectations but are subject to a large number of personal constraints that have little to do with learning or following courses over a period of several months. In adult literacy and learning (ALL), teachers/facilitators arc confronted with people who, fifteen years and older, have already considerable life experience, with certain social responsibilities, like children and spouse, and occupy sometimes leading social positions in their community. It is a social and personal challenge for adults, inserted in a dense social network, to follow learning courses on a regular basis over a long span of time; it requires a high degree of motivation from them. Such motivation can be created by the facilitator”, but also by the quality and design of the courses The simple perspective to learn a real skill or trade, with the perceived possibility at the end of the training course to increase personal income within the next months, creates a sufficiently strong motivation to follow courses over a span of time.
Another important factor, likely lo complicate the delivery of literacy teaching is that most of the adult learners, though originating most likely from the same community, may have different social backgrounds, different age groups, and different motivations in terms of skills to be acquired, not to mention the problem of different gender roles. The diverse learner profiles impact significantly on the difficulty for the facilitator/teacher to adapt his/her teaching to all at the same time. What happens until now in the classroom is that the literacy teacher will adapt a single teaching style for one category of learners, in the hope that others will have to adapt. The “one-size-fits-all” approach which has condemned so many literacy projects. …Yet, learning outcomes would have been much higher in many places, had the literacy “facilitator” received proper training on how to manage the differentiated profile of learners in a single class, something akin to multi-grade teaching in primary schools..
The general inadequacy of specific training for literacy “facilitators” is further compounded by the absence of precise knowledge about processes involved in adult learning and behavior, or rather ignorance on how to address the different learning motivations and needs and how to adapt teaching accordingly. This mismatch between the learner’s initial motivation and the lack of specific training of the teacher contributes to a rapidly decreasing motivation among adult students, followed by early drop-out. H has also been observed that these ill trained teachers do not possess the techniques of imparting precise literacy knowledge in an efficient fashion to adult learners. The teaching/learning process currently employed is cumbersome and much time is lost with irrelevant matters, whereas if better trained, the acquisition of literacy/numeracy could be much more rapid. Compared to school children, adults generally possess a better mastery of language in terms of words and syntax, they further may have been exposed to some basic schooling or else have already some understanding of letters/symbols. In this respect valuable time could have been gained had the teachers been trained on precise adult learning techniques to be applied when progress needs lo he fast but sustainable.
The factor time is very important for adult learners, who as usually poor people have many other and vital mailers lo attend to, like looking after children, cooking, field work, etc. Due 10 these constraints and conditions, learners need to see early results when spending daily hours for learning. Compacted literacy/skills courses covering a minimum of time are likely to maintain the initial motivation. Only a well trained professional teacher is likely to respond adequately to the very specific requirements imposed by the living conditions of the learners.
While a PE teacher may consider the factor time as irrelevant, since he/she has more man one year to impart basic literacy knowledge, the literacy teacher/facilitator is confronted with a very different ask. The literacy teachers, as we should call them now, have lo use a method of leaching lo reflect a rapid cycle of learning, so as not to waste the valuable time of adults who may wish to turn to more urgent tasks.
In this respect the shortening of the learning process of literacy and skills acquisition, more efficient and learning-intensive teaching methods need to be employed. This requires teachers who have been exposed lo modem teaching methods Tot adults, respectful of the motivations and the life rhythm of adult learners,
* Skills and Literacy
Another factor which distinguishes (he task of teaching literacy and practical skills is precisely the requirement that ideally the teacher may be in a position to impart skills and literacy at almost the same lime. Obviously not all teachers are qualified to teach a large variety of professional skills, in addition to literacy. Therefore, and this has been the case in many literacy projects in South-Asia, in the initial phase of functional literacy, when practical skills were developed by specialized teachers, the literacy teacher would assist, observe and then pick up from there and introduce progressively the 3Rs m the case of Bangladesh, experience has shown that the literacy teacher would have been associated with the early phase of practical skills learning, with a view to assess when and how intensive literacy leaching would start. The trainer of professional skills should however be considered as a key person in the early learning process. His/her cooperation with the literacy teacher is key for the success of the entire learning project.
• Literate environment
It becomes more and more apparent that literacy requires sustainability, something that can be acquired to a certain extent in the early learning of the 3 Rs, but needs to he confirmed in the post-literacy stages. This is a time when reading and writing skills need to be further developed, if possible on a daily basis. Post-literacy has become a standard component of any literacy project, and effective strategies have been tested and approved In all cases, the role of a leader, animator or facilitator appeared as one of the most promising strategies. It has been found that the literacy teacher is also best placed to develop and sustain the entire post-literacy phase, given his/her previous involvement with the learners. The local knowledge of constraints, availability of learners, needs of further learning and simply the personal ties that the Teacher already has developed previously make him/her the best placed person. In & rural, isolated environment, a frequent occurrence in Bangladesh, India or Pakistan, with a number of fresh literates, but in the absence of a literate environment, the task for the teacher would be to initiate and drive the entire post-literacy process, in practice in would mean to organize voluntary reading and writing sessions, reading competitions, bringing in new and attractive reading materials, develop materials together with advanced learners, and act in such a way that during the next months to come, skills become a firmly acquired habit. As is often the case, other literacy classes may be in progress in the same community or near-by, allowing the teacher to run simultaneously post-literacy classes with neo-literates on the one hand, and literacy classes for beginners elsewhere By looking at various levels of learning, the literacy teacher would thus acquire the position of the focal point for any kind of adult learning and empowerment in a given rural district.
In the post-literacy phase, the teacher would act as a guide and facilitator, transcending significantly the traditional concept of a teacher. Seen form this perspective, the entire process of acquiring practical skills, learning the 3Rs and establishing a firm literate environment, may well require the presence of a literacy teacher for more than two years. The early and intensive learning phase would be relatively short, while the confirmation of skills would require time, something the teacher has to know and plan for accordingly. In order to achieve this objective, literacy teachers need indeed more specific training on how to plan and organize such a task which in many ways will determine the ultimate destiny of a literacy project. This task is unique as compared to primary education teachers, who usually arc not asked to intervene once the students have completed the cycle of learning. By contrast, and when dealing with adults at the level of post-literacy, the literacy teacher is indeed entering the realm of community work and empowerment far from the traditional teaching task. This has serious implications concerning their training and job outlook. The extended job requirements for literacy teachers, covering also post-literacy, add a new and challenging dimension and will enhance their status in the community and beyond At the same time literacy organizers, NGOs or Government, can no longer consider the acquisition of literacy as a short-term job, three or five months only. It should be seen by all as a fulltime commitment to learning, covering well two to three years to achieve the ascribed objectives.
* Training of literacy teachers
In view of the above, the position and function of training of literacy teachers need to be fully reconsidered, with a view to firmly establish the professional skills of teachers.
* Pre-service training
The training should impart the following fields of competencies:
1 Basic principles of adult learning, with special attention being given to gender:
The process of acquisition of the 3Rs, theory and practice;
Imparting 3Rs in relation to professional skills training;
Organization of learning in a classroom;
Working in a community;
Working with an NGQ/Government body;
Planning and reporting;
Aspects of illiteracy in rural and urban environs;
Learning at least two professional skills (either for men or women)
Use of 1CT software for literacy and skills;
2. The principles of post-literacy:
Reading materials, reading circles, reading competitions;
Writing as communication;
Creating a literate environment in a community;
3 Planning and management of work:
Managing literacy, skills and post-literacy activities in a parallel fashion.
The above shows that considerable more lime than usual would have to be devoted to pre-service training. Taking into consideration all learning competencies, a minimum of one year would he needed to complete a training course of this nature. The training should lead to a Certificate in Education and /or Literacy. Teachers would thus gain not only professional training but also a new and socially accepted status through academic certification. For many a literacy teacher, this has always been a major demand.
The training needs and its modalities, should be addressed by existing Teacher Training Institutions, where special courses for literacy teachers could be organized, in co-operation with and inputs from NGOs running literacy projects. The respective curriculum for training would have to be developed and approved by Government.
Institutionalized training will ultimately enhance the status and professional efficiency of Literacy teachers, providing them with relevant and well-focused training. Likewise the academic certification of such teachers would strengthen the status of adult literacy and learning as a serious and respectable social task, demanding attention over 3 long period of time.
In-service will be required as an answer to changes in local conditions, and up-dating of acquired knowledge. New skills may require new knowledge, learners may be facing new challenges in their local environments, tic. In contrast to pre-service training, the in-service modules can be handled easily by local partners, like NGOs or similar structures devoted to continuing education. The well-organized and regular training on new developments and facts in the field of learning and literacy is a must for literacy teachers, often operating in isolated environments, hi this respect weekly or monthly checks and seminars may establish the much needed vital link with the outside world, providing teachers at the same time with the opportunity to report and share their own experiences and needs. The personal and professional isolation of teachers, when they have to remain in a rural community for more than two years, can be overcome through short but frequent in-service training.
Salaries and benefits
In addition to new responsibilities of the literacy teachers, and the growing relevance of pre-service training, other elements equally call for attention. For example the lack of monetary benefits for their work. Literacy managers at higher levels considered such work of short duration, and no specific qualifications were required except being able to read and write. As we have seen form the above, such policies have caused the failure of many a project. What is needed now is to reconsider not only the training and job description but also salaries consistent with the educational and social responsibilities of literacy teachers. Literacy teachers if well trained, and providing a certain number of teaching hours, could receive a salary equivalent to that of a primary school teacher. In fact they may be increasingly associated with the primary school teacher profession or at least constitute a distinctive teaching corps. If this were to be, they may be enabled to switch as an alternative to leaching in primary schools after some relevant in-service training. Likewise PE teachers, having received some additional basic training, should be able to qualify for leaching literacy classes and thus switch temporarily to a different branch of teaching.
Relevant project experiences in South-Asia are teaching us that literacy teachers need to look forward to serious professional perspectives, in the form of larger responsibilities at the community and district level as well as further training to join other professions.
Following on the above, the urgent task to increase rapidly literacy levels in South-Asian countries, would require national authorities to recast their thinking as to the central role of (he literacy teacher, and take necessary steps to enhance their training and social status. No doubt these teachers are called upon to play a key role in developing literacy and professional skills, as well as a larger role in community empowerment and post literacy strategies. Currently there are numerous literacy projects, but many are failing to achieve the assigned objectives, simply because of lack of due consideration given to inequality of teachers.
As pointed out above, imparting literacy alone has not always been successful; in this respect the four promising strategies outlined below may be well suited to improve rapidly literacy rates in the rural areas:
– The need to link literacy with professional skills training;
– To pay full attention to literacy sustainability and develop relevant post-literacy strategies, involving the literacy teachers as facilitators;
– To professionally train a minimum number of literacy teachers with competencies in post literacy and community work; and,
– Integrate such literacy teachers, with full qualifications, mto the national teaching profession.
Experience has shown that projects considering the above requirements, have achieved impressive results, especially with respect to sustainability. What is needed now is the insertion of literacy teachers in a fully recognized leaching career; in particular the teacher unions and Government need to bring forward this long over-due recognition.
The magnitude of the illiteracy problem in South-Asia, at least 450 million illiterates, warrants new and dramatic approaches, like the need to recruit and train a corps of highly professional literacy teachers and integrate them in the national structure of teaching and learning.
Hence the urgent appeal to the stakeholders of the teaching profession, to acknowledge the pioneering role of literacy teachers, so that such personnel may benefit on equal conditions from all forms of appropriate pre- and in-service training.
The most urgent question in South-Asia of imparting mass literacy in a sustainable manner, depends very much on the national capacities to mobilize a well trained body of teachers, specialized in literacy and post-literacy. It seems it is only on this condition that one may hope lo reach the goal of Literacy for all in a foreseeable future.
Bhola,Harban; Gomez, Sofia V.. Signposts to Literacy for Sustainable Development; UNESCO, Inst. For Lifelong Learning, Hamburg; 2008; 171 p.
Diagne, Amadou Wade. UNESCO Regional Workshop on Capacity Building of Literacy and NFE Facilitators in Africa; Dakar 2004, 87 p.
Global Monitoring Report. The Quality Imperative; UNESCO, Paris; 2005; 430 p. Global Monitoring Report. Literacy for Life; UNESCO, Paris; 2006; 445 p.
Rogers, Alan Training adult literacy educators in developing countries. Background paper for the liPA Global Monitoring Report 2006.
Tharwat, Emad Literacy Challenges in the Arab Sales Region Building Partnerships and Promoting Innovative Approaches (a comparative study on selection , training and follow-up of adult education facilitators); UNESCO; Pans. 2008, 15 p.
UNESCO. Handbook for literacy and NFE facilitators in Africa. Paris; 2006; 150 p.
Author: Former director, UNESCO/Dhaka, Bangladesh, presently visiting professor, Kathmandu University, Nepal.