Never too late to learn

Vernacular comics, literary primers, a newsletter called Leaves: that's the way to teach those in Asia who've never had the chance

Published: Wednesday 31 August 1994

Never too late to learn

-- (Credit: Rustam Vania)MODERN-day teaching and learning are complementary processes. And it was to learn and share experiences that people from South Asia involved in literacy met in New Delhi on July 19. Says Cut Srivastava, coordinator, Asian South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE), who organised this meeting: "The workshop produced a productive range of ideas. We sent our guests to different Indian states - right down to the village level - to witness the functioning of the literacy programmes".

ASPBAE is the regional arm of the International Council for Adult Education, an international NGO which seeks to promote literacy at the grassroots level. It provides technical, financial and intellectual support to member organisations: vernacular comics, literacy primers, and a regional environmental education newsletter called Leaves are soon to be published by them.

The Indian experience in literacy was viewed with appreciation. Says Shaheen Ahmed of Pakistan, " We were all struck by the level of support the Indian government has given to the programme and the enthusiasm with which people joined in. But I wondered whether the programme would be able to sustain itself. A permanent structure needs to be created."

Shaheen works for Self Help Entrepreneur (SHE), a Lahore-based NGO which helps neo-literates become self-employed. "In Pakistan," she says, "the Buniyaad Literacy Community Council is the apex body. Our own NGO has strong links with the Pakistan Academy of Social Sciences. This Academy develops educational material and also trains teachers."

Says Shyam K Shreshtha of Nepal, a senior programme officer of World Education Inc, "The literacy programme must have strong links with income generating schemes and environment building schemes. In Nepal, there are 6,000 NGOs working at village and grassroots levels to further the cause of literacy."

His own organisation develops learning material, trains teachers and channels funds from USAID to needy NGOs. Thinlay Wangdi from verdant Bhutan says that the literacy drive in his country is being spearheaded by the government. "But," he adds, "our emphasis is on primary education. We want to tackle the entire dropout problem from its roots - 33 centres have been started on a pilot scale for adult education and the response has been positive. We are really looking for the best approach and we will take our time in planning an appropriate curriculum and training a committed group of professional instructors."

In Bangladesh, the literacy drive is being spearheaded by the Gono Shakkharata Abhiyan (CAMPE), a coalition of mainstream NGOS. Says Habibur Rahman, coordinator, "We decided it would be best to pool our resources together and work with the government." CAMPE intends to provide technical and financial support plus function as a full-fledged resource centre and databank for all organisations involved in spreading learning. CAMPE's emphasis is on non-formal learning. It intends to involve dropouts and older children within the mainstream literacy programme.

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