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close this bookUsing Literacy: A New Approach to Post-literacy Materials - Education Research Paper No. 10 (DFID, 1994, 57 p.)
close this folderChapter 3: Developing new approaches to post-literacy
View the documentThe traditional view:
View the documentDeveloping new approaches
View the documentA re-definition of 'post-literacy'
View the documentMaterials for 'post-literacy'
View the documentLGM:
View the documentPost-literacy and initial literacy programmes
View the documentPost-literacy service:
Open this folder and view contentsCost-effectiveness
View the documentCost benefit
View the documentConclusion
View the documentSummary of possible courses of action

Developing new approaches

There are signs however that this traditional view of literacy is changing.

First, there is a growing awareness that there is no one universally applicable form of literacy. Rather, there are different literacies for different groups - urban and rural populations, for example, ethnic, racial, religious or linguistic groups, or people clustered round economic activities (e.g. fisherfolk etc).

Secondly, some agencies (for example in Tanzania) speak in terms of post-literacy activities rather than further classes. They therefore seek to reach a much wider audience than simply those who are or have been in adult literacy classes.

Thirdly, a number of agencies are starting their programmes with developmental activities and working subsequently towards literacy related to those activities. This presents a different approach (a 'literacy comes second' model) of the relationship between literacy and development programmes.

Fourthly, instead of materials being prepared for and received by the learners, we have seen a number of cases where the materials are being prepared by or with the assistance of the learners (LGM).

Other trends: A number of other trends serve to reinforce these developments. First, what has come to be called 'the new literacy' (Willinsky 1990) sees literacy as a set of practices within a given cultural context, not as a set of neutral technical skills (Barton 1994). Thus within any one setting, there are different literacies which are culturally determined (Street 1984, 1993). It follows that there can be no one form of literacy (and post-literacy) provision which will be universally applicable,

Secondly, since literacy is now seen as a set of practices, it follows that even those who are unable to read or write are already coping with these literacies using many different strategies, just as many who are literate use non-literate strategies from time to time. All adults - literate and non-literate -are engaged in literacy practices, dealing with literacy events.

Thirdly, surveys of the retention of literacy skills (Roy et al 1975; Ramaswamy 1994) indicate that such skills are best retained when they are used in 'real' situations with 'real' materials. Evaluations have shown that, despite some difficulties, the use of existing literacy practices as the basis of learning literacy (as in the Language Experience Approach of ELP and Storyteller in South Africa and other countries, where the authentic language transactions of the learners are used as the basis of learning literacy skills) is in many cases more effective than more formal primer-based methods, even in countries where the written form of the language is significantly different from that which is spoken.

Finally, current understandings of lifelong learning are challenging the view that autonomous lifelong learning can only start once an adult has completed the first stages of learning literacy. It is now clear that learning is not dependent on literacy. Non-literate adults are already autonomous learners; they are engaged in lifelong learning (Rogers 1992). Those who talk about a learner achieving the status of 'independent learner' only towards the end of the process of learning literacy have a particular form of learning in mind - book learning (study) - which they usually see as superior to experiential learning.

The implications of these trends

It is thus clear that literacy is not a prerequisite for development. Development activities are often commenced by non-literate groups, and the need to master literacy skills in these cases arises primarily and most effectively from these activities. The evidence we have received indicates that programmes built on the assumption that the acquisition of literacy has to come first and that these skills will subsequently be used for development are less effective than those built on a 'literacy comes second' model where the acquisition of literacy skills is a step within a process of helping people to complete some task on which they have already embarked. Adults learn literacy best when they feel that they need these skills and that they are able to use them to achieve some immediate purpose.

The fact that there are different uses of literacy must call for different forms of literacy instruction and post-literacy provision. And this implies that the idea of sequential stages which is implied in the word 'post-literacy', even when seen within a continuum, is no longer acceptable. The concept of a distinguishable post-literacy stage needs to be rejected.