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close this bookThe Courier N 148 - Nov - Dec 1994 - Dossier: Education - Country Reports: Saint Lucia - St Vincent and The Grenadines (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
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View the documentEducation
View the documentEducation, the key to change?
View the documentIncreasing school enrolment rates
View the documentSchool textbooks, investment... or waste
View the documentDevelopment indicators and education
View the documentStructural adjustment and education support programmes
View the documentCan we swap debt for education?
View the documentBecoming a teacher: an ambiguous ventre
View the documentAssessing whether an educational system is effective
View the documentLiteracy: three stories
View the documentTuvalu - Education for life
View the documentEducation as an investment for the future

Literacy: three stories

by Patrizia Carola

In the context of a dossier on education, we thought we should tackle the subject of literacy. Rather than writing an article about it, we chose to listen to the stories of three literate adults: Maurice, a 39-year-old Senegalese, Anne-Marie, a 33-yearold Senegalese, and Ousmane, a 20-year-old from Mali.

Maurice is 39. An arable farmer in Sr, a small Senegalese village near Thi he took his first course in reading and writing in 1982, when Sister Ang took the initiative of providing training for illiterate young people in the village..

'I never went to school. Where I come from, parents' strategy is often to send only every other child to school (for example, in my family, three out of five boys went to school). Parents think that children who go to school will later leave the village to study and work. Those who don't go to school, on the other hand, will help their parents in the fields and in time take over and keep the village going.

'I don't know whether I'd have wanted to go to school: at the time I didn't think about it. Sister Ang asked me and the other young people in the village to go to lessons instead of hanging around the streets with nothing to do. I immediately said yes because I liked the idea. Why? To start with I thought mainly about reading and writing my own letters. Also in church, I'd always see the others reading the books and I felt I wasn't able to take part fully.

'Now I'm one of the people in charge of an Economic Interest Group (EIG) working in the village. I was elected because I was able to write reports and minutes of meetings. Later I had the satisfaction myself of teaching people how to read and write.

'The first course we took in 1982 was in French. It was difficult and we found it hard to keep up. Sister Angele realised this and the next year our lessons were in Wolof. It was easier and I was hooked. After two years, I took the exam and passed. I carried on studying and in turn became a teacher. I taught for two years in four local villages. In the end, it was too much of a commitment, especially as it was unpaid, and I gave up.

'And the others? Everyone more or less goes into it for the same reasons: reading and writing personal letters without other people being involved, reading the signs and street names for drivers, keeping accounts, just managing!

'There are more women than men on the courses. Of course they don't generally leave for the season, so they are at home when the lessons are being given.

'I think age is one of the major obstacles to success. Once you are past 35, there is not much chance of learning to read and write. There are many reasons: students are not very dextrous, they find it hard to hold a pencil, they make holes in the paper, they often don't understand the meaning of things explained in the lesson and they have dificulties remembering. Also, it's hard to impose regular attendance at lessons and homework on them.'

Anne-Marie is a 33-year-old farmer, married and the mother of three children. She took courses in reading and writing run by the Fration des Associations Fnines du Sgal (Federation of Women's Associations of Senegal)

'When I was a child, I went to school for two years. I gave up school of my own free will, as my parents were in serious financial difficulties and I wanted to let my brother continue. I've forgotten everything I learnt then.

'I started taking courses in reading and writing in 1988. The Project encouraged us so that we could manage the loans we got for the activities of the group, the Health Centre and the Social Club. Before that, I wanted to learn: I'd even considered signing up for a course in Dakar, but it was too expensive.

'My husband is a watchman in Dakar. I thought the course would help me cope better in town, read street names, remember telephone numbers and so on. Also, I could have written to my husband without people finding out my secrets.

'As soon as I started the lessons, everything I'd studied at school came back, even though I thought I had forgotten everything. This naturally made things easier. I took courses for four years altogether, I can read and write in Wolof and keep accounts (all kinds of transactions). I get on far better. Even here in the village it's useful. For example, I can send my children to the shop with a shopping list and check the bill when they come back. I can take notes during group meetings. I am also braver. Before, when I was with educated friends, I felt timid, unimportant, I didn't dare to speak. Now, I feel more sure of myself and I say what I think.

'I was disappointed that after we'd passed the exams we weren't given a diploma. Even so, it's important, it's satisfying to be able to show others what you've done, what you've achieved. I think I'll carry on studying: I want to learn French.'

Ousmane, a 20-year-old Dogon, emigrated to Bamako, the capital of Mali. He is taking evening classes in French.

'I spent my childhood in Bandiagara, where I was born. I never went to school because at home only the eldest went. The family needs children to work in the fields and look after the animals.

'In 1990, I came to Bamako to look for work. I went to live with my brother, who is a drama teacher at the Institut National des Arts. I worked for two years as a 'boy' then I joined my brother's company.

'I signed up for evening classes in French. In the theatre, everyone speaks French and I often feel out of things. I also miss out on lots of jobs. I'm obviously left out of all the performances in French and recently, during a tour in France, someone suggested I should go into business, but I had to give up because of the language. Being able to write is also important in my work, because if you don't take notes during rehearsals, you may forget. I find arithmetic far more difficult than writing.'