Literacy on Four Legs



ALEF's approach to basic adult learning

Basic skills in reading, writing and maths are important tools for interaction in any society. The skills in themselves do not make a person more intelligent; they are tools which facilitate daily living, and give access to shared arenas and contexts, inaccessible to the person lacking these skills. The skills also give status to people who earlier were considered as less important. In many contexts, most participants in adult learning courses are women. For these, the course becomes a means to increase equality. Participation in the study group increases the participants' self esteem, and the skills provide tools to claim and use their rights.


Reading and writing are linguistic activities, and the learning process is by necessity tied to a specific language. Research shows that the mother tongue is the best language for learning to read. The learning is faster and easier, the knowledge is more deeply engrained in the person's cognitive processes, and it is easier to apply the skills in daily life. ALEF is thus committed to as far as possible using the mother tongue of the participants in adult basic learning projects, both as the language for instruction and as the language to first read in. ALEF does not cooperate in projects where literacy is taught in a language which the participants do not yet speak.


ALEF uses a methodology called "Literacy on Four Legs", based on the following four pillars:


1) "Learning to learn" – The three basic skills: reading, writing and maths.

Not only reading, but also writing and maths should be learnt. Basic skills in writing and maths are often more directly useful for the participant than reading. A person who only learns to read but not to write easily forgets how to read. The skills are needed in all contexts where people handle money, goods, a calendar, and quantities of different kinds, like in commerce and handling goods, foodstuffs, seed, all types of craft, building, sowing etc. When teaching the skills, they should be related to the every day needs and occupations of the learners.


2) "Learning to be" – Creating awareness through dialogue:

Training dialogue and reflection around themes relevant to the participants, such as human rights, gender roles, democratic processes, HIV/Aids, violence and conflict resolution, environment, hygiene and health, child care, drugs, agricultural development, water management and so on. Topics for dialogues, theme words and texts in the courses should relate to this type of themes. Each literacy project needs to be preceded by a study where it is determined which topics are important to the intended learners. These topics will then constitute the basis for the texts and discussion topics in the course materials.


3) "Learning to live together" – Social and verbal development: 

Learning to express thoughts and opinions before a group, to critically analyze other people's statements. The courses include participative dialogue, where the facilitator and the participants talk together on equal terms. The participants are given time to share their experiences, thoughts and ideas, and are taken seriously. The respect for the adult participant as an independent thinking person, who can give important contributions to the pedagogical process, is a basic characteristic of all good adult learning.


A participative approach from the facilitator and other project personnel is a basis for fostering the participants in democracy and cooperation. Through working together in the study groups, the participants learn to cooperate in a group; this is something which can be put in practice in all types of civil society groups. Often non formal adult learning groups develop into more permanent civil society groups. This can be encouraged and planned, and the study materials can include texts which are helpful in this process.


4) Learning to do" – Application of the skills in daily life situations.

Applying reading, writing and maths to specific life situation should be taught as an integrated part of the course. The applications are different for each project, but can include for example how to use a calendar, how to handle a cell phone, how to read children's report cards from the local clinic, how to understand an electricity bill, how to write a letter and address an envelope, how to take minutes from a meeting, a grocery list, a notice of debt, how to keep a cash book, making a budget and so on. Another way of applying reading is to read texts which give new knowledge about relevant subjects.