November 2006

Rural Literacy

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The rapid progress in modern Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is seen as one of the potential tools for literacy and non-formal education. It can be effectively used for designing and developing locally relevant and acceptable curriculum with sensitivity to individual learners options and interest. Although this ICT enabled learning curriculum needs to be placed in an appropriate socio-cultural context of the community to achieve the proposed objectives and development. The article attempts to focus on the process of intervention, approach and strategies adopted by M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in India where ICTs are being used to facilitate rural literacy programmes at village level through the Village Knowledge Centers.

Learning is a social process; It is important to develop a demand for learning among the individuals. Family and community act as the motivational factors for learning. Family helps to set the personal learning goals with learning inside and out side the classrooms. Learners' previous knowledge and his/her environment are vital for developing materials for learning. Facilitation and discussion instead of instruction is essential as a teaching method. Technology facilitates access and meets the challenges of the learner-centered curriculum. Learner specific curriculum developed by the learner him/herself with the help of family ensures the relevance of learning to the learners.

Location and partners

In Kannivadi region of Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, India, M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) has been working for the last five years on issues related to sustainable agriculture and is involved in developing multiple livelihood strategies to alleviate rural poverty. The mobilised farmers and landless people were facilitated to form Self-Help Groups (SHGs). These SHGs are managing the project activities at hamlet level. Through a survey and analysis among the illiterate members in each village, 25 men and 25 women were selected for the first batch. While selecting the learners two criteria's were applied such as individual's enthusiasm and interest to learn and the family's support to cooperate with the learner.

Family is considered as the agency to facilitate the learning process and guarantee the learner to continue the course till he or she becomes a functional literate. The importance and approach of the project was shared with the family members and a request was made not only to ensure that the family would allow the person to complete the course, it should take the responsibility of acting as a learning center for the participant and finally it should help to assess the result at the end of the project.

Learning plan and learning resources

Village Knowledge Centres (VKCs) come as the most effective means for MSSRF to take on this ICT and rural literacy drive. The VKCs are computer based knowledge centers with Internet connection provides need based static and dynamic information. A set of VKC's operating in a region are connected with a 'hub' in the center and the 'hub' is the nodal point, which receives the generic information and adds value by converting it to locale specific information. The local community manages the VKCs; access is ensured to all irrespective of caste, class, gender and age. Need based content creation is regularly done on the basis of the need assessment and feed back from the local women and men visit the VKC. The local village people are trained in the management of modern information and communication technologies like operating the computers and hardware maintenance.

The participants were trained in using digital cameras, prepared the visual materials and the appropriate local wordings/phrases (curriculum) to develop a learner specific learning materials. The facilitators collaborated with each learner to prepare the material in power point mode and compiled it in a Compact Disc (CD).

Self-learning material aroused and sustained the interests of the learners. Generating learner specific and hamlet specific resource materials reduced and discouraged the instructions and dependency on instructors/teacher. The computer based self-produced, self instructional materials eliminated the gap and strengthened the link between the learner and learning materials. Use of advanced technologies like digital cameras and computers with touch screens, an electronic tablet for writing practice accelerated the process of individual based curriculum development and encouraged the active participation of the learners in the programme.

Learning as fun: The family's support

In the process of material preparation not only the individual learner but also the whole family were involved and converted the activity as fun. The other members in the family played the multiple roles of instructors, co-workers, collaborators and evaluators in the learning process of the participant. The family shared the responsibility of the entire process starting from designing the curriculum to evaluating the results at the end. Family gave the opportunity to the person who has relatively more free time to participate in the project. Functional need of literacy to the individual is also considered by the family for recommending the person to participate in the project.

Animators as mentors

The animators facilitated the learning process through discussion and attending the specific needs of the individuals. Continued feedback and motivation from the facilitators help the participants for consistent improvement. Sensitivity to individuals learning styles helps each participant for a smooth sailing. The informal approach adopted by the facilitators encourages the learner to express his/her doubts and opinions without hesitation, this also helps to promote peer teaching. Encouraging peer teaching and group work provides an environment for examination of each other's experience and arriving a consensus on issues related to learning process.

Learning is a process

The family and VKC share the responsibility of providing favorable learning environment for the learners. The process helped the learners to develop the right attitude for learning and inspire the learner to involve in the learning process. The whole process of the development of the learning materials, organising the structured classes, informal and formal meetings are in harmony with the available time and the daily routine of the individual learners. The reading and writing practices of the learners were supported by theme based power points slides. The local fortnightly published by the local community based organisation is also used as a reading material in the literacy centre. Training organised with the support of State Resource Centre for Adult education and communication and education experts helped to improve the capacity of the facilitators to develop the tools and a system for evaluating the learner.

Learning outcomes

The main out put of the project is that the participant villagers have become functional literates. The learners started using the literacy skills in their every day life in places like ration shops, markets, bus stands, telephone booths, Self help group meetings, petty shops etc and also at the house hold level women apply the new skill for efficient financial management, children's education and play active role in the decision making process. The literacy has also helped to upscale the business and to improve the quality in their semi skilled jobs and become effective local panchayat leaders etc.

The interaction between the learner, family and community is very essential. Modern ICT can help in developing learner

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