Reading is Cool

Hello friends,

My apologies for the delay in posts, but a lot has been going on here in Liberia and I have been crazy busy. This past week, DEN-L hosted a workshop focusing on adult literacy education, which I helped to facilitate. It was a very enlightening experience for the participants as well as me, as adult literacy training is a topic that I am somewhat unfamiliar with. An estimated 60-70 percent of the Liberian population is illiterate, so it is a topic of relevance in this country and I am happy I was able to learn more about it. The participants consisted of Liberians from all over the county who are developing adult literacy programs in their communities or who plan on doing so in the future. Many of them served as primary or secondary school teachers in the past and were eager to learn more about making the switch to adult education.

Participants work in teams to develop lesson plans

The first few days of the workshop addressed topics I am more familiar with, such as leadership skills, teambuilding and gender awareness. The idea is that adult educators must have a firm grasp on these topics to better understand the prevalent issues facing the communities in which they are working and also in order to work development-related topics into their curricula. One thing I learned about adult education is that the approach and techniques used are extremely different from those employed in teaching children. For one, it is beneficial to tie development topics into lessons, such as those mentioned above, in order to relate the materials learned to the country’s current social, economic and political situations, and to shed light on the relevance and applicability of participants’ learnings.

Additionally, adults have a greater sense of dignity and pride, and they cannot be treated as young children or they will get frustrated. While the goal of child literacy education is to develop all-purpose reading and writing skills, adults come to literacy training for specific reasons and won’t hesitate to drop out if their desires and needs are not met. Some of them want to be able to use their cell phones while others want to be able to read their bank statements and manage their own money. Some want to read the newspaper and others simply want to be able to read the Bible. Still others come for the sole purpose of learning to write their own names—once they accomplish this small goal they may be satisfied with themselves and drop out. Many adults have the mindset that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and therefore they have no desire or time to sit and listen to lessons that they don’t find interesting or applicable to their specific goals.

Adult literacy training workshop at DEN-L - group photo

One exercise we did that I found particularly interesting was intended to help participants put themselves in the shoes of an illiterate person in Liberia in order to empathize with the hardships that they must endure on a daily basis. Unfortunately, illiterate people in Liberia are often taken advantage of and cheated because of their lack of education. We divided the participants into teams and asked them to develop skits depicting common ways in which illiterate people are taken advantage of to perform for the group. Interestingly enough, all of the skits they came up with dealt with gender issues, as women were the illiterate victims in every case. Some skits involved men cheating their wives of money intended for the family’s well-being while some depicted men using their wives to deliver love notes and money to their girlfriends who visit the house pretending to be there for business purposes. The participants assured me that all of the situations exemplified are all too common in Liberian society.

The last few days of the workshop focused on planning and executing literacy classes for adults. Needed materials, ways to organize a literacy program, topics to be addressed, and methods to be used were all discussed. After the DEN-L facilitators showed participants how to teach certain topics, we set up mock classrooms and the participants took turns acting as the teacher while their peers played the role of the students. Teams of participants developed plans to organize literacy programs as well as curriculums to implement and presented these plans to the group on the last day.

From this workshop, I learned a lot about the unique needs that adults have when it comes to literacy education and the approaches one must use to address them. I hope that all of our participants are able to go on to develop successful literacy programs, as they are much needed and could really propel development in Liberia.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

In peace,