Community Literacy Classes
Thanks to our CW4WAfghan donor community in Canada, we are running ongoing basic literacy classes for adult women and out-of-school girls in a number of small Afghan village communities. The classes are typically held within a home of a local woman who receives a small rent payment in exchange for hosting the classes. Local teachers are recruited and trained to run the classes and maintain a small library. Classes have been established in Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Kapisa and Badakhshan. The classes also provide health, hygiene, nutrition, rights and livelihood education, and access to a library for new readers.
One day I found some papers in my room and I used them as fuel to start a fire in the heater. That night I was shocked when I found out that I burned my husband’s driving license. I felt so bad and was really ashamed of being an illiterate person. After that incident I was committed to learn reading and writing. I told this story to my counselor who then introduced me to this class and now I am relaxed and happy. Whenever I find any papers, I read them before throwing them away or burning them. Now, I am able to rescue my family and myself from such problems.”
Bibi Jan, 43-years, studying in a Kabul literacy class.
When learners find opportunities to read for a variety of purposes (for education, business, career, health information, parenting information, for pleasure, among others) their literacy develops further, creating a ‘market demand’ for reading material which helps sustain a literate society. Too often, literacy programs approach reading in a limited sense, such as textbook reading for school, which limits the evolution of reading comprehension in learners.
Our experience in AR! has taught us:
• Literacy requires ongoing practice. Cultivating a love of reading helps sustain and grow a culture of literacy and reading with purpose, and this requires access to books of interest and relevance to the reader, and to spaces that promote reading, outside of schools and across everyday life.
• Literacy should be “alive”: School-based literacy learning must be bridged to learners’ out-of-school lives. Reading a textbook may not necessarily lead to drawing meaning from a text.
• Literacy classes can be steppingstones to formal education. Gaining foundational literacy skills facilitates entry into the formal education system, for both women and men. Literacy classes should offer assistance to all students to enroll them in an appropriate grade level upon reaching a certain literacy threshold, if desired. Literacy classes must be purposefully structured to facilitate transition into regular school. The AR! project will use a tool called the Personal Learning Plan to that end.
• Literacy is inter-generational. All of the available evidence tells us that literate mothers raise literate daughters. Thus, focusing on female adult literacy is a strategy to enable girls’ schooling. The project includes strategies to explicitly link parental literacy with support to children’s education, such as encouraging women to read to their children.
• Community buy-in is essential. CW4WAfghan only opens libraries upon invitation from communities, usually after community members have seen or visited one of our projects somewhere else. We check that there is widespread support for the project in the site, and when there are individuals or groups unsupportive of the initiative, we don’t work there. This policy has ensured that none of our projects have faced any significant security concerns.
• Cost-sharing. We ask communities to contribute in-kind to the project to instigate ownership over project outcomes. Usually, this comes in the form of the community contributing the space for the library and literacy centre.
• A room of her own. Women in Afghanistan have few spaces available to them outside of the private sphere, resulting in limited opportunities to interact with other women outside their families, to exchange ideas and access peer learning, and to find support networks—all critical elements of gaining confidence and independence. Libraries can play a critical role in this regard, giving women and girls a rare opportunity to escape domestic burdens and to focus on their own self-development and their own dreams.
• Mentorship, training and monitoring. Most literacy learning programs in Afghanistan do not include a library component, and do not actively promote reading beyond the class textbook. For this reason, even Afghans who have experience working in literacy need support to effectively integrate library services and reading promotion into literacy programming. The project places great emphasis on building skills within teachers to undertake reading promotion activities, and our pedagogy is one that is hands-on rather than classroom-focused. In the previous project, we found training had limited impact, and one-on-one mentoring, hands-on practice, and exposure visits to libraries had greater bearing on the uptake of teachers’ skills in making use of the libraries in teaching.
• Securing rural livelihoods: Rural households in Afghanistan, particularly female-headed households, face many vulnerabilities that put families at risk of poverty and create an environment of instability that is not conducive to the pursuit of personal goals like literacy. Households are most at risk when they rely primarily on a single livelihood, and lack fallback options in times of drought, climate change, erosion, or other natural disasters, as well as in the face of rising input costs, or as a result of conflict.