World Bank Culture and Poverty Unit
August 2002-December 2003
|Adult women interested in acquiring reading and writing skills|
|154 learners in 9 classes (two phases) completed the course|
Costs per learner
|Phase 1 - $44. Phase 2 - $33|
Literacy through Poetry/Heritage was designed for rural women in Yemen who want to learn to read and write but are not interested in formal education. Adapting Freirean and “community literature” approaches, texts were created from classroom discussion and students’ poetry and proverbs generated in class. These texts were written on large pieces of paper and pasted on the wall. They provided the material for learning activities through which students developed reading and writing skills. The texts were also reproduced in large type, so that students would learn to read typed, as well as handwritten, text. At the end of the course, each student received a bound collection of the texts generated in her class, a “book” that she helped compose. For sample texts click here.
The method explores potential links between traditional arts and effective learning strategies by utilizing learners’ own oral poetic traditions to teach literacy skills. Incorporating poetry in teaching not only affirms intangible heritage; it facilitates learning and develops critical thinking skills. Using women’s poetic expression serves not only to promote literacy, but to preserve a valued and valuable tradition as well. In Yemen, short, two line poems are utilized effectively to mediate conflict. Poetry synthesizes the issue at hand and allows for disagreement without confrontation. When someone feels insulted, expressing anger in a poem is more sophisticated than physical violence or shouting. Moreover, rhetoric that one’s adversaries appreciate increases their willingness to accept compromise. This is critical thinking at its best.
Project outcomes surpassed expectations. Retention rates were
high, at 81% and 74%, respectively. 72% of learners in the first 5 classes could
read and write new material, 37% fluently and 35% by sounding out words. 63%
of learners in the second phase, which met for only 6 months, could read and
write new material. Empowerment indicators included greater respect shown to
learners by their family members and increased community interest in the education
of adult women. Learners developed a new interest in their children’s
education and actively participated in national elections. In two communities,
they initiated health interventions. A major success with implications to the
feasibility of the pilot is its participatory component. The training of new
teachers for Phase 2 of the pilot was conducted entirely by local trainers.
In response to teacher and student evaluations, plans to expand this project or pilot it elsewhere would include adding numeracy skills, developing a teacher's manual, and extending the teacher training workshop to two weeks. This method is appropriate for women and men in any country with an active oral tradition, including most, if not all, MENA countries, and many countries in West and East Africa, Central Asia and Latin America.
This pilot was featured in National Geographic News in 2004 and was cited in the World Bank's Beijing +10 report (p.21) in 2005 (The World Bank). In 2007 it was recognized as an example of "best practice in women’s empowerment" by the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) in Tunisia. I was invited to present the project at the UNESCO/Qatar Foundation Regional Conference in Support of Global Literacy in the Arab Region in March, 2007.
For detailed descriptions of this project, please see my articles below. (One of these was scanned horizontally, so please rotate view to read it or adjust “page setup” before printing.):
2009 Literacy Programme through Teaching Traditional Oral Poetry: The Case of Rural Women in Yemen. Fact Sheet. Information Kit on Intangible Cultural Heritage. Paris: UNESCO.
2008 Learning through Heritage, Literacy through Poetry. Adult Education and Development, 70. Available online in English, French and Spanish.
2004 Literacy Through Poetry: A Pilot Project for Rural Women in the Republic of Yemen. Women's Studies Quarterly 32(1&2):226-243. (pdf file)
For further information contact:
Dr. Najwa Adra
22 High Pine, Glen Cove, NY 11542, USA
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