Thursday, March 13, 2014

Democracy is a Kind of Miracle

Lynn Curtis, ProLiteracy’s international programs advisor, recently traveled to Quito, Ecuador as one of 100 international representatives invited to observe the state/provincial elections held February 23, 2014. The National Electoral Council invited individuals representing various governmental and non-governmental institutions to participate in the electoral process to ensure a transparent and fair election. Observers traveled to all 24 provinces in the country and monitored the voting process, ballot counting, and election results. Throughout his time in Ecuador, Curtis took notes about his experiences while observing the electoral process in Ecuador:

“The training was a deep dive into all the mechanics of voting and democratic processes in Ecuador,” says Curtis. “With delegations from all over the world, it was quite an impressive gathering. The National Electoral Council worked really hard to make sure the electoral process was transparent, fair, and inclusive.”

Curtis was selected to observe voters in the Napo province of Ecuador, which is the Amazon region.  ProLiteracy has supported literacy projects in the past in this region; the majority of people who live in this province are indigenous and many of them have little access to education as they live in rural areas. The schools that do exist are often poorly funded and living conditions are challenging with intermittent access to electricity and running water.

“In Napo, our team went to 11 precincts including about 90 polling stations and saw thousands of voters,” says Curtis. “Lots of voters had to sign in with their fingerprints because they couldn’t read. At the end of the day, the local polling stations tallied up votes and had a counting ceremony with 10 guards in riot gear, and closed the ceremony by signing the national anthem. Democracy is kind of a miracle.”

In addition to being a participant on the delegation of International Observers, Curtis also presented a proposal to the National Electoral Council regarding the possibility of incorporating an adult literacy component in certain provinces where there is limited access to education programs.

The proposed pilot project would include the development of literacy training and materials focused on the democratic process, and would enable marginalized populations, including indigenous communities, women, and people with disabilities, to participate more actively in elections and community development. ProLiteracy recognizes the importance of literacy in any community. We believe education is the key to making informed decisions, such as voting for the right candidate. Through literacy, citizens can participate in democracy and civic engagement, and take part in shaping their future.

ProLiteracy was honored to be a part of the electoral process in Ecuador and we look forward to the possibility of future initiatives to help further democracy through adult education. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mithila Painting

Rani Jha, director of the Institute, says Mithila art represents not only the artists, but other women as well. "My paintings do not only concern the position of women in Bihar, but in all of India. I show that in one of my paintings, where I show a girl reaching up and wanting to touch the moon. In education, in the corporate sector, and in athletics the rainbow of hope has risen for these women and they see that with astonishment. Decade after decade women are changing and remodeling themselves. Women who have been educated have hope, but those two generations back are cursed and weep for their pathetic plight.”

Mithila painting is an ancient art form in the Likhiya, literally meaning “writing,” style. The Mithila Art Institute, located in Madhubani, India, gives uneducated and non-literate women across the entire caste spectrum in India an incredible opportunity to use their talent and create magnificent pieces. Using only ink as their tool, these women believe they are writing, not painting, to express themselves.

Dulari Devi, The Great Flood of 2006
Dulari Devi, The Great Flood of 2006: Photo Courtesy of Syracuse University Art Galleries
The paintings are not only an artistic tradition; they are empowering women in a historically conservative society. While some paintings depict deities and ancient rituals, others challenge gender relations. These women, who use their paintings as their voice in society, comment on social norms and issues about which they feel strongly.

Since 2000, the students at the institute have been painting local, national, and international events: floods, terrorism, global warming, and most recently, feminist issues such as patriarchy, dowry, bride burning, female infanticide, differential medical care and education for girls and boys, among others.

Rani Jha captures women’s experiences in her paintings. “I can read a woman's laughter and her smile and can tell whether it is real or fake. I worked in a Short Stay Home (a government home for abused women) for a time, and I still shudder with fear at what I saw and heard of the stories of these women. All this I interpret and depict in my paintings,” she says. 

Like Rani Jha, ProLiteracy also works to empower women in India. ProLiteracy partners with Yuvaparivartan in Tamil Nadu, to support the development of women living in squatter communities. Through the program, women have the opportunity take part in literacy education, income generation projects, and healthcare improvement campaigns. Yuvaparivartan trains local teachers and provides seed money for income-generating projects and advocacy resources.

Through another initiative, Laubach Literacy Education Trust (LLET) assists adult learners through village learning centers in the region of Kerala. Ninety percent of LLET learners are women whose families survive on seasonal, subsistence-level incomes from growing rice, fishing or unsophisticated construction. Most of the participants and their spouses are unemployed three-fourths of the year.  For these people, literacy is a matter of survival.  Many graduates of the village learning centers go on to enroll into the tuition-free LLET vocational school where they complete specialized course work and receive government certification in tailoring, typing, weaving, knitting, shorthand or accountancy.  This combination of literacy and vocational training has become key for women to gain employment within the formal economy.

Click here to learn more about programs ProLiteracy supports in India and other parts of the world.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The State of Literacy: 2013 and 2014

2013 is winding down. Countdowns and “top 10” lists of the year are popping up everywhere, including the Top 10 most watched YouTube videos, the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs, and a Top 10 Everything, where you can look at 54 lists of the “bests” in 2013, developed by TIME Magazine. 

This also the time for lists for the coming year, such as Best Trips 2014 or Top 10 Food Trend Predictions for 2014.

We’ve joined the trend and here’s what we’ve developed as a Top List for Literacy in both 2013 and 2014:

Top Moments for Global Literacy in 2013
Top Moments for Global Literacy in 2014
  • The high school equivalency exam (formerly the GED) is changing and it has spurred other companies and states to be involved in the testing service. This brings further awareness to the fact that more than 39 million adults aged 16 and older in the U.S. lack a high school credential.[1] We hope in 2014 this will result in larger numbers of students earning their high school equivalency exams. (For more information on the different exams, please see more here.)
  • Innovative solutions to tackle low literacy levels have been developed around the globe, including using technology in innovative teaching methods and ProLiteracy’s Literacy for Social Change program. This program integrates learning and community improvement by teaching basic literacy skills. We hope that in 2014 these solutions will continue to improve the lives of adults all over the world.
We believe every adult has a right to literacy. Literacy remains a major challenge for so many people worldwide, but ProLiteracy is optimistic for 2014 and beyond.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

ProLiteracy and Innovative Education

Education and literacy statistics are staggering—or rather, the low levels of literacy and quality education around the world. One teacher in Mexico and an educational technology professor in India, among others, are experimenting with innovative ways to address these problems, since traditional fixes (money, more teachers, etc.) are not always available.

Many of ProLiteracy’s international programs use student-inspired programs, so the skills learned can be used immediately in the student’s daily life.  Not only is this useful for the adult learners who often have little time to play catch up in their education, but it is similar to how humans learn, according to recent research.

According to this article, Sugata Mitra was chief scientist at a company in New Delhi, India, that trains software developers. His office was on the edge of a poor neighborhood, and on a hunch one day, he decided to put a computer into a nook in a wall separating his building from the neighborhood. He was curious to see what the kids would do, particularly if he said nothing. He powered the computer on and watched from a distance. To his surprise, the children quickly figured out how to use the machine.

For Mitra, this was the beginning of his work on an alternative educational philosophy that harnesses the power that the digital age can bring to education.  “Access to a world of infinite information has changed how we communicate, process information, and think. Decentralized systems have proven to be more productive and agile than rigid, top-down ones. Innovation, creativity, and independent thinking are increasingly crucial to the global economy.”

Part of the natural way to learn is by experiment and by curiosity.  Some teachers that have tried this approach have had remarkable success with their young students and there is no reason that this cannot be applied to adult education programs as well. “The bottom line is, if you’re not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well,” says lead researcher Joel Voss, now a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.

Maybe this philosophy is why ProLiteracy programs are so successful in areas around the world. Students, even adult students, who control their own learning can do better and learn more.

For more information on ProLiteracy and its programs, please visit our website at

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Literacy, NATO, and Afghanistan

Tens of thousands of previously non-literate Afghans can now read, thanks to the five-year NATO-led $200 million literacy program for the Afghan national security forces.

With fewer than 28 percent of adults who can read and write, non-literacy in Afghanistan is exacerbated by decades of war and disruptions in public education. Non-literacy among Afghans of military age was a major hurdle for the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, as recruits couldn't follow basic written instructions or read manuals for new weapons and equipment.

NATO set up a course to teach basic reading skills to expand literacy among the new Afghan army and police forces. More than 220,000 members have been trained in basic reading and more than 70,000 have achieved a level of functional literacy. 50,000 more recruits are in the program currently, and the Afghan government plans to continue the program after the end of NATO involvement next year.

Fewer than 1 million Afghan children were enrolled in school in 2001, according to the Brookings Institution, an American think-tank. By 2011, more than 8 million were enrolled and more than 700,000 adults are enrolled in literacy programs across the country. Improving literacy is essential for jobs and the Afghan economy.

"In 2010, only about 10 percent of [Afghan] recruits could read; now it's 15 percent," said U.S. Air Force Major Carol Marrujo, chief of literacy operations for NATO in Afghanistan.

The problem of non-literacy is not solved, as few women benefit directly from this literacy initiative and only about 13 percent of women in Afghanistan are literate. There are also very few options of reading material for the Afghan security forces who become literate through this program.

ProLiteracy partners with the Roqia Center in Afghanistan to combat non-literacy using education. The unique program with the Roqia Center brings husbands and wives into the same classroom to learn about human rights and constitutional rights as they enhance their literacy skills along the way. ProLiteracy, the Roqia Center, and initiatives like this one by NATO will continue to show the world that global literacy matters.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Saakshar Bharat—India’s Adult Literacy Program

Saakshar Bharat is “the world’s largest adult education program” and it aims to make 70 million adults literate by 2017.

Only 62.8 percent of India’s population over age 15 can read and write, according to the CIA World Factbook.[1] With a total population in India of more than 1.2 billion people, that translates to more than 446 million Indians who cannot read and write, and does not factor in age-appropriate reading levels or numerical literacy.

To combat this, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched Saakshar Bharat in 2009 as an initiative of the Indian Department for School Education and Literacy (DSEL).[2] Saakshar Bharat places special emphasis on female literacy in India.

Anu Priya, a representative of a village from Villupram in Tamil Nadu said 2,000 villagers were being taught. They had held six exams so far. The next batch of 114 adult students was well prepared for the next exams, she said. "The people have learnt a lot of things. Now they are willing to go to the bank, and have the power to sign. They are happy," she said.

The adult literacy program has helped people of Panavada gram panchayat in Thanam in Andhra Pradesh to participate in self help groups and microfinance. They can understand numbers much better, said the representative in Telugu.[3]

While this has been one of India’s largest formal initiatives to combat illiteracy to date, one of ProLiteracy’s founders, Frank Laubach also helped pioneer an adult literacy campaign in India during the 1950s which lead to the establishment of the Laubach Literacy Educational Trust (LLET), ProLiteracy’s oldest continuing international program partner. LLET began targeting non-literacy in the state of Kerala. A.K. John, program founder and director, attended Syracuse University, where he was inspired by Laubach’s ideas about literacy and development. Since the program’s inception, an estimated 60,000 learners have graduated, and 328,000 individuals have directly benefited from the resulting economic and social changes in their families and communities. LLET programs serve populations that are not typically offered formal education; in regions where class and religion are sources of public conflict, the program transcends traditional social boundaries. In addition to LLET, ProLitracy supports literacy and women’s empowerment efforts through our other partner program in India, Yuvaparivartan (Youth for Change). Yuvaparivartan supports women’s development groups in impoverished communities in seven Indian states. Participants in these groups take part in literacy education, income generation projects, and healthcare improvement campaigns. As these women pool their efforts and resources, they generate solutions to difficult social problems.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Women in Indonesia receive financial literacy training

According to UNESCO, “Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.”

Literacy is linked with socio-economic progress and is no longer only about the basic technical skills of reading and writing.

Take, for example, women in the fishing village of Tanjung Benoa, Indonesia, who recently participated in financial literacy training to improve their skills as the finance manager in their families.

The training included simple but crucial tips on financial literacy in an attempt to combat the economic and social challenges the residents face daily, including a lack of understanding on money management and limited access to information.

Standard Chartered Bank and the Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry organized the training. The bank has conducted training programs and financial discussions for more than 500 female microentrepreneurs throughout Indonesia.

Through our international programs, we at ProLiteracy know that women play a vital role in achieving well-being in their families, communities, and countries.  Learn more about our Women in Literacy initiative on our website, and read the full article about training in Indonesia here.