Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Literacy Programs Aren't Helping the Poor

A comment from India pointing out that literacy alone is of little benefit there

Policy makers around the world have decided that literacy is what the poor need. That's simply doing a disservice to them. Literacy hasn't brought any real benefit or change in the lives of the social underclass.

There is no doubt about a close linkage between illiteracy and poverty. Illiterate people find it difficult to get out of poverty. Without being sufficiently literate, one can't fully enjoy social or cultural life. As Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate in economics, points out, the capacity to read and write deeply influences one's quality of life. The trouble is that while societies increasingly emphasize information, knowledge and communication as essential ingredients of education, poor people are offered a much lower standard to achieve. A person is considered literate if he can read, write and understand a simple sentence relating to his everyday life. Using this definition, there are still nearly 1 billion adults who are illiterate, according to the United Nations. In addition, more than 100 million children don't attend primary schools today. Even among the so-called literate, especially the poor, there are those who have attended only a few primary grades in rural schools that offer little by way of education.

To validate published official records, The George Foundation (a nongovernmental organization carrying out poverty eradication programs in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu state in India) recently completed a house-to-house survey of several thousand people in 17 villages. Those surveyed were asked to read and respond to a simple question written in their local language: How old are you? Less than 15 percent of the people among the ``lower'' social class or ``dalits'' were able to read the question, while barely 40 percent of the ``upper'' classes responded correctly. If this survey is any indication of actual rural literacy, it is hard to believe the government's claim of 65 percent adult literacy in all of India, when 700 million people live in the rural sector.

A UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2003 on the ``International Plan of Action for the Decade'' called for policy changes at national levels to link literacy promotion with strategies for poverty reduction, health care and other important social goals. It also emphasized the need for flexible programs, capacity building, research, community participation and monitoring. While all these are essential ingredients for success in the fight against illiteracy, it isn't clear how the new policy will be implemented. The starting point for any realistic program is a clear understanding of the present state of affairs. With nearly two- thirds of the people in the world living in rural areas, it is rural schools that are most important in the literacy effort. Unfortunately, most rural schools in practically every developing country are of substandard quality.

In a country like India, most rural schools are government- run, and only a few offer anything resembling quality education. On any given day, many primary schools are short teachers, and students from a couple of grades are combined into a single room for classes. Most teachers aren't properly trained and have very little motivation or commitment to the profession. Illiterate families in rural communities aren't involved in the education of their children, and only a minority of parents send their children to middle school. The education children receive in rural primary schools hardly prepares them for further study, employment, or effective community participation. Yet, they are classified as literate.

To compound the problems caused by a scarcity of good teachers, there are many other difficulties to overcome. Children from poor families go to school hungry; a majority of them suffer from malnutrition. A significant number are regularly sick. They don't receive periodic vision or hearing checkups. Many schools don't have toilets that offer sufficient privacy, discouraging girls from attending classes for the entire day. Most classrooms are unventilated and overcrowded, roofs leak on rainy days, books and paper are in short supply, and blackboards are nonexistent or worn out. ...

All the gadgetry in the world can't equal the impact that a skilled and dedicated teacher has on a child, even in the most rural setting. Until the policy focus turns to attracting college graduates to the teaching and to rural government schools, we can't expect a real improvement in children's education.

Significant reduction in illiteracy, as currently defined, may be possible within the next decade or two. But the real question to be answered is this: Is literacy an adequate goal for the poor?

The goal should be to ensure that all children receive a good education -- from grade school until high school -- in a motivating environment. Without proper education, as opposed to literacy, today's children may not have a future in an increasingly competitive global market

More here

Shamed Germans turn to private sector

Private education is booming in Germany as parents turn away from a one-size-fits-all education system they claim has failed their children. Germany was once famed as a centre of learning excellence - but no longer. The PISA study, which graded the education of all EU children, showed Germany close to the bottom of the class. Since the first disastrous PISA results in 2000, an estimated 130,000 extra children have been enrolled in German private schools. There are now some 600,000 children being educated privately, at considerable cost. Peter Susat, president of the Federation of German Private Schools, says that from 1992 to 2003, a further 600 private schools have opened, bringing the total to more than 2500. "The boom can be laid in part to a negative image of the public school system, which was strengthened by the PISA study results," he says.

The publication of the PISA 2000 study caused a public outcry. On average, German students participating in this standardised test performed considerably below the OECD average and substantially worse than students from other European countries such as Finland and Ireland. New polls show that 20 per cent of German parents would prefer to send their children to a private school if they could afford it. Demand is particularly strong in east Germany, where parents feel the west did not adequately fill the educational vacuum after the collapse of communism.

Another reason for the turn to private education is the fear of drugs and violence in schools, especially following the massacre of 14 teachers, two students and a police officer by a pupil in Erfurt in 2002.

Immigration is also a factor: there are schools in Germany with such a high ratio of foreign pupils that German is a second language behind Turkish in many classrooms.

Manfred Weiss, a Frankfurt educationalist, says he is sceptical about whether private schools produced better results but he understands parents' motives. "The school climate is better, the contact of parents to the school usually closer. There is a trend towards more conservative education that these schools fulfil," he says. Most private schools in Germany are faith-based.

Private schools have always been a dilemma for postwar German governments. For many, they smack too much of the elite education that Hitler tried to create at the NAPOLAs - political schools designed to create a Nazi ruling class.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


No comments: