21 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap: Ms. Cecilia (Thea) V. Soriano

  1. Cheers Thea for generating such a vibrant discourse. Along with the summary points, I would re-emphasize on the point that capacity building of the adult educator (both professionally and institutionally) is critical to sustain the quality and the process. One way of addressing this is, making programme support and capacity building as integrated package. Often the support comes for programmes implementation, not much for professional development of educators and institutional development of the organizations.

    The second point is, widening the vision of ‘classroom learning’. Nowadays and in the coming days, learning would not be limited to the face to face ‘four-wall’ based classroom. For adult learning this is more true.

  2. I have really found the dialogue engaging, thought provoking and motivational.The thread on experience, social and cultural barriers that hinder women from completing an education programme was and is pertinent . Yes, social mobilization and awareness raising within the community are critical components of any effective and empowering adult education for women. Part of this cycle of empowerment I would add is empowering NGOS’s /practitioners to engage in research with the communities they are based with the aim of generating knowledge from the lived experiences of the women. It is from these experiences that resources can be shaped into a programme that is meaningful to the community it serves.

    Recently, I wrote blog for the BERA Blog – to be posted by BERA shortly – I think the points I made are pertinent to the discussion so I am going to copy it into this as a think piece.

    Literacy not just a skill: a critical lens and tool to expose and challenge symbolic violence and poverty

    In the last two decades there has been an attention on literacy, principally among countries participating in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (Grek, 2010; Hamilton, 2014). The OECD’s 2013 report makes clear that the implement for measuring literacy levels across countries is the specifically designed OECD programme for the international assessment of adult competencies (PIAAC). Policy discourses, which arise from the placing of literacy where it is valued almost exclusively in economistic terms, position literacy as the base for employability and central to the economic competitiveness of industry and nations (Sellar & Lingard, 2013). Literacy being positioned in terms of human capital, expressed for example as ‘functional’ skills that enable individuals, as well as countries, to become more productive and competitive in the labour market based on the premise of a ‘knowledge economy’ (Ade-Ojo & Duckworth, 2015). Within this reductive stance one of the most significant duties given to education is to provide a flexible, adaptable and skilled workforce to make countries competitive in the globalised economy. It focuses on education for work positions, education as a commodity, and pays no regard to issues of economic, political and social equality.

    Class still matters and literacy I would argue is a central characteristic of social class. Literacy has historically been side-lined in sociological analysis and needs to be placed central to the debates on class analysis. Literacy is not neutral; it is a tool of social power. Policies designed to improve literacy need to be tightly bound to challenging poverty. By addressing low literacy in national policy, the UK and beyond has the potential to more fully engage with the causes of inter-generational cycles of poverty and to improve the experience of poverty over people’s life. Low levels of literacy and living in poverty create a mutually reinforcing cycle that is difficult to rupture, which was exposed in my ethnographic study of sixteen adult basic skills learners living in the North West of England (Duckworth, 2013, 14). I drew on Bourdieu’s theoretical tools and the link between literacy, identity, and agency, Through this theorization, I explored the restraining and conforming factors they faced in the public and private domains they inhabited, together with exposing critical spaces for resistance and empowerment in the struggle to transform habitus, despite neo-liberalism claims of an apparently egalitarian social field.

    The politics of literacy and its link to learner identity was uncovered from the standpoint of how the adult learners’ everyday lives have been shaped by the lack of and development of literacies. It provided a framework to explore literacy as a cultural capital and literacy education as a site of production and reproduction of power positions, where certain literacy practices are considered more legitimate than others. Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital was vital in exposing the transmission of wealth and power and incorporating ideas about how those in a position of power, who Puwar (2004) describes as ‘insiders’, reproduce and maintain their domination. The study recognised and understood the learners’ narratives against the backdrop of wider socio/economic/political and historical contexts, illuminating the objective and subjective dimensions of their identities and how they inform, rupture and transform the habitus in relation to the changing interplay between classed and gendered processes over their life-course.

    Using literacy as a critical lens is a meaningful and powerful tool to expose and challenge poverty, and work towards social justice (Duckworth, 2013, 14; Ade-Ojo and Duckworth, 2015).

    Ade-Ojo, G. & Duckworth, V. (2015). Adult Literacy Policy and Practice: From Intrinsic Values to Instrumentalism. Palgrave Macmillan Pivotal: London.

    Duckworth, V. (2013). Learning Trajectories, Violence and Empowerment amongst Adult Basic Skills Learners. Routledge Research in Education: London.

    Duckworth, V. (2014). Literacy and Transformation, in Duckworth, V. & G. Ade-Ojo (Eds.) Landscapes of Specific Literacies in Contemporary Society: Exploring a social model of literacy. Routledge Research in Education: London.

    Grek, S. (2010). International organisations and the shared construction of policy ‘problems’: Problematisation and change in education governance in Europe. European Educational Research Journal, 9 (3), 396-406.

    Hamilton, M. (2014). Survey Literacies. In V. Duckworth & G. Ade-Ojo (Eds.), Landscapes of specific literacies in contemporary society: Exploring a social model of literacy (pp. 47-60). Routledge Research in Education: London.

    Puwar, N. (2004). Space Invaders: Race, Gender and Bodies out of Place. Berg: Oxford.

    Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2013). PISA and the Expanding Role of the OECD in Global Educational Governance. In H.-D. Meyer, & A. Benavot (Eds.), PISA, power and policy: The emergence of global educational governance (pp. 185-206). Oxford: Symposium.

  3. I have read the issues raised by Thea and E-forum participants’ discussion. I am trying to digest the idea raised. The discussions are very interesting. I strongly believe that literacy empowers women if properly addressed. My concern is, however, the conception of literacy for empowering downtrodden women in developing country. In my view, giving power to women is confused with empowering women. So, how can the ultimate literacy program will be bona fide in reaching the poor women? It is still my concern.

  4. In order to inform policy and program development with regard to literacy, continuous forums and conferences are vital. However, most of academic conferences and forums do not invite practitioners and policy makers, but academicians and researchers. Therefore, to narrow the gap between research and policy, we need to bring policy makers and even politicians on board for discussions.

    In my opinion, cases studies, ethnographic studies and participatory action researches are the best to inform policy in the area of adult literacy. Nevertheless, policy makers do not have confidence over qualitative research, they prefer research works with rigorous statistics and quantitative in nature. It is even a challenge to find academic journal that publish qualitative researches. I think this is also another barrier!

    The other barrier I recognized is language. Especially in our situation, literacy studies are presented in English language and mostly use jargons, which practitioners hardly understand. In our country, there are more than 70 languages. English language is spoken only in academic institutions and international NGOs. In such cases, I suggest, research findings should be translated and written in easier language for the concerned bodies and should be communicated in the words they understand, not technical words. This, in turn, requires more money, time and energy!

    Some the people in this forum also mentioned about the importance of needs assessment before developing literacy programme for women. I do agree with this idea. Needs assessment should be the first step. The problem, however, is of budget in developing countries like ours. It has long been recognized that women need to learn literacy for various reasons and preparing a program that fits the needs and aspiration of each woman is challenging where there is no adequate budget. Training and recruiting facilitators is also a challenge. Government prefers to recruit one facilitators (mostly 10th grade completes) for 90 more adults due to lack of budget.

    When we raise the issue of adult literacy, the issue facilitators should be critically analyzed. In many situations, untrained facilitators lead adult literacy programmes and this is resulting in the failure of literacy programmes. Is there any standard to become a literacy facilitators? What should be their level of education? What should be their benefit?

  5. An adult education or literacy program should deliver self confident learners more than B+A is BA, when we start in one community in Mali, the literacy books were as such. One day a woman learner come to visit us in our stay, in discussing with her we find this: the woman says’ we need to learn the world, we already knows about all in this book, we cannot read it but we know about all of these, we need to know the world and how we can make one respect our dignity’.
    adult learners want to know how to read and writte but more deeply they want to be informed educated on global issues.

  6. I think that Alemu Sokora Nenko brings in the importance of relevance of literacy programs. The beneficiaries of these programs need to see immediate results. Illiterate women are willing to benefit from programs which they see as having evident results in the shortest possible time. The challenge is that in many developing countries such as Uganda, education is taken to be formal education. Many people in our countries; including education policy makers do not see literacy programs as serious areas of concern. This is because they think that they do not belong to what they call the main stream education, which is formal education. People need to love the programs before they can be engaged in them. Having a good number of well-trained personnel in literacy education can also be a booster for literacy programs in bother developed and developing countries. Although the tendency is always to look at governments for the implementation of these programs, I would imagine that some NGOs and other private institutions can also play a role in implementing literacy programs in their countries to benefit illiterate women.

  7. Firstly, I do agree that we should go beyond the basic literacy because only based on that adult could not confidently and happily catch up with the changing world.

    To achieve effective adult literacy education programs, I would like to pay more attention to “needs assessment” of the target groups which is the most important prior step in curriculum development. To my observation, implementers of the programs tend to propose programs based more on their point of views not from the target groups’. I think we should serve only what the target groups need then the programs will be meaningful and successful.

    In addition, capacity development for the facilitators and participartory action research will play important roles for sustainable development.

  8. Thank you for your comments. Your arguments are pushing for a new form of collaboration i.e. multiple-stakeholder partnership which is not limited to bilateral relationship between academic researchers and practitioners. As Thea emphasised, rich experiences NGOs possess form a reservoir of approaches to and strategies for (re)structuring and (re)designing literacy programmes which are relevant to learners. With a greater importance governments attach to statistics, how do NGO initiatives inform policy? They have to confront the pressing demand to respond to the government’s results-and-evidence-based agenda. As have been suggested by our colleagues here, participatory approaches place accountability and ownership into the hands of learners. However, there seems to be a lack of support from donors/governments when it comes to participatory research projects. Researchers utilising participatory approaches are under great pressure to pass the “rigour test” and to prove the impact of their work. The challenges academic researchers and NGOs share push them to work together effectively to overcome political and institutional barriers.

  9. I have enjoyed reading the various contributions and the range of participatory and creative research techniques for different purposes. I would like to ask about reporting on research. Ehsanur Rahman mentions ‘evidence of effectiveness from such research………….’. How are you disseminating your research to others, both academics and practitioners.NGOs?

    1. ‘Accessing to the academic research works by the practitioners/ literacy providers and Accessing the study on the practical works by the academics’ – is possibly the key issue before us in this Forum. The whole dissemination process has to entail teams from all levels – micro to macro, from community to tertiary levels. Any bright idea besides developing virtual library would benefit all of us.

  10. Thank you for the interesting discussion points. I do agree with the first issue you suggested that literacy for the poor and marginalized groups should be go beyond literacy. It should be integrated with livelihood strategies. Particularly, literacy program meant for out-of-school young females should be integrated with life skills since they are exposed to various problems.

  11. Thank you Rebecca, Marie, Sr. Elizabeth, Ehsan and Rene for your valuable contributions. From your posts, I would like to highlight some points you raised which will be very useful when we reflect on ways forward to bridge the gap between between research, policy and practice for gender and literacy:

    – Quality literacy programs must be flexible, should start at the present situation where learners are and in the process discover local assets and other opportunities for learning by themselves.
    – Literacy programs also involves community building where women learn to restore their communities, it also involves changing mindsets – addressing social and cultural barriers to youth and women’s participation in education and requires social mobilization.
    – It is critical to develop/enhance the capacities of local service providers to provide customized learning packages — be they in the NGO, community or government sector.
    – To inform policy and program development within government, NGOs should collaborate (aware of the challenges) with government, given their rich experiences in implementing relevant, needs-based and gender-responsive literacy programs.
    – Policy development and ensuring policies are financed are pivotal in scaling up effective literacy programs and to reform the education system towards a lifelong learning system. It might be good to explore more researches on financing literacy as well as build on gender-based budgeting experiences and tools.
    – Participatory researches, documentation of processes, case studies, video-documentation and other research approaches/tools will capture the complexity and passion needed to ensure empowering gender-sensitive literacy and education programs for youth and adults.

    Any more points that other colleagues may want to add on or comment on to these reflections?

  12. In the Philippines, all local government officials and government agencies have to have gender elements in their budget, that’s is why it is called Gender-Responsive Budgeting. In fact, LGU and government budget will not be approve by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) without the gender element. The problem lies in the knowledge and skill of LGUs and agencies in drafting their plans and budgets. However, not all LGUs and agencies know how to come up with budgets for their constituencies. This is where NGOs and people’s organizations come in to make inputs as to what programs can be set up relevant to the barangay or community. The Philippine Commission on Women has come up with tools and guidelines on how budgets are done, including monitoring them. (Tools available in the PCW website). Therefore, resources need not be a problem now, but the process of engaging, changing mindsets of local government officials to gender sensitivity and responsiveness and transferring the planning and budgeting skills are the kinks. The PCW also has formed and trained gender resource persons (like consultants) to assist the LGUs on these processes of transferring planning and budgeting skills. This is lifelong learning and adult education for our government officials.

  13. Literacy with all its diversity in the purpose and process of learning essentially demands flexibility. The learners (whatever age-group they belong to) are with various levels of literacy skills; they expect to re-start the journey from the point they are at present. In many cases the literacy program package with a set delivery system can not cater that individual needs.

    Local level program designing with active participation of the prospective learners with spaces for meeting their diverse learning needs through multi-grade learning system may be a solution. There are few examples in different countries of this nature. Participatory research on these initiatives complemented by process documentation would essentially give a tool the the literacy program planners for improvement of the ongoing programs.

    Evidence of effectiveness from such research would also enable the literacy practitioners to advocate for increased investment in literacy as a tool for socioeconomic development.

  14. I think when we talk of practice informing policy development, we should do more researches on financing women’s literacy. Any policy, to be implemented must be financed. Therefore, the research should focus on the costs relating to curriculum development for gender-responsive content and processes, and importantly operational costs related to support systems for women.

    In our experience, social and cultural barriers hinder women from completing an education program. Social mobilization and awareness raising within the community are critical components of any effective and empowering adult education for women. This work within the NGOs is done by volunteers. But if we want the government to mainstream such work in its literacy programs, the research should cost these components.

    Based on ASPBAE’s research in 2010, support activities cost about 20% over and above provision of education activities. Illiterates, especially women have been denied education for so long, governments must invest in quality programs which include support system to truly educate and empower women.

  15. Our partners- women groups- learn to build and restore communities with minimum facilitation. Community building is a collective process and takes commitment and shared vision to allow it to happen. They work on things they can do something about and the nature of their energy is constructive, enlarging and magnifying.

    Their work is enhanced with their persevering effort in their unique and varied needs, experience and challenges encountered in the process. Women own programs and services as their approaches will bring tremendous implications that allow them to lead – discovering of local assets, opportunities in local economy and integrating as well as mobilizing these assets for community’s economic development. Our efforts are translated to means to facilitate ways in assisting our partner women communities without creating dependency or string attached to it. Our partners are strengthened and their assets are maximized and joint. Women spark to empower themselves in ways that we are helping them help themselves.

    In radiating passion for the ministry our enabling task in building communities through facilitating and dreaming with them in their glint to govern themselves and in achieving their aspirations is the heart of the challenge. However, I would like to stress that along with facilitating these groups, availing of government funds is so tedious that their little resources are drained and their initiative is weakened. They (and the NGOs who work with them) need external support but the opportunity is not accessible.

    Furthermore, building capacity of local communities to realize their rights to develop in paving the way to economic opportunities with proper collaboration is especially needed for this allows them to govern themselves.

    1. Along with capacity building of the communities, there is need for capacity enhancement of the local service providers (literacy department in this case). Our experience shows that unless the educators (NGOs, education offices) are equally equipped to provide customized learning packages, simply increased demand for education (quality education) does not yield much.

      1. I totally agree with you Ehsanur. These initiatives would be more sustainable if we have more people who are fully equipped will skills in facilitating these group and if we could apply for grants offered by other organisations. However, one obstacle is the lack of staff who can work on proposals, monitor and document these projects, etc. Staff turnover, I believe, is an issue. Most funding agencies have very detailed requirements in terms of documentation.

  16. In rural areas, adolescent girls get pregnant at an early age due to lack of education on sexuality and reproductive health. Eventually these young women do not complete their education. Reproductive health education should reach out to more girls, boys and youth. How can such education be accessible to the youth whether they are in school or out of school. At the same time, how can policies promote reproductive health education as well as challenge social and cultural norms that inhibit young women who got pregnant to pursue their education?

    I think when we talk of women’s literacy, we should also argue for gender-responsive budgeting within our government budgets where literacy is integrated in the government programs whether in Agriculture, Labor or Health. The Asia Foundation’s book on Understanding Gender-responsive Budgets is worth looking into.

  17. Rebecca, you raised a critical point — different ways of doing research and for what purposes. For evidence-based advocacy with government, a combination of statistics and case studies (such as stories of empowerment) have been very effective in conveying the need to invest in adult literacy and education.

    How to operationalize the adult education requires another research, which you mentioned would need to look at the processes. This will include, but not limited to how to ensure relevance, how to set standards for quality, how empowerment is embedded in all the cycle of learning as well as looking into the sustainability of adult literacy/education programs.

    Would anyone have resources on such researches that translate practice into policy recommendations to inform not only programs development but strategically, the establishment of a lifelong learning system?

  18. On the first concern, continuous engagements should be done by the CSOs with the government (units, agencies) or directly at the local level, would be with the local government units (LGUs). The engagements can be in the form of a seminar, orientation, conferences on literacy and what it can do especially for women in the communities. In the Philippines, many LGU officials get elected without really knowing what’s in store for them and what to do. This is where NGOs and people’s organizations are at edge. They know what to do, hence, propose these ‘what needs to be done’ to the LGU officials. Education literacy, health, environment and livelihood programs are ‘palatable’ concerns which nouveau politicians will catch. The process of meeting, orienting, proposal-making, and negotiating until the program/ project is funded, has been an effective approach in the Philippines.

    As for research, documenting these processes as case work can be a good research tool to put in mind. Rich experiences can be gathered / captured from these processes, taking note of the actors involved. From the the community leaders, the local government officials, people’s organizations and even church groups, cooperatives, social enterprises (if livelihood is a project) should be noted and given value in documentation. This is definitely participatory research which need not be scripted and pre-designed. For as long as research ethics are observed along the way, I believe this research approach can result to rich outputs from experiences.

    Requirements to such participatory research approach, basically, needs orientation on simplified research methods. They need not be very technical and qualitatively using formulas and statistics. But even simple statistics and data-basing can be taught to local community participants.

    One very effective form of documentation is short video-making or film-making, if possible. Multi-media documentation has been known to be very effective in educating quickly and can touch beyond cognitive senses. It need not be expensive, participants just have to be creative.

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