World illiteracy `could be halved'

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The Independent Online
ROS WYNNE-JONES

World illiteracy could be more than halved by a radical new programme launched yesterday to combat a growing problem faced by 1 billion people, two-thirds of whom are women.

Pilot trials have shown the Reflect method to be two to three more times effective than traditional approaches in teaching reading and writing.

Reflect, designed by the charity Action Aid, uses no textbooks. Instead, students make up learning materials relevant to their experience. The teaching aids begin as models - of a map of crop planting, for example - which are built by the class out of branches, beads, beans and other materials. These are then transferred as "graphics" on to card which teachers use to introduce numbers and the written word.

By the end of the Reflect process, students will have built 20 to 30 graphics representing a detailed analysis of their community. The three pilot studies, in Bangladesh, El Salvador and Uganda, have shown that this process itself is a catalyst for wider change. In Uganda, for example, discussion around the graphics led to agricultural improvements such as terracing and to changes in the community's division of labour, so that men began helping women with fuel and water collection.

Sara Cottingham, co- ordinator of Reflect for Action Aid, said that in Bangladesh trials resulted in 77 per cent of students who completed the course achieving literacy. This compared with 47 per cent literacy in a control group of adult learners using more traditional methods. Reflect's drop-out rates were half those of the control group. In Bangladesh, the year-long programme cost pounds 180 to set up and run. For 30 students this would be pounds 6 per year each. "It is a major breakthrough," she said.

Reflect, which has obtained funding from the World Bank, has now been taken up by more than 20 countries.

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