Writing and Reading with Art: Adult Literacy, Transformation, and Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract: Especially in a time of economic and social crisis, besides poverty and social segregation, immigrants face an additional difficulty to get integrated in a new society: lack of oral and written knowledge of the language of the country they are now living m. This paper describes an on-going research project--Writing and Reading with Art (WRAP) that has been implemented within a community of African preliterate adults. The project focuses on basic literacy acquisition (reading and writing) as an essential tool for these immigrants to favor their cultural and social integration, as well as their capacity to engage in their everyday life. Based on Paulo Freire's approach to literacy, the project uses artwork to convey an aesthetic experience where both learners and educators share meanings and contextualize knowledge. Furthermore, the article argues that the same methodological approach can be used in different

contexts with different target groups.

Keywords: Basic literacy; adult education; aesthetic experience

Introduction: A Challenge to a Long Journey

This article aims to present an ongoing action-research project, which focuses on adult literacy through aesthetic experience, arguing that such experience can be relevant for a meaningful reading and writing learning process.

The Writing and Reading With Art Project (WRAP), now in its 4th year of operation, has been implemented in a parish in the Lisbon suburbs of Portugal. It has been developed within a community of African immigrants who face problems of unemployment, housing, poverty, and social segregation. Furthermore, they are at a beginner proficiency level in the use of the Portuguese language, with crioulo as their mother tongue and communication language, which aggravates their access to the labor market, social integration, and active citizenship. Most of these adult learners are women in their 40s, or older, who have never attended school. They are either unemployed or working as cleaners in offices, where they start working very early in the morning or in the late afternoon. All of them were born in their homelands in Africa (mostly Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau), although some may be entitled to Portuguese nationality or citizenship.

The WRAP educational provision is flexible, nonformal, not linked to formal schooling, and aims to respond to these specific learners' needs. The group attending the program values learning to read and write and speaking the Portuguese language, as they consider it to be helpful for their social and cultural integration by enhancing their capacity to engage in everyday life. Thus, WRAP action focuses on basic literacy acquisition (reading and writing), which is an essential tool for the target group.

WRAP has a voluntary nature for educators and learners. This is considered an important feature, as it adds a notion of commitment that challenges and involves people in a joint project. Despite its voluntary nature, the program is guided by clear intentional goals and reflexive practice. Besides, volunteers working as educators in this project are aware that they are constantly learning from and with learners through dialogue and critical reflection, acquiring new meanings and transforming themselves in such interaction. This awareness follows Paulo Freire's (1998) argument that one of the most important tasks of educational practice is to "make possible the conditions in which the learners, in their interaction with one another and with their teachers, engage in the experience of assuming themselves as social, historical, thinking, communicating transformative, creative persons" (p. 45).

From a conceptual point of view, the project was primarily based on Freire's approach to illiteracy. Freire offered us a distinct, articulated pedagogical framework that has proved to be most useful to our target group. WRAP is meant to enhance learners' meaning making, thus leading them to a deeper awareness of both external and internal realities, as "there is no education outside human societies" (Freire, 1979, p. …