Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives

Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives

Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives

Literacy and Development: Ethnographic Perspectives

Synopsis

Literacy and Development is a collection of case-studies of literacy projects from around the world.The contributors present their in-depth studies of everyday uses and meanings of literacy and of the literacy programmes that have been developed to enhance them.

Excerpt

Brian V. Street

Ethnographic perspectives on literacy

In recent years there has been growing awareness of the value of qualitative, ethnographic approaches to educational research and the contributions it can make to development planning. Ethnographic research can be utilised at all stages of the project cycle, from project identification to project appraisal and can help to complement more positivist statistical surveys by revealing the cultural and social dimensions which may positively or adversely affect how a project is taken up.

(Yates 1994)

In many literacy projects, ‘literacy experts’ and planners have made prior assumptions about the needs and desires of beneficiaries. A number of literacy projects in recent years have challenged these assumptions by stressing that before launching into literacy programmes and interventions it is necessary to understand the literacy practices that target groups and communities are already engaged in (Freebody and Welch 1993; Yates 1994; Prinsloo and Breier 1996). Researchers trained in ‘ethnography’—that is, using field work methods and sensitised to ways of discovering and observing the uses and meanings of literacy practices to local people themselves—have conducted studies into these everyday practices and their relationship to the programmes designed to alter them. Their findings are now being included from the earliest stage in projects (Yates 1994; Prinsloo and Breier 1996) and fed into the campaign design and development.

This edited volume brings together the work of a number of such ethnographers of literacy projects who have spent many years conducting in-depth qualitative studies of everyday literacies in different parts of the world and of the literacy programmes that have been developed to enhance them. The ethnographic approach represented here is, then, more concerned with attempting to understand what actually happens than with trying to prove the success of a particular intervention or ‘sell’ a particular methodology for teaching or management. The dominant account of literacy programmes remains concerned with ‘effectiveness’, often measured through statistics on skill outcomes, attendance . . .

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