Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Girl's Visual Representations of Literacy in a Rural Ugandan Community

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Girl's Visual Representations of Literacy in a Rural Ugandan Community

Article excerpt

This Ugandan-based study examined how visual modes of communication provide insights into girls' perceptions of literacy, and open broader dialogues on literacy, women, and development. Twenty-nine primary school girls used drawing and 15 secondary school girls used photography to depict local literacy practices in relation to their own lives and experiences. The images they captured provide a window on the interface between local and global literacy practices, and the "freedoms" (Sen, 1999) associated with literacy. Drawing and photography move beyond language to make visible the barriers that have historically marginalized and excluded girls from full participation in the development process.

Key words: visual representations, literacy, girls, international development, Uganda

Cette etude menee en Ouganda montre comment des modes de communication visuels permettent de mieux comprendre les perceptions qu'ont les fillettes de la litteratie et favorisent le dialogue sur la litteratie, les femmes et le developpement. Vingt-neuf ecolieres du primaire et quinze du secondaire ont illustre, les premieres par des dessins, les secondes par des photos, des methodes de litteratie locales en lien avec leur propre vie et leurs propres experiences. Ces images montrent l'interface entre les methodes de litteratie locales et internationales et les << libertes >> (Sen, 1999) associees a la litteratie. Au-dela du langage, les dessins et les photos rendent visibles les obstacles qui ont depuis toujours marginalise les filles et les ont exclues d'une pleine participation au processus de developpement.

Mots cles: representations visuelles, litteratie, filles, developpement international, Ouganda

Recent scholarship in the area of literacy and development emphasizes that the success of literacy projects, programmes, and policies in diverse regions of the world is largely dependent on researchers, practitioners, and teachers understanding how local people themselves use and make meaning of literacy practices (e.g., Robinson-Pant, 2001; Street, 2001). The concept of literacy practices links literacy to broader social and cultural patterns, including the values and power structures embedded in the wider society (Street, 2003). Canagarajah (1998) similarly contends that politics of location is central to understanding the literacy practices of a given community. Development, however, is a highly contested category (Rogers, 2001, p. 204), particularly in terms of how it is measured in relation to improvements in education, health, agriculture, transportation, and economic and political life. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen insists that development is a holistic concept, involving one's mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social conditions, as well as one's economic situation. To measure development by economic indicators alone, Sen (1999) argues, is misleading and incomplete; what is more important is individual quality of life in relation to the freedoms one enjoys:

Development has to be more concerned with enhancing the lives we lead and the freedoms we enjoy. Expanding the freedoms that we have reason to value not only makes our lives richer and more unfettered, but also allows us to be fuller social persons, exercising our own volitions and interacting with--and influencing--the world in which we live. (pp. 14-15)

Sen's theory has been pivotal in directing international development policy, central to which is the participation of women and girls (Duflo, 2003; Papen, 2001; Parry, 2004; Robinson-Pant, 2001). What is lacking in the research literature, however, is a more comprehensive understanding of women's and girls' perspectives on their own roles in relation to literacy and development.

The primary purpose of our study was to examine how drawing and photography--as modes of communication and representation--in the hands of primary and secondary school girls might provide insights into their perceptions of participation in local literacy practices, and open broader dialogues on literacy, women, and development. …

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