How many of us sat in algebra classes, tuning out because we couldn’t imagine any circumstances in our future lives in which we would actually apply this algebra stuff?
How often did you miss just one school lesson, and then next week it would dawn on you that you had missed some absolutely essential piece of information? It was like wondering if you would ever be able to jump onto the bottom rung of the ladder, never mind climb to the top.
So it is with many well-meaning attempts to teach literacy and numeracy to adults who missed out on schooling. In our Aspire projects in Rwanda we find adult education is much more effective when we teach words that have practical use in the women’s lives, instead of launching into the details of grammar and syntax. For instance, while we are teaching skills like hairdressing, beauty, cooking or farming, it is a good idea to start that week’s literacy lessons with “key words” complementing the skills they are learning. Recipes are shortened, and pictures are used whenever possible. As the women learn about hairdressing techniques, their literacy classes focus on reading the labels of hairdressing products. When we teach about different aspects of health and hygiene, our literacy classes that week help the women recognise words on medicine packages.
The same applies to numeracy: women are taught how to keep a cash book, with money in and money out, using pictures and words. Our graduates go on to join business cooperatives or set up their own small money-making ventures, so understanding cash flow is essential and empowering: in the words of one graduate, “Now I know when someone is trying to cheat me.”
Using drama and role playing, we also teach potential hairdressers, beauticians and caterers how to interact with customers. This may be second nature in some societies, but it is by no means obvious to people who have lived in abject poverty in an urban slum of Kigali.
The women at Aspire have limited time for learning: they do all the domestic and agricultural work in their families, in addition to attending classes at Aspire. That means the words they learn must be directly relevant to the many challenges they face each day (challenges we can only imagine, from fetching water at dawn to protecting their infants from deadly tropical diseases).
We salute the women of Aspire and the dedicated team of trainers who continue to push themselves beyond the comfort zone. If you would like to support this work please click on the arrow on the right side of this page. Thank you for your help.