Literacy in the community learning context
by Craig McNaughton
Note: This paper was prepared for the Canadian Link to Lifelong Learning (CLLL) during the summer of 1999. It formed part of a larger research project funded by the National Literacy Secretariat to examine the links between lifelong learning and literacy. Other sections of the project looked at these links in the context of families, workplaces and the policy environment; this section reviewed the community context.
The purpose of this section is to assess the relationship between lifelong learning and literacy in the "community context." More specifically, the purpose is to trace the relations which exist between lifelong learning and community-based literacy programs.
The word "community" in connection with "literacy" seems to evoke an association with what are referred to as "community-based literacy programs" programs of literacy learning generally sponsored outside of formal or traditional institutions of learning (colleges, schools, universities). In other words, the tendency is to think of those programs that are run with minimal or modest public funding, informal or semi-formal teaching programs, dedicated volunteer tutors, generally underpaid staff, community fundraisers (bake sales, golf tournaments, etc.) and from a certain "small-p" political perspective.
It is the small-p political perspective that is perhaps the key distinguishing mark of a community-based literacy program. Literacy workers who are active in community-based programs seem focused intensely on what can be called social inclusion.
There are many groups in society poor people, homeless people, street youth, abused women, the unemployed, the underemployed, the learning disabled, the handicapped, prisoners and parolees, etc. who are not full participants in the society around them. Literacy training is understood by community-based literacy programs (along with related services in job training, life skills, computer skills, addiction treatment, health care, etc.) as a crucial means of empowering people of giving them (or at least attempting to give them) the essential set of tools that will allow them to participate more effectively in their community, in the economy, in elections, in the wider education system, even in their families.1
1 The definition of literacy used within Frontier College's Beat the Street Program for youth captures the spirit of community-based literacy: "literacy includes the ability to communicate, to be accepted and to have an opportunity to become a fully participating and critical member of society" (www.nald.ca/bts/bts1/website_bts_background.htm).
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