Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Word as the Image – An Experiment in using the word rather than the letter to promote functional adult literacy

Just a few days ago, as I was going through some old papers lying in my possession, I came across some of the reports and that I had prepared detailing a project that I had undertaken in the Dhanpatmal Virmani Sr. Sec School to try a Hindi Language module prepared by TCS which it was claimed  could be used to train an illiterate adult to be ‘functionally literate’ in a mere forty hours! Mr. Anil Virmani had already told me about this module and he wondered if I was up to the challenge of trying it on some illiterate women working the Virmani Public School and the surrounding areas of Roop Nagar, Kamla Nagar and even Bharat Nagar. It was in the month of April, 2003 that I started a trial programme at the behest of Mr. Anil Virmani (who is presently, the Chairman of the Dhanpatmal Virmani Education Trust and Management Society) and Lt. Gen. D.V. Kalra. After about forty hours of training, by the end of May, sixteen illiterate women did become functionally literate! Functional Literacy here refers to the the ability of the person to read hoardings, newspaper headlines, the signs on buses indicating their routes, and so on. We went  on further to incorporate  cut out written letters in Hindi, and some times, even newspapers from which we asked women to identify letters.
Now the reader might be wondering what the Hindi ALP module was all about! Well, to acquaint the reader further, I would like to take the reader to an  up dated article that appeared in the BBC on Saturday, Third January, 2004. In this article Richard Black reported about the progress being made by researchers in India in using a module that would help train illiterate people to be functionally literate:
India tackles adult illiteracy
By Richard Black
BBC Science correspondent in Chandigarh

India set a target of reducing illiteracy to 5% by 2020
Researchers in India have been giving details of a novel scheme aimed at increasing adult literacy.
It works by teaching people whole words rather than individual letters, and the scientists who developed it say it costs about $2 for each adult.
So far some 40,000 adults have learned to read this way, researchers say.
About 35% of Indians are illiterate, which has a significant impact on the national economy, as well as on the lives of individual people.
The new method has been developed by researchers at the company Tata Consultancy Services.
The results have been presented at the Indian Science Congress in Chandigarh.
Word as image
Conventional literacy programmes which work from the letters of the alphabet upwards can take several years to run and need trained teachers.
Researchers from the Tata Consultancy Services set the goal of teaching people to the level where they could read a newspaper in their own language. They also say the new method is fast and cheap.
"Counting the salary of a supervisor, everything else, the cost of making a person literate is less than 100 Rupees ($2.2)," Dr FC Kohli told the congress.
Dr Kohli said that it took on average 10 weeks before they could read a paper.
The key is that humans are good at recognizing pictures and images, so each word is taught as a picture.
India's literacy targets
Once they have reached this level they start spontaneously to identify and use individual letters.
The programmes run on computer and do not need trained teachers.
Five Indian languages have so far been included, with a further 13 planned, and the software has been given to Indian state governments.
The training package runs on obsolete computers which have been adapted to run local language software. If they go wrong they are thrown away.
"What we recognise, or what we look at, are images. You look at a painting, it's an image, the face is an image.
"So if we can teach them to recognise words in their own language, with these sound 'patterns', then they will be able to recognise the words," said Dr Kohli.
The national government has set a target of reducing illiteracy to 5% by 2020.
In plain words, the Hindi ALP Module is a computer based software that is run on a computer. The Prerak or the trainer advances or pauses each frame in the module and asks the learners to to repeat what they are seeing on the pane. The module also has an audio support which can be repeated by the learners. The advantage of this module lies in the ability of the trainer to change the pace of the learning. You can always go back a few frames, or skip a few frames according to the situation. The module itself is very easy to use and run and is divided into three parts. The module can be run on computers with very basic configurations! In many cases, companies had donated their old computers for the programme, rather than sending them to the junkyard!
This Educational  article that Mr. Anil Virmani had sent to me and it interested me a great deal. What was novel about the TCS ALP Hindi module was that it was that as opposed to conventional pedagogy, it deals with teaching the learner whole words, rather than letters! The idea of K.V. Nori and others who developed this  computer based Hindi literacy module was that conventional literacy programmes which start with letters and then move up take years to reach functional literacy targets. The targets before the developers of the TCS, Computer based Hindi Literacy module were modest though achievable. They had as their objective making  illiterate adults functionally literate so that they could sign their names, read the signs on buses and also what was written on hoardings and banners in the town. This article excited me a great deal and sure I wanted to put it to the test! This is how we did it:
How we taught them to read
  • The ALP module provided by TCS was played on the computer.
  • The learners were encouraged to repeat the letters and words orally according to the module.
  • Flash cards were used to repeat this process to aid recognition of alphabets.
  • The learners were encouraged to write the letters in their copies
  • The next time the learners came to the learning centre, the previous module was run without the sound and the learners were encouraged to repeat the letters and words orally.
  • Judicious use was made of a blackboard to aid recognition of alphabets.
  • By the third module,the learners were able to repeat Kabir’s sayings by reading them from the third section of the ALP Module.
  • From time to time, the learners were encouraged to identify letters in flash cards.
  • Learners were encouraged identify words, and then sentences in printed material like newspapers.
  • A mark of successful learning was their ability to read sentences from Hindi newspapers.
How the Module Worked According to Dr. F.C.Kohli
It works by teaching people whole words rather than individual letters. The key is that humans are good at recognizing pictures and images, so each word is taught as a picture.
Once they have reached this level they start spontaneously to identify and use individual letters. "What we recognize, or what we look at, are images. You look at a painting, it's an image, the face is an image.
"So if we can teach them to recognise words in their own language, with these sound 'patterns', then they will be able to recognise the words," according to Dr. F.C. Kohli.
Audio Visual Resources used by us:
          1.A multi-media computer with speakers and a Cd. Rom drive an obsolete   
            computer can be used (Pentium II, 64 mb RAM, Colour Monitor, Sound card,)
          2. Flash Cards of Hindi alphabets
          3. Pencils and note-books
          4.Newspapers & story books
          5.A Black board
Other resources required to run the programme
1.Dedicated (full-time)  support staff members to help with the programme
2.Trained Teachers
3.The TCS computer based functional literacy module.
4.Relevant funds for cost of electricity and miscellaneous expenses.
5.Further funding for incentives to people coming in for the programme.
Problems and Concerns faced during the Programme
Initially, problems were faced in getting the illiterate learners to come to the E-Literacy centre because it was very difficult to convince them to leave their work for an odd hour or two.Most of the illiterate learners are employed as skilled or unskilled workers.Since most of the adults who came for the programme were women, they spoke about how difficult it was for them to leave their household chores and come to the adult literacy centre.
How we tried to solve the problem
1.cash rewards (to pay for travelling expenses to the learning centre)
2.Literate women attending computer literacy classes in another programme were encouraged to sponsor or bring with them one or two illiterate women.
3. The Programme that is being run with great success by the Dhanpatmal Virmani Education Trust and Management Society has overcome this problem by taking the centres to the residential localities of the illiterate women. What happens is that one of the women assumes responsibility for running the centre, she is given training on how to run the TCS ALP Module on the computer, she takes the responsibility of  taking care of the computer and whenever there are problems, she calls up the resource person at the head office. This model has proved to be very successful.
What we learned after running the programme
Ultimate goals of project:
  • To prove the hypothesis that computers can be used as an effective tool to provide literacy and vocational training.
  • To provide functional literacy to women
  • To teach illiterate women to read in Hindi
  • To provide awareness about Health concerns (AIDS,Hepatitis,Hygiene)
  • To provide the target sample vocational skills
  • To raise the standard of living of illiterate women
  • Relationship to other projects
  • To be part of the community development programme
  • High-level timing goals
  • To achieve the desired results in the shortest time
Effective Use of Technology:
  • New technology being used:  Computers can be used as an efficient means for providing training in various skills.
  • Standards being adopted:Basic language skills will be taught to the target sample.The learners will be taught as per the modules provided by TCS.
  • target specific, targets will be achieved swiftly.The learner will not have to undergo a long period of training.It will be cost effective.
  • Standards specifically being ignored: Higher order skills(Comprehensive reading skills, note-making, report writing, essay writing…etc)
Drawbacks: The target audience will not achieve the skills of students trained under standards of formal education. The learners may not be able to achieve proficiency in writing since the focus is on reading.
Benefits: - Vocation specific. The target audience can be trained more efficiently in a chosen vocation along with the literacy programme. Some of the vocational fields could be stitching, embroidering, assembling of products, cottage industry skills, food preservation, making of semi-processed food products…etc.
Assumptions about resources allocated to this project:
  1. It is assumed that a suitable target audience of illiterate women will be available.Each batch will consist of ten women.
  2. There will be a team leader preferably a dedicated trainer who has been trained to run the programme.
  3. There will be teams made up of teachers and students who can visit community leaders, and the target audience directly.This team will motivate people to enrol for the project.
  4. There will be at least two trainers, preferably women for this project.
  5. Equipment: availability of a fully functional computer lab. With proper software(Hindi fonts)
  6. Location: The centres should be accessible to the target audience.
  7. Support : The support of an N.G.O. will be required for the vocational training& outside services
  8. Preparation: Proper training modules for teaching basic language skills. Selection of target audience.
Suggested Procedures for the Adult Hindi E-Literacy Programme:
  1. Procedural differences from regular projects of this type:
Since this project targets illiterate women and attempts to train them with the help of computers,the procedure of training them will not be supported by a formal syllabus. The procedure, methodology, and syllabus will have to be modified and adapted constantly according to the entry-level characteristics of the learner.
      2.Requirements, benefits, and issues of using new procedures:
We need to frame a loosely structured framework on what language concepts should be taught. A list of basic computer skills should be prepared as also a list of vocational skills.The benefits of a loosely structured syllabus will be ease of adaptability and flexibility.
1. Adult Literacy – A  TCS PowerPoint presentation made by Kesav V. Nori to CII
2. Functional Literacy Programme Using Information Technology to Accelerate Literacy Process in India, a PowerPoint presentation made to  Her Excelency, Mrs. Zanella Mbeki, the then First Lady of South Africa and Chairman of the WDB Trust on 27 May 2002
3.B.B.C. article Titled: India Tackles Adult Illiteracy by Mr. Richard Black on 3rd January 2004.
4. A Copy of the TCS Hindi ALP Module

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