PRIMER DEVELOPMENT DEBATE
By Satyabrata Barik
Seriousness of the debate on development of primers for adult education diminishes if literacy is considered merely to teach 3R’s. So far as the transfer of three skills – those of reading, writing and basic arithmetic is concerned everyone tends to think that it is almost same as those used for children or even less so because adults may not opt for higher qualifications in the formal stream. Apart from this a different approach to teaching is advocated normally on two grounds – one, writing should be taught from words instead of beginning with letters in a particular alphabet, and two, the lessons should reflect local/regional characteristics keeping in view the diversity of the learners’ background – lifestyle, livelihood, culture, language and so on. Add to this, of course, the gender perspective, which has now gained currency at a time when women are still subjected to various forms of oppression, discrimination and deprivation. With these considerations a simplistic view of imparting literacy is widespread and different states and different agencies associated with adult and continuing education are given free hand for producing their primers with certain provision for scrutiny at the apex level.
Things will be altogether different if literacy and related education is viewed as an instrument of change and empowerment. Given the focus groups – the poor, the marginalized sections, the women SC, ST and minorities – which constitute the bulk of the mass of the illiterate, poor and deprived, the approach to educating them deserves serious examinations. NLM has taken a commendable step for developing a natural curriculum framework (NCF) for adult education, which is first of its kind in the history of education in India. The expert committee constituted for this has begun the process of exploring all dimensions of adult education in Indian context. The process must include a serious view of the practice of primer development for primer plays a significant concept disseminating role in relation to both the teacher-facilitator and the adult learners. It becomes an instrument in their hands for interpretation and construction of knowledge.
Basically primer is a vehicle of a curriculum and curriculum is built with certain objectives in view linking them in turn to the context of the learners. A serious education planner cannot afford to ignore the thread linking those three steps - setting the objectives, curriculum based on the learners’ context and development of primer and subsequent teaching-learning material.
The consultation meeting of the expert committee with different stakeholders – SRCs, JSSs, SLMA, Mahila Samakhya, NGOs etc, held in Kolkata on 27th August generated an open discussion. Although views of the participants were diverse, one emphasis came clear, which was on the empowering role of literacy, since the vast mass of illiterates are poor, and discriminated against in the existing socio-economic structure. But when the development of primer came into discussion participants voiced widely different concerns and suggestions. Their views can be classified into two broad approaches – one to the methodology of teaching 3R’s, the other to inclusion of area specific issues. Besides, the national core curriculum which has become the regular feature of any pedagogic discussion seems to hover over everyone’s mind.
Sometimes someone warns against excessive preoccupation with mere “Literacy”. But at times when the discussion tilts in favour of including real issues of the people, there were some voice of caution – not to burden the learner with difficult words and concept. Under these circumstances it is necessary for the expert group to get out of the imbroglio by putting in place a systematic debate on the development of primer and thrashing out a right combination of conceptual issues, language and vocabulary to be used and methods to be adopted for a primer that can promote learning 3R’s, develop critical understanding and at the same time attract the adults for continued learning.
It is possible to work out a unity of approaches with a focused goal. Let me crystallize the three basic aspects – objectives, contents and tools of teaching learning – which must be held together as a consistent unity among a linear line.
Objectives --------- Contents ---------- Tools
Tools can be expanded in meaning to include methods and style of presentation of the specified contents. Contents and activities are chosen to constitute curriculum which must be designed to meet the objectives of a particular programme. And objectives are set after taking into consideration the context and situation of the targeted beneficiaries and their realistic aspiration as citizens of a country.
As we have taken both literacy and empowerment as part of the objectives of adult education keeping in view the poor, SC, ST, women we must develop a curriculum befitting to the set objectives. Primer being the first and the basic tool to build the teaching learning process on, it must reflect in letter and spirit the thrust both on literacy and empowerment. Literacy can be achieved by transferring knowledge and skills pertaining to skills in 3R’s. Helping the learner acquire power and confidence to change his situation requires such a process as would create enough scope for critical analysis of situation in which a person lives so that one realizes the root causes of his/her miseries and the ways to overcome them. The big question is how to build the contents and sequence of a primer, so that both the literacy skills and the potential for a dialogical process would be built into it.
If we draw lessons from Paulo Freire’s pedagogic process involving critical dialogues between the learners and the facilitators and subsequently those among the learners themselves there are several instances to show that the approach is very effective. During the late 70’s such experimentation was carried out in some parts of Western Orissa under the aegis of OXFAM (India) Trust.
However, let us accept that a primer with a potential to input both literacy skills and to engineer critical understanding is possible. Now there is no two-opinion on the strategy to facilitate writing by beginning with the known words of the learners in such a way as to cover all the scripts of the alphabet including ‘matras’. In order to combine discussion on the relevant issues facing the people we should start with key words that relate directly to their primary concerns.
Food, clothes, housing, health, education, social dignity and democratic rights are among the most important needs of a citizen, choice of key words is important. For example ‘Bhata’ (rice) or ‘Roti’ (may be taken both for writing the word and its letters and for initiating a dialogue with well prepared questions around grain, crop, land, water, famine, public distribution system, BPL card and other sources of livelihood. In the same way ‘Ghara’ or house can be denoted to bring in the materials like mud, wood, rod etc. which are required for construction. Ghara can also be interpreted as a family and many issues related to it, such as relationship, gender inequalities, family property and disputes around it can be brought under analysis. Similarly, topics like democracy can involve discussion on ‘Sarkar’ (government), elections, leaders etc. and it can be taken both for literacy skill practice and for situation analysis. While including all these key words linked to relevant issues for discussion a primer designer must not lose sight of the presentation.
The presentation defines attractiveness, comprehensibility, the message and values if any, of a lesson. The art of presenting a lesson to a group determines whether or not it influences the participants. To retain the interest of the learners the lesson through its practice must articulate the real-life concerns and take forward the dialogues towards new realization by which the participants would feel confident to take action and change their situations. Thus a lesson designer must not only be aware of the realities, but he/she ought to have sensitivity towards the people, particularly those who are victims of poverty and oppression.
Even if arithmetic part is included in a primer, it is not necessary that it must be given at the end of each lesson. Arithmetic lessons may be given in a separate section with a clear instruction in the primer on their progressive use.