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Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: A Review of the LITNUM Modules Developed by the CWR for Previous Classes

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The Center for Women’s Resources developed three manuals for previous LITNUM classes. The first manual, Oryentasyon ng Programang Literasi at Numerasi ng Kababaihang Aytas, was published in 2004. This was followed in 2005 by the second manual, which is the counterpart of the manual for the Aetas, entitled Oryentasyon ng Programang Literasi and Numerasi ng Kababaihang Maralitang Tagalunsod. The third manual is a continuation of the 2005 release Literasi at Numerasi Para sa mga Kababaihang Maralitang Lungsod – Ikalawang Andana.

Impressive Progressive Learning Documents

Collaboration in Curriculum Development

The creation of the manuals based on the needs of the classes and the attention given by the CWR to the relevance of the course content to the learners reflect the collaboration that took place in curriculum development between the planners and the community members. This empowering stance afforded to the community members by addressing their specific needs and making informed decisions for their learning is a hallmark of participatory development which seeks to help community knowledge by delving into their contexts.

Awareness of Purposes for Learning

The manuals include orientations for learners, which provide for both the explanation of objectives and goals to the class and the opportunities to comment on these goals. This is consistent with tenets in adult social education that advocate how learners need to know the purpose of their learnings and should also be able to participate in the construction of these learnings based on their social contexts and particular areas of expertise. I was also particularly inspired by the lessons on “Pagbasag sa Kultura ng Katahimikan at Pagkikimi”. The learners responded very well to this activity, sharing stories about their community and inadvertently commenting on the social dynamics of their neighbourhoods.

Empowerment through Shared Responsibility

The invitation to community members to participate in the conduct of the sessions by volunteering for given duties is empowering as it is practical, and, coupled with the consideration to their personal situations in the scheduling of sessions, should serve to seal their commitment to the program. Though a drop in attendance of such programs are documented, these have been attributed to unavoidable demands on learners’ time and on avoidance of learning due to lack of confidence, and not to the conduct of classes where learners are empowered in the classroom environment.

Valuing Community Expertise and Social Contexts

These manuals were extremely impressive in their integration and incorporation of social awareness and action within the lessons. My teacher training at the UP Integrated School emphasized the importance of this aspect of planning. The CWR used community knowledge and expertise in the development of materials and choice of strategies for learning. They drew from the learners’ social contexts and experiences to devise lessons that espoused social consciousness and justice. The LITNUM manuals were developed within the social contexts of the learners and addressed perceived and expressed needs.

Relevance as a Key to Learning

The inclusion of particular contexts also enabled planning with the use of the learners’ experiences and realities as springboards for their own learning. It is both effective and crucial to utilize the learners’ existing knowledge to extend their knowledge into new areas of the unfamiliar and unknown.  Shining examples of this are: the incorporation of the planners of Aeta symbols in the lessons for learning a new alphabet; the use of words representing concepts that are important to the Aetas (such as “lupa”) for trying out the new alphabet; and the use of the urban women’s cultural or community language cues (feelings associated with particular sounds) to aid in learning and remembering vowel sounds. Planning decisions like this reinforce their self-worth and expertise while also fostering a positive attitude for new knowledge.

 

Emotionally-Safe Techniques

The affirmation of “creative spellings” in learning how to spell and write is crucial in encouraging learning amidst mistakes made in the logical formation of words. It serves to help develop the confidence of learners while teaching them the right ways to spell. The inclusion of emotionally-safe techniques like this guarantees a continued experimentation and risk-taking with the language and the alphabet.

Social Learning Activities

Group activities are always enjoyable for learners of all ages, and the CWR makes use of such social learning activities throughout all manuals. The use of their songs and dance movements are exciting incentives for participating and affirming the value of their community practices and heritage. The lessons were planned with movement and interaction as an essential component of the program – it is evident that the planners did not want the learners to be planted in their seats as passive recipients of information; instead the plans provide for active learning and social learning. Pair, group and class activities and materials (such as the use of photos for sentence formation and as springboards for discussion) which draw from their own experiences, expertises and issues encountered by the community render them authorities in their learning while also aiding in the transformation of their understanding of themselves as socially situated and as agents of change.

Inclusion of Cultural Knowledge and Expertise

The inclusion of cultural knowledge – such as folk medicine and medicinal plants – is both empowering and practical because it points out solutions which are practical, readily available and within reach. The use of folk medicine also emphasizes the further confirmation of their knowledge as valid. I imagine that lessons like this will aid in making learners more receptive to lessons on science and health because of the inclusion of community knowledge into the “canon” or the knowledge of perceived authority.

Practical Literacy

A lesson on the practical uses of literacy in society, such as that of recognizing and reading a doctor’s prescription, is empowering because they are equipped with the power to help themselves using the ability to access an enabling document such as this. The inclusion of more documents in the lessons will enable them to further help themselves in availing of benefits and services as well as upholding their rights.

Of the manuals, my favourite is the third manual, Literasi at Numerasi Para sa mga Kababaihang Maralitang Lungsod – Ikalawang Andana. The first two parts of this manual were evidently intended for the teacher. The third part, “Applied Arithmetic” seems to have an anticipated readership of learners, although answers for the teacher are provided in certain areas. The explanations of the math concepts were very clear and simple, and the use of word problems renders the math concepts realistic and relevant.

The Integration of Social Education

I thoroughly enjoyed the fourth part, “Agham at Kalusugan”, which is further subdivided into portions entitled “Pagkain at Nutrisyon”, “Hygiene and Related Issues”, “Basura”, “Tubig” and “Bagyo”. There is full integration of social education in the design of the lesson apart from importance of nutrition education. The text effectively covers practical concerns – everyday things and deeds important to our health, safety, and well-being. It is empowering to learn about hygiene, especially if the learners had not been able to stay in school long enough to learn about this. Many diseases can be avoided by simply washing one’s hands and knowing what or what not to do (simply not touching one’s eyes to avoid sore eyes, for example). The inclusion of the widespread and long-term effects of “basura”, the facts and cycles of water, and the scientific concepts that encompass the topic of typhoons provide for enriching and thought-provoking discussions as well as opportunities to share knowledge and learn from each other. The thoughtful integration of the social aspect of these topics brings to the attention of the learners the larger concerns of the world and how our individual actions contribute to these in order for them to take control, make a stand, and participate in the care of the world individually and with their groups. The text is well-written and ideal to share with learners, with care to exclude instructions for teachers.

  

Recommendations

The development of the LITNUM Modules is immensely impressive. The content development superbly demonstrates the thought, research, and design that were invested in their creation. As such, my recommendations are technical, procedural and logistic in nature.

Separation of Learners’ and Teachers’ Texts

First of all, a separation of the manuals into a learners’ manual and a teachers’ manual would facilitate expediency. There are pages that seem to have been made with the learners’ view in mind, but a good number of them are interspersed with comments meant for the teacher. By recreating pages for students’ eyes and compiling these in a separate volume, while incorporating the same student pages within the existing manual to stand as the teacher’s resource, it will become very convenient to reproduce the pages without thought to whether or not there are tips for teachers, instructions for teachers, or answers included. The availability of a learners’ manual, whether for distribution among the students or for borrowing or room use, will encourage students to read this outside of the lesson time. Reproduction of the texts that can be posted around the classroom will also make these part of “environmental print” for high visibility among learners.

 Gender-Sensitive Wording

In Oryentasyon ng Programang Literasi and Numerasi ng Kababaihang Maralitang Tagalunsod, the phrase “Halimbawa ng mga Gawain ng mga Nanay: pagwawalis, pagpaplantsa, paglalaba, paghuhugas ng pinggan, pagluluto, paghehele sa bata, pagpapaligo sa bata, atbp.” (p.14) could perhaps be reworded as:  “Halimbawa ng mga Gawaing Bahay” or “Gawaing Karaniwang Itinatakda para sa mga Nanay”. Care should be exercised in the ways that this concept is presented, given as it already parades itself as a fact in social construction.

Creation of an Activity Bank

Each manual provides some sample exercises and suggested activities for the teacher. Past activities and exercises generated and developed by teachers and the CWR should be compiled for an activity and exercise “bank”, which will serve as a rich resource for activities that can be reused or adapted for new groups with new needs, and a reference for new teachers. Original activities and exercises should not be discarded, but kept on file along with the new ones, ideally also in digital form. Stories and materials from internet resources meant for widespread and free use should also be included in the bank.

Stories and texts appear in the manuals Oryentasyon ng Programang Literasi at Numerasi ng Kababaihang Aytas and Oryentasyon ng Programang Literasi and Numerasi ng Kababaihang Maralitang Tagalunsod only after reading instruction has been introduced. While this may not be the way it had been intended by the planners, nor the way it had been executed by the teachers with the past classes, I would just like to emphasize that stories can be used from the beginning, even though the learners are still non-readers at that point. The contributions of storytelling to emergent reading are widely documented, and storytelling as a social activity is attractive and effective. Storytelling using the text or the book gets the learners accustomed to book conventions. It can be used as a springboard for the discussion of related experiences as well as lessons on new concepts, vocabulary, and language lessons.

Unlocking of Difficulties as an Empowering Approach Vs. “What don’t you understand?”

On page 35 of the same manuals appears the text “Pagsakop sa Pilipinas at ang Simula ng kaapihan ng Kababaihang Pilipino”. The teacher is instructed to ask students after the text is read if there are words they don’t understand. While this may be a usual approach in terms of everyday explanations, within a learning context, a more encouraging and empowering approach for this in lesson planning is the introduction of pertinent vocabulary as well as vocabulary that the teacher anticipates they may not be familiar with.

These should be introduced before the reading of the story, within the part of the lesson classified as “pre-reading” – the “unlocking of difficulties” where new vocabulary and concepts, along with other things the teacher anticipates that the students may not be familiar with, are introduced.

Unlocking of vocabulary may be done in the form of an activity, a game, a contest, or a discussion among others. This way, the learners are already prepared to handle these words and concepts before they are given the activity or statement for the “motivation” part of the lesson, which is usually placed before a major activity such as the reading of a text. During the reading of the text, the learners will then be able to use the new words and concepts to comprehend.

This has an empowerment component to it apart from it being practical. Because the new and/or challenging words and concepts had already been introduced prior to the reading or storytelling, the students are able to process and understand the text with minimal intervention from the teacher since they had been equipped to handle the text beforehand. In this reading activity the following words may be unlocked:

     Sibilisasyon

     Ninuno

     Mananakop

     Kastila, Intsik, Hindu, Arabe

Thus, the context of acquisition of the vocabulary was a pleasurable activity or game, with a minilesson or discussion, as opposed to a cry for help after reading because they did not understand – a situation which may potentially produce feelings of inadequacy on the part of a learner, especially one who is sensitive because of learning-related issues (such as difficulties, learning at a slower pace or at an older age, and the like). It is important for planners to devise lessons procedures which anticipate the positions that the learners will have in the process, such as participants who continue to be “outsiders” to the literacy circle while others have progressed in the reading, and such. Perhaps some teacher tips can be included in anticipation of such situations. These may also be made part of the teacher orientations on the LITNUM classes and the manuals.

Next: Recommendations for Future LITNUM Module Development

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Author: cindycatz: occasional pianist and coffee shop philosopher

fond of the sun, sky, sea, sand and starfish; passionate about literacy, education, media, feminisms, development, popular culture, counterculture, migration phenomenon, anthropology and the fourth world; fascinated with crochet, sushi-making, fiction, creative non-fiction, storytelling, some films and series | books and comics | anime and manga | music and videos | bands and groupies, Latin and Italian, mom-and-pop consumerism, tavern bards and cafe philosophers, trinkets and bric-a-bracs, and steampunk and lolita couture; and absolutely enamored with nail polish and bag charms, frappucinos and margaritas, conversations and moments, her 41 year-old piano, and - of course - CATS. credentials? visit about.me/cindycruzcabrera & ph.linkedin.com/in/cindycruzcabrera/

3 thoughts on “Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: A Review of the LITNUM Modules Developed by the CWR for Previous Classes

  1. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Reclaiming and Redefining: Triumphs and Challenges | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  2. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Table of Contents | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  3. Pingback: Feminist Literacy and Numeracy – A Path to Empowerment for Grassroots Women: Abstract and Blog List | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

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