Background[edit | edit source]

Development workers are increasingly recognizing the inadequacies of formal schooling systems in the South. Formal schooling inevitably depends on massive expenditures for schools, teacher training, and centralized administration, in addition to the continuing drain of government revenues to pay teachers' salaries. Typically, the shortage of revenues to devote to education has ensured a chronic shortfall in the number of teachers relative to ever expanding numbers of pupils at all levels. Inadequately paid teachers cannot afford to devote all of their time to their teaching work, and teacher training based on foreign (often colonial) educational systems means teachers inherit curricula and methods that have little to do with problems faced by students and their families. For these kinds of reasons, formal education systems are unable to provide relevant educational opportunities for many of the rural poor.

Given these inadequacies, there is a growing awareness among development workers that the rural poor are often their own best educational resource. Despite lack of formal schooling, they are the greatest source of background and insight on their own recurring problems. They also share, among themselves, a pool of locally relevant skills and experience for tackling these problems. Recognizing this, many development workers now have two main objectives in their activities: to enable the poor to critically define their own problems and educational goals, and to help them find ways to mobilize the skills and resources to pursue these goals.

Such a strategy implies a belief in the capability of individuals and communities everywhere to define and control their destinies. One of the most powerful voices in this "humanistic" school of thought comes out of the South, that of Paulo Freire. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed tells how literacy can be a tool for describing and better understanding the world around the learner. This, in turn, is the first step toward useful action. An important part of Freire's method has been to involve illiterates in discussions about how words and pictures might describe or illustrate the troubling aspects of their lives. This methodology has sparked broad debate and has been adapted worldwide. It has influenced, for example, Latin America's liberation theologists, literacy workers in the ghettos of New York City and field staff in bureaus of adult education from Thailand to Tanzania.

Success in the application of Freire's methods, which rely on sharing of opinions and ideas in group settings, have triggered increasing interest in how the value of group insights is often greater than the sum of individual contributions. This well known phenomenon of "synergy" is the focus of Doing Things Together, which offers a compelling theoretical illustration of how many individuals, each with different skills and information, pool their knowledge to solve a wide variety of community problems.

Key assumptions in this "problem posing/problem solving" approach are a free flow of facts and ideas among group participants, and leadership which is responsive to the group instead of "teaching" it predetermined solutions. "Culture Circles " in Latin America, "Family Life Education Groups" in Asia, and "Study Circles" in Africa are all approaches which rely on the increased creative and productive potential of participatory groups in which leadership is shared and not authoritarian. These Non-formal Education (NFE) programs, supported by a variety of public and private agencies, are efforts to reach and involve the young adults lacking formal schooling who are so numerous in the rural South. National NFE projects are often used by governments to channel and disseminate political programs and state ideology. Yet governments are now increasingly supporting the formation of adult groups based on some mutual interest language learning, animal husbandry, tailoring, or some other income generating skill. Examples of this "fictional education" are found in a few parts of Indonesia, where members of "learning groups" (ranging in size from 10-25 participants) pool resources to capitalize projects ranging from chicken raising to silk-screening T-shirts, to installing a locally built waterpump at the community well. Soon the Indonesian NFE directorate plans to make available "learning funds," seed capital for the projects of learning groups.

This page includes content from David Bartecchi of Village Earth.