Morocco: Literacy, the long lasting battle that we are losing
By Hamza El Mounhi
Morocco World News
Ahmedabad, India, January 24, 2013
During my childhood, I spent a considerable part of my lunch break time watching TV news of our national channels. I remember that the number of news covering initiatives to fight illiteracy was relatively high. I thought at that time that we were saved and that we were moving in the right direction.
Now if you take a look at the World Bank statistics, we are still lagging behind many least developing countries. 43 percent of our nationals are unable to read an address or write a phone number. Countries like Nigeria, Namibia, Congo or even Sudan are ahead of us. According to our High planning commission, the figure is less alarming; it is only 30 percent.
Our policy makers are masters of the “top down” approach. “We the government,” decide what is best suited for “you the people”. We ask you to blindly trust us and follow us. Sometimes, outsiders such as the World Bank, prove that we are in the wrong path. Do not worry and we won’t panic, we will blame their methods and statistics and provide our own sacrosanct truth. To fight illiteracy, we are going to use the same methods and approaches as the ones we adopt for little children. We will gather you in classrooms and make you shout out loud letters of the alphabets. You won’t say it is boring nor argue that you have better things to do. Just trust us.
On the other side, “we the poor people” toward whom your policies are directed, are not convinced of the value-added of literacy in our lives. You know that we struggle everyday to earn our living. What makes you think that we might be interested in spending time learning your boring lessons while we can make money to survive. And those who among us live in villages, why do they need literacy? They have been able to survive so far without it.
Today I will tell you the story of Dumka, one of the poorest regions of the state of Bihar, one of the poorest states of India. In 2 years, Dumka was able to achieve 100 percent literacy rate.
Raising awareness first
Before blackboards and teachers, let’s first prove to these people that literacy is an essential component of their lives. In Dumka, they leveraged cleverly some cultural aspects such as dance, music or popular theater to convey the message. In this way, they were able to create a positive social pressure on everyone. Thus, the enrollment and retention rate were close to 100 percent.
Then, blackboards and teachers…
The next step was to teach them writing and reading skills like we tried to do. The main difference here is that courses took place at night; everybody was able to attend as it was not taking on their working time.
And finally, money should start flowing…
After achieving successfully these two first steps, it is important to show the immediate benefit of literacy. The local state created a fund where women can deposit money; for each 300 Rs (6 $) they can get 75 Rs (1.4$) after one year. To be able to access to this fund, women needed to fill-up a form, hence only those who were literate could profit from the offer.
The whole mission was not to be achieved without the help of volunteers. They were the main resource running the operation without even being paid. Their only motivation came from respect and esteem they received from people.
The operation was cheap and successful. Two major breakthroughs:
1) Non-traditional communication- do not advertise on radio or TV knowing that these people might not understand what you are saying
2) Motivation enhancers- you need to prove immediately the benefits of literacy.
In any public policy scheme, all stakeholders should be involved. Enough “top down”, the future is for participatory development.
A final year student at HEC Paris, Hamza El Mounhi is now completing his education in India at the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad. He is very interested in development issues, focusing mainly on education, healthcare and social entrepreneurship. In his articles, he will bring to us India’s successful innovations in these fields and see to which extent they can present a solution to Morocco’s challenges. He is also a blogger and has been active member of several associations and NGOs. He writes also in French and has his own blog (http://indiaandmorocco.wordpress.com/). He is part of Morocco World News editorial team. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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