Hi there tout la gang,

We don't have much to say about research in practice at the Café right now

but we are talking policy and practice over here now: Literacy Enquirers.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Literacy in peacetime

At midnight on Tuesday, the British Army ended the longest continuous campaign in its history. Although 5,000 troops are still in Northern Ireland, the army’s peacekeeping role is officially over.

Hearing the story on the news this morning made me think about what I learned about literacy work when I was in Belfast this summer. Some initiatives, such as the Literacy and Equality in Irish Society project, have been funded by EU money allocated specifically for peace and reconciliation. But many practitioners are working in other ways and have used powerful creativity to help individuals, and society, move forward.

A group called Families of the Displaced, Dispersed and Distressed (FODDD) came together specifically to heal from the trauma of violence in 2000 in the Shankhill Road area. Facilitated by Sharon Bailey, FODDD integrates arts-based and literacy activities to support the healing process.

At Workforce Training Services in West Belfast, tutor Brid Shields found that students she worked with didn’t realize that Shankhill was very close to where they lived. Brid invited the students to learn more about their community. They did so by creating the West Belfast Alphabet. To outsider eyes perhaps the P (Protestant), Q (Quarrel) and Y are the most accessible letters. Brid talked about how some letters didn’t make it to the poster – an S for Suicide, dripping with blood, and H for Hanging, for example – but did lead to helpful discussions about creating a more healthy and inclusive community.

A few presentations at the RaPAL conference were papers that tutors had written for their diploma in Adult Literacy and Essential Skills at Queen’s University Belfast. Una Cox worked with students to explore what slang meant, and how it reflected people’s different social positions. Together they learned about how and why people use slang, how people judge one another based on their language choices, and how slang terms for people from different social groups affects the people who hear it.

In Northern Ireland, literacy work is often seen as a way to deal with inequality, poverty and social exclusion. Programs are targeted to areas with the greatest need, based on a scale of “social deprivations”. Although they are called Essential Skills classes, the arts and personal transformation are integrated and valued in programs.

Canada could learn from this approach!

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