Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions about literacy work in SIL
- What does a literacy worker do?
- How great is the need for literacy workers?
- Where do SIL literacy personnel work?
- What if the language has no written form?
- What is a complete literacy program?
- What about funding?
- What qualities are especially suited for literacy work?
- What training is needed to be a literacy worker with SIL?
As a cross-cultural educator, trainer, and linguist, a literacy specialist may do any of the following tasks:
- help in the linguistic analysis of an unwritten language, the development of an alphabet, and other studies of the language
- learn the language, study the culture, and work along with local people as they plan a suitable literacy program and prepare instructional materials and literature
- work side-by-side with government, community, and educational leaders or other agencies to develop an appropriate literacy program for a particular language or group of languages
- assist in training literacy teachers and orienting community educators and leaders until they can manage the literacy program on their own
- help to identify ways of funding literacy projects and to write evaluations and other administrative reports
- train others to administer projects and write proposals, documentation, evaluations, and reports
- cooperate and network with other agencies and people in the area in order to provide literacy-related services more effectively
According to UNESCO, there are about 1 billion non-literate adults in the world today. This is approximately 27 percent of the world's adult population. Two-thirds of all non-literates are women. Well over 2 million people have become literate as a direct result of SIL's work in literacy. Additional millions have become literate as an indirect result of this work.
In order to maintain these literacy efforts, SIL needs 200 additional literacy personnel for areas such as multilingual education, ESL, community development, instructional material and literature development, curriculum design, program management, educational research and documentation, and other literacy-related categories.
SIL has active programs in nearly 1,000 languages in more than 50 countries. In half of those language groups, SIL introduced literacy in the vernacular language for the first time. SIL has carried out work in literacy, community development, and education in a broad range of locations: the jungles of PNG and Amazonia, the sand dunes of Australia and Africa, the mountains of the Americas, the Islands of the Pacific and the Caribbean. The common denominator of those places where SIL personnel work is that the language in focus is of a marginalized and often lesser-known people whether spoken by a few hundred or several million. SIL could work in many more places if sufficient trained literacy personnel were available.
A distinctive feature of the work of SIL is its focus on unwritten languages. A good literacy program begins with the linguistic study of the unwritten language. SIL linguists commit large blocks of time to living in the local communities, learning the local language, and doing a thorough analysis, which provides a basis for language development.
After analyzing the unwritten language, fieldworkers continue to work with community members to assign symbols to represent the sounds of their language. This orthography development results in an alphabet that can be used to prepare primers, teach literacy, and develop local literature.
A sustainable program requires that local expertise, leadership, and institutions be developed and in place. Sustainable programs in language development and literacy typically require five to fifteen years to complete. A program is normally considered complete when the following have been achieved:
- basic linguistic research has been done
- work in language development has been completed, including an alphabet, literacy materials, a dictionary, a pedagogical grammar and a body of basic literature for literacy retention and fluency
- a functioning literacy program, a core body of literates and teachers, and a local infrastructure supporting ongoing literacy and literature production
- a body of core informational literature has been developed including materials in health, agriculture, economics, and materials of high moral value
Development of literacy programs would not be possible without the partnership of governments, academic institutions, corporations and civil society (businesses, social clubs, NGOs, churches, schools). Many developing nations would not be able to provide literacy for speakers of the lesser-known languages without both human and financial capital to sustain the programs. That makes local capacity-building a necessary component in language development programs in order for language communities to carry on and support any literacy initiative independently.
Literacy workers within SIL seem to share certain qualities that set them apart. Not all literacy specialists have all of these qualities, but they acquire many of them while doing literacy work. A literacy specialist is ideally:
- a "people" personsomeone who enjoys meeting and interacting with people, especially those from other cultures
- someone who enjoys mentoring othersan encourager or facilitator
- someone who looks at the whole picturewho likes to understand the broad picture when solving problems or considering something new
- someone who can adjust to changing circumstances, surprises, interruptions
- someone who can live with vagueness, multiple options, and generalities rather than just precise details
- an organizer or managersomeone who likes to have a plan of action for projects
- a team playersomeone who is comfortable working with a group of people, accepting of their goals, helpful to others on the team
- someone who learns from experiences and interactions with other people, including from individuals of different cultures and different economic or educational levels
Literacy workers need training in linguistic terminology and analysis and cross-cultural communication skills in order to meet the diversity of concepts and challenges they encounter in their work. SIL basic training provides an understanding of linguistic concepts and cross-cultural communication. In addition, SIL offers specialized classes in the principles of literacy and reading theory, materials production, and literacy program planning. These classes are combined in what has become known in SIL as the Literacy Megacourse.
For more information, see Training.