In our event, Letras Prá Vida (Letters for Life), organised by Coimbra Higher Education School in Coimbra, Portugal, we organised workshops to workshops to promote literacy, familiar literacy, digital literacy, empowerment, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and social inclusion. For Digital Literacy we develop the workshops Keys For Life.
The project engages about 60 participants and 20 facilitators (teachers, trainees, master students and volunteers, with different specializations like Adult Education, Psychology, Social Gerontology, all with training in adult literacy).
We work with 5 groups (10-15 people each) with diverse levels of literacy. One session per week with each group. In total, 15-17 sessions per group. Some of the participants never went to school, most of them left school without completing the basic education. We have people that don’t know how to read and write, people who don’t know how to write their own name, people who can read simple texts, people that read but write with no grammatical correction.
We have people from social minorities like immigrants, young gypsies, old people living at home and institutionalized elderly living in nursing homes, between the ages of 20 and 90, around 50 women and 10 men.
We have some challenges: elderly institutionalized participants living with Alzheimer’s disease in an early stage, participants with low self-esteem and self-efficacy, loneliness and deep sadness because of loss of their child and/or spouse, and participants with special educational needs.
In the sessions we develop reading and writing activities.
The methodology is based on Freire’s method. The planning and evaluation are participatory and engage participants and training staff. It is flexible planning, that begins with the participants defining their own goal to the workshops. The sessions try to meet the personal goals and rhythms but also promote activities in groups, with different levels of literacy using the help of each other (based on Vygotsky’s theory).
Our practice is based on Pedagogy for Autonomy (Freire), Andragogy and Selfdirected Learning (Knowles). But our main secret is the heart, that we put on this work. So we promote literacy but also a friendly environment with joy and affection. Kisses and hugs are part of our sessions.
We value each participant as a person, not an illiterate, each person has the literacy of life, of course we have to value the experience of the participants, their culture, their knowledge, their needs and interests, their projects. We value not only their past but also their future, no matter their age! This number is not a criteria!
The error is an opportunity to learn and the feedback is always constructive, not negative. The communication is horizontal, the protagonists are the participants. It is an enriched environment with books around the walls, dictionaries and other auxiliary materials, flowers and local and national newspapers over the table and a perfumed room.
We created a library, so they take the books home, to read and share with their children, grandchildren. We promote the contact with diverse books, like poetry, history… We also use music and other arts to promote literacy, and, of course, technology.
We aimed at contributing to eradicate adult illiteracy, reduce loneliness, enhance social inclusion and participation of the elderly and social minorities through lifelong education.
We managed to create an opportunity to develop literacy competences, but also a friendly context, a sharing space where everyone is capable of contributing, a place of well being, where people are heard and where they matter, where they can share their stories of life, and always leave with a smile.
“Keys for life” promotes social participation trough the use of ICT by the elderly. The elderly can be digital citizens, not only consumers, they learn how to use smart phones, computers, Internet, Social Media to interact, to participate, to be closer to their friends and family, some of them emigrants abroad.
The project also offers training on Adults Literacy for professionals and volunteers. From a critical reflection on adult education and adult literacy theoretical models, the trainees can apply their principles to planning and organization of learning opportunities and explore diverse and complementary techniques and strategies appropriate to non-formal context.
In the future, we will we expect to expand the project to other urban and rural locations, and develop literacy inside nursing homes (for those who cannot get out of the home) or engage other institutionalized elderly in literacy activities outside the nursing homes, to promote inclusion in the communities.
Our message: We need to promote lifelong learning in later life.
Dina Isabel Mendes Soeiro / Coimbra Higher Education School – Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra