Choices and voices of adult illiterates: Exploring their literacy needs in rural Bangladesh
Literacy researchers have sometimes been puzzled by the modest results of literacy programs in developing countries. One of the key areas identified as a possible cause for limited success of literacy programs is the inadequate understanding of the literacy needs and perspectives of beneficiaries. Unlike many studies that draw mostly on providers' accounts, this study explored the voices and choices of beneficiaries of literacy. In addition to using beneficiaries as primary research participants, the study also explored perspectives of selected provider representatives. One of the key objectives of this study was to generate a better understanding of the complex needs for adult literacy in the context of rural Bangladesh.
Methodologically, this is a "qualitatively focused" hybrid study combining three major traditions - ethnography, case study and grounded theory. Four rural sites of Bangladesh with varying characteristics served as the locations for data collection. The study drew heavily on recent theories of the New Literacy Studies (NLS) School. Considering the evolutionary nature and limited field implementation of the NLS theories the researcher used a flexible theoretical framework so that findings could emerge from data.
The findings of the study portray a substantial difference in perspective both among the beneficiaries as well as between the beneficiaries and the providers. Some of the key findings were—rural adults tended to identify themselves as educated or uneducated instead of as literate or illiterate; there was hardly any difference in perspective between neo-literates and illiterates; adults engaged in regular rural occupations like selling labor or farming are less likely to feel motivated to pursue literacy; older male adults preferred to spend their time on religious pursuits instead of on literacy; and older women attached higher priority to skills training as than did younger women. Based on the findings, the researcher argued in favor of developing some common ground to help reduce the perspective gap. Such middle ground could foster increased understanding and cooperation among all actors and contribute to the development of more useful literacy programs for rural adults.