Helping our Schools by Increasing Student Literacy – Part 3
Blog #106- Helping our schools by increasing student literacy. – Part 3
One possibility for helping to change schools is to create a literacy epidemic of the type reported in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Tipping Point which was described in the last blog (Blog #105). Gladwell points out that certain environmental circumstances must prevail along with specific types of individuals for an epidemic to occur.
To launch such a project in one or more places, there are a number of requirements, such as the necessary environmental conditions, one or more connectors, a maven or two, some salespeople, a result is dramatic and that can be repeated so that the effect lasts. The result is much public awareness of the program that can be leveraged to attract attention, early adopters and to ignite pressure for others to follow.
For any activity to be organized and launched that is out of the ordinary realm of “business as usual”, there has to be a problem which is painful and is not being addressed effectively, an epidemic or a natural disaster which brings people out and binds them in a common cause. We have seen this work with great success in the almost complete eradication of polio in the past 15 years and in the response o disasters in Haiti and New Orleans in more recent years.
Illiteracy is one such problem. It is universal, intractable, destructive at many levels, expensive in several different ways, and not being dealt with effectively for decades for a variety of reasons.
The public school systems have consistently failed to make gains in dealing with illiteracy, There is a distinct lack of accountability by school systems across the hemisphere and a strong tendency to blame the student, the student’s family, or some condition presumed to be responsible, over which they claim to have no control and against which their best efforts have produced little in the way of results..As a result of this ineptitude, there is frustration by parents, teachers, social workers, employers and especially by the victims themselves. The table is set for change
Enter the Connector
The connector, who loves people, has a huge number of friends and acquaintances and is always collecting more, is introduced to the problem. Maybe it’s a friend whose child has just been diagnosed with ADHD, or a colleague who is getting nowhere with his school trying to get help for his fourth grade son. However it happens, the connector has a huge network upon whose resources s/he can draw.
I consider myself to be a minor league connector. Here’s why;
- My librarian phoned me to tell me about a book signing I missed and about a literacy project in Dhaka, Bangladesh. She knows that I am interested in all things regarding literacy
- She was holding a copy of the book Adventures of the Asian Poor for me from the Amarock Society, a small Canadian non-profit, non-government organization (NGO).
- I read it in one sitting and then saw the author, G.E.M. Munro’s Vancouver phone number on the back cover.
- I called the number and reached the author’s wife, Dr. Tanyss Munro in Ottawa.
- They (the entire family of five) were on a self-sponsored, national book tour.
- As a co-author of 25 books, I had done the same thing, so I had a pretty good idea of what they were up against.
- We agreed to meet for lunch at a small town (Madoc) on their way to their next book signings in Peterborough, Ontario.
- They arrived in a rickety Suburu Outback stuffed to the gunnels with 5 people and all of their worldly goods as well as their stock of books. They were camping out as they journeyed across the country.
- Their book tour was to raise money to start schools to teach women in the world’s poorest slums (Dhaka, Bangledesh)
- These Bangladeshi women were to learn to read and write Bangla, their mother tongue and then English in order to get better jobs.
- Each mother then taught everything she learned to a minimum of 5 children using their squalid hovels as classrooms. No bricks and mortar.
- I suggested that they needed help from an organized group such as my Rotary club. They welcomed it.
- Two weeks later I took Dr. Munro to the International Rotary Conference that just happened to be in Canada for the first time in decades and was being held in Montreal.
- I introduced her to the chain of command of Rotary literacy leaders from me (a lowly club literacy committee chair on the lowest rung), to the top dog, the Rotary International Chair of Literacy.
- With the help of these Rotarians, we pulled together an impromptu meeting of Rotarians from Bangladesh in the cafeteria of the conference centre.
- There are 34,000 Rotary clubs globally, with 1.2 million members. There were 10,000 Rotarians at this particular annual international conference.
- Each club is expected to do a literacy project each year.
- Fortunately all of the Bangladeshi movers and shakers for literacy were at the conference and attended the meeting.
- We agreed to work together with the North American Rotarians helping the Munros to raise money and to have the Bangladeshi Rotarians receiving and dispensing the funds and providing oversight of the project.
- The Munros added Rotary clubs to their lists of book stores as a potential source of revenue.
- Since then numerous Rotary clubs have given or pledged money as a result of our being able to get the Munros in front of their members to describe their work and its success.
- Two Rotarians, from 2 different provinces, joined Amarok’s Board of Directors to help establish a strategic plan and to make sure that all non-profit regulations were being followed:
- One of these men is a former Director of Education, the other is a retired Air Force Lieutenant-Colonel with an MBA who spent 3 years in Bangladesh with the Red Cross
- Financial support increased each year with a portion being set aside as the seed money for a $40,000 -$50,000 grant from Rotary International to assist the Amarok project.
- There are now 13 schools with 250-300 mothers and 1200-1500 children learning to become literate in Bangla and English.
- It’s a drop in the bucket but it could also be the virus that starts a literacy epidemic. If even 10% of Rotary clubs joined in this initiative, we could start a literacy epidemic in Bangladesh.
- Some of the hard-line Mullhas who are dependent on uneducated followers are quite opposed to such an idea.
- We need some Sneezers to help spread the virus.
Could We Do The Same Thing Here?
If we can assist Amarok Society to continue its work when it has no paid staff, no office except where they happen to be that day, at a distance of 11,000 miles in a incredibly difficult slum environment using formerly illiterate mothers as teachers, and malnourished down-trodden children as students, is there not a strong likelihood that we could do the same kind of thing in North America?
My answer is a resounding “Yes” and I will share with you a North American example in my next blog.