Ian Cheffy is a literacy and education consultant with SIL International. After working in Cameroon for ten years, he developed and taught an accredited MA programme in literacy in development. His PhD examined how literacy was perceived by people in a small community in the north of Cameroon. He is particularly interested in the transformative effect of literacy in African contexts.
Local language literacy in Africa changes lives; evidence from four countries.
Drawing on interviews with speakers of local languages in Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon and Burkina Faso, I will demonstrate how literacy in local languages has brought significant improvements in the lives of both men and women. My research makes clear that local language literacy brings not only economic improvement but also fundamentally important changes at a personal level, with benefits for whole families and communities.
My presentation will demonstrate how literacy in local languages can bring a radical and sustainable improvement in the lives of people who speak local languages in Africa. To illustrate this, I will draw on my research in Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon and Burkina Faso with people who had learned to read and write in their home language, most of whom were not previously literate in any other language. My interviewees had been practising literacy in their home language for on average 16 years, and were thus able to reflect on the significant changes which had come about in their lives as a result of their acquisition of literacy in their language over that time.
The interviewees, both men and women, reported not only improved livelihoods but also fundamental changes in how they perceived themselves and in how they were perceived in their communities. Even those who claimed relatively modest achievements in literacy considered that their lives had improved markedly. Furthermore, these benefits were not confined to them as individuals but through them had spread to their families and to their communities, with ramifications for future generations. This research reveals how literacy initiatives in local languages can contribute to development of the most sustainable kind through enabling individual people to grow at a personal level and to achieve their potential, with benefits for their societies as a whole.