What is a Preliterate Society literacy program?

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A Preliterate Society literacy program is designed for a society where few people can read or write and there is little or no tradition of literacy and literature use.


Most people working in literacy will never encounter a preliterate society. The vast majority of literacy work and activity takes place where literacy is an established tradition but where many have never really become literate.


The task of introducing literacy to a preliterate society requires some technical expertise most literacy workers and educators lack.


This expertise includes training in

  • descriptive linguistics
  • language development techniques
  • developing pedagogical materials from scratch, and
  • anthropology to carefully monitor and guide the first introduction of literacy to a society.
Indicating conditions

Here are some conditions that indicate the choice of a Preliterate Society literacy program:

  • The target group is

    • geographically isolated, and
    • small in number.
  • The group lacks a written language or has just recently had its language put into written form.
  • There is little or no formal education available to most children.
  • There are very few literates in any language (less than 5 percent of the population).
Program goals

Here are some typical program goals of a Preliterate Society literacy program:

  • To do the needed language development to support basic literacy
  • To establish the basic conditions for the introduction of literacy
  • To develop a core of newly literate people who can model how literacy can benefit the people
  • To develop a body of literature in the language which is relevant to the needs of the society
Recommended strategies and activities

Here are some recommended strategies for a Preliterate Society literacy program:

  • Carry out language development work.
  • Organize a basic community-based literacy program, including appropriate promotional and prereading activities .
  • Add a Transition-to-LWC literacy component if this is a felt need.
  • Provide a Transition from LWC literacy component for the few who are literate in a second language.
  • Find appropriate domains for mother-tongue literacy to incorporate it into the community life.
See also

Context for this page:

Page content last modified: 27 July 1999

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