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(January 11, 2001, Gazette)

Literacy project
brings rewards for many

Dr. Roberta Hammett (L) and Dr. Phyllis ArtissPhoto by Chris Hammond

Dr. Roberta Hammett (L) and Dr. Phyllis Artiss are involved in a community-based project in computers and adult literacy.

By Andris Petersens
SPARK Correspondent

A community-based project in computers and adult literacy combines faculty research, employment for Memorial students, and community service in ways that are rewarding for all concerned.

The project, directed by Dr. Roberta Hammett and Dr. Barrie Barrell, Education, and Dr. Phyllis Artiss, English, is funded by a SSHRC Strategic Literacy Grant and by smaller grants from other sources, including MUCEP, SCP and SWASP.

“Being a literate person is more than knowing how to read and write,” said Dr. Hammett. “It includes being able to use written texts and other resources to function as a full participant in one’s culture and environment. In Canada today it is increasingly necessary for adults to have access to computers and know how to use them.”

Drs. Hammett, Artiss and Barrell discovered their mutual interest in action research in community-based adult literacy programs while working together in Memorial’s Women’s Studies program, and worked together to develop this interdisciplinary project.

Dr. Artiss emphasized the importance of finding an appropriate community partner and developing a good working relationship with that partner.

“We respected the people, goals and accomplishments of the Brighter Futures Coalition in Family Resource Centres in this province, and after a number of preliminary meetings settled on this coalition as our ideal partner,” said Dr. Artiss.

Since January, they have offered their program in literacy and computers in two BFC sites: one on New Pennywell Road and the other in Holy Cross Elementary School on St. Clare Avenue. These centres provide the site, community contacts, and childcare (when possible) for participants, as well as invaluable administrative and other support, while the Memorial provides computers and related technology, and tutoring by Memorial students (in one-on-one sessions, in small groups and in organized workshops) to interested adults. About 60 participants are enrolled in the project.

“Nineteen participants received certificates of accomplishment in a joint gathering of participants from both centres in May 2000. Most of these had never turned on a computer when they first enrolled in the program. Now they are proficient in word processing and e-mail, and are developing skills in using in the internet, computer imaging and more,” said Dr. Artiss.

Drs. Hammett and Artiss said participants become involved in the program because it is free, and because it is offered in a supportive, familiar environment, with flexible scheduling and with instruction designed to meet the expressed needs of community members.

“A woman who is working in another literacy project, (tutoring adults in) reading and writing, has started to come to our sessions with two of her students because she said here these students can practice what they learned with her,” said Dr. Hammett. “(This tutor) said she couldn’t teach them about computers because she didn’t know how to use them herself. Now the three of them are learning together.”

Dr. Artiss talked about two participants who came to the sessions and told tutors “I can’t read or write. I’m illiterate.” Now both are working on their autobiographies, and both have produced a variety of documents on the computer. Dr. Artiss considers these two participants unusual in being so candid about their problems with reading and writing.

“A number of others have similar problems, but are hesitant to admit this is the case because of the stigma attached to illiteracy. Participants are proud to say they are going off to computer class, whereas some might not be willing to say they are going to a literacy class,” said Dr. Artiss.

Another important benefit of this project is the work experience it offers to students. So far 16 Memorial graduate and undergraduate students from Arts, Education, Women’s Studies, and Humanities have been funded to work as tutors, workshop presenters and field researchers, and in other capacities. A number of these have continued to work with the project when their funding ran out, and others students have worked on it solely as volunteers.

Drs. Artiss and Hammett are looking for provincial and federal funding to carry on this project now that their one-year SSHRC grant is coming to an end. They hope the two existing centres for computer-and-literacy learning will gradually become self-sustaining, and have plans to extend the project to other centres throughout the province. If the group can demonstrate through their research that this program works, Dr. Artiss said she hopes similar projects will be funded.

Dr. Hammett said the students aren’t the only people to benefit from the program.

“My visits to the (computer) sites are always among the most pleasurable moments in my week. I find everybody smiles, everybody is enjoying themselves; people are very pleased with what they have accomplished. There is a strong sense of friendship and community. There are kids running around enjoying themselves too. People talk to you. They ask questions. And they really appreciate what we’re doing in the program.”

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