EAEA GRUNDTVIG AWARD 2017. By engaging a diverse group of learners with different literacy skill levels the Letters for Life project managed to increase the wellbeing of its target group. The winner of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2017 in the national projects category also succeeded in creating a community around adult literacy in the Coimbra area in Portugal.
The article series shares good practices on engaging new learners by introducing the nominees of the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2017.
Letters for Life team receiving the EAEA Grundtvig Award 2017. From left: Dina Soeiro, Sílvia Parreiral, Inês Silva, Vera Carvalho, Joana Silva and the Mayor of Girona, Marta Madrenas i Mir.
Started in 2015, Letters for Life, coordinated by the Higher Education School of the Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra, is an adult literacy project that develops workshops to promote literacy, family literacy, digital literacy, empowerment and social inclusion.
The project also promotes social participation through the use of ICT by the elderly, by teaching how to use smart phones, computers, internet and social media.
“We wanted to promote social inclusion and participation and prevent solitude, and empower them in their everyday life,” says project coordinator Dina Soeiro.
The target groups included migrants, Roma people, and elderly people, some of them with early stage dementia or cerebral disabilities due to accidents or disease which affected their abilities to communicate.
The project managed to engage around 60 participants and 20 facilitators, working with groups with diverse levels of literacy. Some of the participants never went to school and most of them left school without completing basic education.
The project is exemplary in the way it has managed to engage the target groups into learning.
“Through different methods, the project managed to convince the target groups that education is for them, and not something outside of them,” says Dina Soeiro.
For the learners, the project offered the chance to expand their horizon and to step out from the normal daily routine.
“The learning sessions were organised in cooperation with the municipalities in places which enabled people to get out from for example a nursing home. The weekly sessions became so important for many that they were waiting for them for a whole week,” Dina Soeiro says.
From left: Joana Silva, Sílvia Parreiral, Mónica Silva, Inês Silva, Dina Soeiro, Vera Carvalho.
In the sessions, reading and writing activities were developed, based on the well-known Freire’s method. All the sessions are designed to meet the personal goals and rhythms of the participants, and to promote activities in small groups with different levels of literacy.
Besides books and other auxiliary material, the project also uses music and other arts to promote literacy in a friendly environment with joy and affection.
“The methods of learning made the sessions so important for the participants that many of them suffering from illness said they forgot the pain.”
The methods in the sessions were often tailored according to the needs of the participants. Dina Soeiro gives an example.
“Some the learners had lived their whole life not seeing the ocean, although living near a coastal city. So we organised one session at the beach.”
In the end, the project involved more people than expected and the project will continue to further editions.
“The project cooperated fruitfully with local municipalities and other municipalities have also expressed their interest in cooperation,” Dina Soeiro tells.
Thanks to this initiative, a community of practice has been built around adult literacy.
The project participates in the Thematic Circle of Literacy of APCEP, the Portuguese Association for Lifelong Learning.
To go further in the promotion of inclusion in communities and lifelong learning education, the project is also expected to be extended to other urban and rural locations.
Text and photos: Helka Repo