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Simply... The Right To Read


new internationalist
issue 248 - October 1993

Simply... the right to read

For those of us who learned to read at five years old it is hard to understand what it would be like to understand and speak a language fluently but not be able to write it or decipher the signs and documents that govern our lives in the modern world. This activity is designed to give you just a glimpse of what it is like to learn to read. Try it – in a group, with a class, or just for fun...

Here are two statements about the importance of education. Imagine you are taking part in a referendum which is going to shape the future of your country’s education system. Your vote may be vital but first you have to understand the manifestos, which are written in International Phonetic Alphabet (a universal way of describing human speech sounds, whatever the language).

If you are trying to decipher it on your own, you will find the alphabet key on the far right – and if you are still flummoxed the translations of the statements appear upside down under the manifestos in the centre.



Card A
Card B

Card C



1 Make copies of the manifestos (without the translations) and the alphabet cards A, B and C.
2 Divide your group into pairs and give each pair one of the alphabet cards and the two manifestos.
3 Each pair must learn the symbols and the sounds given to them on the card. They can draw pictures to help them do this, but they must not write anything down in their usual alphabet.
4 Everyone should now have learnt a third of the alphabet. Split up the groups and make new trios with one person from each of the old groups in each trio.
5 Each person should teach the other two people in their trio all the sounds and symbols they have learnt. The same rules apply to what they can draw or write.
6 Once this has been done, everybody should know all or most of the symbols and sounds.
7 Give one manifesto to each person. They should translate it into their usual alphabet, if necessary with the help of the rest of their trio.
8 As a whole group, you could then discuss the manifestos, and then vote on them.

You might then like to look at the issues raised by the exercise:

[image, unknown] How did it feel to be asked to make a decision about something that you didn’t fully understand?
When people can’t read, they are limited to information transmitted through the radio or television – which are much easier for governments to control.

[image, unknown] How difficult was it to learn the new symbols?
It is easy to take being able to read for granted – to be faced with symbols that you do not know but that you know you need can be a very disempowering experience.

[image, unknown] Did you enjoy the active involvement?
This method of teaching people to read by means of active political or community involvement was developed by Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire.

[image, unknown] What limits people’s ability to learn more?
Unless they have access to books using the phonetic symbols they will probably forget most of them. Libraries are essential if people are to develop their skills.

This exercise has been adapted from Right to Read, a development-education activity. Development education is a process which aims to enable people to understand the links between their own lives and those of people throughout the world, and to take more control of their lives. It does this through participatory methods.

A fuller version of this activity is published by Leeds DEC, 151-153 Cardigan Road, Leeds LS6 1LJ, UK.
Tel: (0532) 784030
. For more information on development education, see the Action section.



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New Internationalist issue 248 magazine cover This article is from the October 1993 issue of New Internationalist.
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