Programme Key Information
|Programme Title||Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons|
|Implementing Organization||Ageing Nepal|
|Language of Instruction||Nepali|
|Date of Inception||2016- present|
|Programme Partners||Local organization: Shree Aasthabhuja Samaj, Karnajyanti Foundation, Anandapur Women’s Group, Jorpati Senior Citizens Society, Senior Citizen's Welfare Association Nepal (started from August 2019)|
|Funding||The Virginia Hazzard Legacy Fund of the NGO Committee on Ageing, United Nations-The NGO Committee on Ageing is constituted as a Committee of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), United Nations, New York, in April 1979.NY, Ageing Nepal Switzerland|
|Annual Programme Costs||USD 10,000|
|Annual Programme Cost per Learner||USD 266|
Country Context and Background
Nepal has a population of about 29 million and an annual per capita income of $1034 (CEIC, 2019). In this agrarian economy, about a third of the population lives in poverty, especially in rural and semi-urban communities, with limited access to basic amenities, livelihood and educational opportunities.
Although Nepal has made significant progress in promoting universal access to education in recent years, 36% of the adult population aged 15 years and above still do not have basic literacy skills (UNESCO, 2015). This dismal figure is due not only to the economic and political challenges Nepal faces, but can also be traced back to traditional caste, ethnic and class hierarchies (UNESCO, 2006). Poor or no basic literacy skills among older people (defined by the Nepali Senior Citizens Act as those aged 60 and above) is even higher (Ghimire et al., 2018), and this is the fastest growing group of population. Lacking basic literacy skills has been identified as both a cause and a consequence of poverty, unemployment, alienation, and oppressive social structures (EPALE, 2016). Without basic literacy skills, older people may find it difficult to live independently. It is also known to contribute to the increase in the risk of falling victim to elder abuse and harassment (Yadav et al., 2018).
Both Government and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Nepal have initiated a series of concrete efforts to address the educational needs of individuals who have not had access to formal education. Programmes run by the Department of Non-formal Education include Alternative Schooling Programmes, Open School Programmes, Basic and Post-Literacy Programmes, Income Generation and Skills Training Programmes, and Community Learning Centres (UNESCO, 2015). Despite this array of choices, however, adult learners are most motivated to participate in programmes, which are most relevant to their day-to-day lives (Acharya & Koirala, 2006). Although all recently established programmes have included adult education as a key focus area, none of them has been specifically designed for the needs of older persons.
In collaboration with local NGOs, Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons is an ongoing programme implemented by Ageing Nepal to empower the aging population with basic literacy skills. This programme assists older people in transitioning from rural to urban lives in Kathmandu. Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons started as a pilot project in 2016 and was followed by a replication phase in 2019. There are plans to implement the programme in other parts of Nepal in the near future.
This case study presents the programme activities and impact in both phases, with particular focus on the transition between the phases and the lessons learned. In photo 1, one can see learners engaged in a lesson in a print-rich classroom.
By increasing literacy levels among older persons, the programme aims to move Nepal towards Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.6: “By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy” (UN, 2015). Specifically, the programme endeavours to:
- Empower older persons with the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy;
- Enhance older persons’ capacity for independent living in the local community;
- Promote social change and lifelong learning through literacy education for older persons.
Pilot Phase (2016- 2018)
The NGO Committee on Ageing is constituted as a Committee of the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO) in Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), United Nations, New York, in April 1979. With financial support from this committee, Ageing Nepal partnered with Shree Aasthabhuja Samaj, a local social organization in Nepal, to pilot the six-month Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons programme in July 2016. As the first literacy programme for older persons in the country, Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons served 28 older persons with no literacy skills in Budanikantha Municipality ward No. 10, an urban centre of Kathmandu Metropolis, Kapan. Kapan, a village and former Village Development Committee, is now part of Budanilkantha Municipality in Kathmandu District in Province No. 3 of central Nepal.
Ageing Nepal decided to depart from the definition of “older persons” set by the Nepali Senior Citizens Act (age 60 and above). Those who had recently reached the age of 60 were defined as the “young old” (Government of Nepal, 2006). The ages of the 28 learners ranged from 48 to 78 with an average age of 65. 23 learners were selected from the Shree Aasthabhuja Samaj organization, following an information session and home visits. Other five learners were not members of the Shree Aasthabhuja Samaj programme, but joined the classes based on the spread of positive feedback in the community in the week following the launch.
Using an experiential approach, Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons offered literacy training in the official language (Nepali), with English as a second language (see figure 2 where a learner shares her work in the classroom). The programme also provided numeracy classes and theme-based training in life skills such as how to use electronic home appliances, operate mobile phones and navigate independently in the city. The senior teacher and a facilitator between July 2016 and January 2017 delivered a total of 332 hours of in-class instruction to these participants.
By the end of the programme, learners had mastered a set of basic literacy skills, including reading and writing numerals from 1 to 10 in Nepali and English, reading the alphabet in Nepali and English, typing English letters using a computer-. Each learner group was provided with a computer to practice typing, which also helped the learners to use a mobile phone with buttons, and practice basic chatting and greeting in English. These competencies were taken as indicators of the success of the programme. In table 1, one can see an elderly learner presenting her work. Other markers of success included the ability of learners to greet and introduce themselves to each other in Nepali. These practical activities were combined with learning objectives on a daily basis, as shown in the plan for July 2016 in Table 1.
The success of the programme was measured by cognitive tests, which were conducted every year, and through interviews and home visits to assess the adult learners’ competencies in different areas. A further benefit of the programme was the sense of community, which developed amongst the learners, providing mutual social and emotional support.
Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons created positive change not only in the individual learners’ lives, but also in their local communities. Both the government and the local community recognised the successful implementation of Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons.
Upon the conclusion of the pilot programme in early 2017, the project was handed over to the local government, which allocated annual funds for the continuation of the programme. Based on the success of the pilot programme, Ageing Nepal decided to expand the Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons in order extend the programme’s positive impact on the lives of older persons in Nepal. The programme entered the replication phase in 2017 and is still in this phase. Ageing Nepal has now been set up in four new locations.
Replication Phase (2017- present)
With financial support from Ageing Nepal-Switzerland, Ageing Nepal collaborated with Karnajyanti Foundation, Anandapur Women’s Group, Jorpati Senior Citizens Society and Senior Citizen's Welfare Association Nepal, all local social organizations in Nepal, to replicate the eight-month Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons programme at four locations in August 2019. The locations are Budanikantha Municipality ward No. 11, Boudha Municipality ward No. 6, Gokarneshwor Municipality No. 5 and Kathmandu metropolitan city ward 10. Following the pilot phase, the replication phase of Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons served 180 older persons with basic or no literacy in three urban centres of Kathmandu Metropolis, Kapan. Of these 180 participating learners, 120 received certificates for successful completion of the programme.
Similar to the pilot phase, learners in the replication phase mastered basic reading and writing in Nepali, as demonstrated in the final cognitive tests. Such results are believed to contribute to improving the mobility, decision-making capacity, and participation of these adults in urban community life.
Teaching – Learning Approaches and Methodologies
Pilot Phase (2016-2017)
The pilot phase of the Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons programme adopted an experiential model for the teaching-learning process.
In contrast to didactic learning, learners enrolled in Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons programme are provided with opportunities to learn actively. Teaching methods involve a combination of teacher demonstration, guided practice and individual practice.
Activities such as role-play and experience sharing enrich the learners’ experience in the classroom. Structured in-class instruction is balanced with experiential learning activities, enabling learners to integrate basic literacy skills into real life. Learners are encouraged to share their personal knowledge, skills and experience in class for example, by reciting poems, they have composed and/or memorized, telling stories about special events in their lives, dancing, singing, and telling jokes. All of these activities make the teaching-learning process more engaging and help to put the learners at ease, elevating their self-confidence and strengthening the bonds of friendship among them.
During classes, learners went to the market to read or identify letters on billboards, posters, street signs, and other market displays. This method was found to be effective for motivation and self-assessment. It also enabled learners to experience valuable guided practice in finding their way around the city, crossing streets and other practical tips. Learners gained in confidence as they discovered that they could go to places independently and find their way home again without fear of getting lost by applying their new ability to read in Nepali and English.
Replication Phase (2017- present)
The Replication Phase of Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons continues to rely on an experiential approach to the teaching-learning process. Role-play remains the preferred strategy to diversify the learning experience. The replication phase also incorporates the use of locally sourced materials. For example, learners are encouraged to use maize seeds, flexible wire and chocolates to make the letters of the Nepali alphabet (see photo 4).
Programme Content and Teaching Materials
The Pilot Phase of Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons adopted a six-unit course curriculum, which covered the official language (Nepali), second language (English), and numeracy. The designated teaching and learning time for each unit was one month. The content was developed by the project team of Ageing Nepal and covered the following themes: alphabet, vowels and consonants, and basic words in Nepali; alphabet and commonly used words in English; and practicing these in daily situations (dialing phones, using a TV remote control, and basic computer skills). Numeracy was also integrated into literacy through activities such as dialing numbers on the phone.
Each unit featured a combination of these themes to diversify the learning experience. Along with the inputs of recruited facilitators, the Ageing Nepal project team prepared a detailed course outline. Teaching materials and course timetable Teaching and reading materials are derived from the children’s book used by the non-formal education programme of the Government of Nepal, as well as from materials used in ongoing adult literacy programmes, such as “Rangeen Varnamala”, a beginner level Nepali language book produced by the government. Photos 5 and 6 show the cover pages of Rangeen Varnamala.
It is important to note that curriculum was continually modified based on learners’ needs and feedback. For instance, the curriculum was initially designed to prepare the learners towards proficiency in the Nepali, English and Mathematics subjects, starting with learning the alphabet. It then evolved to offer instruction to write learner’s names in Nepali before learning to read and write the alphabet, since learners felt that this skill was more relevant to their immediate needs. Learners expressed a motivation to learn about numbers, greetings in English, writing their own names, and using electronic home appliances, and the project team amended the curriculum accordingly.
The curriculum of the programme is used as a reflective document as shown in photo 7. The facilitators reflect on the gap between planning and execution using the curriculum roadmap, allowing them to learn from their experiences. Based on their reflection, the facilitators then modify the curriculum. This process also helps them to identify the participants’ key motivations for learning. The curriculum features sequentially placed learning objectives over seven months, incorporating time for revision in the final week before the examination.
The Replication Phase of Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons adopts a 70-unit curriculum with a focus on reading and writing in Nepali. A unit of the curriculum is the portion of content covered in one or two teaching sessions. This eight-month curriculum uses the Nepali Sequence and Scope Book called Pahilo Paila translated into English as First Step. It is a textbook prepared by the project team of Ageing Nepal under the supervision of Dr Helen Abadzi, a research faculty member at the University of Texas at Arlington, USA.
This textbook with enlarged fonts and spacious design is the first instructional material in the Devanagari script (see figure 10 for a sample) to accommodate the needs of the older learners, many of whom struggle with poor vision.
Recruitment and Training of Facilitators
For the pilot phase, Ageing Nepal and their partner organization, Shree Aashtabhuja Samaj, worked collaboratively to recruit competent trainers who had completed secondary school, lived in the community and were able to communicate with older learners. When there was a vacancy, priority was given to people with teaching experience from the same community or area.
The trainers were of two types. The first type were the teaching facilitators, who were mainly responsible for teaching content and skills to the learners. The criteria for selecting the teaching facilitator were completion of higher secondary education and experience in the field of social work. The second type of trainers were called the senior teachers and they were responsible not only for taking the lead teaching role, but also for updating social media. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are still used to share the daily activities of the programme. They also serve as advocacy platforms, to share the work, achievements and impact of adult literacy programmes for elderly people. For a candidate to be hired for the post of a senior teacher, he or she was required to have a Bachelor’s degree in education and at least six years’ teaching experience. A teaching facilitator was also hired to support the senior teacher. In some cases, these teaching facilitators also took over the responsibility of senior teachers in their absence.
A five-day pre-service training course on how to use the guidebook was offered to both senior teachers and facilitators Throughout the programme, the project team of Ageing Nepal conducted weekly meetings with facilitators to keep track of each learner’s progress and challenges.
For the replication phase, the project team of Ageing Nepal engaged leaders from Karnajyanti Foundation, Anandapur Women’s Group- Jorpati Senior Citizens Society and Social Welfare Association Nepal to recruit two facilitators for each location. In total, eight facilitators were hired. The replication phase uses the same procedures for recruitment and training of facilitators as the pilot phase.
Enrolment of Learners
During the pilot phase, Ageing Nepal collaborated with Shree Aashtabhuja Samaj to provide an information session on the importance and benefits of adult literacy education and lifelong learning and attract potential participants for literacy programmes.
The following procedure was adopted to select 20-25 new learners from the 70 elderly members of Shree AashtabhujaSamaj.
A session was organized to inform elderly members of Shree Aashtabhuja Samaj about how literacy could improve their lives by enhancing their status in family and society and decreasing their dependency on family members for small things, they could do themselves if literate, such as reading medicine labels, changing TV channels or making a phone call. A list of 30 people (2 males and 28 females) who identified themselves as lacking basic literacy skills was prepared. They were interested in joining the “Basic Literacy Class”.
Home visit and registration
The project team paid home visits to each of the 30 listed members in order to brief the family about the project and secure their consent and support. Basic personal data on the potential learner was also collected during this visit. From the original list of 30, two male and 28 female candidates were selected based on the following criteria:
- Older person who has very poor or no basic literacy skills
- “Young old” person who recently turned 60
- Older person who is likely to be more active in family and social life in their community after graduation from the programme
Elderly from lower socio-economic strata and marginalized groups
Efforts were made to maintain some degree of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity, culture and place of origin, as well as homogeneity in terms of physical location among learners. However, it was found that the community contained an overwhelmingly large number of women who did not have basic literacy skills and who meet the pre-determined criteriaAfter the first week, the two male learners dropped out of the programme citing the large gender gap in the classroom, and shared that they felt uncomfortable in a group where they constituted the minority. Gradually, 12 additional female learners, who were not members of Shree Aashtabhuja Samaj, joined the programme.
Assessment of learning outcomes
Pilot Phase (2016- 2017)
Weekly and monthly tests were administered throughout the programme to assess progress. The format of the tests included individual verbal responses and written responses on the whiteboard. Project team members administered tests from Ageing Nepal and the results were used to adjust the following unit’s teaching objectives.
A final test was administered towards the end of the programme to assess learners’ mastery of new basic literacy skills. As phonological awareness, verbal memory and working memory are the three crucial cognitive processes in adult literacy acquisition (Abadzi, 1994), three cognitive assessment instruments were used to measure learners’ abilities in identifying alphabets in Nepali, alphabets in English, and numbers per minute. 28 learners participated in the final exam.
Replication Phase (2017- present-)
Upon completion of the curriculum, learners’ ability to read Nepali is assessed by four different reading tests, each lasting one minute. It is necessary to note that these reading tests are not connected to the cognitive tests described previously. The content of the tests is as follows: 1) 43 single letters without matras (vowels); 2) 42 single letters with matras; 3) 46 samyoutakshar (blended sounds), and 4) four sentences forming a 16-word paragraph. Questions used in the reading tests are randomly selected from the Nepali Sequence and Scope Book Pahilo Paila. Some sample questions can be seen in photos 14 and 15.
Monitoring and Evaluation of the Programme
The project team of Ageing Nepal conducts needs assessment in the form of informal tests and interviews to assess learners’ interest in participating in the programme and baseline level of literacy skills. During the programme implementation, the project director provides ongoing monitoring and support via regular visits to the classroom. Issues raised are resolved on-site in consultation with executive members of local organizations, facilitators, and learners. Facilitators administer weekly and monthly tests to assess learners’ progress and adjust learning objectives for the following week based on the results. Attendance is monitored daily and final assessments are conducted to determine learners’ eligibility to receive the programme completion certificate.
In addition, the project team of Ageing Nepal undertakes direct observations of learners’ confidence and interaction with other learners, and conducts home visits to interview the learners’ families in order to evaluate their achievements over the course of the programme.
Programme Impact and Challenges
Impact and achievements
Basic Literacy for Older Persons has had a considerable impact on the lives of the learners by improving literacy levels, boosting self-confidence, and building a supportive community.
Academic and Practical Achievements
The table below summarizes the academic and practical achievements of the learners after completion of the pilot phase (2016-2018).
|Academic Achievements- Leaners are able to:||Practical Achievements- Learners are able to:||
Testimonies and Impact Stories
The following personal stories also testify to the programme’s success:
“After the first few happy days in Kathmandu my illiteracy started to cause me real problems. I began to feel lonely, useless and ashamed of being dependent on others despite being physically fit. I could not go anywhere because of the fear of getting lost. I could not use electronic gadgets; recognize my medicine and so on. But now these problems are a thing of the past and I am a literate woman!” -Ms. Kamala Luitel, 60.
“I find it difficult to sit idle after a lifetime of hard physical labour. Here I do not need to do anything, but that makes me feel bored and restless. Children go to school, adults go to work, and I am left alone. All family members seem busy all the time. It is hard to find people to talk to. If I try to help my daughters-in-law with their household chores, they do not allow me to get involved, saying, “You don’t know...” It hurts. I feel ashamed, worthless and lonely. I was dependent on them even to see a doctor nearby, identify medicine, go shopping, make phone calls or change the TV channel - all small things that I could do myself if I were literate. However, that has all changed now. The basic literacy class has made me an independent and active woman again with lots of new friends. I got back my life, friends and freedom. These days I even help my great-grandchildren with their homework.” -Ms. Koushila Ghorshane, 78.
“We have a phone at home but I used to have to wait for a grandchild to come home from school and dial the number for me. I could not go shopping alone because I could not read signs or labels on the products nor understand the mathematics required. I was so dependent on my grandchildren that I sometimes wondered if I were more of a burden than a support to them. However, things have changed dramatically since I enrolled in the literacy class. Now I can use the phone, do simple addition and subtraction and read packet labels. I am no longer afraid to of getting lost when I go out alone because I can read signposts, street numbers, and the route numbers on buses. Not only this, I gained many friends to talk to and share my feelings with. Confidence building sessions have enabled me to put my opinion across strongly to a group of strangers. Now I can proudly say that I am supporting my grandchildren. All I need to learn now is how to use a computer like my grandchildren do”- Ms. Dhanamaya Khatiwoda, 71.
Officials from the government of Nepal have attended both the inauguration and closing ceremony of the Basic Literacy programme.
Although the programme has had an undoubtedly positive impact on the lives of learners in the local community, it has encountered cultural and infrastructural challenges.
The programme was designed for adult female and male learners, but so far, majority female learners have completed it. Two male learners were selected to be part of the initial cohort. However, they decided to drop out of the class because they felt uncomfortable being the only two men in the class.
The other challenge was a lack of adequate space to conduct the programme activities. By the end of the first week, the programme had gained so much positive attention in the nearby communities that a number of older people with no basic literacy skills who were not members of Shree Aashtabhuja Samaj requested to join. Due to limited space in the classroom, only 12 more learners were accepted onto the programme. Towards the end of the pilot phase, over 75 older females from the community also expressed an interest in participating in it.
As explained in this case study, Basic Literacy Class for Older Persons has evolved from a pilot phase in 2016 through to a replication phase in 2018. A number of key lessons from the pilot phase informed the replication phase.
Initially, it was difficult to identify interested potential learners due to a lack of awareness of the benefits of empowering older persons with basic literacy skills. During programme implementation, sporadic class attendance made it difficult to bring all learners to the same level. The facilitators identified giving effective instructions for pronouncing English words as the most challenging instructional task.
During the pilot phase, the literacy providers were not sufficiently informed about the specific cognitive challenges faced by people over 60 years of age. As the programme progressed, they realized that older people have different learning needs and require specific teaching and learning materials. The original approach was to develop all the materials and curriculum in advance. However, identifying the learners’ particular challenges allowed the course providers to develop learning materials specifically aligned to the learners’ needs, and to select a suitable time for the classes. In the replication phase, Ageing Nepal has shifted to a new approach of involving the learner’s right from the start in designing the programme.
The pilot project also revealed that older learners often have poor or deteriorating memory. This made it difficult for the facilitators to complete the planned learning objectives on time. For the replication phase, Ageing Nepal therefore decided to use the specially designed Nepali course book informed by the findings of emerging neurosciences of learning to read. The book and its methods proved very useful for promoting a more effective learning for early literacy adult learners. The pilot phase also made it clear that the classes were useful to older persons not only improve their basic literacy but also have other non-cognitive impact such as to avoid loneliness, prevent elder abuse, and help build a social network.
Other important lessons include involving local political and social leaders from the very beginning of the programme and getting them involved as much as possible in course activities. This helps local leaders to feel invested in the project, making them more likely to support the continuation of the programme after completion and/or to support its replication in another area of their jurisdiction.
After successful completion of the pilot project, Basic Literacy for Older persons has been replicated in four other areas of Kathmandu, reaching 180 older learners. All Basic Literacy classes now run with the financial support from local government. In the coming year, Ageing Nepal plans to replicate the programme in other areas as well.
As well as being committed to continuing the Basic Literacy programme, Ageing Nepal is dedicated to raising awareness of basic education for older persons in Nepal through advocacy campaigns. With support from the National Senior Citizens Fund and the Ministry for Women, Children and Senior Citizens, Ageing Nepal holds a Monthly Discussion Forum on Ageing (MDFA) to share research findings and experience on ageing-related issues in Nepal. The research is conducted by masters level students or professional researchers, and is supported by other organizations like Ageing Nepal. Ageing Nepal has supported 12 masters level students to write their thesis on ageing issues under the Ageing Research Fellowship (ARF). The aim is to develop MDFA into a national information centre providing valuable resources to academia, policy makers, programme implementers, and all stakeholders with an interest in the ageing population.
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Sanju Thapa Magar
HelpAge Global Network Member Yellow Gumba,