The Family Literacy sub-project of the Global Research Translation Award is working with partners in four countries (Ethiopia, Nepal, Malawi and the Philippines) to develop a more sustainable, relevant and 'bottom-up' approach to family literacy.

750 million adults, two-thirds women, are reported to be illiterate in the world today. Adult literacy and learning has been referred to as the ‘invisible glue’ between the Sustainable Development Goals, yet in policy and practice is often seen as a low priority.

We embed literacy in people's everyday activities and use indigenous learning practices that can influence family well-being and livelihoods. In collaboration with UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the UEA UNESCO Chair partner universities in Ethiopia, Nepal, Malawi & the Philippines are carrying out comparative ethnographic studies on indigenous approaches to intergenerational learning and knowledge creation.

The project includes research-policy interaction and dissemination activities to engage international, national and local stakeholders. Its major objective is to bring policy makers' and educators' attention to the disjunction between current mainstream approaches to adult/family literacy instruction and the ways in which adults and children learn in everyday life in order to enhance the contribution of education to sustainable development.

The Family Literacy, Indigenous Learning and Sustainable Development Project is funded by the University of East Anglia's Global Research Translation Award (GRTA), a £1.36 million project to help tackle health, nutrition, education and environment issues in developing countries. The funding comes from the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), which seeks to fast-track promising research findings into real-world solutions. The project partners are University of Malawi, Malawi; Tribhuvan University Research Center for Educational Innovation & Development (CERID), Nepal; Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia; University of Santo Tomas, Philippines; and School of Education and Lifelong Learning and School of International Development, UEA, UK.

Family Literacy News

Family Literacy reports for Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal and the Philippines published for International Literacy Day


September 2021

The GRTA project partners have published reports on their in-depth research on family literacy and indigenous learning for International Literacy Day (8 September).

You can view the reports at the links below:

Family literacy synthesis report published


August 2021

The Family Literacy team are pleased to publish the synthesis report from research carried out through the Global Research Translation Award:

Family Literacy, Indigenous Learning and Sustainable Development: Ethnographic Insights from Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal and the Philippines (ISBN 9781870284028)

This report was written by members of the Family Literacy team of the UEA UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation and is the result of a rich process of research and reflection within our wider communities too. The synthesis report brings together the findings and analysis from the in-depth country research reports and literature review papers, which will be available soon on our website.

The country-specific sections of this report were developed by the following:
Malawi (University of Malawi)
Lead author: Dr Ahmmardouh Mjaya
Field research team (in addition to author): Dr Symon Chiziwa, Dr Jean Chavula and Alick Bwanali
Critical friend: Dr. Catherine Jere

Philippines (University of Santo Tomas)
Lead authors: Dr Gina Lontoc, Professor Camilla Vizconde, Professor Belinda de Castro
Field research team (in addition to authors): Fr. Romeo De Castro, SDB, Monette Bobila, Via Allyson Del Rosario
Critical friend: Dr. Chris Millora

Nepal (Research Centre for Educational Innovation and Development, Tribhuvan University)
Lead authors: Professor Sushan Acharya and Dr Kamal Raj Devkota
Field research team (in addition to authors): Dr. Surendra Giri, Dr. Binod Luitel, Mr. Deepak Khanal and Professor Anna Robinson-Pant

Ethiopia (Bahir Dar University)
Lead authors: Abiy Menkir Gizaw, Turuwark Zalalam Warkineh, Tizita Lemma Melka, Yeraswork Megerssa Bedada, Ermiyas Tsehay Birhanu
Critical friends: Dr. Sheila Aikman and Professor Anna Robinson-Pant

The first section of this report draws on the literature review led by Dr. Chris Millora and Hélène Binesse, with contributions by Dr. Ulrike Hanemann, Dr. Sheila Aikman and Professor Anna Robinson-Pant. The comparative analysis section of this report was written by Dr. Sheila Aikman and Professor Anna Robinson-Pant, in collaboration with the whole team. Dr. Catherine Jere and Dr. Ulrike Hanemann commented on the report as critical friends, particularly from a policy perspective.

Mentorship programme in the Philippines: Family Literacy and Intergenerational Learning


November 2020

The Family Literacy Team at University of Santo Tomas, the Philippines, have been running a mentorship programme during October and November 2020. It aims to provide a space for participants to share ideas, develop new skills in supporting families and empowering community members,  and discuss topics relating to families and wider community. 

Forty-seven participants from Vietnam, Nepal, Myanmar, and various parts of the Philippines  signed up for this programme. By the end of the mentorship, mentees are expected to produce any one of the following outputs: module, program plan, compendium of learning materials, or a research proposal. Each synchronous session takes two hours and is delivered via Zoom. Supplementary materials are also provided for asynchronous sessions. Session materials such as texts for offline reading, weblinks, practice exercises, participants’ outputs, and discussion boards can be accessed by both mentors and mentees via Google Classroom which serves as the learning management system (LMS) for the mentorship.  

Topics include the following:

  • Week 1 (October 1): Principles and concepts of family literacy, led by Camilla Vizconde, Ph.D. – University of Santo Tomas and Melanie Turingan, Ph.D. – University of Santo Tomas
  • Week 2 (October 8): Interaction and development among young and adult learners, led by Grace Reoperez, Ph.D.  - University of the Philippines
  • Week 3 (October 15): Parents’ literacy skills and young people’s psychosocial and literacy development, led by Therese Amita dela Cruz - Asian Psychological Services and Assessment Corp.
  • Week 4 (October 22): Numeracy work with families, led by Ronaldo Manalo, Ph.D. - University of Santo Tomas and Imelda Angeles, CPA, Ph.D. - University of Santo Tomas
  • Week 5 (November 5): Participatory Learning Approaches (PLA) and family literacy, led by Evalyn Abiog, Ph.D. – University of Santo Tomas and Christopher Millora – University of East Anglia
  • Week 6 (November 26): Project design, implementation, monitoring, and impact evaluation, led by Froilan Alipao, MCD  - University of Santo Tomas, Gina Lontoc, Ph.D. – University of Santo Tomas and Rosalie Quilicol – University of the Philippines
  • Week 7: Independent study and submission of outputs

Outputs of participants will be showcased in the third e-Forum scheduled on December 10, 2020.

Online Family Literacy mentorship sessions
Online Family Literacy mentorship sessions

Webinar debrief: Family literacy and indigenous learning - perspectives from Malawi, Nepal, Ethiopia and the Philippines


November 2020

The Family Literacy Team held a webinar on 19 October, 2020 to discuss some preliminary findings arising from ethnographic research in various communities, including in indigenous groups, in Malawi, Nepal, Ethiopia in the Philippines. The webinar had 195 registrations and 113 participants joined the event live. It was truly an international gathering as attendees came from 32 countries, 20 of those from ODA-recipient countries (see below). The recording of the webinar can be accessed here: 

Map showing location of webinar participants
Map showing location of webinar participants

*numbers indicate number of attendees

During the webinar, representatives from each country research team shared emerging themes from their fieldwork. Camilla Vizconde from the University of Santo Tomas (Philippines) kicked off the discussion with findings on how economic migration so common among Filipino households has led to shifting ‘gender roles’ in families including the role of digital literacy in facilitating such shift. In Malawi, the presentation by Jean Chavula (University of Malawi) showed how families in the Makinjira area in Malawi transfer farming practices from one generation to the next. In Nepal, Sushan Acharya from Tribhuvan University shared how reading and writing in the communities they researched with were closely linked with religious practices. For example, a teenager girl taught her younger siblings how to read the Quran and Islamic poetry in Arabic. In Ethiopia, the presentation by Abiy Menkir Gizaw from Bahir Dar University revealed how families attach different values to indigenous health practices as compared to ‘modern’ healthcare. 

During the discussion that followed, the audience picked up interesting similarities across all the case studies such as how health and agricultural practices were strongly gendered. There were also discussions on the tensions in ‘preserving’ indigenous practices but also navigating new tools of communication like the digital. Many questions were about the relevance of the findings in policymaking and programme development in family learning. To this end, there was a discussion on the potential value of recognising the practices and knowledge already existing in communities rather than only focusing on external interventions. There were also further questions that developed around the role of literacy in facilitating and supporting the changes that the research has documented and observed.

Title slide from the webinar

The webinar began with an introduction into the Family Literacy Project and the wider UEA GRTA project by Anna Robinson-Pant (Principal Investigator) and Chris Millora (Research Associate at UEA). Anna closed the event by sharing that the next steps of the project are to develop the dissemination and impact components through workshops with in-country and international policymakers. The teams are also set to develop video documentaries, training guides and other materials based on some findings.

The fruitful discussions during the webinar was also facilitated by a good mix of academics, including students, and practitioners. There were representatives from UNESCO offices/programmes in France (including Paris Headquarters), Senegal, Afghanistan and the Gambia; Japan International Cooperation Agency and Japan NGO Network for Education, Mercy Corps Nepal, Childfund International in the US, Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education and the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) among several others. There were also participants from the Universities of Herat (Afghanistan), South Australia, Woldia (Ethiopia), Muammadiyah Malang (Indonesia), National Dong Hwa (Taiwan), Glasgow and Oxford (UK).

One of the participants, Godfrey Sentumbwe of LABE (Literacy and Adult Basic Education) Uganda shared that some findings, particularly those from Nepal (siblings teaching each other), resonated with the common practice of children’s learning during early years in (rural) Africa. He said: “the take-away for (education) policy makers: building on this family tradition to enhance formal education both at home and in schools by adoption of child-to-child peer learning pedagogies. This should of course be built on family cultural knowledge and practices e.g. the story telling tradition in children's mother tongues to enhance mother tongue literacy education. Doing so would be good strategy towards building inclusive and sustainable education systems.”

This webinar is part of the Education and Development (EDU DEV) Public Seminar Series. The UEA School of Education and Lifelong Learning and the School of International Development run a joint research seminar series in the Autumn and Spring semesters. The seminars are open to all and aim to address issues within the fields of education and international development, and comparative education. The seminar series moves online this year - offering the opportunity to engage with a broader international audience interested in learning about new research in this area and sharing in our discussions.

UEA UNESCO Chair #FamilyLearning Photo Prize!


October 2020

Guidelines for the Family Learning Photo Competition

How are you and your family learning together during the COVID-19 pandemic?
What does literacy look like at home and in your community?

Post a photo depicting your answer to these questions, write a short description using the hashtags #FamiliesLearningTogether and #LiteracyInFamilies and tag @UNESCOChairUEA on Facebook or @UNESCOChair_UEA on Twitter.

Three winners of £100 each will be selected, one from each region where our UKRI-funded GRTA (Global Research Translation Awards) Project “Family Literacy, Indigenous Learning and Sustainable Development” is located: South Asia, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Shortlisted and prize-winning photos will also be featured in an international UEA UNESCO Chair literacy event in 2021.

The challenge is open until 16th November and shortlisting will follow after.

When taking your photos, please make sure that you have asked permission from the people in the photograph before posting them on social media.

For those photos selected to be featured in the UEA UNESCO Chair international literacy event, we will be asking you to fill out a Model Consent Form to indicate that you are happy that we use your photo for the event and other publicity.

We will be moderating posts associated with this challenge and will not tolerate any offensive comments/posts made. Any queries, please email:

Family literacy research methodology workshops in Nepal


August 2020

The Research Center for Educational Innovation & Development (CERID) in Nepal conducted their third Research Methodology Workshop in the last week of August and we are delighted to share this report on the event from the convenor, Dr. Kamal Raj Devkota:

This initiative targeted early career researchers/ faculty in the constituent campuses of Tribhuvan University located in rural settings and was part of a series of three capacity-strengthening activity funded by the UEA GCRF Rapid Response award. In total 30 participants from 11 different constituent colleges participated. There were three sessions, facilitated by Kamal Raj Devkota, Sambidhan Acharya, Padam Raj Pant, Rajen Kandel and Sushan Acharya, covering issues around designing and conducting research in online/ internet-mediated spaces.

As reflected by the participants, the sessions proved very fruitful and productive. Prof. Sushan Acharya highlighted how we came to organise such a workshop targeting the rural settings. She referenced UNESCO Chair, a partnership of six different universities led by UEA and highlighted the ongoing GCRF and GRTA projects and objectives of empowering the young researchers and faculties at partner universities. Dr. Surendra Giri, the Executive Director of CERID, expressed a vote of thanks to facilitators and participants, summed up the key parts of the sessions, and concluded that this sets the scene for future workshops. 

There is clearly a high demand for such workshops and our team has a challenge, as well as opportunities, to explore more on how we could better support academically those working in rural settings of Nepal. Overall, more than 150 people (students, PhD/M.Phil Scholars, and faculties) engaged in these workshops in Nepal.

UNESCO Chair Newsletter - June 2020 Issue


June 2020

Read about our recent UNESCO Chair activities – in Ethiopia, Malawi, the Philippines, Egypt, Nepal, the UK and online! This is a chance to find out more about our research project on ‘Family literacy, indigenous learning and sustainable development'. Click here for our latest newsletter

UEA UNESCO Chair team visit the University of Santo Tomas, Philippines


November 2019

Fourteen members of the UEA UNESCO Chair spent an action-packed week in Manila from 16th – 23rd November 2019.  We began the week with kick-off meetings and launch for the new GRTA Family literacy and indigenous learning project (which will take place in the Philippines, Nepal, Malawi and Ethiopia). On the 19th November, the UNESCO Chair Literacy Day focused on ‘Universities, adult  literacy and sustainable development: exploring the links’, followed by the annual UNESCO Chair review group meeting.

The first International Conference on Gender, Adult Literacy and Active Citizenship for Social Transformation (GALASCT) was organised by UST and the UEA UNESCO Chair from 20th – 22nd November and included the launch of a new network for literacy activists in the Philippines, called TRANSFORMARE. Keynote and plenary presentations were given by Anna Robinson-Pant, Sheila Aikman and Ulrike Hanemann from the UNESCO Chair team. The highlight of the week was the inspiring keynote presentation given by the Vice President of the Philippines, Leni Robredo, on ‘Creating sustainable communities through gender equality, inclusive education and improved livelihoods’ and based on her work with women entrepreneurs in poor rural communities. After the conference, the Nepal and Philippines UNESCO Chair team went for a field visit to Surigao, to explore alternative learning systems and ideas for family literacy. 

We would like to thank Dr. Gina Lontoc, Prof. Camilla Vizconde, Prof. Belinda De Castro and all their colleagues at UST for their warm hospitality and amazing organisation.

Family Literacy Blogs

“I found power to become part of a bigger mission” - how a mentorship programme made an impact in Asia


The GRTA Family Literacy project partners in the Philippines ran an online mentorship programme during October and November 2020. The organisers at University of Santo Tomas wanted to provide a space to share ideas, develop new skills in supporting families and to empower community members, all in relation to family literacy topics. This blog reflects on the impact of the programme.

Literacy practitioners, teachers and postgraduate students from across Asia signed up, with 47 people from Vietnam, Nepal, Myanmar and the Philippines taking part in six sessions covering topics such as parent’s literacy skills and participatory learning approaches. The sessions and the online classroom were delivered and moderated by a diverse set of local and international mentors including GRTA Family Literacy Project members Chris Millora (University of East Anglia) and members of the University of Santo Tomas Team (Gina Lontoc, Camilla Vizconde and Belinda de Castro) and members from Philippine Institutions including University of Santo Tomas (Melanie Turingan, Imelda Angeles, Ronaldo Manalo, Froilan Alipao and Evalyn Abiog), University of the Philippines (Marie Grace Reoperez and Rosalie Quilicol) and Asian Psychological Services and Assessment Corp (Therese Amita dela Cruz).

“I found power to become part of a bigger mission”

One participant reflected on what the Family Literacy project has prompted her to consider:
“The role of adult education is significantly critical in promoting “lifelong and lifewide learning”, especially in the innovation, collaboration, and sharing linkages in creating adult educational programs. As a post-graduate student, aspiring to become a full-fledged educator, the points raised are viably challenging – answering the question on “how” Higher Educational Institutions will deliver programs that will prompt the moral obligation of its educators and students for social transformation and community building.”

The participants were encouraged to carry out independent study and reflection following the six sessions before presenting their outputs at an e-forum held on 10 December 2020. The e-forum was the third in a series aimed at post-graduates working in the field of adult education, and was titled: Family Literacy Initiatives, what can be learned? Impact on policymaking and community program design and implementation. Some mentees used the Family Literacy framework developed by the GRTA project to build logic models for their target areas. The logic model is a visual representation of the interrelationship between project goals, activities, resources, and various factors that could impact the outcomes of the family literacy programme. In the e-forum they outlined how they will use these models to help guide their interaction with communities they are working with. Some mentees were inspired to produce creative outputs, for example one mentee created a painting and a poem to describe her experience of the mentorship programme. Bernadine Ann V. Obial has kindly agreed to share these on this blog (see below).

The online mentorship programme and the series of e-forums hosted by the University of Santo Tomas have proved to be a valuable resource for post-graduates, teachers, researchers and practitioners working in the field of adult education. The pandemic has created many challenges, but also an opportunity to move collaboration and learning into a digital space which has enabled a wider range of participants to engage. The involvement of participants from different countries and backgrounds, coupled with speakers and tutors from the five GRTA partner countries, enriched the discussions and expanded the learning opportunities. The participants will move on from these programmes with a firm grounding in Family Literacy approaches and a diverse network of peer support for their career development going forwards. 

The Giving Hand (painting and poem)
By Bernadine Ann V. Obial (Mentee) 

I have always thought I didn’t have it in me to be proactive in my community 
I always believed my role was so small and insignificant 
There are days I felt I had no voice, there were moments I doubted the strength of my soul. 
I felt empty, distant and powerless. 
One day, my perspective was suddenly changed 
Who would have known that all it takes for metanoia was just a single moment, a fleeting moment. 
Just like seeing for the very first time, I saw pure bliss manifested through compassion in action. 
I saw a giving hand contribute to the community; I saw empathy, generosity, understanding and tolerance. 
That act of love had no borders, no boundaries dictated by men, free from judgement of race, gender, religion and inequality.  
I was suddenly enveloped by great love and a burning desire to also become a giver, driven by a great force to move and pay it forward.  
I was inspired to inspire others into also becoming givers and movers. 
I am fully aware that a single act of kindness cannot change the world overnight but deep in my heart, I knew that with a thousand giving hands ready to do acts of love and spread kindness, this world will transcend. 
The voiceless will be heard 
The marginalized will be recognized and included 
Families and communities will work together, with one goal and one aspiration. 
In the end, I realized that solution comes from a collective decision and action. I found power to become part of a bigger mission, 
To help transform the world into a place full of giving hands ready to lead and serve. 

This blog was written by Gina Lontoc (Associate Professor at University of Santo Tomas, Philippines), Chris Millora (Research Associate at UEA) and Hannah Gray (Project Officer at UEA) on 12 January 2021.

University of Santo Tomas, Philippines, hosts two Family Literacy e-Forums


The Family Literacy Team at University of Santo Tomas (UST), Philippines, hosted two e-Forums on Adult Education in September 2020.

The first e-Forum was held on 3 September 2020. Around 60 participants from the USA, Nepal, Vietnam, UK, Myanmar, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, and the Philippines attended this event with the theme, Adult Literacy Programs and Family-Centered Practices in Community Building: Revisiting the Roles of Philippine Higher Education

This was in response to challenges posed by communities to provide access to education, whether formal or non-formal, to all members of society. The program started with welcome messages from Rev. Fr. Napoleon Sipalay, Jr., O.P., the Prior Provincial, Dominican Province of the Philippines and from Rev. Fr. Victor Calvo, Jr., O.P., the Chairperson of the Asia-Pacific Dominican Promoters of Justice, Peace & Care of Creation. This was followed by the talk of Professor Anna Robinson-Pant, Ph.D. who is the UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation at University of East Anglia (UEA), UK. The theme of her talk was Family literacy as a pathway to lifelong learning. She emphasised the need to strengthen the role of the Higher Education sector in reimagining the landscape of education, particularly in advocating intergenerational learning. She also emphasised that lifelong learning is the integration of learning and living and is for people of all ages, and may be done in a variety of modalities. 

Screenshot of the e-forum on family literacy

The program continued with presentations from various Higher Education institutions which discussed  the status of adult literacy programmes implemented in their institutions alongside the discussion of challenges, issues and future directions for adult education and intergenerational learning. Invited members of the panel were Dr. Arceli M. Amarles of the Philippine Normal University,  Dr. Ma. Joahna Mante-Estacio of De La Salle University, Dr. Grace Reoperez of University of the Philippines, and Asst. Prof. Froilan Alipao of the University of Santo Tomas. 

The second e-Forum was conducted on 17 September 2020 with the theme Families and sustainable communities: the role of family literacy in meeting the SDGs, with 112 participants from the UK, Nepal, Vietnam, Myanmar, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, and the Philippines. This online forum explored the nature of family literacy and its role in meeting the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Dr. Ulrike Hanemann served as the keynote speaker and the theme of her talk was Promising experiences of intergenerational approaches to literacy teaching and learning at the international level. She emphasised the need to make learning relevant and useful for adult learners through integrated programmes,  such as embedding literacy and numeracy, or linking the programme with social and health services.  She also added that learning through community-oriented projects, recruiting facilitators from the learners’ community, and choosing topics in collaboration with local communities are useful strategies in intergenerational learning.

There were also guest speakers from different institutions who underscored the need to expand the definition of family learning taking into consideration the social context of families, and looking into the aspect of gender, environmental, ecological, and indigenous practices to address learning within sustainable communities. Invited members of the panel were Professor Sushan Acharya, Ph.D.,  Professor of Education from Tribhuvan University, Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Nepal, Ms. May Cinco, National Coordinator of E-Net Philippines, and Christopher Millora, Chairperson of the British Association for Literacy in Development (BALID) and PhD Scholar to the UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation, UEA.

Screenshot of the e-forum speakers

These online events are spearheaded by the UST Family Literacy Team (Dr. Gina Lontoc, Prof. Camilla Vizconde, and Prof. Belinda de Castro) under the UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation at the University of East Anglia and in partnership with the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas, UST Research Center for Social Sciences and Education (RCSSED), and the  Asia-Pacific Dominican Promoters of Justice, Peace & Care of Creation. 

This blog was written by Gina Lontoc in September 2020.

Families learning together: reflections from Malawi and Ethiopia


To mark this year’s International Day of Families, members of the UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation share emerging findings and reflections from ongoing research in Ethiopia and Malawi for the Global Research Translation Award's (GRTA) Family Literacy, Indigenous Learning and Sustainable Development project.

In a rural area of Malawi to the south of Liwonde Forest Reserve lives a community which relies largely on selling forest produce to earn an income. The people of Group Village Person Mjombo*, as this area is called, have been selling wild mushrooms for generations to supplement their farming.It is 6:20 am and Afadi, Ms. Mwenye and Ms. Suwedi set off for the forest to hunt for mushrooms. In single file,they climb the Milenje hills through the forest, eventually reaching the summit drenched in the morning dew.

When the search for mushrooms begins, Ms. Asiyatu and her son appear on the scene. The boy is carrying a bucket in which the pair are putting their mushrooms, and he also helps his mother in hunting for them. When he finds a mushroom, he hands it over to her. Ms. Asiyatu carefully examines the mushroom and checks whether it is edible or not. The boy is visibly happy when his mother confirms that his mushroom is edible. Afadi, Ms. Mwenye and Ms. Suwedi explain that they first learned everything about the mushrooms in the same way when they accompanied their mothers, aunts and grandmothers to the forest. They learned all the different names, how to harvest and take care of the mushrooms. Back at home, they put their mushrooms in plates and display them along the main road for sale.

In Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, family members sit in a circle waiting for the coffee to brew. Mr. Bizuneh–who works at a factory as a security guard –has a big family with nine children, four of whom live with him, his wife and their three grandchildren. This family is very sociable.Everyday, they host a revolving coffee ceremony with four other neighbouring families. This is a common cultural practice in Ethiopia but declining in urban areas, perhaps due to a more individualistic lifestyle. The ceremony starts around 4:30 PM every day, with people of different ages taking part.

As the ceremony takes over an hour or longer, the neighbours chat about their daily lives, moving from a topic to another, interrupted just by a crying child, a sneeze or announcement of a Facebook post by an attendee. Younger members of the family have smart phones with internet access, which provides them all with a wider perspective on current national and global issues. During the coffee ceremony day at Mr. Bizuneh’s house, the hot topic was coronavirus, how quickly it’s spreading, and  how to mix different herbs to protect themselves against COVID-19.

Across these contrasting contexts in Ethiopia and Malawi –and our earlier accounts from Nepal and the Philippines–we see how families are learning together, across generations, about a variety of issues and topics. In Mr. Bizuneh’s house, much of this learning is spontaneous and informal –what is learned (and how it is learned) is shaped differently everyday,depending on who sits in the circle and partakes in the coffee ceremony.It is fascinating to see how conversations in these small, community-based spaces often reflect global concerns particularly the COVID-19 pandemic (more on this in our other blog). In the Malawi story, family learning is tightly linked with livelihoods,similar to our findings in Nepal and the Philippines. Ms Asiyatu’s son understands early on what types of forest mushrooms are edible and can later be sold.Manyof these intergenerational learning activities are embedded within wider indigenous practices in these communities.

Yet  learning extends beyond the so-called  nuclear family. In Malawi,mushroom hunting is a community venture–women and children from different families take an early trip up the forest together, sharing stories on the way. In Ethiopia, too, families learn from and with each other through the coffee ceremonies. Gathering communities together from different generations invigorates the space for learning –younger ones bringing their phones to access news and information on the internet and older members sharing their experience and knowledge.

As a team, we are continually reflecting on these emerging themes from our ongoing fieldwork in Nepal, Malawi, Philippines and Ethiopia. In the process, our discussions are also generating more questions for further exploration: What do we mean by ‘indigenous’ literacy practices and texts, and how do these differ between cultural contexts?How do younger and older generations view the everyday literacy and learning practices that they engage in?How do sectors outside education, particularly health and agriculture, draw on indigenous knowledge and intergenerational learning?How could Government and NGO family literacy programmes and policy build on and incorporate indigenous literacy and learning practices?

We hope that in sharing these reflections, we encourage you to join the conversation and/ or start one in your own communities!

This blog was written by Ahmmardouh Mjaya, Symon Chiziwa, Abiy Menkir Gizaw, Turuwark Zalalam Warkineh, Yeraswork Megerssa Bedada, Tizita Lemma Melka, Anna Robinson-Pant and Chris Millora on 15 July 2020.

*All names used in this blog are pseudonyms

Covid-19: A turning point for health literacy? Comparing initiatives in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nepal, The Philippines and the UK


How are poorer communities around the world finding out what COVID-19 is and what to do?

From public demonstrations of hand-washing and loudspeaker vans giving out advice, to TeleMedicine education and Facebook chatrooms, we have been sharing reflections on how people are learning about and engaging with COVID-19 in our contrasting contexts of Nepal, Malawi, Ethiopia, the Philippines and the UK. Working together on a research project about family literacy and indigenous learning, we realised that our exploration into how people pass on knowledge and skills informally within families and communities – including mediating health messages – takes on a new significance in the current crisis.

A van with loudspeakers transmitting COVID-19 information to public in Ethiopia
A van with loudspeakers transmitting COVID-19 information to public in Ethiopia. Source: Bahir Dar University

Comparing our different contexts, we found that the sources and means of communication differed greatly. In a township in Malawi, for example, a van goes around the community to play songs about COVID-19 and how one can minimise the risk of getting infected. This strategy is particularly popular in rural areas where access to information – especially online – is constrained. In stark contrast, were our observations in the Philippines, where Facebook use is so widespread. Families have online chat groups sharing Facebook posts, news, articles, tweets and photos about COVID-19 from a variety of sources – and at times, unverified. In Ethiopia, we found a combination of both – families learn about COVID through TV, radio, text messages and social media but also ‘offline’ through big speakers on vehicles that roam around markets and gathering places. In Nepal, Hindu practices around mourning for a dead relative, childbirth and menstruation already involve strict social distancing and hygiene practices – which makes us wonder whether and how current advice on how people can stay physically distant could be linked to and build on what people already know, believe and practise.

A yellow banner containing COVID-19 related information put up by a Muslim youth group in one of the streets of Zomba, Malawi
A yellow banner containing COVID-19 related information put up by a Muslim youth group in one of the streets of Zomba, Malawi. Credits: Ahmmardouh Mjaya.

In the other three countries too, we found that indigenous and religious practices play a variety of roles in how people respond to COVID-19. In some parts of Ethiopia, we witnessed how priests fumigate the streets with incense, and in other parts, individuals kneel in prayer with the hope of ‘combatting’ the spread of virus in urban areas. In a village in Malawi, a Muslim youth group put up large banners in the streets with information on the virus and the importance of washing hands. In the Philippines, Catholic masses – with specific prayer intentions towards healing and protection – are livestreamed via Facebook and watched by thousands of devotees. In certain rural areas in Nepal, the Katuwal (village messenger) shouts from the top of the hills to deliver information about COVID-19. The Katuwal is well-respected in many communities – especially among Indigenous peoples – in sharing ‘life-saving’ information.

Rosary Hour in a Catholic church in Manila, Philippines livestreamed via Facebook and viewed by around 7,500 people
Rosary Hour in a Catholic church in Manila, Philippines livestreamed via Facebook and viewed by around 7,500 people. Screenshot by: Gina Lontoc.

While approaches to sharing COVID-19 related information varied across the contexts we work, we found that, in some ways, the challenges seemed quite similar and raised the question: do religious and cultural practices have to be seen only as a problem or a barrier to change? Whether this is about handshake greetings  (Malawi), Hindu funeral rites involving social isolation (Nepal), eating a mixture of herbs (Ethiopia) or live online prayer to secure God’s protection (Philippines), the tensions between indigenous practices and formal health advice have never been so apparent.

One of the government notices on COVID-19 in Nepal.

One of the government notices on COVID-19 in Nepal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted an urgent need for people to engage actively and critically with the latest health education information and the news more generally. Now confined to our homes, we realise how much we rely on family members and our immediate communities to discuss together and begin to understand the complexity of COVID-19. Within the countries where we are working, Government and NGO health educators have long relied on a top-down didactic approach to ‘preaching’ about the benefits of improved hygiene, nutrition and sanitation to poorer communities. Yet there remains the challenge of ‘translating’ this information into meaningful learning for families and communities that takes account of their everyday lives. Now faced with the current crisis, we have found that a greater diversity of people and organisations are taking on the role of educators within their communities – both online and face-to-face, whether through posters, social media discussions or handwritten notices.

As researchers, we are looking closely at what is happening on the ground and the role that critical health literacy – learning to distinguish fact from fiction – could play in the current crisis. There is now a real urgency to develop new approaches to family literacy and learning that can contribute to raising critical awareness and community action.

This blog was written by Sushan Acharya, Sheila Aikman, Helene Binesse, Symon Chiziwa, Kamal Raj Devkota, Abiy Menkir Gizaw, Ulrike Hanemann, Catherine M Jere, Gina Lontoc, Yeraswork Megerssa, Ahmmardouh Mjaya, Chris Millora, Anna Robinson-Pant and Turuwark Zalalam Warkineh on 5 May 2020, and originally published by UKFIET.

Problematizing the ‘Solution’ of Printed Materials


The family literacy research team of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Philippines is exploring the role of local and indigenous knowledge systems in promoting family literacy and lifelong learning.

This project is part of the Global Research Translation Award (GRTA) project which investigates how family literacy can build on indigenous learning in order to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is based on participatory action-oriented research on family literacy and indigenous learning in the four partner countries (Ethiopia, Nepal, Philippines, Malawi) of the UNESCO Chair in Adult Literacy and Learning for Social Transformation.

 Women farmers on rice fields in San Jose, Nueva Ecija, Philippines
Women farmers on rice fields in San Jose, Nueva Ecija, Philippines

Pinili, in the city of San Jose, Nueva Ecija province, is one of the focus areas of this project. In this rural community, literacy is an important part of their everyday livelihood practices. When our team visited the houses of women farmers, we observed that participants’ engagement with written texts is driven by what is useful for them in terms of daily survival of their families and their participation in community activities. We expected that a lot of these texts would be coming from their main livelihood – farming.

Being in the so-called ‘rice granary’ of the country, we expected to see how participants utilised written information to enhance their farming technology, to increase their farm production, and to market their farm produce. However, there seemed to be a lack of availability of texts where they could access information that concerns their livelihoods.

Ate Zoria, for instance, when we visited her, was busy sorting out documents as part of her role as parent leader in the barangay (village). She keeps records of members and papers of the association. Her activities revolve around three aspects – association work, learning support for her grandchildren (she acts as their tutor), and agricultural activities with her husband and son.

Another farmer, Ate Rosalia, is engaged in backyard gardening, which is the major source of the family’s livelihood. Since she lost her husband a year ago, her children have been helping her with planting and selling vegetables such as squash, string beans, gourds and tomatoes. Each time she goes out to sell vegetables, she carries with her a blue bag filled with flyers and brochures. These printed materials are not agriculture-related but promotional texts which she distributes in her new job as an agent for motorcycle loans. The income she earns from sales’ commission is of a huge help to her family as she also took the responsibility of raising her grandson who lost his mother (Ate Rosalia’s daughter) while giving birth to him.

 Women farmers taking notes during a literacy session

Women farmers taking notes during a literacy session

There are government agencies that provide livelihood trainings to their community. However, we found a scarcity of printed materials that participants could use to supplement their learning. According to one agency, the government spends a lot on the production of printed materials but these papers are just used by people to pack smoked fish. Most of our participants rely on oido or self-taught skills. We learned that intergenerational learning takes place through observation and hands-on participation as members do not document their livelihood practices.

 UST family literacy researcher during home visitation
UST family literacy researcher during home visitation

So, is academic or ‘school’ literacy the key to improving livelihoods? Does it recognise people’s traditional practices which might be more relevant in fulfilling their tasks? Or does it devalue people whose existing everyday literacies escape the mainstream livelihood know-how? In the eyes of rural communities, reading leaflets could be considered a waste of time, and information may also be obtained through observation or simple consultation with local experts. Instead of using materials written in an unfamiliar language, they tend to resort to tantyahan practice or the art of rough estimation.

People learn by doing but they could also explore other ways to support and sustain their learning and their everyday application of new knowledge. One way is through mobile devices. Families we visited have access to mobile technology and we have observed that the younger generation, as digital natives, assist their parents in processing digital information. Moreover, community workers could utilize indigenous ways of passing on information which include oral tradition such as storytelling or narratives, songs and performances. People could also build on information shared by elders and key figures in the community. Lastly, instead of using primers or manuals in literacy learning programmes, realia or real objects, texts, and real scenarios can be used. This creates a learning experience which is more interesting and relevant to participants.

This blog was written by Gina Lontoc, Camilla Vizconde and Belinda de Castro on 27 April 2020, and originally published by BALID.

Families learning together: reflections from Nepal and the Philippines


In this blog, researchers from the GRTA Family Literacy, Indigenous Learning and Sustainable Development project reflect on emerging findings from ongoing field research in Nepal and the Philippines. This first instalment focuses on insights from our teams in South and South-East Asian regions. Look out for our second instalment from our teams based in Africa (Malawi and Ethiopia)! 

One morning in a hill district in Eastern Nepal, a family is busy preparing local wine. Phulmaya Rai*, now in her seventies, first learned this with her mother and is passing her skills onto her children. Her eldest son looks after a boiling pot of grains with his wife. Phulmaya’s daughters prepare the yeast while her youngest son collects chito (a plant used to prepare yeast) from their home garden.  Once they start selling the wine in the weekly market place, her daughter-in-law will keep the records and accounts. In this indigenous community, wine brewing has traditionally been women’s specialism and an important source of income that they can control. 

In a small town on the plains near the Indian border, fourteen-year old Rubina stands tall and confident on the verandah of her house, reciting Islamic prayers and devotional songs in Urdu. Sitting on a large string bed next to her are ten young girls and boys who come every evening to learn with her – their ‘big sister’ teacher as they call her.  They go to a Government school by day, studying in Nepali language. Crouching over their books in the dim light, they spell out the Arabic letters and wait for ‘big sister’ to correct them. During the daytime, her sister Laila sews clothes for the family, taking measurements down in English as she has seen the local tailor doing.

Miles away in the Philippines, Ate Zoria prepares three sets of math workbooks on a wooden table. She complains that schools in their farming community don’t give enough homework to pupils, so she makes sure that her grandchild will have school work to do at home. At times, these math tasks are helpful for her too as she is the president of their farming association and has to deal with accounting of funds from time to time. 

Just like these families in Nepal and the Philippines, many others around the world engage in learning and literacy activities in their homes and communities as part of everyday life. By contrast, we observed that family literacy programmes in most countries tend only to focus on the learning of children so that they can engage better in schools. Our GRTA family literacy project aims to develop an alternative model of Family Literacy based on the intergenerational and indigenous learning already taking place among children and adults.  

Through wine-making, the Nepali family above are learning from each other across and between generations. Mothers and mothers-in-law teach their daughters and daughters-in-law in preparing marcha (yeast) for the wine. The daughters use their literacy and numeracy skills to strengthen the business. In the Philippines, we observed three generations of men in an indigenous community coming home from a day of fishing. They shared that it is common practice for young boys to accompany their father or grandfather as apprentices during these fishing trips. They are taught to make traditional, hand-crafted fishing tools. 

We also found that the ‘transmission’ of knowledge is not always one-way, from the (grand)parent to the child. Ate Zoria also learns from her grandchild as they share the math activity workbook together. She is able to apply what she has learned in her other tasks as an organisation leader, particularly, in preparing financial documents. From Phulmaya in Nepal, we see that family learning is deeply connected with her family’s livelihood – to be better at wine-making means more income for the family. For Rubina, learning literacy together is an essential part of her Muslim faith and she is respected by her family as an informal teacher. These instances show that learning within families is often closely linked with other activities in their daily lives such as farming, fishing, tailoring, wine-making, gardening, running local organisations and religion. 

Over the next few months, the research team will be comparing these practices with those documented from Malawi and Ethiopia to develop a more bottom-up approach and model of Family Literacy which connects with livelihood opportunities in sectors such as agriculture and health. 

*all names used in this blog are pseudonyms 

This blog was written by Kamal Raj Devkota, Sushan Acharya, Gina Lontoc, Camilla Vizconde, Belinda de Castro, Chris Millora and Anna Robinson-Pant on 15 April 2020. 

Family Literacy Videos

Family Literacy and Indigenous Learning - Perspectives from Malawi, Nepal, Ethiopia and the Philippines


On 19 October 2020, over 100 people from 32 countries joined this webinar, which you can watch anytime:

Family Literacy and Indigenous Learning - Perspectives from Malawi, Nepal, Ethiopia and the Philippines