THE ADULT EDUCATION UNIT was established in 1986 with staff of one, the coordinator being Deborah Dalrymple. The staff was later increased to include two field officers. The Unit was literally started 'from scratch', as there was no allocation for any other resources. Thanks to the UNESCO Secretary General, we were able to secure some funding from the Organisation of American States (OAS).
At that time the St. Vincent Union of Teachers ( SVUT) had already been at work in Kingstown, following the successful pilot project in Paul's Avenue. The Rose Hall Working Group was conducting adult literacy classes in Rose Hall, and JEMS was involved in providing this same service at the Brighton and Stubbs schools, targeting the south-eastern area of the country. There were other smaller initiatives in other locations and the first order of business was to forge linkages with these groups and organisations, to develop a proper understanding of adult education programmes in the country and to plan the programme, which would emanate from the Ministry of Education.
Programme activities were primarily designed to:
Mobilise communities to establish adult literacy programmes, thereby increasing the number of programmes offered;
Strengthen and support those initiatives which already existed;
Provide training for facilitators/teachers in Adult Education methodology;
Liaise with skills training providers, in order to enhance the quality of programmes offered at community level;
Provide field support for local efforts;
Secure funding to subsidise the voluntary efforts taking place in communities;
The decision was taken to forgo the establishment of an Adult Education Council, since the National Association for Mass Education, (NAME), had begun the process of forming a coalition of groups, which were already active in the field. Given the paucity of resources, there was no need to duplicate the efforts of the non-governmental sector.
A relatively successful relationship developed between the Unit and NAME, which resulted in reciprocal support for each others' work and collaboration in joint activities - for example, the annual celebration of Adult Literacy Day on September 8th. The Adult Education Unit, however, initiated the Inter-Ministerial Committee, which sought to bring together all the Government Departments involved in the 'teaching' of adults. This committee serves as a clearing house for programme ideas and members were cognisant of what was being offered in which community. This went a long way towards avoiding the duplication of efforts. Departments were sensitised to the crucial role that literacy plays in the meeting of their own objectives in delivering material to the target population.
Departments such as the Health Education Unit, the Extension Division, Forestry, Women's Affairs, and the Labour Department were asked to join with the Unit in this venture.
Fraternal relationships were established with colleagues in Grenada, St. Lucia, Dominica and Jamaica. There were many opportunities for training and sharing of experiences. Many evenings would find the staff of the Adult Education Unit in villages: assessing the needs of fledgling programmes; observing programmes; providing hands-on training; or mobilising communities. In addition to the organisations already mentioned, groups thrived in Chateaubelair, Rosebank, Troumaca, Spring Village, Buccament/Penniston, Green Hill, Richland Park, Greggs, Lauders/Lowmans, and Fancy. Town meetings and rallies were a regular feature of programme activities, as participants, facilitators and other interested persons shared ideas and provided moral support. The relationships which grew out of this movement are still valued today, even though many of the persons involved may have moved on to other pursuits.
The early Adult Education Movement was, by and large, a voluntary effort. It owed its success to the large number of individuals, many of whom were teachers in the formal education system who gave of their time and energy with no hope of monetary recompense. Their tremendous sacrifice and commitment cannot be overstated.
The temptation is great to begin listing names, so that these persons can be acknowledged. Time, however, must be taken to acknowledge the stalwart service of the late Camelita Williams, of the SVUT/New Horizons Adult Education Programme. It is indeed sad that the promise of those early heady days of the Adult Education Movement has not come to fruition. Many of the Adult Education groups are now defunct. There does not appear to be the same need for focus on Adult Literacy since increased access to primary and secondary education.
A National Literacy Assessment (NLA) was completed in 2002. This NLA was the first one of its kind since the Fordham Report of the 1970's. This NLA suggested that one person out of every five Vincentians has a problem with literacy.
However, with the many educational initiatives that have been taken since 2002 including the National Adult Literacy Crusade Project 2005-2007, another NLA is now needed.