Tuesday 24 June 2014

Blog Every Day in June Day 24 : Functional Illiteracy Workshop -Sweden

Today's guest contributor is Lara Lopez Boronat, a Spanish information professional. 
Earlier this month she attended a workshop in Sweden looking at the role libraries play in improving literacy. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Lara!  -Maria Savvidis

After completing my studies in Spain, I worked in Spain and Berlin. My current role is as a Library Assistant in the Information and Reference Library in Richmond (London) and requires a lot of IT training for people from the Borough and beyond. We mostly provide courses about Internet searching, iPads and Tablets, database queries and eBooks.

Twenty library and information professionals (including myself) were selected from around Europe to attend the Functional Illiteracy Workshop in Botkyrka (Stockholm, Sweden), promoted by the European Union Grundtvig ProgrammeI was interested in attending the workshop to enhance my knowledge and skills in information literacy and to find out what other European professionals are also doing in this area.

Over five days we discussed the role of libraries in society and in the provision of literacy skills, as well as focusing on the creation of an European network to share best practices and cooperation in between us.

Botkyrka, where the workshop was held, is the county in Sweden with a large percentage of immigrants. Libraries are essential in the process of teaching Swedish to refugees and immigrants. Although the Swedish government provides free courses for the Swedish language, libraries support this leaning with further activities and materials such as easy reading books, meeting groups and afternoon tea talks.

It surprised me the importance that Swedish professionals give to the learning in their own language. During the lectures, different people emphasized the essential right for immigrants of studying in their mother tongue, as well as also learning the Swedish language. The library where the workshop was held had a huge collection of books in more than 50 languages, and some library professionals speak more than two languages.

Lectures during the workshop were based mostly around immigration and its issues, as well as theory about the definition and variables of literacy. After a few discussions we all agreed that literacy is not only to learn how to write and read, but to be able to make functional activities in our daily life. We learnt how teachers use colours, images and visiting places with their pupils to make them proactive learners. 

We had great examples of literacy programmes, such as Livstycket. Here female immigrants are the main focus of the activities which include sewing, embroidery and textile printing; this is also combined with theoretical education in Swedish, social studies and IT. The key point of these activities is to work on their confidence by giving them practical skills that they can use in a variety of situations. 

Easy-reading newspapers are also trending in Sweden. They focus on people that are learning Swedish and people with learning disabilities and adapt the daily news to their comprehension level. For example, politicians’ campaigns are full of rhetoric and difficult to understand the meaning of every message. In these newspapers they make the messages understandable and direct. There is also a webpage where you can comment about the news and ask questions to politicians. 

In the afternoons, the group got together to speak about the lectures that we had in the morning and to create a European network of literacy professionals, our main aim. We talked about how to cooperate within our institutions to create a network of information professionals for literacy programmes. We also shared experiences and best practices to take ideas and to adapt them to our workplaces.

For me, the best idea I found in these talks was the “Dog reading” activity. In Ljubljana (Slovenia) children read books aloud to a real dog. In this way, they practice their reading skills and they improve their communication skills while at the same time they have fun.

Now that the workshop is over, we have to work in the network development. We have called it “Literacy for all -European Library Network”. At the moment we are working to compile everything from the workshop week and to make it public. This is the blog where we will be writing: http://functionalilliteracy.org/ and soon there will be more tools to share information with you.

To sum up this exciting week, libraries must be the soul of the community, not only providing traditional services but supporting the development and skills of migrants and people with learning difficulties. Literacy is the key to this improvement, people are not illiterate because they are poor, people are poor because they are illiterate.

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