Communities of learning and action? : a case study of the human rights, democracy and development project, 1999-2005.
Enduring levels of illiteracy point to a long-term failure to address one of society's more solvable problems. The conditions giving rise to illiteracy are systemic and complex, but also deeply personal. Such conditions are invariably linked to histories of neglect, domination and injustice. Lying in a small, marginal space between limited, ongoing provision of adult basic education and training (ABET) from the South African state and industry, on the one hand, and state-led mass literacy campaigns, on the other, is the ABET work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This thesis examines a case of ABET within this alternative NGO sector at a time of heightened attention to the challenges of illiteracy in the global arena and a time of major transition in South Africa. It focuses on the Human Rights, Democracy and Development (HRDD) project in rural KwaZulu-Natal as a case of NGO-Ied ABET provision in community settings. The HRDD project attempted to combine ABET with livelihood and citizenship education. Its vision was to foster communities of learning and action. Using case study methodology within a critical paradigm, this study set out to critically document, narrate, analyse and theorise the practices, learning, and identity development within the HRDD project. The entire HRDD project serves as the unit of analysis for the case study. Data collection included 28 in-depth interviews with learners, educators and project partners and analysis of more than 100 project documents. The HRDD project provides opportunities to study adult learning and to examine a range of different types and purposes for learning. In this regard, the theories of Paulo Freire (1970; 1994), Jack Mezirow (1975; 1991), and Lave and Wenger (1999) are explored in setting up theoretical frames through which to understand and theorise learning in the project. The HRDD project provides an excellent opportunity to examine the processes of educator development within a community-based project and to examine the early stages of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1999; Lave, 1993) in which educators could learn the practice of "adult basic education" and find a network of support. A further theoretical frame which emerged during the process of the study and which showed relevance and promise for theorizing the relational and social network aspects of the study is Social Capital theory (Bourdieu, 1986; Putnam 2000; Coleman, 1990). This frame suggested the notions of depleted social capital and fracture as significant characteristics of the post-conflict status of the HRDD context. This thesis highlights the importance of paying close attention to the lives of learners and educators in educational projects and for viewing the project within the lives of learners and educators rather than viewing learners and educators in the life of the project. The thesis illuminates and contrasts such multiple perspectives and also highlights the importance of context and history as primary shapers of learning and action. This thesis ends with discussion of an emergent conceptual model of the HRDD project. The model contains four project dimensions, namely, learning, identity, personal transformation and social change. In addition, it includes four pedagogical devices, which are, reflection, dialogue, action and relationships. Finally, the model also reflects four major contextual factors, namely, poverty, patriarchy, power struggles and a post-conflict status. The concepts integrated in the model emerge from analyses and discussions throughout the thesis. The model is discussed as a summative device, as a heuristic and as a dialectic to outline several purposes which it serves in this study and could serve in future studies. The levels of struggle and fear which emerge through this case study present a portrait of life circumstances and learning contexts which are distinctly antidialogical and oppressive. The portrait also depicts several tenacious women who continue to struggle and learn in hope!