Literacy in the lives of domestic workers : investigating the impact of the adult English literacy curriculum on the lives of female adult learners.
This study draws on empirical evidence to examine theory on the critical question: "What is the impact of the English literacy curriculum on the lives of female adult learners?" I used the critical postmodernist and feminist lenses to examine the lived experiences of four Black African domestic workers and their journey through adult literacy. I used life history and autobiographical writings as the main methodological tools to uncover the biographical experiences of the learners. The postmodernist lens provided a framework to understand the changing identities and the complexities in the lived experiences of the learners. The critical and feminist theories provided the framework to understand the power relations and female oppression in a gendered society. Researching adult literacy in transforming, unstable and uncertain environments is methodologically complex and challenging. In these circumstances it is often serendipity that provides tools for discovery. Thus letter writing and 'in loco' visits into informal settlements provided me with thick description of the adult learners' life worlds, which would have otherwise been closed. In drawing up a literacy curriculum for adult learners the ‘in loco' visits became a vital source of information. A major impact of the adult literacy programme in this study is that it provided learners with a language of criticism, hope and one with which to analyse their social and material conditions. The narrative writing and class discussions gave learners the opportunity to reflect, to be critically conscious of their poverty, to act and dream of their emancipation. The autobiographies were voices for the voiceless learners, offering them a space to explore their feelings through story telling. The story telling opened up possibilities, which was not mere reflection but a complex process of making a difference in the world through diffraction. Autobiographical writing as a narrative form provided the discursive space for learners to become reflective, conscientized and intellectually emancipated. However, they were not always able to assert their empowerment, because of the dominant mediating factors such as economic power relations and socio-cultural contexts. Feminist and critical pedagogical approaches to mediating the curriculum can be emancipatory, in environments of poverty, oppression and powerlessness. Although learners attained critical consciousness and intellectual liberation, only two of the four were able to break the shackles of poverty. The English language created a triple bind for the adult female learners. The dominance of the English language in the global economy, has created demands on adult learners to acquire competency skills in English in order to function optimally in society. The hegemony of the English language led to discrimination, and created class stratification as well as social inclusion and exclusion for learners. They either felt alienated or accepted. This study showed that the dominant indigenous language within their own informal community also causes social inclusion and exclusion. The first dominant pull is that of the English language, the second is the dominant indigenous language from their own communities and finally they are caught with the need for their own language causing a threefold pull or push on the learners' identities, which I call a triple bind. The quest to acquire the dominant language also created schisms in the learners' identities. This research has shown that the chasm between policy intentions and implementation has not been bridged. The promises of equity, redress and social justice as enunciated in Adult Basic Education and Training (from here on referred to as ABET) policy documents are far from being realized. This study revealed that the Department of Education in KwaZulu-Natal placed too much emphasis merely on summative tests and certification and not on the needs of the adult learner. If adult education continues in the same direction there will be no good incentive to work towards a programme that has a direct impact on the lives of marginalized females in particular. The study suggests that ABET curriculum must be situationally relevant to make an impact on learners. The adult literacy curriculum should offer programmes for critical consciousness as well as vocational training for income generation.