International Service - Literacy Projects

Literacy             PDG Dick Walker

Many programs to promote literacy in overseas countries have been developed in Australia.  Gifts and books and teaching aids have been a part of world community service activities since the 1950`s but it was not until 1979 that widespread work for literacy began as a unified Rotary program as part of RI President Clem Renouf`s “Reach Out” theme, developed through the 3-H program in association with UNESCO.

The Literacy in Thailand Project

The major campaign in Australia began in 1987 and was led by Dr Dick Walker of the Rotary Club of Salisbury, Queensland, a Past Governor of District 9630, a retired educationist and head of the Reading Research Centre in Queensland which had developed teaching methods that proved effective in all languages.
The advancement of literacy through sponsorship of teachers and by the use of volunteers has become another of the community service activities supported regularly by a large number of Clubs, but it is to Dick Walker that Rotary in Australia is indebted for the respect in which it is held for the advancement of literacy in Thailand, Bangladesh, the South Pacific, India, South America and Zimbabwe.
In the early 1980`s the Concentrated Language Encounter (C.L.E.) method of teaching was developed by a staff member of the Reading Research Centre in Brisbane and had been seen to be highly successful.  When Dick Walker was invited to Thailand to help Srinakharinwirot University  set up courses in the teaching of reading within a Masters program and also to develop a program at the University`s Elementary Demonstration School that he and a fellow Rotarian, Dr Brendan Bartlett were able to demonstrate C.L.E. literacy teaching.
Dr  Saowalak Rattanavich who was in charge of the program, and her colleagues at the University saw the C.L.E. methodology as a possible answer to Thailand`s seemingly intractable problem of gross school failure among the millions of illiterate subsistence farming families in the border provinces.  Dr Saowalak Rattanavich
Millions of these rural poor pack into slums around the large cities unable to participate in their country`s industrial progress because they lack the basic skills necessary for employment. In trials at the demonstration school, the teaching methods proved spectacularly successful.
A Matching Grant project in 1986 sponsored by the Rotary Club of Salisbury and District 9630 was approved to pilot the first year of a Thai language literacy program in four schools near the Cambodian border which was economically the poorest and educationally the most disadvantaged of the border regions.  Dick Walker worked with teachers and Government authorities in this region for two months as they learned and tested C.L.E. teaching.
Later in the year, in an independent evaluation, Rotarian John Chapman of the British Open University confirmed that the previously almost total failure had been replaced by a high success rate in the pilot schools and that the formerly negative attitude to school and learning had been completely reversed. 
The next phase of the program was to gain agreement between the University, Rotary in Thailand and education offices to develop a full elementary literacy program to be piloted in 40 schools and then help them to extend it to 1000 classrooms at each grade level across four provinces.  Local administrators and teacher trainers would be trained to go on extending the program and printed program materials would be provided.   When all parties had agreed to participate in a five year plan a $US 680,000 3-H Grant was approved by The Rotary Foundation for the “Literacy in Thailand Project”.
Dick Walker`s role now became that of consultant and contact person for the Rotary Foundation and until local expertise was developed he was the sole member of the Project team with experience and qualifications in large scale literacy program development.  He was called on to do a lot of hands on work.  The language barrier did not make his task any easier but he did receive outstanding support from 3-H Project Chairman Noraseth Patjhman and the District 3350 Governors of those years.
By 1989 the work was seen as so successful that the Thai Ministry of Education requested its extension to other regions of educational deprivation.  Rotary Clubs in Thailand raised funds to send the project team to train 27 teachers and supervisors to trial the program in the five provinces along the Malaysian border more than 1600 kilometres away.   Two months later the students in the trial schools were already far outstripping those in other schools.
In 1990 it was calculated that the cost of further developing the program in the areas of training teachers and teacher trainers and providing materials would cost $US 150,000.  Past District Governor of 9800 Jack Nankervis from Melbourne answered Dick`s call for help and co-ordinated the fundraising by Australian Rotary Clubs with a Matching Grant from The Rotary Foundation and a subsidy from The Australian International Development Assistance Bureau.
The Thai Rotary Clubs then funded the project team to train teachers in the hill tribe provinces of the far north where early success was followed by an announcement from the Ministry of Education that the 1992 – 1996 Plan for National Development would include the adoption of Dick Walker`s curriculum and methodology nationwide and he was asked for help to put two demonstration schools in every other province in Thailand during 1992.
As Dick rather modestly put it “The Project team in Thailand supplied that help without my involvement”.
In just four years of the five year program this literacy project had provided the means for Thai Rotarians, University personnel and Ministry of Education officials, by working together, to change the face of literacy education in their country.  They now had the program, the strategies, the demonstration schools and the expertise needed to complete the task.  Millions of children have benefited and millions more will become literate in the future.
Dick Walker went on to develop the teaching of English in Thailand using the same methods with the help of Jack Nankervis (again),   PDG Greg Ross from District 9800 who also played a major role, and PDG Dr Basil Shaw from District 9600 and his wife Beth