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In May 2014, Bayer Crop Sciences announced that it is collaborating with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) on a new initiative to train Filipino rice farmers on better farm practices, technologies, and financial skills. Comprehensive Learning Solutions provided the financial education training on behalf of the IFC.

Financial literacy training (or financial education, as it is now called) has become a hot topic in the world of international capacity development. By teaching those with limited incomes how better to manage that money, and to understand how the business cycle works, it is hoped that they will be better able to break the debt cycle.

Many small farmers face the same challenge: they need money to buy the supplies to grow their crops, but they do not have sufficient resources or records to get a bank loan. As a result, they often rely on loan sharks. If they are able to get a loan, they frequently do not pay it back, and do not realize the dangers of default. One of the goals of financial education is to help them make better decisions about budgeting, spending, and borrowing so they do not fall into a costly spiral of ongoing debt.

The Philippines is a pretty good place to start a financial education program because most of the farmers are fairly literate. Since basic finance involves addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, most farmers can handle the math. The new challenge facing this field is how to train in countries where the farmers are mostly illiterate? This is not a philosophical question. Many development agencies, financial institutions, and food companies who source raw material from developing nations are trying to answer this very question.

Comprehensive Learning Solutions faced that literacy challenge in India when trying to teach farmers in some of the poorest and least educated parts of the country how to grow Eucalyptus trees as a crop. Most of these farmers only attended school until they were 13 years old, and many did not even attend regularly due to family financial pressures. Like most illiterate or nearly illiterate people, they rely on their eyes and ears to learn what they need to know to survive. Like so many other people who drop out of school, they are not comfortable sitting in a classroom for a long time. So how did we teach an audience which has trouble reading and which has short attention spans tthe complexities of farm forestry? We

  • Used videos to show and tell.
  • Relied more on pictures and less on words.
  • Paused the video every 10 minutes to ask review questions that checked understanding.
  • Added discussions to address the real issues the farmers faced.
  • Used string or sticks to show how much a measurement (like 6 cm) actually is.
  • Used more kinesthetic activities that required participants to move.
  • Used simple language to convey complex ideas.
  • Encouraged family members who could read to attend the sessions.

That leads us to….

This month’s question:   Regardless of topic, what techniques have you found successful when training illiterate or low-literacy audiences?

Please share your ideas below so we can learn from each other.

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