“The Scriptures Mean More When You Can Read Them: Bolivian Saints See the Gospel in Action As They Learn to Read,” Ensign, Apr. 1974, 76
Another way to learn the gospel, now being polished in Bolivia, will soon begin to shine as a beacon of encouragement to those members of the Church who have never had the opportunity of schooling and therefore have never learned to read. The new method takes the form of a tutoring project to help these people develop their talents and increase their knowledge.
“The greatest need for literacy lies among the newly baptized members who are just beginning to realize the possibilities for improving their lives and the lives of their families,” said former Bolivia Mission president N. Keith Roberts. “When they are unable to read tracts, or lessons from the family home evening manuals, or the scriptures, their chances for progression are impeded and they become discouraged.”
The goal of the program is to help people learn to read phonetically at their own level of oral comprehension. When this basic reading skill is developed, they can then progress to more advanced learning. The program offers specially prepared reading materials to encourage the Saints to progress to the standard reading materials.
A main feature of the program is that the reading skills are taught on a one-to-one basis, or, at the most, on a one-to-two basis, with the tutors and local supervisors being nonprofessional volunteers. These volunteers receive their training and materials through a coordinator, Brother Edmundo Alarcón, based in La Paz. Brother Alarcón has assumed this position from his daughter, Zelma, who received her master’s degree from Brigham Young University. She is currently at BYU, revising the existing reading materials and preparing a book of readings for those students who have completed the program.
BYU’s Department of Continuing Education prepared the material for the tutoring program in which it was found that many of the Saints, considered completely illiterate on the basis of pretesting, learned to read phonetically in three to 16 weeks. Their achievement gave them a strong feeling of success and accomplishment and made them better able to utilize the gospel and Church programs in their daily lives.
Consideration is being given to the preparation of phonetic texts in areas such as hygiene, health education, and agriculture.
For many members the program provides a major breakthrough from the gospel in theory to the gospel in action. President Carlos Pedraja, second counselor in the Bolivia Mission presidency, says, “The Church came to Bolivia only nine years ago, bringing the gospel to change our lives. But now we are at a stage in which the Church administers and supports programs that not only talk about the gospel but also show how to put it into practice. I know this program is designed to bring happiness to those who don’t read. Every man wants to learn more and progress.”
Sister Pedraja notes that the program has helped the Saints to see that the Church is concerned about the individual and that a way has been provided for those who know how to read to teach those who do not.
Unlike Sister Pedraja, the wives of many of the local Church leaders were unable to read, but when these sisters finished their reading course, many things changed in their homes. Their husbands reported that their wives were happier and could participate more in activities such as family home evening. One good sister, an excellent student, has gained the confidence and skills needed to teach in Primary.
The program knows no age barriers, and children as well as adults are acquiring the basic reading skills that are helping them not only in Church activity, but also in their relationships with their peers.
Twelve-year-old Juan Medina was unable to read because an ear operation in early childhood left him with a hearing handicap. He was held back in school and spent six years in the second grade. After only ten hours of tutoring in basic reading skills, he caught up with his schoolmates and did well on examinations.
A five-year-old student learned the basic principles of the phonetics program after minutes of practice and then went on to improve his skills. He learned, as do all those taking the course, to blend sounds together to form words.
The program started in 1972 when a proposal to establish a Bolivian literacy project received the approval of the Church Board of Education. After the reading materials were developed, they were introduced into four areas of the Bolivia Mission: La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and Oruro. Of the initial 188 students, 64 very soon completed the ten basic instructional units and were able to do some limited reading from the standard works, newspapers, etc. Most other students subsequently finished the course, and many are now acting as tutors for their brothers and sisters in the gospel.
Because of its success, the program has been expanded to other areas of Bolivia, and it will be introduced into Guatemala later this year. It is hoped that a similar program eventually will be developed for Portuguese-speaking Saints, and then for Saints speaking other languages.