Learning ignorance and illiteracy through education: reflections on highland Bolivia

Abstract

Literacy is clearly more than an ability to read or write in one language, and today we talk of multiple ‘literacies’. In each case, literacy represents education, knowledge and particularly the ability to get by competently in the world we inhabit; in short, it is about being a full citizen. This article looks at literacy, knowledge and schooling in a highland Aymara village in Bolivia, not in terms of what is being learned but rather in terms of what knowledge is lost through the process of schooling. Literacy and formal education do not liberate people but actually disempower them: while giving them one kind of knowledge, they can simultaneously act to make people ignorant. As with other indigenous peoples around the world, literacy pushes those in this village to see the knowledge of their parents and grandparents as valueless, and certainly not as something worth acquiring

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