Fellow Since 1993
Institut d’Education Populaire (IEP)
This profile was prepared when Maria Keita was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1993.
The New Idea
Maria Keita believes that it is absolutely necessary for Africans to reinvent educational practice from an indigenous African point of view, and she is demonstrating the way forward in the field of rural women's literacy. She has developed an original pedagogy that breaks sharply with current pedagogy by affirming the African oral tradition. "The dominance of Western thought," says Maria, "is reinforced by Western success in imposing a written language on oral people. Traditional African cultures are oral cultures. In a world in which 'valued' knowledge is written down, oral cultures can have no real value."Marie sees a direct link between her critique of education practices and the failure of the western model of development. She sees the growing recognition that this model has failed and the new rhetoric of "popular participation" and "sustainability" as an opportunity for Africans to design their own model from first principles. "If we agree that popular participation is the key to sustainable development in Africa," argues Maria, "then we must look for the voices and the means to find new methods and structures that will facilitate involvement of marginalized people, and which will not allow any form of domination."Maria's means involve a highly participatory process in which the learners create their own learning materials by drawing on their knowledge and experience. Lessons are contextualized in common situations that portray the underlying relationships of power and knowledge. Learners role play and examine their role playing in a "learning by doing" way. Literacy and other practical skills are acquired but in a way that affirms what they already know.Maria has the practical and academic credentials required to substantiate her radical views. She spent a decade working in adult education and development with rural Malian women and has sifted that experience through a master's degree in education from Amherst University in Massachusetts. While completing her thesis, she established the Institute for Popular Education to develop adult education programs using her original variant of what is commonly known as action research. The Institute works directly with rural women and, in order to extend its influence, trains popular educators and community organizers working in other organizations. The Institute is also developing a modular curriculum for training teachers in Maria's action research method and is marketing the curriculum to other training institutions.