This profile was prepared when Javier González was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1997.
The New Idea
Javier González has created and spread a methodology that teaches literacy in such a way as to motivate continued learning, develop emotional intelligence, and generate a new role for teachers. His model is built on a game which incorporates the linguistic principles required to master reading and writing, including breaking down words into their components of syllables and letters. But it goes beyond these mechanics to motivate interest in continued learning. Illiterate participants develop logic and reasoning skills and learn to value knowledge in itself. By working in groups, they also develop their emotional intelligence. Participants learn to converse, to share their ideas, and to compromise, thereby enhancing skills that are important for the resolution of common problems. The model emphasizes a different view of the teacher, as one whose role is to animate groups and facilitate learning, rather than simply transferring a given body of knowledge to students. As a result, the "tools of the trade" are different; there is no blackboard, and teachers do not dictate courses from rigid, centrally produced textbooks. They allow the participants to make their own decisions, and errors are encouraged, as a way to further develop the learning process. Javier bases his model on the principle that students should actively learn, rather than passively "being taught." Participants discover the process of acquiring knowledge for themselves, breaking away from the rote learning on which the school system in Colombia and much of Latin America is based. Javier's creativity goes beyond the conceptual design of the game: he has already been able to spread the tool throughout Colombia and is making significant inroads in his efforts to introduce it in Central America.