FR ANCISC GUTIERREZ, a Catholic brother of the La Salle Order, who is Director of thc School of Education at a university in Costa Rica, has developed a new teaching method called "total language."
But this is more than just another teaching method. "Total language" is a nonstructured approach to building up awareness and community in a very poor area of Costa Rica, called Talamanca.
While Costa Rica's 90 per cent literacy rate is one of the highest in Latin America, less than half of the 6,000 people of Talarnanca can read or write.
There is no hospital in the area, which covers about 1,000 square miles. Only 6 per cent of homes have electricity and fewer than 40 per cent have piped water. But Talamancans have been too powerless to do anything about their plight.
The last two years, however, have seen a number of small but significant changes. In June, 1975, Brother Gutierrez' "total language" method was introduced into the area. A group of four people began work in the villages of Talamanca to encourage this new form of communication.
"Total language" is horizontal communication where local people set their own priorities and development programmes, rather than the more common vertical communication in which bureaucrats make the decisions. Total language offers people tools, not answers. The process involves three steps —
agglutination, conscientisation and organisation. Agglutination refers to building a sense of community, before awareness of the problems can lead to action. This begins with informal groups in the villages. Attendance at these groups has been good; villagers have been encouraged to discover "who they are and where they are."
The first step led to con scientisation. This consciousness-raising phase involves more self-expression and awareness of needs. In one group, people identified seven problem areas in the community and decided which were the most important.
Organisation is step three. Here the people's sense of solidarity leads to action. After a group establishes its identity, it can also link up with others to bring about change.
The "total language" project has been running for only just over two years, but already there have been a number of positive results.
People in a village called Carbon Dos desperately wanted a school for their children. They were powerless to influence the authorities until, with the help of the "total language" project team, they made a videotape to show the serious educational problem which existed in their area.
The tape convinced the Minister of Education that a school was needed, and construction is to begin soon.
The Talamanca project is headed by a teacher and youth leader, Delroy Barton. He calls it "the most creative develop ment project we've seen. It helps people rediscover their dignity and has unlimited possibilities."
Brother Gutierrez believes the project can serve as a model for community development throughout Costa Rica and also for other regions in the Third World.
The "total language" project is part financed by the World Association for Christian Communication. This is an interdenominational association which is trying to find new ways of communicating the Gospel "with relevance to the whole of life." It is supported by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches; most of its budget goes to projects in Third World countries.