The women participating in IASEW’s trainings are both literate and illiterate and are from different areas of Ahmedabad and the surrounding villages. Illiterate SEWA members expressed their aspiration to educate themselves, stating, "We would like to study!" Their enthusiasm led to the creation of the Literacy Class in 1992. The members sought education that was easy to understand and which would help them in life. IASEW has endeavoured to fulfill these goals by subscribing to a very broad and very practical interpretation of literacy — this being functional literacy.
Literacy, in the Academy’s view, can mean different things for different groups. For example, in the context of SEWA’s work with informal women workers, literacy would be different for home-based workers as opposed to street vendors. Literacy in IASEW can also include becoming literate in regards to social issues, to government resources, and so on. Most recently, the Academy has added digital literacy to its programming.
The teachers are recruited from within the relevant community and undergo extensive teacher training focused on the thorough development of women members. Monthly meetings are held for teachers and supervisors. The classes, which carry a maximum of 20 women students each, take place at either the teacher’s place, the supervisor’s place, or at a SEWA centre. The duration of a Literacy training course is six months. As per IASEW’s philosophy of adapting it’s programming to suit the needs of the membership, classes are arranged at times that are most convenient for the women.
The curriculum is specifically developed to address the needs of the women. It covers everything from leadership skills to literacy, from computer skills to gender awareness, from embroidery classes to banking, and so on.
Apart from educating women, we also include the celebration of special days and holidays in our curriculum. These include Women’s Day, Teacher’s Day, Literacy Day, Gandhi Jayanti, etc. We also include cultural programmes, exposure visits, summer camps, sports days, etc.
Akashganga is a magazine for young girls initiated by IASEW. The women attending literacy classes expressed the need for Akashganga Club for their daughters. The club meets every Saturday for two hours, during which young girls read books, narrate stories and jokes, and tell riddles.
Cultural programmes are organised to showcase the talent of women and girls from the SEWA community. The women and girls who attend — and who until this programme had likely never been to a community hall or seen a stage — participate enthusiastically. Thematic skits, Garba and Raas folk dancing, Adivasi dancing, role play, folk music and so on are all integrated into the cultural programme and create space to subtly impart important social messages.
The women and adolescent girls who attend IASEW are engaged in many different trades and have expressed their desire to augment their skills in order to access better employment opportunities. Considering this, IASEW initiated the Skill Education and Communication Centre in 2008. The goal is to understand what skills the SEWA membership already has, to upgrade those skills or to augment them. The Centres also connect SEWA members to social and government programmes, and to information on other SEWA programmes. The Centres are located in community spaces in order to help mitigate students’ transportation costs and lost working hours.