Reading is for Knowing: Literacy Acquisition, Retention and Usage among the Machiguenga

Davis, Patricia M

The Peruvian Ministry of Education initiated bilingual schools in Amazonia soon after the Machiguenga people—inhabitants of the Peruvian rainforest—received a written alphabet in the late 1940s. Despite barriers of distance, language and cultural diversity, this educational program is an ongoing success. The 1993 data shows an average literacy rate of nearly 65 percent, with high literacy use—predictive of literacy continuance.

This first-hand account, by the educator who helped develop the Machiguenga schools, is rich with descriptions, providing teachers and literacy practitioners an in-depth study of a minority-language educational program. Students of cross-cultural training will find a culturally sensitive model for teaching and evaluation.

This study is significant since it relates the favorable attitudes toward literacy among an isolated people group, formerly in a monolingual area with no government schools until 1954. Equally noteworthy is the fact that Machiguenga teachers have conducted all primary level education even though they were at first barely literate themselves. These maturing teachers continued their education during summer sessions and shared their knowledge with their pupils year by year as they themselves advanced through the grades. Currently the three area high schools are staffed both by Spanish-speaking teachers and Machiguenga personnel with tertiary education.

This book reflects the delight the Machiguenga people find in learning. They have voluntarily expended enormous effort to make reading a part of their society.

This is both a scholarly work and a present day drama.

About the Author

Patricia M. Davis is an international literacy consultant and Professor of Applied Linguistics with SIL International since 1985. She did fieldwork in Peru (1964 to 1984) and also worked as a literacy consultant and literacy coordinator. She specialized in planning, teacher training, and materials preparation for bilingual school programs. She received a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin in 1995.

Another book by Dr Patricia Davis is Cognition and Learning: A Review of the Literature with Reference to Ethnolinguistic Minorities (1996).

Table of Contents:

List of Tables

List of Figures



  1. The Setting
  2. Literacy in Minority Societies: A Look at the Issues
  3. Reading: What Is Involved?
  4. Forty Years in Review
  5. Schools for the Machiguenga
  6. Developing New Research Methods
  7. Collecting Data the Cultural Way
  8. Literacy in Machiguenga Society
  9. Personal Perspectives: Attitudes and Usage
  10. Literacy Levels
  11. Interpreting the Findings
  12. Gender, Time in School, and Literacy Retention
  13. Lessons and Implications

Appendix A: Interview Form

Appendix B: Examples of the Reading Tests

Appendix C: Reading Score Chart

Appendix D: Example of the Comprehension Scale


Retail Price:
xxii, 320 pages
Literacy programs
ISBN 13:
ISBN 10:
6 × 9 × 0.71 in
1.3 lb
Subject Languages:
Content Language: