The Power of Collaborative Inquiry and Metaphor in Meeting the Health Literacy Needs of Rural Immigrant Women: A Case of Parent Education

The Power of Collaborative Inquiry and Metaphor in Meeting the Health Literacy Needs of Rural Immigrant Women: A Case of Parent Education

Al Lauzon, Rachel Farabakhsh
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6260-5.ch004
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Rural communities often face the need to reach out to immigrant groups to help sustain their populations. However, rural communities often lack the necessary support and resources required to meet the needs of immigrant communities. This chapter reports on the role of a participatory education project in meeting the needs of immigrant Old Colony Mennonite women. Building on an existing ESL program in a rural community in Southwestern Ontario, a participatory health literacy pilot project was developed employing an action research format. With the participants, the authors explored the participant identified topic of dealing with the stress of parenting, using metaphors (presentational knowing) and collaborative inquiry. Post-project, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were completed with participants and program staff. Interview data was analyzed using a constant comparison method and five themes are identified and discussed: (1) reconsidering the nature of their children; (2) the power of language to transform; (3) modeling with language; (4) changing parental behaviours; and (5) normalizing what happens at home. The authors then discuss the efficacy of utilizing presentational knowing and collaborative inquiry as a pedagogical strategy for meeting the learning needs of rural immigrants.
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Setting The Context

While Canadians generally have a high level and standard of health, it is not shared equitably across the population, and for those populations who do not have adequate literacy skills it can have a profound impact upon social and economic outcomes—key determinants of health (Health Canada, 2004). Rural communities have differed significantly demographically than larger urban centres on these key determinants of health, including levels of literacy, with rural communities being characterized by poorer overall health (DesMeules & Pong, 2006). In fact, DesMeules and Pong state, rurality in the Canadian context is now classified as a determinant of health. It has also been noted that rural women often face greater physical and mental health challenges than their urban counterparts (Leipert, 2005; McCallum & Lauzon, 2006). This is even further compounded for rural women immigrants who are faced with the responsibility of overseeing the healthcare of their families in a context where they lack culturally appropriate quality health information, access to services in their own language and the skills or confidence to question or validate their own health practices within a new culture (Jennisen, 1992). For rural communities who seek to attract immigrants to shore up their declining populations, being able to have the capacity to develop culturally sensitive and appropriate programs becomes a very important component of a rural development strategy.

Increasingly, there has been an emphasis on participatory approaches to adult education, including health literacy programming as this fosters participants’ ability to think critically, construct knowledge and affect change in their lives (Auerbach, 2001). In other words, health literacy provides the skills, confidence and knowledge to make sound health choices, particularly among those who may feel disempowered to make such decisions. Thus health literacy is a form of nonformal education whereby its purpose is to help people be in control of their lives through making informed choices and decisions, and to take appropriate actions with regard to their individual health, health of their family and health of their community. And like the idea of differential health gradients for differing socioeconomic populations, health literacy programming needs to take into consideration variations in differing populations when giving consideration to program development. For example, Sparks (2002) highlights these differences, noting literate women in the context of parenting education rely upon experts and printed materials whereas poor and functionally illiterate women prefer oral traditions as a means of transmitting parenting information.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Participatory Adult Education: Adult education characterized by learner control and ownership over the learning objectives, learning processes, and learning outcomes which are usually facilitated by someone outside the learner group.

Nonformal Education: Organized educational activity that does not take place in the formal system and is intended to achieve learning objectives for a particular audience.

Metaphor: A word or object that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as the otherwise unrelated object whose delineation leads to insights and understanding.

Capacity Development: A participatory process that utilizes experience to collectively construct tacit and intimate knowledge.

Presentational Knowing: An intuitive grasp of patterns and wholes.

Collaborative Inquiry: Inquiry ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ people, emphasizing the active engagement of participants as fully engaged collaborators who participate in determining the goal, direction and process of the inquiry.

Health Literacy: The ability to utilize health information and knowledge to inform health related decisions.

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