Literacy: A Human Right

Nuria Barbosa León

THE Cuban literacy program Yo sí Puedo, (Yes, I can) has, in just over a decade, helped some 6.5 individuals learn to read and write and is currently being used in 30 countries, with the participation of more than 100 million people in all aspects of its implementation.

The program’s roots date back to 1961, when Cuba became a territory free of illiteracy. Some 269,723 teachers and instructors taught 60% of the population, 707,212 people, to read in just one year.

The literacy campaign in Cuba allowed both teachers and students to develop their potential, doing something extraordinary, and the effort became a social event of great importance in the country’s revolutionary history.

The Yo sí Puedo program was conceived to support literacy instruction for all regardless of disability, race, national origin, language, religion or political affiliation.

The pedagogical approach is based on a short term process, involving the association of letters with numbers, and requires limited human and material resources for its implementation, making it appropriate for remote areas, with local volunteers trained as ‘facilitators’ leading classes.

Dr. Zoila Benítez de Mendoza, a literacy instructor in the 1961 campaign, went on to become a teacher and served as an advisor to government efforts in 2000, in Michoacán, México, where 3,184 residents were taught to read and write, reducing illiteracy to 3.8%, from an initial level of 17%.

She reports that high school and university students were mobilized as instructors and that, during the teaching/learning process, an important cultural exchange between different ethnicities, population sectors and communities took place.

Dr. José Ricardo del Real, head of the Adult Education department of the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute in Havana, commented that Cuba’s literacy instruction approach is based on an educational process meant to change lives, both for students, but also for facilitators who become educational advocates in their communities.

He adds that the Yo sí puedo seguir program, designed as a follow-up to initial instruction, is being implemented in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Colombia, thus assuring the advancement of students to higher levels of education, while providing more practice to consolidate literacy skills. “Today more than a million people, who were illiterate just a few years ago, have reached the sixth grade level,” Del Real reported.

Cuba’s solidarity and collaboration in promoting literacy, to broaden participation in society, has represented a revolutionary step forward for many peoples, banishing ignorance and sensitizing both those who teach and those who learn.

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