In 2006, Bolivia elected President Evo Morales. From the start, Morales was focused on the low-literacy problem in his country and prioritized educating Bolivia’s citizens. He began by implementing the “Yes, I can” campaign for adult literacy. The program, which was developed in Cuba, relies on dedicated teachers who travel to the students and work around the schedules of adult learners who are often busy providing and caring for their families. These enthusiastic, devoted teachers are crucial to the success of the program.
After the students spend three to six months improving their basic literacy, the “Yes, I can carry on” phase of the program begins. Learners spend the next two years furthering their skills in math, reading, writing, and some natural sciences. The final course of the program, “Yes, I can continue,” focuses on long texts, complex sentences, multiplication, division, and the basics of geography, history, and biology.
Thanks to this program, Bolivia’s low-literacy rates dropped from 13.28% in 2001 to 3.8% in 2014. That same year, UNESCO declared Bolivia had eradicated illiteracy. A country must maintain an illiteracy rate below 4% to meet UNESCO’s standards. In comparison, the U.S. has a stubborn low-literacy rate in which 14% of adults cannot read, and 21% of adults read below a fifth-grade level. These rates haven’t changed in over 10 years.
The Price of Literacy
Although President Morales did look to Cuba and Venezuela for aid, this initiative was developed and implemented in Bolivia with modest financial resources. The annual cost was 18 million bolivianos—equal to $2.6 million. Of course, the overall population in Bolivia is much smaller than that of the U.S., so the scale of their program is not as massive as ours would have to be. Nevertheless, Bolivia started with the same 14% low-literacy rate as the U.S., meaning the relative need for teachers, funding, and programs would be at an even ratio.
While Bolivia has tackled the problem of limited literacy head-on with a focused, outcome-based program, the U.S. has lagged behind. In this country, we can learn a lot from model programs such as the one in Bolivia.
ProLiteracy is dedicated to bringing the adult literacy issue to the forefront and helping to find ways to improve quality of life in our nation through adult education.