Cuban Literacy Campaign Notes

Personal Notes on the Cuban Literacy Campaign and Afterwards,  Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education
With the passing of Fidel Castro of Cuba I was reminded of the work that his compatriots and he undertook in 1961 to initiate a National Literacy Campaign (NLC). Twenty years later, in my third year serving as a member of UNESCO’s International Literacy Prize Jury, I read about the work of the NLC and other Cuban literacy efforts while judging a candidature from Cuba for a 1981 Literacy Prize. This candidature, the Federation of Cuban Women (FCW), was established in 1960 by the revolutionary government with Vilma Espin, wife of Fidel’s brother Raul, serving as the president of the FCW.
The application for a UNESCO Literacy Prize revealed a number of activities in which the FCW engaged during and following the NLC. Based on a careful review of these activities, the Jury decided to award the Nadezhda K. Krupskaya Prize, sponsored by the USSR and named for the wife of Vladimir Lenin, to the FCW for its dedicated service to the education of Cuban women for:
(1). It’s efforts for providing equal opportunities for women by changing peasant households that kept women in subservient positions and bringing women out of the home and into the economy; (2)  Its noteworthy educational innovations and organizational ingenuity in providing women with convenient and appropriate opportunities for pursuing their education from basic literacy to post-literacy levels of a sixth grade;
(3) The important contribution it made to the NLC to provide all citizens with six years of education;
(4) The model which its programs offered of education which, while non-formal in its methods and organization, was conceived in a framework of lifelong learning linking the literacy class to the mainstream of national education.
In1982, my third year as a member of the International Literacy Prize Jury, we  awarded an Honorable Mention to the Cuban Trade Union Confederation (CTUC) for:
(1) Having provided post-literacy programs which enabled some half a million workers reach the equivalent of a sixth-grade level of education;
(2) Its spirit of enterprise and innovation in establishing programs for reaching such difficult to serve occupational groups as truck drivers and fishermen;
(3) For the example of solidarity and service which educated workers have demonstrated through their willingness to serve as volunteer instructors for their less fortunate co-workers.
In my 25 years as a member of UNESCO's International Literacy Prize Jury (1979-2003) I participated in the award of a number of literacy prizes and honorable mentions to adult literacy programs in Cuba like those above. There can be no gainsaying the good works on adult literacy in Cuba. However, it should be kept in mind that while the Cuban National Literacy Campaign produced three quarters of a million new adult literates, the level of skill aimed for was about that obtained at the end of the first grade. That is one of the reasons why the many post-literacy activities of groups in Cuba, such as those above, were so important. They built upon the momentum of the NLC and raised adult literacy to functional levels needed for home, community, and work activities.

Another reason that the Cuban NLC and post-literacy activities were so important is that they stimulated other nations in the region to engage in adult literacy development. In 2003, my final year serving on UNESCO’s Literacy Prize Jury, we awarded an Honorable Mention  to the Youth and Adult Literacy and Education Chair of the Caribbean and Latin American Pedagogical Institute of the Republic of Cuba. The HM was for its numerous activities  to foster exchange and South-South cooperation using the combined methods of radio and television and face-to-face learning and follow-up to enhance literacy through cooperation between Latin American and African countries.
Three years later, in 2006, this same organization was awarded a major UNESCO literacy prize for its work. And by 2012, its literacy program known as Yo Si Puedo or Yes, I Can, had helped 30 nations raise the literacy levels of almost 7 million citizens in 30 countries.  
This year of 2016 marks the 55th anniversary of the initiation of the Cuban Literacy Campaign in 1961. We celebrate the work of adult educators in Cuba, here in the United States, and in the nations of the world, who have worked to light the lamp of literacy for millions of adults and their families, often under conditions of extreme duress and always with insufficient funding. It can be done, it must be done, and it will be done!
Through these efforts we make a crack in illiteracy…and that’s how the light comes in!
Si, se puede! (
With gratitude and fond memories of Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)