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Functional Literacy Programs and regional cooperation help some South American countries prepare for youth bulge

A combination of simple and low-cost, information technology, community participation, and continuous training has effectively reduced functional illiteracy rates in Cuba, and it holds promise for Latin America, where a coming youth bulge combined with functional illiteracy could radically hurt economic development and participation in democratic governance. Regional cooperation seems to be helping Bolivia, and more coordination could bring huge gains.

FORO writes,

"The program “Yo sí puedo” (Yes I Can) has shown results in functional illiteracy reduction in Cuba and has also been replicated in other countries. Its objective is to develop basic but integral reading and writing skills...The components of the program are: (i) low-cost technologies that are easily implemented in remote areas; (ii) intensive use of simple information technologies (TV, radio) due to the fact that these mediums have helped eradicate illiteracy for 3 million people in 23 LAC countries; (iii) mobilization of facilitators from the community to stimulate assistance for and trust among participants —Cuba is providing training to over 300,000 illiterates in 17 countries; and (iv) continuous training —graduates can apply to "Yo sí puedo seguir" (Yes, I Can Continue) to improve their skills...The Instituto Pedagógico Latinoamericano y Caribeño de Cuba (IPLAC) (Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute of Cuba) received the King Sejong Literacy Prize from UNESCO in 2006, due to the dissemination of similar methodologies to cope with illiteracy."

Bolivia is implementing a similar program with impressive results thus far.


Illiteracy can highly complicate a country's ability to develop economically and democratically, and the coming youth bulge in South America makes this issue a high priority. The case of Bolivia demonstrates how regional cooperation can tackle this shared problem.

FORO writes,

"From an occupational point of view, people affected by functional illiteracy are limited in their ability to acquire new knowledge and adapt to the changing demands of labor markets. For example, functional illiterates can find it difficult to adapt to new technologies and they will constantly lag behind other workers in terms of their productivity and competitiveness. In demographic terms, functional illiteracy threatens the window of opportunity provided by the region’s demographic dividend. In the next 40 years, South America will experience an increase of its young population relative to other age groups. In order to take advantage of this situation, countries must promote essential gains in productivity and labor skills. The prevalence of functional illiteracy runs in the opposite direction of other policy efforts to increase productivity. In a pessimistic scenario, the region could lack the competitive and skilled workers it requires to increase general welfare. From a sociopolitical point of view, functional illiterates are limited in their ability to articulate their demands through the means the democratic system offers.

The successful application of “Yo sí puedo” in Bolivia also shows how South-South cooperation initiatives can not only create awareness about a shared problem, but also provide simple, easily replicated evidence-based solutions. Moreover, by benchmarking the costs of similar interventions in the region, other donors could also provide poolresource funding to update and enhance existing literacy programs that better tackle functional illiteracy. Therefore, functional illiteracy can be tackled with additional resources from triangular cooperation and country domestic resources."

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FORO Nacional/Internacional, April 2011, page 6-7: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/FORO_Apr2011_Letter.pdf#page=6