Annals of Crazy Chavista Boondoggles: Misión Robinson Edition

Remember that?

If you do, take a moment to pick up your cédula and reflect on the sad fate of Venezuelan adult literacy programs. Because far from the glory years of Acude, research shows Venezuela today has perhaps the most expensive, least effective literacy program anywhere in the developing world.

The paper dates back to 2006, when the government was trumpeting its erradication of illiteracy to anyone who would listen, and looked into chavismo’s flagship Misión Robinson literacy program. On the basis of INE’s own Household Survey, UCBerkeley’s Chiang-Tai Hsieh and Edward Miguel, IESA’s Daniel Ortega and Francisco Rodríguez (then at Wesleyan) struggled to identify any gains in literacy rates at all attributable Misión Robinson.

The slight drop in the number of illiterate adults they do find between 2003 and 2005 – from 1,108,000 illiterate adults to 1,016,000 – is consistent with long-term demographic trends – basically, older illiterate people dying off.

To hear Francisco Rodríguez explain it, to the extent that we saw any drop in adult illiteracy at all, it has been achieved with staggering inefficiency.

Consider: in 2004, the Ministry of Education says they had employed 210,000 Mision Robinson “facilitators” (literacy tutors). But at best, Misión Robinson taught just 92,000 adults how to read: that’s 2.3 tutors per adult learner!

In money terms, it’s just as batshit crazy. Working from official Education Ministry figures, the researchers estimated the cost of teaching one Venezuelan adult to read under Mision Robinson at somewhere between $543 and $977. But a recent UNESCO study of adult literacy programs in 29 countries shows the average cost of teaching an adult to read in Africa is $47, in Asia it’s $30 and in the Americas it’s $61.

The most expensive program in the UNESCO study – Bolivia’s – cost $199 per learner, less than half of the low-ball estimate for Misión Robinson.

In other words, Misión Robinson was, to put it mildly, a humongous boondoggle.

Now, one of my favorite tidbits from the late, lamented Alberto Garrido’s research was Chávez’s original Acude participation badge. Way back in the sixties, when he was a teenager, Chávez actually volunteered as an Acude literacy tutor – perhaps the earliest signal of any socio-political interests we have for him. That didn’t stop him, years later, from spending countless propaganda dollars railing against the old regime for having shown no interest in adult literacy whatsoever, or from improvising the humongous bureaucratic white elephant that replaced Acude.

Which is why today, more than ever, Venezuela necesita de tu ayuda: acude, te estamos esperando!

15 thoughts on “Annals of Crazy Chavista Boondoggles: Misión Robinson Edition

  1. “MayDay, MayDay MayDay, Calling Venezuela! MayDay! Do you read?” —- “Truth be told, not very well”


  2. This is of course anecdotal evidence, but, my dear grandma never learn how to read or write. Not then, not now. Her siblings neither. She is still illiterate at 67.


    • Don’t shortchange yourself with your findings. Kepler has made a career at infering stuff from a Chavista aunt.


      • Guido I have the same anecdotal evidence with an “political aunt”…she is married to my uncle which is also very chavista! She is in her early 60 and she is still illiterate.

        Tony …I guess that our data is better than Kepler?…by the way i almost agree with Kepler inferences.


  3. I remember the campaign. The TV ad was quite encouraging with young people carrying their Sono estudio kit.
    And if I recall correctly, all this was done by volunteers, not government employees. The kit had a cost paid by the volunteer and that was it. Quite simple.
    I do remember I wanted to help but I didn’t know anybody around me that needed help though, so I never did.


  4. Whoa whoa, hold on! Are you telling me INE, who are the guys that report there’s over one million illiterates are the same guys who tell UNESCO Venezuela has 100% literacy? I don’t quite get this.. It seems way too overt even for chavistas (although, I have to say Elias Eljuri seems moderately professional)


    • Because the Encuesta de Hogares, which has used the same methodology and comparable questions since the 1960s, is the one bit of the INE system that throws up proper results…


  5. In Venezuela, a country that doesn’t believe in opportunity costs, this whole idea about the “efficiency of social policy” is as foreign as eating a ripe kiwi.


  6. “If you do, take a moment to pick up your cédula and reflect on the sad fate of Venezuelan adult literacy programs,” the Caracas Chronicles leads off this article.
    “The Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova has designated the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (United Kingdom) and Infocentro Foundation (Venezuela) as the laureates of the 2010 UNESCO King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa Prize for the Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Education,” UNESCO itself says. Evidently, UNESCO thinks highly of Venezuela’s and the UK’s adult literacy programs.

    Concerning Venezuela, UNESCO adds “The Infocentro Foundation was selected for its project ‘Technological Literacy for Older Adults.’ The Foundation is a governing body supported by the Venezuela Ministry of Popular Power for Science and Technology, providing free access to ICTs to enable adults and other users in achieving lifelong learning. Through 680 education infocentres established across the country and a high-quality series of modules to enable adult learners to move from basic computer literacy to more advanced ICTs skills. Infocentro Foundation has enabled almost one million individuals, including those with disabilities, to develop technology literacy skills.”

    So, Venezuela’s adult literacy program with its alleged “sad fate” is prize-winning from the world’s leading authority on literacy, notwithstanding the program’s alleged costs.


    • And there are a number of problems with the paper this website linked to, including its assumption that the Household Survey is accurate when the authors want it to be and inaccurate when they want it to be inaccurate (note the paper simply asserts this accuracy or inaccuracy as an absolute fact without providing any actual evidence to justify that opinion). In addition, it simply ignores the fact that by its own admission UNESCO had estimated that illiteracy was far higher than the official census estimate.


  7. But at best, Misión Robinson taught just 92,000 adults how to read: that’s 2.3 tutors per adult learner!
    Whoa…. there’s an old US joke about the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture employee who mourns “his” farmer.


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