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!