First Advisor

Charles R. White

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Political Science


Political Science




Literacy -- Nicaragua, Education and state -- Nicaragua, Literacy -- Cuba, Education and state -- Cuba, Literacy -- Developing countries, Education and state -- Developing countries, Education and state, Literacy, Cuba, Developing countries, Nicaragua



Physical Description

1 online resource (3 iv, 106 leaves ; 28 cm.)


The Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade of 1980, carried out in the aftermath,of a long and destructive revolution, was able, in five months time, to decrease the nation's illiteracy rate from 50 percent to 13 percent. The newly fonned Nicaraguan government, recognizing the political nature of education, viewed its Literacy Crusade as a major step· in the development of a "new", post-revolutionary Nicaragua.

As a means of comparison, two other literacy campaigns are also examined: the Cuban campaign of 1961, and the UNESCO-sponsored Experimental World Literacy Programme, in place from 1965-1973.

The Cuban campaign served as a precursor to the Nicaraguan effort. It, too, occurred after a revolution, with education also,viewed as a key to the consolidation of a new 2 government. Likewise, the effort in Cuba depended upon an intense and massive effort by the public, to participate as students, teachers, or both. In less than one year, the illiteracy rate in Cuba decreased from 26 percent to 4 percent, with 700,000 Cubans achieving minimal literacy. In addition, the campaign was simply the first step in a series of educational changes. Follow-up campaigns, as well as increased emphasis on formal schooling, has continued in Cuba.

The UNESCO effort proved to be much less successful. The EWLP was to include intensive and selective literacy projects in eleven designated nations. The literacy projects were based upon work-oriented definitions of literacy, and were, for the most part, planned and administered by international experts. The lack of involvement by national leaders or educators proved to be a great hinderance, especially since many of the nations were interested in mass literacy programs, not selective literacy projects. At the conclusion of the EWLP, thirty-two million dollars had been spent, but only 120,000 adults had been classified as new literates. UNESCO's own assessment of the EWLP pointed to a number of problems in organization, personnel, methods and materials that contributed to this lack of success.

The Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade was able to take the best parts of both of these previous efforts, and achieve some remarkable successes. The mass involvement of the people, and the commitment of time and resources at the national level made the Nicaraguan effort a national priority. While experts from other nations and international agencies participated in the Crusade, it was a decidedly Nicaraguan effort. Unlike the EWLP, the idea of literacy in both Nicaraguan and Cuba was tied to an overall change in the structures and attitudes of society; literacy was to be integrated into the people's lives, not to just be a way to improve job skills. For Nicaragua, the Literacy Crusade decreased the illiteracy rate, created 400,000 new literates, and led to follow-up efforts meant to further develop the educational and social process.

From the comparison of these literacy efforts, three factors stand out as keys to successful increases in literacy in developing nations. Education must first be seen as part of an overall development strategy, created by and for a particular nation. A literacy campaign must also involve a majority of citizens in some way, especially those with no previous access to education. Finally, to enact these goals of overall development and mass participation, a literacy campaign must have support from all levels of government, who must be willing to sacrifice other goals in order to achieve long-term change.


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