Back to the Future?: Timor-Leste, Cuba and the return of the mass literacy campaign

Bob Boughton


In December 2005, eleven Cuban educational advisers arrived in Timor-Leste to begin work on a national literacy campaign. Adapting the program known in Latin America as Yo, Sí Puedo (Yes I Can), the Cubans trained over 400 local tutors to run classes in every part of the country, using a method they call ‘alphanumeric’, delivered via audiovisual technology. The campaign was launched in March 2007, and the first classes began in June of that year. By September 2010, three years later, over 70,000 adults, over one fifth of the total illiterate population, had successfully completed a thirteen week basic literacy course. Drawing on original research undertaken in Timor-Leste between 2004 and 2009, followed by further investigations in May 2010 in Havana, Cuba, this paper describes the Timor-Leste campaign, locating it within the historical commitment of the country’s independence movement to adult literacy, and the broader context of Cuba’s international literacy work.

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