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Freed from Illiteracy? A Closer Look at Venezuela's Misión Robinson Literacy Campaign

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Abstract

We evaluate the success of the Venezuelan government's latest nationwide literacy program, Misión Robinson, using official Venezuelan government survey data. Controlling for existing trends in literacy rates by age groups over the period 1975-2005, we find at most a small positive effect of Misión Robinson on literacy rates, and in many specifications the program's impact is statistically indistinguishable from zero. This main result is robust to time series analysis by birth cohort and to state-level difference-in-differences estimation. The results appear to be inconsistent with recent official claims of the complete eradication of illiteracy in Venezuela, but they resonate with existing research on other adult literacy programs, which have usually been expensive failures. (c) 2008 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved..

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... Adult literacy programs aim to improve the skills, and hence the earning potential and other socioeconomic outcomes, of illiterate adults. However, traditional adult literacy programs, typically operated by governments, have been largely ineffective due to low enrollment, high dropout rates, and rapid skill depreciation (Abadzi, 1994(Abadzi, , 2003Ortega & Rodríguez, 2008;Oxenham, 2002). Recent advances in adult literacy programs have sought to integrate modern information and communication technology (ICT) into effective teaching methods (for an insightful overview, see, Wagner & Kozma, 2005). ...
... Impact assessments of adult literacy programs can be grouped into two kinds: one set that measures the direct effects, namely, the acquisition of literacy or numeracy, and the other that measures the indirect or extended effects, such as intrahousehold sharing or child health outcomes. The set that measures the direct or immediate impacts of adult literacy programs, namely, acquisition of literacy and/or numeracy, primarily consists of studies that suffer from some or all of the following problems: very small sample sizes, flawed experimental design (e.g., lack of a comparison group), and poorly designed assessment tools (Carron, 1990;Ortega & Rodríguez, 2008). An exception is Banerji, Berry, and Shotland (2017) who provide a rigorous evaluation of literacy classes on language and math scores in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan in India. ...
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With over 700 million illiterate adults worldwide, governments in many developing countries have implemented adult literacy programs. Typically these programs have low rates of success partly because the quality of teaching is heterogeneous. Standardization of teaching provided by computer-aided instruction might be a solution. However, there is little rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of computer-based adult literacy programs in delivering high-quality literacy and numeracy in the developing world. To fill this void in the literature, we study the impact of a computer-based adult literacy program, Tara Akshar Plus, on the literacy and numeracy skills of previously illiterate adult women in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Through a randomized control trial, we measure learning outcomes with individual-level literacy and numeracy tests and find statistically significant positive impacts of this computer-aided program on literacy and numeracy outcomes of women who undergo the TARA Akshar Plus program—relative to the control group. The effects are statistically significant but small in magnitude for women who were entirely illiterate prior to the program. The learning impacts are substantially larger for learners who knew at least a handful of letters at the beginning of the program. We compare the improvement in learning to that of another adult literacy and numeracy program. We conclude that TARA Akshar Plus is the more effective of the two, but the literacy and numeracy level achieved are not large enough to make many entirely illiterate learners become functionally literate.
... The results reported in Deshpande et al. (2017) are in line with the literature. Blunch (2017) summarizes the evidence we have on adult literacy programs (see also Abadzi (1994Abadzi ( , 2003aAbadzi ( , 2013, Blunch (2006), Blunch and Pörtner (2011), Ortega and Rodríguez (2008)). ...
... Following the Second World War, UNESCO began to emphasize adult literacy as an important educational goal. However, adult literacy programs are often characterized by low enrollment, high dropout rates, and rapid skills depreciation (Romain and Armstrong (1987); Abadzi (1994Abadzi ( , 2003b; Oxenham et al. (2002); Ortega and Rodríguez (2008)). These disappointing outcomes were due to several factors including unavailability of teaching material in the local language, poorly trained teachers, poor teaching program implementation, no planned practice of new acquired reading skills and no incentive to use these skills outside the immediate teaching environment. ...
... Program villages were randomly selected from among a group of 105 eligible villages, allowing differences in educational outcomes between the program and comparison villages to be attributed to the mobile phone-based literacy curriculum. While some studies exist on the impact of adult literacy programs on both educational and economic outcomes (Blunch and Pörtner, 2009, Carron, 1990, Ortega and Rodríguez, 2008, many studies often suffer from serious methodological problems, such as small sample sizes, failure to account for selection bias, participant attrition and self-reported literacy scores. By contrast, the randomized nature of the intervention allows us to assess the causal relationship between the mobile phone curriculum and educational outcomes. ...
... We therefore follow the approach outlined in Ortega and Rodriguez (2008) and define "benefits" as the number of students who attained a certain level of literacy or numeracy on the test (in this case, Level 1). 22 We then compare ABC and non-ABC centers to isolate the additional costs and benefits associated with introducing mobile phones into adult literacy training, implicitly netting out broader livelihood gains from increased literacy. Figure 5 shows the cost per student attaining Level 1 proficiency during the first year of the program for ABC and non-ABC villages. ...
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We report the short-term results from a randomized evaluation of a mobile phone literacy and numeracy program (Project ABC) in Niger, in which adult literacy students learned how to use mobile phones as part of a literacy and numeracy class. Students in ABC villages showed substantial gains in numeracy exam scores. There is also evidence of heterogeneity in program effects across regions, suggesting the impact is context dependent. These results were stronger in one region, for women and for participants younger than 45. There was also evidence of persistent impacts: six months after the end of the first year of classes, students in ABC villages retained what they had learned better than the non-ABC students. These effects do not appear to be driven by differences in teacher quality and motivation, nor student attendance.
... Adult literacy programs aim to improve the skills, and hence the earning potential and other socioeconomic outcomes, of illiterate adults. However, traditional adult literacy programs, typically operated by governments, have been largely ineffective due to low enrollment, high dropout rates, and rapid skill depreciation (Abadzi, 1994(Abadzi, , 2003Oxenham, 2002; and Ortega & Rodríguez, 2008). Recent advances in adult literacy programs have sought to integrate modern information and communication technology (ICT) into effective teaching methods (for an insightful overview, see, Wagner & Kozma, 2005). ...
... Impact assessments of adult literacy programs can be grouped into two kinds: one set that measures the direct effects, namely, the acquisition of literacy or numeracy, and the other that measures the indirect or extended effects, such as intrahousehold sharing or child health outcomes. The set that measures the direct or immediate impacts of adult literacy programs, namely, acquisition of literacy and/or numeracy, primarily consists of studies that suffer from some or all of the following problems: very small sample sizes, flawed experimental design (e.g., lack of a comparison group), and poorly designed assessment tools (Carron, 1990;Ortega & Rodríguez, 2008). An exception is Banerji et al. (2015) who provide a rigorous evaluation of literacy classes on language and math scores in the states of Bihar and Rajasthan in India. ...
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With over 700 million illiterate adults worldwide, governments in many developing countries have implemented adult literacy programs. Typically these program have low rates of success partly because the quality of teaching is heterogeneous. Standardization of teaching provided by computer-aided instruction might be a solution. However, there is little rigorous evidence of the effectiveness of computer-based adult literacy programs in delivering high-quality literacy and numeracy in the developing world. To fill this void in the literature, we study the impact of a computer-based adult literacy program, Tara Akshar Plus, on the literacy and numeracy skills of previously illiterate adult women in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Through a randomized control trial, we measure learning outcomes with individual-level literacy and numeracy tests and find statistically significant positive impacts of this computer-aided program on literacy and numeracy outcomes of women who undergo the TARA Akshar Plus program – relative to the control group. The effects are statistically significant but small in magnitude for women who were entirely illiterate prior to the program. The learning impacts are substantially larger for learners who knew at least a handful of letters at the beginning of the program. We compare the improvement in learning to that of another adult literacy and numeracy program. We conclude that TARA Akshar Plus is the more effective of the two, but the literacy and numeracy level achieved are not large enough to make many entirely illiterate learners become functionally literate.
... In Rosnick and Weisbrot (2008) -henceforth RW -argue that our results in Ortega and Rodríguez (2008) – henceforth OR -where we found no consistent statistically significant effect of the Venezuelan literacy program on literacy outcomes, are sensitive to specification and rely on data that cannot adequately capture the effects of a large scale literacy program. In this short note we will show that RW's criticism is unfounded, and that the results of their analysis are inconsistent with the Venezuelan government's claim of illiteracy eradication. ...
... We will call this the no program hypothesis. In Ortega and Rodríguez (2008), we present a battery of tests of the Robinson program, using time-series, cohort, and state-level data derived from the Households Survey. A large number of our coefficients are statistically insignificant – though some of them are significant and positive, such as our lagged coefficients on the oldest age cohorts reported in ourTable 4. Based on that analysis, we conclude that " we find at most a small positive effect of Robinson on literacy rates, and in many specifications the program impact is statistically indistinguishable from zero…The results appear to be inconsistent with recent official claims of the complete eradication of illiteracy in Venezuela. ...
... Venezuela (Corrales and Penfold-Becerra, 2007;Penfold-Becerra, 2007), or have offered critiques of their performance (Ortega and Rodríguez, 2008;Rodríguez, 2007). Our analysis touches these issues tangentially, since our primary purpose is to understand the allocation of different types of goods across localities. ...
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... Venezuela (Corrales and Penfold-Becerra, 2007;Penfold-Becerra, 2007), or have offered critiques of their performance (Ortega and Rodríguez, 2008;Rodríguez, 2007). Our analysis touches these issues tangentially, since our primary purpose is to understand the allocation of different types of goods across localities. ...
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... The growing emphasis on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the objective of achieving education for all, has called attention to the issue of literacy in the recent past. Among the studies undertaken on literacy are those by Sundaram and Vanneman (2008) -literacy and gender, Cascio, Clark and Gordon (2008) -literacy and assessment, Ortega and Rodriguez (2008) -literacy and government policy in Venezuela, Maddox (2008) -literacy and human development, Finnie and Meng (2005) -literacy and labour market outcomes. ...
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Examining the reason for differences in adult literacy rates across countries, this study finds that colonialism exerts a long term negative economic impact on literacy rates of the colonised. Investigating in particular, the effects of the French and British colonisation policies, the results of this study indicate that the colonial legacy remained long after independence, slowing down improvements in literacy rates in the former colonies. In conclusion it is noted that the implementation of policies that will ensure equal access to education for all is important.
... The main conclusion, then, is not that there are no changes in literacy at adult ages in general, although it is disheartening that true gains appear to be so hard to find, confirming findings from the program evaluation literature (Abadzi, 2004;Blunch & Pö rtner, 2011;Ortega & Rodriguez, 2008). The analysis shows that substantial changes in cohort literacy can indeed be observed in some cases, changes that are extremely difficult or even impossible to explain as an outcome of selective attrition. ...
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There is a potential disconnect between adult literacy initiatives on the one hand and the indicators typically employed to operationalize their targets and measure their progress on the other. Specifically, the policy discourse is typically framed in terms of illiterate adults becoming literate, while changes in the main indicator, the overall adult literacy rate, may instead be driven by literate youth becoming adults. The aim of this study is to quantify the relative contribution of these two factors (adult literacy acquisition and cohort replacement) in order to understand the extent to which the latter needs to be taken into account in assessing the progress achieved toward the Education for All (EFA) literacy target. Using DHS data on the education and measured (rather than self-reported) literacy status of women aged 20–49 for 30 countries to examine changes in literacy along cohort lines (while bounding the possible distortion due to migration and differential mortality), I demonstrate how much of the increase in the overall adult literacy rate is due to literate youth becoming adults, rather than illiterate adults becoming literate. The results show that in most countries, observed gains in overall adult literacy greatly overstate the degree to which adults have gained literacy at adult ages. Some countries do exhibit changes in literacy along cohort lines that cannot be easily attributed to selective migration or mortality and may indicate ‘true” gains or losses in individual literacy. The finding that the cohort effect is of large magnitude in practice has significant implications for research on and design of literacy policies: relying on an indicator that conflates two distinct goals, namely of increasing the share of literate adults and of helping illiterate adults become literate, results in misleading policy conclusions. This affects both the retrospective assessment of policy success and failure (and its causes), and the prospective assessment of the challenges in meeting “one size fits all” literacy goals faced by countries with very different population dynamics. This insight is particularly timely given the opportunity presented by the beginning of the new Sustainable Development agenda to reconsider the monitoring of improvements in adult literacy around the globe.
... On the other hand, previous research has found that adult literacy programmes have not been all that successful in creating literacy (and numeracy) skillsthough this is their stated objectiveamong participants Ortega & Rodríguez, 2008), which also seems to be one of the main reasons why adult literacy programmes appears to have been abandoned to a large extent in recent years across the developing world, including by major players such as the World Bank (Chowdhury, 1995). Yet, the results here indicate that adult literacy programmes may still have something to contribute in terms of improving livelihoods among participants. ...
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... The Venezuelan campaign specifically focused on adults with disability, and particularly on adults who were visually impaired. Nevertheless, research on the effectiveness of the Venezuelan campaign in reaching its target populations has been inconclusive (Ortega and Rodríguez 2008). ...
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... Polít. Int.,60(1): e017, 2017 Kleinschmidt and Gallego Pérez 3 or to those of other countries (Ortega and Rodríguez 2008). Proponents of counter-hegemonic integration criticize that ALBA has not evolved beyond an initiative of the Venezuelan government with few multilateral elements whatsoever (Lo Brutto and Vázquez Salazar 2015, 69). ...
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... The latter is important since there is often a perception that self - reporting of literacy will lead to too high literacy rates . Ortega and Rodriguez ( 2008 ) , for example , argue that semiliterate persons might claim that they are literate after participation in a " Misión Robinson " course . It is , however , also possible that participation in an adult literacy program will lead to participants learning that they really cannot read . ...
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... All of these efforts have begun to attract significant scholarly attention . Increasing numbers of studies examine the performance of the Bolivarian participatory initiatives and the more popular missions (Ellner and Hellinger 2003; Corrales and Penfold 2007; Rodríguez 2007; Hsieh et al. 2007; Penfold-Becerra 2007; Ortega and Rodríguez 2008; Smilde and Hellinger forthcoming). However, much of what characterizes the broader literature on participatory democracy also describes the studies of Chavismo. ...
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... persons how to read and write in a span of a couple of years. However, employing INE household survey data, Ortega and Rodríguez (2008) found that Misión Robinson contributed at most to a moderate reduction in the illiteracy rate, while -in some of their specifications -changes in the illiteracy rate were completely explained by economic and demographic trends. Furthermore, they also estimated that there were still around one million persons illiterate after the government had proclaimed the country freed from illiteracy. ...
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