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El Salvador: The crusade against ignorance and violence

The challenge goes beyond the three Rs: the idea is to encourage personal development, raise self-esteem and involve the literate in a common goal of making El Salvador a prosperous, secure and educated nation.


  Charly Morales Valido


El Salvador bears the stigmas of a civil war which remains all too fresh in the memory and of violence wrought by gangs born in the United States; but now it is waging war on an enemy that is every bit as pernicious, or even worse: ignorance …

President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, who many call “The Prof” because of his training in education, is mounting a national offensive on illiteracy and has got thousands of volunteers involved in teaching people over the age of fifteen to read, write and perform basic arithmetic.

However, the undertaking is not only complicated by cultural and logistical issues but also political ones: literacy for all stood out among the proposals of the Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation (FMLN) during the campaign that saw Sánchez Cerén take occupancy of the president’s office or Casa Presidencal in 2015.

However, with a few months remaining on his term, the task has yet to be fulfilled. Among the main stumbling blocks has been the joint boycott of the right-wing Arena party and the Constitutional Chamber (of the Supreme Court) regarding public finance.

This situation led to several cases of non-payment that prevented the government from guiding social projects such as the National Literacy Programme and preserving their dynamism and relevance.

Even so, the government appealed to the public’s conscience and the need to have an educated population in order to ensure socio-economic growth – and the response was immediate and successful.

From the beginning of this crusade, El Salvador has been advised by Cuban experts in education with vast experience in the area of literacy. Sources from the Educational Task Force of Cuba have confirmed to Prensa Latina that there are advisers working in the country’s fourteen departments, with a close link with the thousands of volunteer facilitators.

Indeed, these volunteers are even teaching in far-off cantons (rural communities) which are potentially dangerous as they are often the preserve of ‘the gangs’.

In addition, the enterprise is also assisting around 10,000 inmates in 22 prisons who have benefited from literacy groups which ensure their right to education and culture. These lessons are in line with the government’s policy of making prisons centres of social rehabilitation where offenders experience a degree of personal salvation.

For now, September – the month of Salvadoran independence – will be key in the nation’s educational aspirations.

A total of 17 municipalities – including the capital, San Salvador – will be declared free of illiteracy as is the international standard. The Salvadoran Deputy Minister of Education, Francisco Castañeda has already stated that 94 of the 262 municipalities in the country are fully literate.

It is a long and complex process that begins with a census to identify who is illiterate and where they live; and then a facilitator who assists in the learning process is assigned.

Everything, moreover, depends on the commitment of the person in question and their appreciation of how important learning to read and write is – for their own personal development and not just to figure as a statistic in the political debate.

In addition, the National Literacy Program in El Salvador seeks to elevate the lives of citizens in the country.

The acceptable threshold for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is 4% illiteracy in the population and this includes those who are so because of health problems or because they expressly wish to remain illiterate.

Before the arrival of the FMLN in office, in 2009, illiteracy was around the 17.97% mark in El Salvador, but the mark on society left by the nation’s only left wing party in this polarized country has managed to reduce this to 10.14%.

(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – – Photos: Pixabay

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