“The achievements generated through both the Morales and Arce-led MAS government’s educational policies despite overwhelming material difficulties offer a crucial example of an education system forged for all.”Logan Williams
By Logan Williams, NEU Activist & Arise Festival volunteer
As Educators across Britain have begun to examine how to decolonise and reform the current educational system following two years of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is logical to examine the Bolivian education system.
The merits of the Bolivian system are plain to see through the country having one of the most inclusive curriculums in respect of the various indigenous populations across Bolivia. Alongside, a truly comprehensive education system funded by the Bolivian government led by the Movement for Socialism (MAS). In order to understand the progress made by the current Bolivian education system, it is necessary to examine both its foundations and the reality of education following the unsuccessful coup attempt.
The foundations of the alternative.
In the decades preceding the successful election in 2005 of Evo Morales as President at the head of a MAS led government, education in Bolivia, especially amongst its working and indigenous populations, was not prioritised by governments following the collapse of the Bolivian National Revolution in 1964. These governments effectively abandoned education within the rural and working-class areas as part of a neoliberal economic shift, which in turn, saw a collapse in the educational outcomes of the Bolivian population with only four out of five students completing primary education and, only a third of adults completing secondary education respectively.
As a result of this neglect, throughout the early twenty first centuries century the governments led by Evo Morales sought to ignite a national rebirth of social and political society in Bolivia. The bedrock of this was the launch of a nationwide literacy program in 2006 with the aid of Cuban and Venezuelan education advisors organised through the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) organisation.
The Bolivian literacy program of 2006-8 would later become the largest literacy campaign in Latin America since the Cuban literacy crusade in the 1960’s. The Bolivian literacy program was built around the foundations of the Cuban literacy programs and, the Venezuelan Mission Robinson materials but crucially was adapted to a Bolivian audience. The Bolivian program was entitled Yo si puedo (Yes I can) and was centred around 65 hours of face to face teaching in small groups over the span of three months. As well as face to face teaching, the program utilised contemporary technological advances in its favour through the provision of television sets and recorded materials to both rural program participants and volunteer instructors.
The success of the first literacy program in Bolivia saw as many as 820,000 adults; seventy percent of them women, achieve the basic objective of the program, namely, to read and write. Most of the participants chose to learn in Spanish but 14,000 and 22,000 chose respectively to study in the two most common indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara. The Literacy campaign, similarly to its sister programs in Cuba, Venezuela and, Nicaragua increased mass participation within the ideals of the political revolution led by the MAS government.
Following the completion of the Yo Si Puedo program, UNESCO would announce in 2008 that the Literacy campaign had defeated illiteracy within Bolivia. However, the movement for the eradication of poverty through education did not end there. The social and indigenous movements that had propelled the Morales-led MAS government to power, worked to form local educational authorities which allowed for popular control over the continuation and extension of the literacy program within their communities. Through these local education authorities, the social movements oversaw the next stage of the education program in 2009 through the launch of the Yo si puedo seguir (Yes I can continue) campaign. The Yo si puedo seguir campaign aimed to reach over 1 million adults including all adults who had not finished primary school. The campaign sought to introduce four curriculum subjects: geography, history, maths and, a natural science to the educational level of a typical eleven-year-old.
The alternative in power.
As well as the launch of revolutionary literacy programs across the country, the Bolivian government sought to radically reform schooling through a drastic increase in the funding provided to education and, through the inclusion of indigenous people through curriculum changes. This project sought to overcome the barriers put in place by previous neoliberal governments which the MAS government correctly identified as having forced over fifty percent of the population into moderate poverty. The dramatic increase in funding for education, the most by any Latin American country and eleventh out of one hundred and twenty-seven countries, has allowed the government to introduce free compulsory education from the ages of four to 17 years old, as well as free universities and public colleges.
As well as a drastic increase in the funding provided to education by the Bolivian government, the MAS government sought to include and empower future generations within the indigenous communities. The Morales-led government did this through working in close collaboration with the Confedaracion Indigena del Oriente Boliviano, the coordinating organisation for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia, to enshrine the recognition and promotion of indigenous languages as the centre of the Bolivian education system. The routes used were through the formal introduction of the provision of bilingual education in rural areas alongside the provision of compulsory indigenous language classes and the addition of indigenous history into the Bolivian curriculum.
Education following the coup and pandemic.
With the successful re-election of the MAS government in 2020 following the illegal Jeanine Anez-led coup of 2019, the Arce-led MAS government sought to recover the educational progress previously made despite complete shutdown of the Bolivian education system throughout the Anez government’s time in office. Throughout the period following the re-election of the MAS, the government had to face two years of the global COVID-19 pandemic which saw them utilise resources from the literacy campaigns to implement a mixed in-person and televised form of education throughout the pandemic to ensure all students despite their material difficulties would be able to access education in some form despite the risk of COVID.
Following the phased return to “normality”, Edgar Pary, MAS Minister for Education, and the government within its entirety have worked to reflect upon the national situation following the pandemic and have generated a detailed plan for recovery across key sectors of Bolivian society entitled the Bolivia Development Assistance Program. Within this program, the MAS government have sought to examine global educational systems in order to identify structural reforms and initiatives to increase educational outputs from the entire Bolivian population.
These examinations have led the government to propose a targeted scheme to recruit local community leaders to become temporary or permanent teachers within the most isolated communities to increase literacy and educational outputs from indigenous women in particular, the eradication of top-down neoliberal aid programs instead favouring the introduction of genuinely community based schools and, the generation of a collaboration system between parents and school staff to aid in improving educational progress for all students.
The achievements generated through both the Morales and Arce-led MAS government’s educational policies despite overwhelming material difficulties offer a crucial example of an education system forged for all which British educators, progressives, socialists and trade unionists alike post-Covid should seek to learn lessons from.
We must continue to build support for the people of Bolivia following the illegal 2019 coup by building and supporting the Friends of Bolivia initiative and, urging our unions to forge links with their Bolivian brothers and sisters to engage in dialogue of how we can all forge a progressive alternative post COVID-19.