Up with literacy in Venezuela

Venezuelan businessmen have launched a major campaign against illiteracy. Backed by the Social Christian government of President Luis Herrera Campins, they aim to teach 1.2 million Venezuelans to read and write in the next three years by selling them literacy "kits."

"Some years ago a group of dynamic businessmen decided that instead of moaning about the problems of the country, we should do something positive," said Jose Alvarez Stelling, president of the Cultural Association for Development (ACUDE), set up to run the project.Approximately 2 in 5 of Venezuela's 16 million people are illiterate. ACUDE's solution, reached after three years of study, was to develop a "basic sound-study course." Each $23 kit contains a 125-page booklet, a portable record player, and 31 tough, flexible records.

The idea, Mr. Alvarez Stelling says, is that an "auxilliary," someone who already knows how to read and write, should use the kit to teach five friends or neighbors. The kit can then be reused.

Asked if illiterates, who tend to be among the poorest of the population, might be unable or unwilling to invest in the kit, he replied: "We do not wish to give anyone a gift. . . . But the price is quite accessible."

The kits went on sale in supermarkets, shops, banks, and pharmacies last week , backed by an intense television, radio, and movie theater advertising campaign. The project, also supported by well-known lecturers donating their services, is seen as more than just a social exercise.

"The examples of Cuba and Nicaragua are too close," one ACUDE executive said. "With a regime like the Cuban or the Nicaraguan, one can mobilize thousands of young people from the cities to go and eradicate illiteracy. Up to now, democracy has seemed incapable of such an effort. "The Venezuelan private sector is ready to demonstrate that, without dictatorship, without forced mobilizations of teachers and students, we can eliminate illiteracy."

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