Education Policy

Language and Numeric Foundation Development: Is the Brigadista of Cuba Adaptable in Bangladesh?

Adaptable Model of Brigadista
Written by Editor

Cuba (from Wikipedia)The paper highlights how the government primary schools of Bangladesh can adapt some lessons from the national literacy campaign of Cuba. In 1960, the secondary students and the literate factory workers of Cuba were involved in the literacy movement and that brought a great success to remove the mass illiteracy. Besides the spirit of revolution, the state also provide incentives, such as, scholarship, health service, honor to the secondary students and the literate factory workers along with pedagogical support and these all play a vital role for this success. Nonetheless, the political context of Bangladesh is different, still, Bangladesh can adapt some lessons from Cuba to enhance the language and numeric foundation for the students of the government primary schools since both countries have similarities not only in terms of the history of people’s movement, but also in mono-lingual, states control over the primary education, sentimentality and so on. Bangladesh is doing an appreciable performance in terms of enrollment and gender parity in primary education; however, in concerns of quality the performance is not very satisfactory. Different studies pointed out that high teacher student ratio and weak language and numeric foundation are one of the main causes for frail quality of education. This paper proposes an adaptable model for Bangladesh based on the lesson of Cuba. This model describes how the senior students, local cultural activists, the local education authorities, media can be involved in order to build language and numeric foundation for the primary school students of Bangladesh.

Key words: Brigadsitas, Literacy, Language and Numeric Foundation, Pedagogy, Mono-lingual, Mentoring.

The objective of this paper is to explore whether and how the government primary schools1 of Bangladesh can adapt some lessons from the activities of the national literacy campaign of Cuba. After the revolution, Cuba did admirably well to reduce the rate of illiteracy. Nonetheless, the political context of Bangladesh is different, as the people of Bangladesh endured a long struggle to establish a democratic country whereas Cuba is a Socialist country, still, Bangladesh can adapt some lessons from Cuba to enhance the language and numeric foundation for the students of the government primary schools. This paper is an attempt to highlight the issues regarding this adaptation. 

The paper is structured as the following, the section II,    Contexts of Cuba and Bangladesh, briefly discusses about the political context and status of education Cuba and Bangladesh along with highlighting the contextual similarities and dissimilarities. The section III, Literacy Movement of Cuba, is a concise description of the Cuba’s achievement in literacy and provides an introduction with the Brigadista2of Cuba. Then, in section IV, Scopes of Adaptability of Brigadista in Bangladesh, this paper points out the scopes of adaptability of Brigadista with a degree of modification in Bangladesh. The last section, Conclusion, asserts a recommendation to government to adapt some lessons and tried out in the primary schools.

II. Contexts of Cuba and Bangladesh
Both the people of Cuba and Bangladesh did struggle to establish their political rights. At first, this section sketches a brief and broader overview of the political history of Cuba and Bangladesh focusing on the colonial eras and history of struggle for independence. Then, it highlights the similarities and dissimilarities of their contexts.

The people of Cuba have a long history of struggle. Cuba was a Spanish possession for 388 years (1438AD-1826AD)  with an economy based on plantation agriculture and the export of sugar, coffee and tobacco to Europe and later to North America. It was seized by the British in 1762, but restored to Spain the following year. In 1898 U.S. forces landed in Cuba and quickly overcame the exhausted Spanish resistance. Although the United States kept its commitment to give Cuba self-rule, the U.S. government required an “Americanization” of Cuba’s leaders beforeending the occupation. (Microsoft Encarta, 2006).  The Republic of Cuba gained formal independence on 20 May 1902. In 1952, then Army Chief of Staff Fulencio Batista staged a coup held power with the backing of a nationalist section of the army. In 1959 Fidel Castro and a number of other revolutionaries overthrew the Batista government. Since that time Castro has been the head of state and the ultimate authority on all policy decisions. Cuba has been governed according to socialist economic and political principles, with a centralized economy and a government under the control of the Cuban Communist Party. (Microsoft Encarta 2006).

Bangladesh also has a long history of movement to establish democracy. The region of the present Bangladesh was a British colony for about 200 years (1757-1947). This territory was attracted by the British because of its abundant of spices, indigo, skill cottage industry and so on. In 1947, the British left this region but present Bangladesh then East Pakistan became another colony of West Pakistan. In 1952, the people of this territory sacrificed their lives to get the recognition for Bangla as a state language. In 1954 the United Front of then East Pakistan won the election and formed the government. However, in 1958 General Ayub Khan seized the power and the autocratic government ruled for over ten years. In 1969, Ayub Khan due to mass movement, was forced to handover power to another General Yahya Khan. In 1970, the general parliament election was held and the majority of the seats were won by the Awami League, the prominent political party of the East Pakistan. However, General Yahya Khan dishonored the democratic rights of the people and did not hand over the power to the people’s representatives. On the 25th March 1971, the Pakistani military committed one the most inhuman genocide in the soil of Bangladesh. The war of independence started and the people of Bangladesh defeated the Pakistani army on the 16th December, 1971. Even after the independence, the democratic movement of Bangladesh was hampered and power was captured by the military. In 1990, due to mass protest from the people, Bangladesh started a new era of democracy from a long struggle with military and autocratic rulers. (Microsoft Encarta 2006).

From the above discussion, it can be said that both Cuba and Bangladesh had experienced colonial rule. Moreover, after getting rid of the colonial masters, the people of the both land were politically and economically oppressed by other forces. The people of Cuba and Bangladesh were also experienced the autocratic rules. During the 20th century, within one hundred years both countries had achieved independence from foreign colony, then oppressed and fought against the autocratic rulers.  Therefore, both countries have the history of peoples’ movement to establish their political rights. However, the pattern of achievement is different; Cuba formed a Socialist government, while Bangladesh is moving ahead towards a democratic state.

III. Literacy Movement of Cuba
Cuba has established a noteworthy success to ensure literacy to all. Bhola (1984) admired the mass literacy campaign of Cuba for its drive and speed. This section will not discuss a detail of the literacy movement. Rather, this section mainly discusses about the formation and task of the Brigadista.

First, allow us to illustrate the illiteracy and inequality in illiteracy of Cuba before the formation of the Brigadista. Half a decade before the revolutionary victory (1959) the illiteracy rate at the end of the Batista regime was 23.6% .Moreover, there remained rural-urban inequality as well. The rural population was in worse-off situation, the illiteracy rate was 41.7% vis-à-vis the urban illiteracy rate was 12.6 % (Morales, A., 1981). In addition to this, the status of access to education in rural areas was poor at that time. Morales, A. (1981) also reported that at that time the number of rural classrooms were not sufficient enough to serve even 35% of the rural student population. The student population between 6-14 years was 1.2 million (21.1% of total population). Out of 1.2million, 44.4% of the 6-14 years aged population did not attend any school. The population census also reported that among these non-attended populations, the situation was worse for the peasant children. (as quoted in Morales, A., 1981) This indicates the existence of inequality in education of Cuba during the period of 1950s.  

The formation of the Brigadista or literacy army was one of the first initiatives of the mass literacy movement of 1961. The secondary schools were closed for eight months in order to send literate students of 13 years and older along with teachers to teach the illiterate peasants. (Bhola 1984) This formation was extended and the literate factory workers were also included in the Brigadista.

The literacy movement did successful mobilization endeavor to attract people to be engaged as a Brigadista. A large quantity of “propaganda” was used to mobilize people. (One example is shown in appendix 1). (Supko 1998) This mobilization, slogans, hymns along with closing of schools for a period of eight months (beginning in April 1961) made some 105,664 number of students of grade six and above available to engage in teaching. Then, the direct participation of the schoolteachers in teaching and supervision was made mandatory. Soon another 100,000 or more teachers were required; the literate factory workers were mobilized to teach the peasants. Thus, it created a significant psychological impact and literacy became a nations’ business. (Bhola 1998).

The state provided equipment to enhance the task of the Brigadista’ effectively. Each literacy worker was equipped with two books, pair of boots, two pair of socks, an olive-green beret, two pairs of pants, two shirts, a blanket and a shoulder patch. (Supko 1998). Along with these the instructional materials (the premier Venceremos, the literacy manual Alfabeticemos, notebooks), pencils, lists, a lamp were provided. Moreover, each Brigadista got ten pesos per month for incidental expenses. (Bhola 1998)

Furthermore, there remained additional incentive along with training for the Brigadista. Carnoy (2007) asserted that the bright promising upper secondary students were recruited and trained. This six-to-eight month teacher training education courses provided them the scopes to receive a university degree while teaching in primary schools. The factory workers, while they were engaged in teaching, they received their regular salary. (Bhola 1998) The health of the Brigadista was considered as the responsibility of the doctors, nurses and medical assistants of the areas. (Bhola 1998)

On the other hand, there remained some serious threats also to drive that program. During the trial stage of the campaign, the counter-revolutionary terrorists brutally murdered a young literacy instructor, Conrado Benitez who was only 18 years old. The state attributed Conrado Benitez with the honor of a martyr.  (Abendroth, 2005) Later on the Brigadista wore the shoulder patch as a reminder of Conrado Benitez.

Despite all these threats, the mass literacy movement continued. The Brigadista met with the illiterates at their home. This also prevented absenteeism. The teacher-learner ratio became 1:3 or sometimes 1:2. (Bhola, 1998). The mass literacy movement progressed well. Young Brigadista were promised scholarships, study coaches to intensify their efforts and different sorts of incentives. Moreover, the communities were engaged in friendly competition with one another to become the first territorio Libre de Analfabetismo means Territory Free of Illiteracy (recently Venezuela has pronounced itself as such too). When the last illiterate member of a family passed the literacy tests, the family was entitled to hang a red flag above the doorway of the house. After the last house in a town had raised the flag, then the town itself could raise a larger flag and declare itself free of illiteracy. (Supko, 1998). Table 1 shows the progress at various stages of the campaign. It shows that the number of literate people increased more than 32 times within six months (from 22,000 on June to 707,000 on December) and the gap between number of illiterate and literate people was reduced.

Table 1: Progress at various stages of the literacy campaign, 1961

CategoryEnd of JuneEnd of JulyEnd of AugustEnd of OctoberEnd of Campaign (21 December)
Illiterates located684,000822,000985,000988,000979,000
Persons studying465,000594,000776,000500,000n.a.
New literates(cumulative totals)22,00062,000119,000354,000707,000

(Source: Bhola, 1984)

The successful motivational campaign along with the training and incentive brought noteworthy success to the campaign. The participation of the secondary students, teachers and literate factory workers set an example of a significant successful literacy movement. Beside this, Bhola (1984) noted that another advantage was that language of literacy was Spanish and the campaign dealt with only with that language. This was also important for this success.

Based on the discussion of this section, this paper will point out the possibilities or areas of the adaptability of the Brigadista in Bangladesh, in the next section.

IV. Scopes of Adaptability of Brigadista in Bangladesh
In the previous section, this paper discussed that the formation and the activities of the Brigadista brought success in the literacy movement. The participation of the secondary students and the literate factory workers played a vital role to enhance the literacy rate. However, this section is going to point out some scopes of the adaptibilities in Bangladesh not for the mass literacy movement. Based on the idea from the Brigadista of Cuba, this section of the paper proposes for the participation of the senior school students and involvement of the local cultural organizations in the primary education program3 in order to improve the language and numeric foundation of the grade one students.

The scopes of the adaptability
This part is going to find the scopes of the concept of Brigadista in the primary education sector. Earlier, it has been mentioned that the political stands of these two countries are different but both have them the history of people’s movement. Moreover, in both these countries the government are the main providers of education.

The education system of Bangladesh is not fully centralized but government primary schools do account for almost half of the total primary schools, and 61.3% students are enrolled there. Besides, a quarter of the total primary schools are registered non-government primary schools and they account for almost one-quarter of primary students. (DPE 2008) Another large group of schools are Ebatedayee Madrashas (religious schools) and they account for one tenth of total primary schools, and about 5% students enrolled there. Thus, it can be said government is the main provider of the primary education in Bangladesh. Moreover, the curriculum and the textbooks for the primary schools are prepared and published by the National Curriculum and Text Book Board (NCTB), an implementing agency of the government and the textbooks are distributed free to all the primary school students whose medium of instruction is Bangla.

It has already been shown that Bangladesh did admirably well to ensure the access to the students to the primary schools.  During the post EFA (Education For All) era, Bangladesh has achieved praise worthy success in the case of enrollment of the students in primary schools as well the reducing the gender disparity. However, in response to the issue of quality of education (goal no 6 of EFA), the performance of Bangladesh is not reported satisfactory at all. According to the Education Watch Report (2000), only 0.7% of the rural and 3.2% of the urban students achieved the satisfaction level of competency determined by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board of Bangladesh (NCTB) after completion the primary school cycle. This reports also pointed that all competencies in Bangla and mathematics were achieved by only 36.5% and 11.6%, respectively. So, there remains rural –urban inequality, weak foundation in language and numeric foundation, lack of quality in the primary education of Bangladesh.

The high teachers-pupil ratio is addressed as one of the prime reason for the lack of quality and inequality (CAMPE 2001). Thus, this paper is going to
recommend that the participation of the senior students as well as the local cultural groups in the primary schools can play a vital role to improve the quality of primary education in a cost-effective way and can reduce the adverse effect of higher teacher-student ratio.

The proposal for the Involvement of the Senior Students4
This paper recommends that a certain period (there should be flexibility on the length of the period) of the grade one would be announced as the foundation period for achieving the language and numeric foundation for a grade one students. The objective of this period is to build a strong language and numeric foundation of all students of grade one. During this period a group of senior students would be involved as a teaching assistant for the grade one teachers. The whole grade one students will be divided into several groups and one senior student would be assigned for each group. Say, there are 50 grade one and 10 senior students and so there can be 10 clustered and each cluster will consist of 5 grade one students and 1 senior student. The grade one teacher will provide guided task to the senior students and monitor the activities.

The assigned task of the senior students would be to assist the class teachers to improve the language and numeric foundation of the grade one students. In this way, the adverse effect of the teacher-student ratio for improving the quality of education in grade one can be reduced. In addition to this, the premise of student-student interaction may have an impact on student-teacher friendly interactions.

A group of the senior student can participate for 10 days and then on the last day of their participation another group of senior students will join with them to observe the learning status of the grade one situation. From the next day, s/he can start from the end point of the previous classes. (The number of days can be adjusted according to the situation) An anticipated problem of this process is that the quality of teaching could be varied from person to person and the frequent change of senior students as teachers could create some difficulties for the grade one students. But there is a flip side for involving one senior student for the whole period, it could hamper their study.

In addition to this, the participation of the senior students would be considered as a part of their course work. Certain credits can be allotted for this, say, involving in social work. Thus, it would be a part of the evaluation of the senior students’ annual grade.

Box:1 Mentoring Program of BRAC-PACE

BRAC-PACE program operates the Mentoring program. In this mentoring program, the ‘good students’ assist other students. They consult about the attendance in the class, home work. The also discuss with their classmates about their problems such as, inattentiveness, problems to solve mathematical problems and so on. Moreover, they are actively involved with their mates in different creative sorts of activities, e.g., prepare wall magazine, writing rhymes and stories, drawing, designing etc. They also organize debate competition and assist to arrange sports.

Source: Manual on Mentoring, BEP-PACE (in Bangla)

The proposal for the Involvement of Local Cultural Organizations
The local cultural organizations can also take part in language and numeric foundation achievement period. A number of local cultural organizations are active in many rural areas of Bangladesh. They perform in painting, music, dance, dramas and other cultural activities. The cultural groups or cultural activists can attend in the primary schools for the selected days and spend the time with the grade one students and help them to perform in different cultural activities.  

According to the multiple intelligence of Howard Gardner’s, there are multiple ways5 of learning and this multiple intelligence of learning advocates that music, physical activities, paintings, socialization can play a vital role to learn. The active involvement of the cultural activists can help to generate an atmosphere for the implementation of the multiple intelligence ways of learning inside the schools. Moreover, the cultural activities can also create an enjoyable atmosphere in the class-room for the grade one students.

The cultural activities, enjoyable atmosphere have a positive influence on learning specially for the development of language foundation.  In this way, not only the cultural organizations can effectively involve for improving the language foundation of grade one students, but also help to nourish the inherent potentialities of them.

The local and national dailies as well as the electronic media can publish or broadcast this involvement of the cultural groups. In this way, a local cultural organization can get familiar with the rest of the countries. This can play as an incentive for the local cultural organizations.

Involvement of the NCTB, Headmaster and other authorities
The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) of Bangladesh can prepare a training manual for the senior students and cultural activists of Bangladesh (they may get some status like Brigadista). The NCTB also has to design the plan of action and annual scheme of works for this. Since they are responsible for preparing and distributing curriculum and textbook in the primary education system, thus, they have the power to spread these programs to the primary schools of Bangladesh.

The school teacher especially the grade one teacher can be assigned to train the senior students who will later play the role of assistant teacher. It can also ease the grade one teacher to work with the senior students at the later stage. Moreover, some lessons can be added in the primary school teachers’ manual as well as in their training on this issue. The headmaster and members of the SMC (School Management Committee) can delegate the responsibilities of monitoring and management related issues.

Forms of Incentives and Guidance
In order to implement the involvement of the senior students and the cultural organization in a cost-effective way, it is essential to provide incentives and guidance.

Forms of Incentives

For the senior students
•    Incorporate this involvement as the part of the course work.
•    Allot credits for this involvement.
•    Add this experience in the resume as a social activity also.
•    At local level the local government would take the initiative for an annual publication in which the experience of the students can be published.
•    Declare special award in the national education week each year for the best performance at the local, district, division and national level.

For the Cultural Activists and Organizations
•    Giving Media Coverage.
•    Provide recognition from the local community or thana6/district education office.
•    Best-performed organizations would get special award from the government and can participate in an event in the national broadcast (Radio and television).

Forms of Guidance
For the senior students
The National Curriculum and Text Book Board (NCTB) would prepare a planned attainable competencies list for the language and numeric founation period. The NCTB will also design scheme of work according to the competencies. Then, the senior students would get a special training for this. The training can be divided into two parts.

One is general in which, the students would get oriented with the objectives, methods of the program and also get some tips of teaching. Another part would be to get special training on the assigned work, for example, say student A is assigned for the first 10 days and student B will join after A. Then, A would get special training for the contents of the period of the first 10 days and B for the second 10 days according to the scheme of works. (Again, here the number of days can be flexible according to the circumstances).

In addition to this, the senior students would also get some guidance from the primary teachers and they can also learn during the time of involvement in the classroom from their direct experience.

For the Cultural Activists and Organizations
A number of cultural events can be selected from the local level. The training programs and workshops can be arranged with the cultural activists and organizations to promote the events. The patriotic songs, music related to language and numeric foundation can be practiced in the classrooms in order to stimulate the listening and speaking competencies. Drawings and paintings exercise can help to develop the psychomotor skills of the children and this development is essential for the improvement of writing competencies. Moreover, some games and plays can be designed that would help the students for physically fit.

Recommendations to Face the Anticipated Challenges for this Involvement
•    The main challenge of this involvement is that this would a change of the traditional classroom practice, since the rote learning method is widely practiced in Bangladesh.Thus, the teachers as well as the administrators need proper orientation with this new intervention.
•    It may arise some sensitive issues that the teachers may feel uncomfortable with the senior students. They may think that the secondary students and the cultural activists are getting equal status of the primary teachers’ position. Here, the initiatives are required to be taken that the primary teachers would realize that they (the senior students and the cultural activists) are just playing as helping hands for them.  
•    The parents/guardians of the senior students may show their doubt that this involvement would hamper the studies of their children.  Thus, it needs to be advocated to the parents that this is part of the grade as well as an effective practice for the future career of their children also.

Adaptable Model of Brigadista

A Comparative Assertion between Cuba and Bangladesh

Now, this paper will highlight common grounds between these two countries.

1. Monolinguism: Bhola (1984) noted that an advantage of Cuba’s education was that language of literacy was Spanish and the campaign dealt only with that language. This is also true for Bangladesh since Bangladesh is a monolingual country and the medium of instruction is Bangla.

2. Symbolism and Sentimentality: Moreover, the language of Bangla has many sentimental values to the people of Bangladesh. On 21st February 1952, Rafiq, Salam, Zabbar, Shafiq did sacrifice their lives to establish Bangla as a state language. Now, the 21st February is recognized as the International Mother Language Day. Likewise, the tribute to Conrado Benitez of Cuba, Bangladesh can also motivate the senior students and the cultural activists to teach the primary school students in order to develop their Bangla skills. This can be advocated as a reminder for the martyrs of the language movement and the program can also be named according to the names of the language martyrs.

3. Role of the State: Although the education system of Bangladesh is not completely centralized like Cuba, the government of Bangladesh has an influential control in the primary education system. Thus, it would be possible for the government to organize the training programs for the secondary students and the cultural activists.  

4. Additional versus Standstill:  After formation of the Brigadista the secondary schools were closed for eight months to ensure the participation of the secondary students to the movement. However, for Bangladesh, this paper does not suggest to follow the same strategy. Rather, this paper proposes to assign some grades and extra credits for this participation. Moreover, this paper has also proposed that there will be a by rotation process of this participation, so that one senior student does not need to be involved with this activities for the whole year. Thus, the NCTB has to plan the training program considering this strategy, so that the senior students can easily cope up with the previous classes participated by their mates.

5. Incentives: When the last illiterate member of a family passed the literacy tests, the family was entitled to hang a red flag above the doorway of the house. The primary schools can also arrange an annual ceremony when all the students of grade one develop their language and numeric foundation.

V. Conclusion
This paper has highlighted some scopes to adapt some lessons from the formation of Brigadista of Cuba in primary education of Bangladesh. This paper expects that the government of Bangladesh can consider the proposals in order to enhance the quality of the primary education in Bangladesh as well as reduce the inequalities of education between the rural and urban areas.  

Example of a poster to mobilize young literate people
(SUPKO 1998)

1 There are different  types of primary schools in Bangladesh, such as, Government Primary School (GPS), Experimental School (EXP) attached to Primary Training Institution (PTI), Registered Non-Government Primary School (RNGPS), Community School (COM), Satellite School (SAT), High School attached Primary Section (H/A PS), Non-registered Non-Government Primary School (NGPS), Kinder Garten (KG), Ebtedayee Madrasha (EM), High Madrasha attached Ebtedayee Madrasha (H/A MAD), NGO-run Full Primary School (NGO)
2 The Spanish word Brigadista means the Brigade. 
3 In Bangladesh, from grade one to grade five is noted as the primary level.
4 By senior students, this paper means the students of grade four and five. Note, in the two-shifts Primary schools the class-time of the grade four and five is different from grade one. The top 20 students according to the previous results can be selected here. (The Box 1 mentions about the ‘good students’ of the BEP’s Mentoring initiatives) However, it should be flexible and top 20 students can be selected as a starter and later on it can be modified. 
5 Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are: Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal and Naturalist. (, accessed February 13, 2007)
6 Thana is a unit of the local administration of the central government.

Abendroth, M. (2005). Cuba’s National Literacy Campaign: A Mass Movement of Emancipatory Global Civic Education, Doctoral Dissertaion,University of St.Thomas, Minnesota.

BBS (2003), Statistical Yearbook of Bangladesh 2001. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Planning, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Dhaka.

Bhola,H. (1984). The Cuban Mass Literacy Campaign, 1961. In Campaign for Literacy (pp. 91-105). Paris: UNESCO.

CAMPE (2001), Education Watch 2000, A Question of Quality: State of Education in Bangladesh, Vol.I. Campaign for Popular Education and University Press Limited. Dhaka

Carnoy, M. (2007). Cuba’s Academic Advantage. Standford University Press. CA.

BRAC (2008) Manual on Mentoring, BEP-PACE, BRAC Publications.

Morales, A. (1981). The Literacy Campaign in Cuba. Harvard Educational Review, 51, 31-39.

Supko,A. (1998). Perspectives on the Cuban National Literacy Campaign. A paper prepared at the meeting of the Latin American Studies Association.

Worthman, C. and Kaplan, L. (2001). Literacy education and dialogical exchange: Impressions of Cuban education in one classroom. The reading Teacher,54,7,648-656.

Electronic Resource
Cuba (2006). Available. Microsoft Encarcta, 2006

Internet cites,accessed July 05, 2007

http://, accessed December 20, 2008

Writers: From Institute of Educational Development, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Email: [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] respectively

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