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June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

The ArrowMight Program: Cuba´s Contribution to a Literacy Project for the Canadian Context

Matilde Patterson Peña  is a teacher at Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas, Cuba. She is interested in ELT methodology and language teaching and learning. She has written and co-written course books and programs for language teaching in Cuba and for literacy projects in Venezuela and Canada. Her current professional interests are Professional Development and Innovations in ELT.  She enjoys working with pre-service and in-service teachers.  Email:,



For many years Cuba has given a great contribution to the field of literacy worldwide. Many countries from different regions have benefited from the literacy program “Yo Sí Puedo” (Yes, I can) and the post literacy program “Yo sí Puedo Seguir” (I can go on) which have proven to be very effective in more than 35 countries.

Cuba’s endeavor, along with the work of several governments and other institutions and organizations have been able to help millions of people in need of education. Because of these results, Cuba has won UNESCO recognition and different awards.

Not only Latin American and African countries have benefited from the Cuban Pedagogy, but also first world countries like Spain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. These countries, through different organizations have also asked for the program, and have been able to put it into practice in several communities and regions.

The present paper refers to the experience of one of the Cuban English teachers who participated as a literacy expert in some of the stages of the development of the ArrowMight Program which was designed  for the Canadian context and which is still being used in some communities with very good results.


The origins of the ArrowMight Program

The ArrowMight program is based on a previous experience carried out in New Zealand in 2005.  Aotearoa Institute (AI), a New Zealand Charitable Trust, was set up in 1986 by Dr. Rongo Wetere and a team of educators to help people underserved by the educational system in that country. 

At the knowledge of our country´s results in the field of education, Mr. Wetere came to meet educational authorities in Cuba in order to find a way to help the Maori people in his country. In an agreement with IPLAC (Instituto Pedagógico Latinoamericano y Caribeño), the Greenlight for Life Program came to life. This program which used the Cuban Methodology was created and developed for the New Zealand context, mainly directed to its Maori people.

At the success of the Greenlight Literacy Program in New Zealand, the First Nations Seven Generations Institute of Ontario requested that a similar initiative be developed for the aboriginal people of Canada.

In 2006, The Aotearoa Institute Charitable Trust (AI) formally agreed to help create a program for Canada that would be applicable and relevant not only to Aboriginal people, but also to all Canadians in need.

With respect to the program´s content, AI obtained the vital assistance from Cuban educational experts, as well as Canadian specialists and Aboriginal consultants. Cuban educators already trained in the field of literacy started working together with Canadian educators to bring to life the ARROWMIGHT Program.


What is the ArrowMight Program?

ArrowMight is a home-based adult program for developing and refining skills in literacy, numeracy and adult basic education. An exciting feature is that students can follow the program in a family environment in their own home or familiar surroundings.

The program is presented in three modules using workbooks with pages that are visually appealing and that use symbols of Canada, photographs, graphics, charts, tables, and colors that make it easier for the students to follow. An optional computing program involves developing computer literacy skills in order to effectively make use of computers in the home and at work.

The lessons are recorded in high definition (HD), and duplicated into DVDs for use in the TV. This approach can facilitate both independent and collective learning, as it can involve the whole family at the same time. Furthermore, all students will benefit from the program by reviewing the fundamentals of English and Math and widening their awareness of culture and knowledge in general.

This programme is based on ‘Yo, sí Puedo’ (Yes, I Can) and ‘Yo sí Puedo Seguir’ (I can Go On) which were designed and developed by specialists from IPLAC (the Latin American Caribbean Pedagogical University of Cuba). A team of Canadian educators worked in collaboration with Cuban and New Zealand specialists to contextualize these programs so that the literacy, numeracy and foundation skills of English speaking Canadians could be developed and refined in ways that could increase their opportunities in further education


Stages in the ArrowMight Program

The project was designed and developed through four main stages:

Stage One: Exploratory stage

This is a very important stage since it is the starting point to determine if there is a real need for the project to be developed. It was carried out by conducting a diagnostic assessment across Canada. Five provinces and territories were assessed: Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island (PEI).

Both teams (Cuban and Canadian) participated actively on the search for objective information.  Official and non-official documents were consulted: national and international surveys; research reports; literacy courses and other materials. Actually, members of both teams could participate in important conferences, meetings and other events to realize that it was  a fact that almost half of all Canadian adults ( 48%) had low literacy skills , and that more than a million (mainly aboriginal people) really struggled to operate in the  modern world.

As part of this stage, 950 people were interviewed in homes and groups– Aboriginal, Immigrants, on reserve, off reserve, at colleges and other educational institutions. The information obtained was gathered from many sources – Global, National, Provincial/Territorial, Communal and Individual. Observation was a key tool to assist in decision making for the symbols and content of the first module.

All the results that weregathered wereanalyzed and compared to reach a conclusion about the information at hand. There was a combination of top down and bottom up approaches, so the information could be crossed in order to make generalizations.

Stage Two: Elaboration stage

This was probably the phase that took longer (two and a half years). It was during this stage that all the resources and materials were created. Different teams were involved: the Cuban team, the Canadian team, the Graphic design, the Scriptwriting, Film and Editing crew, the Tele-Teachers. Coordinating and Managing the people and companies involved was a huge task, and yet everyone had been working together with a common goal: to produce the learning materials.

For Cubans, it was especially challenging. They had the methodology and the training tools, but they had to learn about many other cultural and social differences that had to be reflected in the program to make it inclusive, educational and appropriate to that context.

The products of the elaboration stage were: The workbooks, The DVD lessons, the curricular design materials and the training materials. In order to understand the design for this program, we should refer to its key elements which work as a system. This means that one cannot do without the other.

These key elements are closely connected and interrelated: 

The student is the core of the program, using the workbooks to follow the DVD lessons and having a Facilitator that provides support and encouragement.

The DVD lessons play an important role in the teaching-learning process. Through the DVD lessons, the students receive the content, educative messages, life skills, cultural insight, and knowledge to broaden their understanding about the world. The lessons, which have been developed by a team of adult education specialists are presented by Tele-Teachers and recorded on DVD. 

Each lesson is delivered by means of an interactive dialogue between the Tele-Teacher, who is on camera and a student’s voice that represents the students in the program. The student interacts via dialogue but is not on camera. He asks general and specific questions that students across Canada may ask or would like to ask during the learning process in order to clarify information or instructions.

The Workbooks complement the DVD lessons and provide written support for students following the program. They contain written text(s), photographs, exercises, tables, examples, support and Guide Pages.

The students follow the DVD lessons using the workbook. The Tele-Teacher guides the students through each lesson clarifying, motivating and supporting the concepts being taught.

The Facilitator guides and encourages the students to fulfil their aims, reach their goals and develop skills to improve their lives. They provide the link between the students’ progress and program management who monitor and assess the program.

The Facilitator’s role is to ensure all the necessary components are in place to help the student learn and make progress throughout the program. The Facilitator must develop some specific tasks to enable them to fulfill their responsibilities and be successful in their role.

Stage Three: Experimental stage (Pilot)

This stage is the first attempt to determine if what has been designed on the previous stage actually works with real students.

For the pilot, three provinces were chosen to try out the program: 1. British Columbia (Greater Vancouver); 2. Manitoba (Greater Winnipeg, Broken head First Nation, Black River First Nation); 3. Ontario (Smiths Falls).

Students enrolled in Pilot: 143

Breakdown by age of students enrolled in the pilot:

  • 16-15: 29 students
  • 26-35: 35 students
  • 36-45: 41 students
  • 46-55: 28 students
  • over 55: 10 students

Breakdown by ethnic or racial identification

  • Aboriginalpeople: 71
  • Immigrants: 47
  • Non-Aboriginal people born in Canada: 25


The use of technology in the ArrowMight Program

Online tools were created to provide additional support for the people involved in the ArrowMight program (Facilitators, Monitoring team, Providers etc). Organization and credibility are enhanced with the presence of such comprehensive online tools.

The Learning Management System (LMS) is anessential tool in the running of the ArrowMight Program. It organizes Facilitators’ tasks and gives them a list of tasks to perform and at what point.   It helps to track students’ progress since it gives the Facilitator the possibility to input all the information about the students and their progress. It also gives them guidelines to follow for the different contacts with the students (home visits and phone calls) and it includes complementary exercises and assessments.

Stage Four: Implementation stage

This is the last stage after the first results and feedback from the pilot have been obtained. It is in this phase that results of the pilot are presented to institutions and organizations which may want to implement the program. Marketing is an important step since in a huge country like Canada, many attempts to solve literacy issues have been created in a competitive manner.

The feedback from the ArrowMight pilot was positive, that is why provinces and territories started looking for funding to implement the program. At present several communities have graduated students who have evidenced how ArrowMight goals have been achieved.


Evaluation of the ArrowMight Program

In 2010, a qualitative study was conducted by Adele Ritch, principal consultant with DYAD Projects to offer information to planners and policy makers about the potential of ArrowMight to increase literacy skills in Canada.

The evaluation focused on learning about the student's experience with ArrowMight in four main areas:

  1. The effectiveness of ArrowMight in addressing students' literacy, numeracy and essential skill needs.
  2. The potential of ArrowMight to provide a pathway into employment and further training.
  3. The relevance of the program content to the Canadian context.
  4. The identification ofpotential improvements to the program.

The results were mostly positive since the study provided important information about the implementation of the program and how the participants had benefitted from it.

The following are some of the opinions given by students on different elements of the program which are included in the qualitative study mentioned above:

“I'm a single mom at home. I wanted to improve my English for my kids. I was thinking about going to school, but it was hard to do this. In 2006 I tried to go to a local college. It was a self-study program. It didn’t work for me because I like someone talking to me. After a month or two I dropped out. ArrowMight was ideal for me.It was a gift. So when I have free time I can work on it. I'm not rushed. It's my choice of time. I can study any time during the day or evening. It was very good. It's the best program I ever had.”

 “With ArrowMight, I can schedule my time. I could digest the information before I went on to something else. In the classroom at ESL classes I sometimes got so confused that I would get upset and then depressed. I had no control there. With ArrowMight I have all of the control.”

 “At first they said mom it's too low for you. They were embarrassed but after a while they thought it was great. They asked me if I would finish high school. My youngest son didn’t know that I hadn't finished high school. So we talked about it. I wasn't hiding that I didn't have an education. My older children knew but the four-year-old didn't know. I want to say to them, you have an opportunity for education, don’t waste it.”

 “We found time for the family to be together. We did about two hours a week to learn English. ArrowMight helped us like English, especially my children. It brought us together. When the kids were doing their homework they refer to the ArrowMight dictionary and encyclopedia.”

“ArrowMight helped our family stay together. Immigrant-families are strong when they come here, but in Canada they separate, they break apart. We all learned English together and we learned about Canada, it was good for us.”

  “I thought it was a great concept to have people start literacy programming within their own community out of their own home. I have wanted to see a program like this for years. There are so many people who won’t come to a classroom. This program can reach them.”

 “The facilitator spent a lot of time with me on math. I would think I got it and then the next day I would forget it. I found this very frustrating. The facilitator came to my house many times and we went over and over it with the DVD. This worked for me. I needed someone to sit with me and help me with the math.”

Ihave taken a lot of ESL classes. ArrowMight has positive messages and the entire program is practically oriented. I learned a lot about eating healthy things. I think the content is juicy. For example, now I want to go to Newfoundland. I didn't think about that before.

  “The fact that there's a lot of Aboriginal content is wonderful, especially because a lot of the people who are doing literacy are new immigrants. When they come to Canada they don’t have a lot of knowledge of history or Aboriginal people. In this literacy program they learn things that people are going to be proud of, not rumors or hearsay. Real things. It's very positive.”

 “I learned a lot that I didn't know. I learned about Canada. I was telling my brother how birds fly to places and then come back with the seasons. I felt really happy to learn this and other things.”



The application and impact of the Cuban adult literacy method has once more proven the value of its pedagogy. The results of the ArrowMight Program have actually materialized in support of other nations, strengthening multilateralism, and showing the way towards international cooperation based on solidarity and respect for diversity.

Although the Cuban experts’ participation was mainly in the four main stages, from a personal stand point, getting involved in the ArrowMight Program was really a challenging, encouraging and inspirational experience. This was not only helpful for the professional growth of the Cuban experts, but also for  the expansion of language and academic skills, along with socio-cultural knowledge about an English speaking country. This experience has also served to integrate what was learnt during those years to the actual work as language teachers and educators in Cuba.

ArrowMight Canada (AMC) literacy program is one more step to eradicate illiteracy worldwide and the attainment of a world where access to education should be a right for all. In doing this, English teachers, are making a praiseworthy contribution. 



ArrowMight Learning for Life ( 2009).  Program Foundation Document. ArrowMight Canada Ltd., Canada.

ArrowMight Learning for Life (2009).  Program Facilitator’s Manual. ArrowMight Canada Ltd., Canada.

Arrowmight Learning for Life (2009). Program Workbooks One, Two and Three. ArrowMight Canada Ltd., Canada.

Evaluation Study Final Report. DYAD Projects November 2010.

Gutiérrez Canfux J. (2006). Seminario Internacional sobre Políticas y Programas de Alfabetización y Post-alfabetización. IPLAC (Instituto Pedagógico Latinoamericano Y Caribeño).  La Habana,  Cuba. 

López S. Miriam (2010) ArrowMight Canada: A Contribution of Cuban English Teachers to First World Adult Literacy. Approach. Journal

Canadian Council of Learning. “State of Learning in Canada, Toward a Learning Future,” (2008)

UNESCO ( 2002).  Statement for the United Nations Literacy Decade, 2002 – 2013.


Please check the Pilgrims courses at Pilgrims website.

  • Writing in Foreign Language Teaching
    Elisabeth Dumpierres Otero, Cuba;Vilma María Pérez Viñas, Cuba;Raquel Guerra Ceballos, Cuba

  • An Overview of English Language Education in Cuba: Achievements and Challenges
    Eduardo Garbey Savigne, Cuba;Isora Enríquez O´Farrill, Cuba

  • British Council-St Giles Educational Trust: Classrooms in Action and Mentors in Action, Cuba
    Mike Williams, UK

  • The ArrowMight Program: Cuba´s Contribution to a Literacy Project for the Canadian Context
    Matilde L. Patterson Peña, Cuba