Second session of the General Conference, Mexico City. The Eighth session would be held in Montevideo in 1954

Pilot Project for Fundamental Education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti

Creation of CREFAL, Latin American Fundamental Education Centre, Patzcuaro, Mexico

Simultaneous sessions of the UNESCO Regional Conference on Free and Compulsory Education in Latin America (MINEDLAC I) and the Second Inter-American Meeting of Ministers of Education of OAS, Lima

First Major Project on the Extension and Improvement of Primary Education in Latin America


The countries of Latin America, which had remained outside the world war and were amongst the first to become members of the Organization, already had centuries-old traditions and education systems, in contrast to the other continents. But, industrialization had created new training needs, at the same time exacerbating economic divisions and social unrest in a context marked by uncontrolled urbanization and the persistence of very disadvantaged enclaves. (1) The resultant disparities and inequalities would lead to political inertia, as well as to the authoritarian regimes of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1980s, the region entered into a period of economic recession and debt. In this crisis-ridden context, UNESCO, in co-operation with other international organizations, particularly the Organization of American States (OAS), collectively and individually stimulated and sustained the countries in the region in their repeated efforts to democratize education and eradicate illiteracy by setting up two major projects.


Drawing upon the experience of the fundamental education pilot project in the Marbial Valley in Haiti, Jaime Torres Bodet launched the idea of a network of regional fundamental education centres, the first of which was CREFAL, (2) Latin American Fundamental Education Centre, set up in Patzcuaro in co-operation with OAS (3) and the Mexican Government. CREFAL’s first mission was to train rural school teachers and to prepare prototype teaching materials. CREFAL kept pace with the evolution of UNESCO’s strategies, passing from fundamental education in rural areas to community development, and then to functional literacy.

MEXICO, 1947

After weeks of preparation and the arrival from the five continents of delegates, observers and Secretariat members from at least forty-eight nations, the Second Session of the General Conference of UNESCO was officially opened on the morning of November 6 at the Bellas Artes Theatre in Mexico City. The ceremony of inauguration took place in the presence of Miguel Alemán, President of the Mexican Republic, Manuel Gaul Vidal, Mexican Minister of Education, Jacques Maritain, Head of the French Delegation, replacing Léon Blum, and the officials and executives of UNESCO and national delegates.

All night long before the conference an army of three thousand artisans was working to complete the Teachers’ College, which is to serve for the plenary and committee meetings of the conference. The sound of hammers, drills and machinery resounded through the building as the members of the Secretariat put the finishing touches to the documents of the conference, and the Executive Board went over for the last time the 1948 draft programme for UNESCO which it is to submit to the General Conference.

The UNESCO Courier, February 1948.

HAITI, Pilot project in the Marbial Valley

The Valley children are taught Creole, spoken by most people living in Haiti MEXICO, Regional Fundamental Education Centre in Patzucuaro (CREFAL)

Tarascan boy in island village of Janitzio near Patzcuaro 
studies poster announcing inauguration of fundamental education training centre.

Julian Huxley
(United Kingdom)
Director-General of UNESCO from 1946 to 1948

We have found an inspiration and an example to follow in a country (Mexico) which, in the midst of a troubled world, has preserved its serenity and has [...] launched a vast campaign against illiteracy, aimed at developing strong and healthy minds in men who tomorrow will be the defenders of peace.

Closing Address to the Mexico City Session of the General Conference, 1947

Jacques Maritain Jacques Maritain
Head of the French Delegation to the Mexico City Session of the General Conference

We meet at a particularly grave moment in the world's history. What makes UNESCO's task seem at first paradoxical is that it presupposes unity of thought among men whose conceptions are different.

UNESCO Appeal, 1947

Jaime Torres Bodet
Director-General of UNESCO from 1948 to 1952

Thus, at a given time, the great battle against illiteracy and misery will break out in all corners of the world, not as something imported from abroad, but as the lucid effort of each and every community.

Speech on the occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of the Proclamation of the UNESCO Charter, 16 November 1950

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(1) R. Stavenhagen, Siete Tesis equivocadas sobre América Latina, Sociología y subdesarrollo. Nuestro Tiempo, Mexico 1972.

(2) CREFAL, Centro Regional de educación fundamental para el desarrollo de la comunidad en América Latina. CREFAL, which became a Mexican Institute in 1974, as the Regional Centre for Adult Education and Functional Literacy for Latin America continued to co-operate with OAS and UNESCO regional programmes.

(3) UNESCO-OAS CO-OPERATION OAS embarked on a joint Latin American literacy programme with UNESCO. OAS was to develop the Latin American Fundamental Education Press, with illustrated booklets in health, history, general culture, agriculture, and just good stories for distribution in Latin America for use in post-literacy educational programmes. UNESCO would facilitate the field testing and use of the materials through CREFAL, its newly established Latin American Fundamental Education Center at Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico. As a joint programme, representatives of the OAS were invited to sit on the board of CREFAL and representatives of UNESCO were invited to sit on the board of the Latin American Fundamental Education Press.

Caption:Tarascan boy in island village of Janitzio near Patzcuaro studies poster announcing inauguration of fundamental education training centre.