Conference of Ministers of Education and Those Responsible for the Promotion of Science and Technology in Relation to Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO/OAS/ CEPAL (MINEDLAC IV), Carabellada, Venezuela

Adoption of the Regional Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees in Higher Education, Mexico City

Creation of CRESALC, Regional Centre for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, Caracas


  • MINEDLAC V adopts The Mexico Declaration related to the Major Project, Mexico City
  • CARNEID, the network for educational innovation and development, established in Paramaribo

The Twenty-first session of UNESCO’s General Conference approves the (second) Major Project, Belgrade


The Ministers meeting in 1979 in Mexico City took note of the accomplishments of the last decade, but were concerned about the impact the population explosion and disparate economic growth rates could have on education: one adult in three was illiterate, drop-out rates were much too high during the first years of school, curricula were often unsuitable, education was insufficiently linked to development, the organization and management of education system was often inefficient. With the Mexico Declaration, the Ministers collectively pledged themselves 'to face the present-day challenges of education' and in particular to offer a minimum of eight to ten years general education to all children of school age before 1999, to eradicate illiteracy and to take urgent measures to provide education for the least privileged population groups living in rural and suburban areas, and finally to undertake the necessary reforms to improve the quality and effectiveness of education systems. They addressed an urgent appeal to UNESCO to take the initiative in launching a major project which would encompass all these goals.

The objectives, strategies and modalities of the Major Project in the Field of Education in Latin America and the Caribbean were defined during a regional meeting in Quito in 1981. This Major Project was conceived as a framework which would propose a coherent series of national, sub-regional and regional activities, supported by international technical and financial co- operation. Its main characteristic was its pragmatic attitude to education, based on horizontal co-operation comprising offers of, and requests for, expertise in each main sphere of its programme (literacy, planning, production of textbooks, etc.). UNESCO's role, and particularly that of its Regional Offices, (11) was to serve as a catalyst in exchanges within the region and between the region and the international community.

The Major Project is implemented by regional networks specializing respectively in teacher- training and curriculum reform, PICPEMCE, (12) literacy and adult education, REDALF, (13) and planning and administration of basic education, REPLAD. (14)These networks are open to the large numbers of specialized institutions existing in all countries of the region - about 8,000 of them in the field of teacher-training - through intermediate groupings at the sub-regional level of national networks or centres. Each network is run by a steering committee, and organizes study and training activities, especially workshops and seminars, including teleseminars via the HISPASAT satellite. The objective is to enhance and facilitate the exchange of experiences and to establish mechanisms of horizontal co-operation grounded in practical reality. PICPEMCE seeks to improve initial and further training of teachers, and to promote curricula reform and new teaching methods based on greater self-reliance on the part of learners. REDALF runs activities in a number of fields: literacy and post-literacy education, civic education for women, intercultural bilingual education in rural areas, etc. REPLAD focuses on enhancing professionalism for planners and administrators, on the decentralization of administration and on the development of information systems. Finally, a regional information system, SIRI, (15) rounds off this mechanism.

In Central America, UNESCO has launched several innovative projects which are carried out by the San José office: Culture of Peace in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Learning without Frontiers and educational applications of information technology in Costa Rica, and Maya Education in Guatemala. For higher education, CRESALC contributes to developing distance education within the framework of the RIESAD, (16) an ad hoc network set up within the UNITWIN/UNESCO-Chairs Programme, which groups together the open universities of eight countries. Fifty-seven UNESCO- Chairs have been established, especially for the environment, within the framework of the Association of Amazonian Universities, (17) culture of peace and for development. Following the World Conference on Education for All (1990), two countries of the region, Brazil and Mexico, now participate in the programme of basic education common to Nine High-population Countries.

The Ministers of Education meeting in Kingston (Jamaica) in May 1996 for MINEDLAC VII reaffirmed the pledges made in Mexico City in 1979. They recognized that democracy, peace and development have become crucial factors in the evolving pattern of societies. (18) They stressed the importance of the role of the school in promoting new forms of humanism founded on responsible citizenship, tolerance and respect for oneself and for others, and recommended that new educational initiatives be taken in favour of excluded and indigenous populations, respecting their ethnic and cultural identities. They also requested UNESCO to establish a group of experts to evaluate the Major Project.


With the support of UNDP’s Regional Office in San Salvador the UNESCO Adviser was able to propose a rather comprehensive regional network of education meant to cover the six countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama). Within a few months several specialists joined the Adviser in Guatemala. Shortly afterwards UNESCO helped create the Central American Educational Coordination at the Ministerial level. Regular periodic meetings leading to joint action, rotating chairmanship by country and intercountry secretariat were the main features of this institution still active today. At the same time, at the request of the authorities of Guatemala, the Adviser helped draw up a five-year plan essentially aimed at reducing the illiteracy rate of the country and in particular in the highlands where most of the Maya population lived. As a consequence both UNICEF and UNDP launched a project aimed at reinforcing the national planning and research capabilities. After the earthquake of 1976, UNESCO became directly involved through its school architecture programme in a bast reconstruction activity.

In El Salvador, the Ministry of Education was intent on developing a literacy programme. In Honduras, subsequent to a particularly deadly hurricane, the authorities asked the Adviser to propose a crash out-of-school non formal education programme as well as a new approach for self-training of teacher trainers.

After two years in the region the UNESCO Adviser was supported by some fifteen UNESCO-recruited senior and junior experts, trainers, researchers and advisers in a wide variety of educational fields. As the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank began investigating possible lending programmes in the region, UNESCO staff was able to counsel, channel and support such new investments. From an initial budget of $10,000 allocated to the Regional Adviser UNESCO’s direct and indirect financial support to Education grew to several million dollars.

Considerably more important than the quantitative assessment of human and financial resources it seems essential to point out the highly respected professional presence of UNESCO due to:

  • the wide distribution of UNESCO educational talents easily shifted from one country to another with the help of the UNDP Resident Representatives’ understanding and support as well as UNICEF’s;
  • the delegation of authority by the Director-General of UNESCO to a senior staff member able to supervise all UNESCO staff in the region.
Today UNESCO’s Regional Educational Adviser based in Costa Rica has added considerably to the achievements initiated some twenty years ago and has become UNESCO’s beacon in the region.

Sylvain Lourié

Miguel Soler Roca Miguel Soler Roca
Deputy Assistant Director- General for Education, UNESCO, from 1977 to 1982

In some cases these goals cannot be achieved through the use of national resources alone. Consequently, we shall have to resort to horizontal co-operation, representing an effective and not merely theoretical pooling of resources, of knowledge and of the means that each Member State is able to contribute on the basis of its experiences. For this reason, we have spoken of 'offers' and 'requests' on the part of Member States and the various organizations, since we believe that each of the Member States possesses experiences of its own, which can assist in solving the problems affecting one or more of its neighbours.

Meeting of the Regional Interim Committee for the Major Project, Saint Lucia, 1982

Jesús Reyes Heroles
State Secretary for Public Education, Mexico, from 1982 to 1985

Because of its multilateral character, the Major Project is an ideal setting in which to forge closer links in education and culture. We regard these as bases of freedom and democracy that are needed to ensure human dignity and guarantee that justice prevails within the context of freedom as we strive for an increasingly egalitarian society.

Meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of the Major Project, Mexico, 1984

by level of education
Increase at regional level of public expenditure for education as percentage of GNP.

  1960   3.1
  1965   3.2
  1970   3.7
  1975   3.9
  1980   3.9
  1985   4.0 
  1990   4.1 
  1993   4.6

graph graph

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(11) In a first phase, the Quito Office was chiefly responsible for supporting the Major Project. It is now co-ordinated by OREALC in Santiago, in co-operation with the various sub-regional offices.

(12) PICPEMCE, Programa de Innovaciones y Cambios en la Preparación de Educadores para mejorar la Calidad de la Educación. Some of UNESCO's Regular Programme activities are carried out within the framework of this network: professional and vocational training (UNEVOC), population and environmental education (EPD), special education programmes for the disabled, Culture of Peace programmes.

(13) REDALF, Red Regional de Capacitación de personal y de Apoyos específicos en los Programas de Alfabetización y Educación de Adultos. CREFAL works very closely with this network.

(14) REPLAD, Red Regional para la Capacitación, la Innovación y la Investigación en los Campos de la Planificación y la Administración de la Educación Básica. REPLAD is also in charge of liaison with universities and multilateral and bilateral development agencies.

(15) SIRI, Sistema Regional de Información. SIRI has published Situación educativa de América latina y el Caribe 1980-1994. UNESCO, OREALC, 1996.

(16) RIESAD, Red de Innovación en Educación Superior a Distancia en América Latina y el Caribe.

(17) UNAMAZ, created in 1987, groups together thirty universities in eight Amazonian countries

(18) The ethical, economic and political urgency of social reform
A human development that is global and sustainable, and the social reform it necessarily presupposes represents, first and foremost, an ethical imperative. Latin America, having attained an important development level, cannot accept the current presence of extreme poverty, unequal income distribution, social exclusion, and – all too often – plain and simple alienation. Joint statement by UNESCO’s Director General and the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (excerpt).