Country Profile: Brazil
190,132,630 (2008 UN estimate)
|Poverty (Population living on less than US$1 per day):|
|Total Youth Literacy Rate (15–24 years)|
|Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)|
|Programme Title||Alfabetização Solidária (AlfaSol)|
|Implementing Organization||Associação Alfabetização Solidária|
|Language of Instruction||Portuguese|
|Funding||National and municipal governments (particularly the Ministry of Education), private companies, institutions and private individuals through the “Adopt a Student” campaign.|
|Date of Inception||1997 –|
Background and Contextual Overview
With its rapid economic growth and relatively high GDP per capita, Brazil is one of the world’s high-potential economies. However, Brazil still suffers from sharp socio-economic disparities, an unequal distribution of wealth and unequal access to basic social services such as health and education. The rapid exploitation of natural resources, irregular land occupation patterns, social exclusion, unemployment and poverty are often cited as the main reasons for the high levels of illiteracy among the poor.
As such, while Brazil has a net school intake rate of 97.2% among 7 to 14 year olds due, in large part, to the policy of compulsory free education for this age group, the country has an average adult illiteracy rate of 13.6%. This suggests that many people fail to proceed beyond primary level education. The adult illiteracy rate is not only higher than in most Latin American countries, it also exceeds global averages. In addition, rates of literacy vary sharply between the different regions and between urban and rural areas. Thus, while the illiteracy rate varies from 7.7% in the south to 26.2% in the north east, the disparities between urban and rural settings further complicate the pattern. As in many other developing countries, illiteracy in Brazil is closely associated with other forms of social, economic and cultural injustice and exclusion. For this pattern to be broken, a concerted and nation-wide campaign against illiteracy is imperative and, indeed, it is this fundamental principle that drives Alfabetização Solidária (AlfaSol).
The AlfaSol Programme
AlfaSol is one of the first long-term, nationwide youth and adult literacy programme to be established in Brazil. Before it was launched in 1997, national campaigns and educational reforms concentrated primarily on formal education, and thus excluded more than 16.2 million illiterate adults and youths. Furthermore, existing programmes were highly centralised and did not take learner's previously acquired knowledge into consideration. In 1998, the Associação Alfabetização Solidária (AlfaSol) was officially registered as an NGO. It established its own statutes, and undertook to manage and implement the AlfaSol programme.
AlfaSol concentrates on the poorest rural and urban communities with the highest illiteracy rates. It has mobilised an efficient network of partners, consisting of international organizations including NGOs, universities, private enterprises, government institutions and private citizens. This network of partners contributes towards the sustainability of the programme through generous financial and technical contributions as well as a remarkable capacity to mobilise youth and adult learners. As a result, AlfaSol is now a well established organization and has managed to reach out to over five million youth and adult learners around the country since its inception.
The programme endeavours to:
- lower the high youth and adult illiteracy rates in Brazil;
- contribute to the institutionalisation of Youth and Adult Education (YAE) and promote further opportunities for lifelong learning;
- use literacy to promote human rights and responsible citizenship; and
- use literacy skills development to promote poverty alleviation and social inclusion.
In pursuit of these programme objectives, priority is given to out-of-school youth and adults. Learners are mostly recruited from communities with the highest illiteracy rates and lowest Human Development Index (HDI).
The implementation of the AlfaSol programme is guided by four main principles:
Youth and Adult Education, and Individual Development: AlfaSol understands education as fundamental to the personal development of every human being and an indispensable means of overcoming social and economic disparities. AlfaSol strives to enhance social integration and intends to contribute to the development of a more just and democratic society through education.
Literacy and the Social Environment of Learners: Literacy is a process which enables people to participate fully in their social, cultural and political environment. When literacy goes beyond the mere skills of reading and writing, it becomes a meaningful part of people’s lives. Newly learned skills and personal development go hand in hand with the development of an informed perception of social reality and a rising interest in participation in community development.
Educational Integration – Public Policy on Youth and Adult Education: AlfaSol recognizes education as a fundamental element of social inclusion and empowerment, and thus advocates for national policies that concentrate on improving opportunities for youth and adult education for socially and economically vulnerable or poor people. To improve the well-being of those living in poverty, AlfaSol fosters national policies which concentrate on improving the opportunities for youth and adult education.
Literacy: The literacy courses offered by AlfaSol are guided by an integral concept of literacy in which reading and writing skills are linked to and integrated into a broader learning process. Literacy signifies a continuum of learning within a process of developing social and practical skills involving the written language.
Programme Approaches and Methodologies
A notable and innovative feature of AlfaSol lies in its organizational structure, which consists of an extensive, nationwide network of different actors, institutions and partners. The strategy is to share ownership and responsibilities between the different partners in a way that enables each partner to contribute according to its respective strengths and needs.
The following six institutions are the main partners in the AlfaSol network:
The Associação Alfabetização Solidária is responsible for the Political Pedagogical Project, which formulates programme principles and guidelines. It acts as a hub to link different allies and project partners, and coordinates the implementation of the literacy courses and the programme’s sub-projects. The Associação/Association is also in charge of the programme’s public relations, including the mobilisation of new alliances and funds, which constitute the backbone of the AlfaSol programme.
Institutions of higher education are in charge of developing the pedagogical and didactical concepts, which are formulated in the programme’s Political Pedagogical Project and applied in its literacy work. They design and elaborate curricula and define the pedagogical methodologies and didactical material to be applied in literacy courses. They are also co-responsible for the professional training and supervision of local literacy teachers/facilitators, and for monitoring and evaluating current projects within the AlfaSol programme.
Private and public companies, financial institutions, and corporate foundations participate in the programme by adopting one or more municipalities and by making the financial contributions needed to implement the projects. Companies also contribute facilities and services. Media companies, for instance, produce and publish or broadcast programme advertisements and information. Besides demonstrating social responsibility, companies also perform an important service in monitoring the results of the programme. The publication of achievements is especially important for gaining and maintaining financial support.
Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups are the key actors for the local self-sustainability of the programme. As well as contributing to discussions regarding Youth and Adult Education, these actors assist AlfaSol in mobilising institutions and beneficiaries.
The federal, state and municipal governments and administrations are responsible for partially financing the courses and providing the infrastructure needed to run the programme.
International organizations act as technical cooperation partners, contributing their expertise in specific fields; these partners also participate by adopting one or more municipalities.
Individuals contribute by financing a student through the Adopt a Student campaign as he or she acquires literacy skills.
AlfaSol is a module-based literacy programme, and each module is taught over a period of eight months. For each module, new literacy teachers are selected according to personal interests, previous working experience in the field of education or literacy, and demonstrable leadership qualities within their local communities. A further prerequisite is that all literacy teachers must belong to the community in which AlfaSol implements its activities, since they exercise a direct influence on the capacity of the programme to mobilise learners as well as to motivate the learners' continued participation in the literacy lessons. This also helps to create direct linkages, continuity and relevance between community life and the learning process.
As a rule, ten groups of 25 learners are established for each module. Following the selection process, literacy teachers receive a forty-hour initial literacy training course conducted by partner institutions of higher education. Thereafter, literacy teachers receive ongoing training. A literacy teacher is responsible for teaching a group of 25 learners and they are remunerated with a monthly stipend for each module taught.
To support the teachers in executing their duties, AlfaSol provides didactical material. In most cases they use a teaching kit called Viver e Aprender (Living and Learning), which contains training textbooks and manuals and is recommended by the Ministry of Education. However, given the cultural and social diversity of the Brazilian communities, not every textbook or manual in the kit is suitable for every learner or community. As a result, literacy teachers and the professional programme partners from institutions of higher education normally enhance and adapt the didactical materials to suit both the local context and learners’ specific needs.
Training of Learners
The literacy skills content is designed according to learners’ specific needs. For example, in order to tackle the educational needs of people living in poor urban communities, AlfaSol designed the Projeto Grandes Centros Urbanos (PGCU or Grand Urban Centres Project). The principal aim of the PGCU is to develop literacy models suited to urban learners. As noted above, the teaching and learning processes are based on modules produced by the Ministry of Education which are then adapted to address the specific local context. This enables the programme to be closely aligned with the formal school system.
The municipalities, supported by a partner institution of higher education, are responsible for mobilising learners to enrol.
Programme Impact and Challenges
Monitoring and Evaluation
AlfaSol is responsible for coordinating, monitoring and evaluating the literacy programme and the training processes. The partner institutions of higher education permanently supervise and monitor the literacy courses at the local level. Monitoring and evaluation is based on visits to the cities in which the courses are implemented as well as distance follow-ups. AlfaSol and the partner institutions of higher education use two important tools: the Relatório Mensal de Execução (RNE or Monthly Progress Report) and the Relatório Mensal de Acompanhamento (RMA/Monthly Follow-up Report). A final report is submitted at the end of a module.
Other programme partners, such as the private companies, also perform an important service in monitoring the pedagogical outcomes. This ongoing monitoring and evaluation system has revealed major achievements and important lessons that have enabled the programme to continue to evolve and improve.
The partnership model has made it possible to implement the AlfaSol literacy skills training programme on a national scale in a country as large and diverse as Brazil. The model has also enabled AlfaSol to attract and secure sustainable funding and to mobilise the population to take social responsibility. Social and corporate networking and cooperation have also enabled AlfaSol to be highly visible in both the print and broadcast media. This has not only helped to highlight the importance of lifelong learning for all; it has also been a potent marketing tool that has helped to motivate more youth and adult learners to join the programme.
Apart from conducting literacy classes, AlfaSol has also initiated a number of projects which address specific challenges in youth and adult education and literacy and thus contribute towards the long-term sustainability of the programme. These projects include:
the establishment of the Reference Centre on Youth and Adult Education (CEREJA). CEREJA is a research and communication platform which links facilitators, researchers, the private sector and institutions of higher education;
- the Adopt a Student campaign, which encourages private citizens or companies to sponsor one or more learners. The campaign has proved to be an efficient and effective way of securing funding for literacy courses;
- the TeleSol – Post-Literacy Initiative. In order to reinforce and sustain the literacy skills acquired by learners who have finished the initial literacy courses, AlfaSol is implementing TeleSol, a continuing education programme that uses audiovisual resources is overseen by a facilitator. The programme also targets students who have not yet completed the first four years of Brazilian elementary education. The curriculum content of TeleSol is aligned with the official Youth and Adult Education curriculum, and the videos and books cover themes that are familiar to the learners. Each TeleSol module lasts twelve months. Facilitators are trained by AlfaSol and a partner institution of higher education;
contextualized literacy courses. AlfaSol has been implementing literacy projects focused on minorities and socially disadvantaged groups with specific needs and difficulties in accessing education. These projects are part of the Attention to Diversity programme, whose main purpose is to implement educational activities which satisfy the learning needs of and thus empower socially disadvantaged groups through the promotion of human rights, citizenship, social inclusion and poverty alleviation. The project also endeavours to preserve both the knowledge that learners have acquired and the historical elements that are key to their survival as a group. For example, with technical support from ILO, AlfaSol has implemented literacy courses in the Jequitinhonha Valley, one of Brazil’s poorest regions, which focused on gender and race relations as well as the promotion of human rights. Other literacy projects in Maranhão, a region where forced labour is prevalent, primarily focused on the eradication of forced labour.
Considering that AlfaSol is one of the first youth and adult literacy programmes to be launched in Brazil on a national scale, it has achieved remarkable results. Since its inception in 1997, the programme has benefited approximately 5.3 million literacy learners in over 2,109 municipalities. In addition, 248,000 facilitators/literacy teachers have been trained and the programme has built strong partnerships with 212 institutions of higher education and 182 organizations, companies and governmental institutions.
With the financial assistance of the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation, AlfaSol has also been offering technical assistance to literacy projects in Cape Verde, East Timor, Guatemala, Mozambique and San Tome and Principe. The main goal is to help partner countries to implement functional and sustainable Youth and Adult Education (YAE) literacy projects. To this end, AlfaSol provides a wide range of assistance to partner countries, including: the design and development of teaching and learning materials; the development of the curriculum; the training of literacy instructors; and the discussion of public policies at governmental level.
A number of studies have been carried out to evaluate the impact of the programme. The overall results demonstrate a reduction in illiteracy rates in all regions targeted by the AlfaSol programme. The highest impact is visible in the north and north-eastern regions where the illiteracy rate has decreased by 12.9% and 8% respectively. At the individual level, the acquisition of literacy skills has also made a difference to learners; for example, the 2003 Impact Evaluation Report revealed that three out of four learners (or 78% of participants) described their lives as having changed positively since they became literate, citing as examples improved self-confidence, empowerment, income-generating opportunities and an increase in their overall quality of life.
The AlfaSol programme has also managed to mainstream and institutionalise adult and lifelong learning within Brazilian society as a whole, which, in a period of just eleven year, is a major achievement in itself.
AlfaSol has succeeded in improving its mobilisation strategies and public visibility through the production of a number of publications including: Pathway (an annual report for all stakeholders); Escrevendo Juntos (a tri-monthly newsletter) and Alfabetização Solidária – Revista do Programma (an annual magazine targeting education professionals and researchers).
Challenges and Solutions
Despite the successes of the programme, some serious challenges remain. Most notably, the Federal Ministry of Education reduced its funding allocation for adult literacy programmes in the wake of the 2004 elections. Since then, AlfaSol has been receiving only one third of its previous annual funding. This has negatively impacted on programme development, particularly the production of learning materials and programme implementation. To fill the gap, further cooperations with different funding partners are needed.
Apart from financial challenges, the efforts of adult learners and, by extension, the AlfaSol literacy programmes, are still not accredited by the formal education system. This not only creates unnecessary barriers to or disincentives for further education for learners but also hinders their prospects for using their acquired skills to secure formal employment or further technical training. The need to accredit the programme cannot, therefore, be underestimated.
Access to post-literacy education remains a major challenge for most AlfaSol graduates. The programme needs to emphasise quality as well as to lobby national authorities to accredit the programme.
Learner absenteeism and drop-outs often impede the progress of the programme and the individual attainment of literacy skills. Key reasons for absenteeism and/or drop-outs include poverty and the need to satisfy family labour requirements, particularly during the agricultural season. AlfaSol has developed a school meals scheme to encourage the participation of people who would otherwise not attend classes due to hunger.
A lack of awareness on the importance of Youth and Adult Literacy in some local administrations and insufficient information on funding from the federal government obstruct the progress of the programme in a number of regions/municipalities. This suggests the need for more public awareness campaigns at the local, official and community levels.
Given the fact that at the end of the courses, only 27%of the participants could read and write small texts, learning achievements were initially lower than expected. The didactical material and, in particular, the duration of the literacy modules have been changed in order to reduce barriers to learning.
AlfaSol has succeeded in developing a model in which partners share responsibilities and enable inter-sectoral learning. The fact that hundreds of committed municipalities, universities and companies work efficiently together as a network proves the potential of this approach. The outreach capacity of AlfaSol is a further aspect of note. Millions of enrolled learners and thousands of trained facilitators bear testimony to the strategy’s mobilisation capacity and efficacy. The programme’s promotion and advertising of literacy learning, with the help of widespread public relations, has raised awareness of adult literacy all over the country.
The range of partners from different sectors has highlighted the importance of clear structures and short communication channels. Experience has also shown that cooperation between literacy workers and universities is more successful if the universities are established within, or close to, the target community. Similarly, in view of the municipal education system’s efforts to institutionalise adult education, the projects that are directly linked to this system have proved most efficient, as they tend to optimise the use of resources.
The sustainability of the programme is dependent on the huge demand for education from many illiterate people in the country. In addition, AlfaSol’s work is based on broad and solid partnerships with private companies, international organizations and individuals. These partners provide strong financial assistance to AlfaSol. Financial assistance from non-governmental partners is particularly important as AlfaSol does not receive direct project funding from governmental bodies despite the fact that it implements literacy programmes on behalf of state governments (i.e. state governments retain full control of the funds allocated to the literacy programmes that AlfaSol implements).
Ana Carolina Guerra Alves Pekny
Department for International and Governmental Relations
E-mail: User: anaap
Host: (at) alfabetizacao.org.br
Tel: 55 11 3372-4341
Fax: 55 11 3372-4339
Last update: 27 October 2011