En el país de Varela: Yo, sí puedo – Education Programme for Young People and Adults

Country Profile: Uruguay

Population

3,344,938 (2009)

Official Languages

Spanish

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)

Total: 98.2% (2008)
Male: 97.8%
Female: 98.5%

Sources
Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.8% (2006)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

99% (2008)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleEn el país de Varela: Yo, sí puedo - Education Programme for Young People and Adults (Programa de Educación de Jóvenes y Adultos)
Implementing OrganizationNational Authorities for Public Education and General Governing Council; Administración Nacional de Educación Pública y su Consejo Directivo Central (ANEP – CODICEN)
Language of InstructionSpanish
FundingGovernmental Institution, donations from companies.
Date of Inception2007-

Context and Background

Though Uruguay covers an area of 176,000 km², the population is concentrated mainly in the urban areas (92%) with roughly half of the citizens living in the capital city, Montevideo. Many members of the illiterate population come from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and their difficulties with reading and writing are caused by a number of potential factors: incomplete education, lack of practice, learning difficulties, etc. The social and cultural diversity among the citizens who have not completed their primary education demands a flexible approach to educational planning, which addresses the needs of a multigenerational and widely dispersed group of learners. A demographic look at the country’s prison population reveals that more than 60% of inmates are under 30 years of age and many have received little or inadequate schooling. In spite of having only a very small indigenous population residing in Uruguay, there are still many cultural divides and stigmatised minority groups, particularly those living in the border and agrarian regions.

Difficult economic circumstances in 2002 left Uruguay with high poverty incidence rates and led the way to the formation of a National Social Emergency Plan (PANES), instigated as soon as a new government took power in 2005. The Ministry for Social Development (MIDES) was created in that same year with the objective of bringing forth the plan and formulating, executing, supervising and evaluating the policies and strategies directed at young people, women and the family, the elderly, disabled and social development.

In 2006 a national census revealed that approximately 35% of the country’s inhabitants over 14 had not completed their compulsory education (primary school and the first three years of secondary school). To address the educational needs of the section of the population previously excluded from their basic education, MIDES introduced a national education programme (the Young People and Adults Education Programme). The present ruling party, responsible for creating MIDES in 2005 and developing the social policies which gave shape to this programme, will remain in place until 2014. In late 2010, the budget for education policy was adapted to incorporate a section on young people and adults for the first time. The literacy programme, “En el país de Varela: Yo, sí puedo” (In Varela’s country: Sure I can), began on 19th March 2007 as part of the overarching national education strategy and has attained widespread positive results through its mandate to raise levels of literacy amongst adults and young people in Uruguay. Though introduced in 2007 through pilot courses in seven different locations across the country, the programme has been run each subsequent year with comparable success. Directly targeting people who are socially disadvantaged as a result of not having completed their primary education, the course is designed to promote the development of basic competences for everyday life, the acquisition of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values for social integration and the positive recognition of diversity.

Aims and Objectives

The literacy programme was created and introduced across Uruguay to meet the following aims and objectives:

Programme Preparation and Implementation

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Based on the “Yo, sí puedo” programme developed by the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute (IPLAC) in Cuba, the Uruguayan programme was adapted in order to incorporate cultural and country-specific characteristics. Under the leadership of a team of education professionals, the teaching materials were transformed and the methodology was fine-tuned to support the development of an interactive educational environment in each learning group. A number of Uruguayan actors and a pedagogical adviser from Uruguay travelled to Cuba to film the television lessons and contextualise the scenes and expressions, adding thematic elements relevant to the Uruguayan people, history, landscape and places. National musicians were also approached during the production of the course and supported by providing a musical backdrop to the television lessons.

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In order to enhance the effectiveness of the learning process, the course was designed with the intention of encouraging learners to identify with the characters on screen. On a fundamental level, the filmed lessons feature a class of Uruguayan students with social characteristics mirroring those of the target groups of learners. To add to this, topics relevant to the learners’ lives are highlighted in each of the lessons: health, family life, caring for the elderly, conserving nature and environmental protection, the general history and culture of the area and so on.

The knowledge imparted during the course goes beyond the simple acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills. In order to have a positive impact upon the daily activities of the learners and to create a solid foundation for lifelong learning, the lessons contain aspects of functional learning. Characterised by its unifying nature, the Uruguayan programme incites frequent dialogue, encourages reflection on topics from everyday life, promotes questioning during discussions and facilitates debate. As the main promoter of discourse, the teacher performs a fundamental role through nurturing the formation of strong group links throughout the course. The curriculum is designed to be of dual nature, containing both socio-educational aspects as well as literacy work which work together to expand the cultural horizon of the participants and raise their self-esteem.

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Each course is limited to 20 learners and meets with a teacher four times a week for 90 minutes at a time. A sequenced set of 65 television lessons, intended to be held over a four month period, forms the framework of the programme. The learners watch each lesson under the guidance and support of a teacher whilst working their way through an exercise book prepared specifically for developing the basic techniques of reading and writing. The classroom, typically a local education centre, is equipped with a television, a DVD player, a set of television lessons, a political and physical map of Uruguay, a planisphere, primers and complementary teaching material provided by MIDES or through private donations. Audio-visual equipment (televisions and DVD players) were donated by the Uruguayan branch of an international company, Bayer, to support the programme implementation. A further aspect of the course which upholds its eclectic nature is the employment of a broad variety of educational resources, creating an effective setting for learning and providing the learners with multiple opportunities to build up their skills. Evidence from the ground has shown that the teachers often bring in their own individual approaches to the course based on their experiences and resources. At the end of each course, a graduation ceremony is held to which members of the community, family members of the course participants and representatives from the local and national authorities are invited in order for them to witness and share in the success of the graduating learners. Every learner receives a certificate of participation from MIDES, along with either a participation or graduation certificate from ANEP (National Administration of Public Education) depending on the person’s success. To support their continuing development and cultivate a reading environment at home, the participants are presented with a book written by the Technical Team (containing poems, exercises, vocabulary, recipes and a map of the country) and a collection of five books donated by national companies and produced by a national publisher.

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Recruitment of Learners

In recent years, mass media coverage of the programme has served as a means of publicity and helped to make people across the country aware of the educational opportunities available to them. Text messages have also been sent to mobile phones around the country to try to reach an even wider audience and to capture the attention of the population in a more immediate and innovative manner. The two slogans of the programme “Spreading literacy: the task of everyone”, and “Reading is good; learning is easy”, are intended not only to attract potential learners to take up this opportunity, but to engage entire communities in the task of recruiting and supporting the learners.

In discussion with the Primary Education Council (CEP-ANEP) in 2010, the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) proposed that each public school create a record of the formal education levels achieved by the parents, relatives and neighbours of the pupils in order to achieve a comprehensive overview of people in the area who could benefit from future programmes. A new education law in 2010 marked the introduction of school boards, consisting of teachers, directors, parents and non-teaching staff, in every education centre. The task of detecting and recruiting new course participants in the immediate area has since been handed to these representative action groups in collaboration with the local MIDES office.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Each of the 200 teachers taking part in the “Yo, sí puedo” programme holds a teaching qualification. Nevertheless, the majority of the teachers come from the formal primary education sector and have studied in institutes concentrating on teacher training for primary and secondary school education. The course teachers are employed on four month contracts and receive a monthly salary of approximately US$350 for a 7.5 hour working week. The contracted working hours include six teaching hours per week and one and a half extra hours to cover the time spent at the monthly planning meetings. Before commencing the course, a training session is held to prepare the teachers to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the programme (the means of evaluation, the focus on audio-visual material, the importance of socio-educational features, etc.). Interaction between teachers of the course and mutual exchange of experiences and ideas is strongly encouraged and has proved to work particularly well in situations where several groups from the same region have embarked on the course simultaneously.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Every time a “Yo, sí puedo” literacy course begins, the Technical Team from MIDES start to monitor and evaluate its success in parallel, taking note of the social demographic characteristics of the participants, such as age, level of illiteracy, gender and level of formal education attained. During the pilot programme, inspectors from the Technical Team visited each of the education centres to support the teachers and monitor how the course was developing. Attendance is recorded in a monthly register and the teachers send a weekly report via e-mail containing qualitative and quantitative information on the learners and their progress to date. After every course, the Technical Team evaluate how much of an impact was made by analysing some of the most pertinent aspects of the experience, including the transmission and reach of the programme in each area, the training of the teachers, the involvement and engagement of the teachers, the effective completion of the programme objectives, the features of the final graduation and its impact on the region, etc. For each aspect, the strengths and weaknesses are identified prior to a more practical assessment of which lessons which can be learned from the individual experience of each course to improve the programme for the future.

In cases where several groups in the same area started the course simultaneously, a meeting in the middle of the course has been organised for the teachers to share their experiences, support one another and exchange advice.

Programme Impact and Achievements

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The reach of the programme, “En el país de Varela: Yo, sí puedo”, has extended to places beyond the capital city, and even beyond the state capitals, to serve rural areas and offer education possibilities where they were previously limited or not existing. The demand for literacy support among the population is unquestionable with over 5,000 people taking part in the programme between 2007 and 2010. On evaluating the results of the pilot programme, it was found that at the end of the course 81.4% of the participants were no longer considered to be illiterate. This promising figure rose to 95% when people with learning difficulties were excluded from the results. Such a high success rate and the continually strong course attendance which was recorded can be viewed as key indicators of the proficiency of the programme and have led to its implementation in several prisons, a psychiatric hospital and in the armed forces.

In addition to the advancements attained in the area of literacy and lifelong learning, the programme achieved further valuable effects:

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Challenges

The primary challenges during the implementation of this programme were reaching out to the isolated target groups and facilitating their participation given that the potential course participants are often in situations of high social vulnerability (extreme poverty, demanding working conditions, family difficulties, etc.) and can be frightened or feel ashamed of their literacy skills.

The considerable diversity of the course participants called for an alternative approach when choosing which pedagogical methods were to be employed. Accepting this reality has been one of the most difficult aspects of the programme, particularly for teachers coming from the formal education system. To make headway towards overcoming this challenge, it has been important for teachers to adopt an understanding of literacy education as a learning continuum. By embracing this definition, the focus can be placed on supporting the learners’ progress in order to help them achieve their goals, develop their potential and knowledge, and participate actively in social and community activities.

An issue which needs to be addressed is the low number of teachers with experience or training in working with young people and adults, or even outside of the scope of formal education. The reason for this can be attributed to the meagre social status assigned to adult education in Uruguay and the resulting low esteem in which professionals who work in this area are generally held. Specialised teacher training is vital for teachers working in the programme in order to introduce them to interdisciplinary work, methods and techniques used in teaching young people and adults, incorporating audio-visual support into classes and to stress the essential focus on the socio-cultural aspects of this programme. In addition, there is a call for greater social engagement on the part of the teachers and more support for those teachers who wish to venture into and specialise in teaching young people and adults.

Lessons Learned

The presence and influence of the teacher placed with each group proved to be of significant importance for the development and the overall success of the programme. Teachers enrich, support and direct their groups and, in view of the flexibility which the programme permits, it has been possible for them to contribute individually to enhance their classes with their own ideas. The teachers played a fundamental role in fostering the development of these links throughout the course. The construction of strong intergroup links was pivotal in ensuring that a high number of learners maintained exceptional attendance levels and completed the programme.

In order to achieve optimum results through the efficient extension of the programme across Uruguay, inter-institutional coordination is essential. It is necessary to coordinate the literacy programme with programmes from other organisations and authorities, including other programmes from MIDES, those run by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the NGOs, and programmes from working and living cooperatives and unions. While many of the people who have completed the programme share an interest in continuing to learn, they do not necessarily share the same specific interests and would benefit from different learning possibilities as they advance. For this reason, coordination enables the programme organisers to offer the citizens the widest available range of accessible opportunities in the same territory. There is a need to encourage increasing social engagement from the teachers, as well as to support their professional development, particularly if they wish to specialise in working with young people and adults. Establishing a group of trained teachers with experience enables the programme to continue with the security of having an ample source of qualified employees.

Sustainability

Considering that this programme is almost entirely financed by the Uruguayan government, the question of its sustainability relies heavily on government policy and the availability of funds. In view of the fact that non-formal education is at times classed as a supplementary form of education, the importance of its role in society must be kept in the focus of the authorities to guarantee further progress and funding. Comparing the level of recent coverage to the extent of the programme when it was first introduced, it is evident that it has been somewhat scaled down (First course of 2008: 3195 people in 115 areas; first course of 2009: 518 people in 52 areas). The reduction in coverage was a result of budgetary difficulties.

The Ministry for Social Development (MIDES) increasingly advocates collective engagement and promotes the notion that the task of improving literacy skills in Uruguay is everyone’s responsibility. In the future, teacher participation across the country, including teaching staff from the Escuela Pública Uruguaya (Uruguayan Public School,) will be drawn on to solve two of the major difficulties of the programme: the disparate and wide geographical distribution of potential participants and the challenge of increasing public awareness and understanding of the courses.

A similar project which has a more comprehensive curriculum and would support people wishing to develop their literacy levels further is being considered for the future. The new programme would be based on the post-literacy programme, “Yo, sí puedo seguir” (Yes, I can continue), but once again it would be adapted to incorporate the cultural and linguistic particularities of Uruguay, remaining loyal to the methodology used for the programme “En el pais de Varela: Yo, sí puedo”. One of the signed agreements at the heart of the Cuba-Uruguay Mixed Commission of Industrial Economic and Technical Scientific Cooperation details the planned use and contextualisation of this course.

Sources

Contact

Yamandú Ferraz Zaballa
Director
18 de Julio N° 1453, 8° piso
11200 Montevideo
Uruguay
Tel: 00598 2 400 03 02
Email: yferraz (at) mides.gub.uy