Hans Pollinger

In Bolivia there is a great shortage of training for teachers working in adult education. The requirement not to restrict teacher training to the formal school sector but also to take into account new training experiences in the fields of Alternative Education was recognised in the 1980s and ’90s. – Hans Pollinger, who was for many years head of the IIZ/DVV Project Office in La Paz and previously worked for the German Development Service (DED), reports on the programme FEJAD. This has been in operation since 1998 with his support, providing distance training for youth and adult educators. It is particularly interesting in that it involves cooperation with a Spanish university, making it possible to award degrees.

Adult Educators in University Distance Education: The Bolivian Experience


In the twentieth century, teacher training in Bolivia was traditionally the task of so-called “normales” (teacher training colleges) and a few universities. However, the training was restricted to formal school education (primary, elementary and secondary schools) and never looked beyond the walls of the classroom.

In the first half of the twentieth century there was really only one certain and acknowledged instance in which an independent, alternative initial training course was created for rural teachers, when a few far-seeing and revolutionary individuals (Avelino Siñani and Elizardo Pérez) set up the first rural school in Warisata between 1931 and 1940. This developed into the Normal Indigenal Warisata, an early attempt to train Aymaras as teachers of their own people (“...so that the Indian people should be their own masters”, Anita Pérez, Presencia 14.11.1996). The teaching content was then revolutionary and is still talked about today (e.g., bilingual education reflecting real life, the combination of intellectual and manual work, and democratic self-government).

Not until the 1980s did some modest training efforts appear in the field known today as alternative education:

  • Centro Avelino Siñani, training rural educators, Qurpa 1986
  • Programa de Capacitación de Educadores Populares (PROCEP)
  • Centro de Promoción de Técnicas de Arte y Cultura (CENPROTAC)
  • PROCESO

All these experiences grew out of the initiatives by private groups and/or the Catholic Church.

Alternative Education

In Bolivia there are around 350 adult education centres dependent on the Ministry of Education, with rather more than 3000 teaching staff, together with a large number of centres and institutes also working in the nonformal initial education sector with ;he handicapped, street children, young people and adults.

Until recently, there was no adequate training for all these teachers. The vast majority are schoolteachers, many have no training at all, and teachers of technical subjects have no knowledge of education. There was and still is, therefore, a great demand for training courses in alternative education.

The National Education Congress of 1992 referred to this situation in its recommendations, suggesting that attention should be paid to the many and varied requirements of initial and inservice training for teachers working in adult education, in education for the handicapped and in lifelong learning, which are nowadays known collectively in Bolivia as alternative education.

Against the background of an educational reform programme which began in 1994 but says little about this topic, several new training initiatives for teachers in alternative education have been launched in recent years:

  • the F 3 Programme (Formación de Facilitadores de la Red Nacional de FERIA), an agreement between the Bishops’ Education Commission and the Catholic University of Bolivia, 1997: provision giving teachers working in rural adult education centres a recognised qualification
  • establishment of the “Instituto Normal Superior de Educación Alternativa – Franz Tamayo” (INSEA), Villa Serrano, Chuquisaca, 1997, as a dependency of the Sub-Ministry of Alternative Education: the first training college for upper secondary school leavers intending to work as teachers in alternative education
  • the “Instituto Nacional de Formación en Educación Alternativa – Pacífico Feletti” (INFE), La Paz – El Alto, set up in March 1998 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference to provide distance education for teachers working with handicapped children and young people
  • the FEJAD Programme, which will be examined in greater detail in this article

The FEJAD Programme (Formación de Educadores de Jóvenes y Adultos a Distancia – Training of Youth Educators and Adult Educators by Distance Education)

In the early 1990s there was some discussion of setting up inservice or initial training for the 3000 and more teachers working in adult education. A brief mention should be made of the two most significant developments:

1. The then National Directorate of Adult and Nonformal Education (DNEAYENF), together with the German Adult Education Association (DVV), drew up plans for the Training Centre for Adult Educators (Centro de Capacitación de Educadores de Adultos – CCEA), which were given the necessary ministerial blessing but then started to gather dust on the shelves of the Ministry of Education because the political will to put them into practice was lacking.

2. Simultaneously, three non-governmental organizations (NGOs), namely FERIA, PROCEP and CENPROTAC, were working on the same question and drew up a proposal for the training of adult educators for their field of work, using distance education so that people working in rural areas would also have the chance to take part in it.

Since both groups were in fact pursuing the same goal, looking for a system of academically recognised training for adult educators, they sat down around a table in 1996 and started coordinating the work of the following institutions on a permanent basis:

  • Sub-Secretariat of Alternative Education (today the Sub-Ministry of Alternative Education)
  • FERIA
  • PROCEP
  • CENPROTAC
  • IIZ/ DVV

From 1997, the group was joined by the Bolivian Distance Education System (Sistema de Educación Boliviana a Distancia – SEBAD) and the Executive Committee of the Bolivian University (Comité Ejecutivo de la Universidad Boliviana – CEUB).

Given the potential target group to be addressed by this programme (teachers who were already working), and the geography of Bolivia, the participating institutions agreed on a distance education mode in order to appeal particularly to teachers in rural areas who had little or no access to advanced training. The aim was to avoid rigid study times since these individuals undertake all manner of jobs in order to supplement their incomes a little.

In the search for a university that would grant degrees, a number of possibilities were first investigated within the country (e.g. the private university NUR – Santa Cruz, the Instituto Superior de Educación Rural, ISER – Tarija, and the State University of San Andrés, UMSA – La Paz), but without result. Eventually, the Spanish Distance Education University UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia – Madrid) was drawn into the project, and two important international agreements were signed, setting up the FEJAD programme:

  1. the first, between the Bolivian Ministry of Education, the Spanish University UNED, and CEUB, laying down the institutional and academic framework, and
  2. the second, between the Bolivian Ministry of Education, the Sub-Ministry of Alternative Education, and the DVV, guaranteeing the initial funding of the programme and setting up a kind of supervisory board.

The FEJAD programme began its academic activities in March 1998, with somewhat more than 400 registered students, the aims being as follows:

Overall Aim

Training of human resources for youth and adult education at the level of a university degree, in order to raise the level of professional practice among teachers working in that field and to improve the range of provision offered by adult education centres.

Subsidiary Aims

  • creation of a programme of initial training in education for teachers at degree level, with the emphasis on youth and adult education
  • development of a model of professional training for youth and adult educators already working in that field, by means of distance education
  • development and design of methods to improve teaching in youth and adult education
  • enrichment and improvement of pedagogical theory and practice among students taking part in the programme
  • production of a package of alternative, theory-based materials for the field of youth and adult education appropriate to the distance education mode

Description of the Programme

The distance learning is supported by ten tutors based in offices in the nine Departments of Bolivia, providing individual counselling and monitoring for students, combined with group meetings and dialogue between the students themselves, telephone advice, answers to postal queries, etc. Each tutor also has a small specialist library, which is available to students.

The syllabus is divided into 12 learning modules, each containing teaching units, amounting to approximately 1200 hours spread over four semesters (two years).

The 12 modules are entitled:

  1. Techniques of study and self-learning
  2. The situation in the country and in education
  3. Basics of youth and adult education
  4. Communication and education
  5. Grassroots education for young people and adults
  6. Community development
  7. Sociological and professional aspects of youth and adult education
  8. Updating teaching methods
  9. Researching and writing the dissertation
  10. Pedagogical diagnosis, planning and curricula
  11. Administration and educational projects
  12. Monitoring, evaluation and systematisation in educational processes

The 12 modules contain teaching guidelines, practical exercises, examination questions and bibliographical suggestions. Between two and four modules are examined per semester, depending on the level of difficulty. Examinations are written, with ten close« and two open questions per module set by UNED, and are sat on a fixed day at a fixed time. If a student fails a module, he or she may repeat it at the next examination.

During the second year of the course, students are given advice by the tutors on the preparation of their dissertation: choice of subject, arrangement of content, research needed, bibliography, etc. The subject must be agreed by the teaching staff of UNED before the dissertation can finally be submitted, and students must have passed the 12 modules before doing so. It is a requirement for the award of a degree that a dissertation, which is subject to an oral examination, be submitted.

The title of the degree awarded by UNED is that of “University Specialist in Youth and Adult Education” (Especialista Universitario en Educación de Jóvenes y Adultos), which is then recognised by CEUB in Bolivia under the terms of the agreement with UNED as a “Degree of Bachelor of Education, specializing in Youth and Adult Education” (Licenciatura en Pedagogía, mención Educación de Jóvenes y Adultos). This has the advantage for students that they gain two qualifications at once, one recognised in Europe, and the other recognised nationally in Bolivia.

The two-year course costs a total of US$ 720, to be paid in monthly instalments of US$ 30, and covers the 12 modules received by every student. This price is very low in comparison with other degree courses. Nonetheless, it means a major financial commitment for many teachers, especially those living in rural areas, many of whom have no additional income. A teacher in Bolivia earns on average between DM 150 and 300 a month. For this reason, 10% of the programme’s entire income is distributed in the form of bursaries, in accordance with specified criteria, in order to assist those students who are experiencing particular financial difficulties.

The initial funding for the programme was provided by the German Adult Education Association, covering the preparation, design and printing of the modules. The national team and the ten tutors are paid by the Ministry of Education. Considerable costs are incurred for the travel expenses and remuneration of the Spanish university teachers, who attend each examination. In order to reduce these costs, consideration is being given to a Bolivian university taking over responsibility for the programme and its academic standards.

In July 1999, responsibility for the programme passed to the Sub-Ministry of Alternative Education, and it now runs independently, without external funding. A kind of inter-institutional supervisory board (Consejo Interinstitucional – see Organizational Structure) provides advice and support for the programme, and has certain monitoring functions.

A second course was advertised in June 1999, in which something over 300 students have already enrolled. The final examination for the first course is being held in June 2000, and it is to be expected that the first students, who are submitting their dissertations, will be awarded their degrees at the end of this year. Another one or two courses will be offered in view of the heavy demand. However, these must first be agreed with UNED and a Bolivian university.

There are about 350 adult education centres dependent on the Ministry of Education in Bolivia, together with a series of private centres, which have some 4000 teaching staff between them, none of whom has the requisite training. Demand will therefore remain high.

As part of the reform of education, the Minister of Education has offered a salary increase for all those teachers completing the programme who can provide a university qualification. However, since this financial incentive is very modest and meagre, even by Bolivian standards, the proposed monthly salary being around DM 500 (Bs. 1500), there are already serious disagreements between the teachers’ unions and the Ministry of Education, and these are likely to continue. The entire reform of education will be at stake, unless the 80,000 and more Bolivian teachers receive something approaching a decent salary in the next few years.

The Place of FEJAD in the IIZ/DVV’s Project Work

The IIZ/DVV started working in Bolivia in October 1986, since when it has maintained its own advisory office in La Paz.

The overall goal of the project is to give young people and adults in Bolivia who were unable for various reasons to pursue school education, or were obliged to drop out early, the opportunity of general, vocational and social education through public (state) provision, so that they feel a valued part of the community and society, and are enabled to play a part in social, economic and cultural life, as autonomous individuals aware of their identity, rights and obligations.

Transformation of Adult Education (Proyecto de Transformación Curricular – PTC)

Between 1986 and 1999, a total of over 80 Ministry of Education AE centres in both urban and rural areas were given advice and support. Workshops were equipped with tools; teaching staff were given inservice training in technical and teaching skills and methods; some new teaching and learning materials were designed, and existing materials were distributed. Support was given for the publication of information bulletins, and bursaries were funded for individuals and groups, especially in the field of technical inservice training.

Support was also given to more than 50 non-governmental organizations, Church agencies and grassroots groups running worthwhile adult education projects that merit imitation. This represents a meaningful adjunct to the work with government partners.

In the field of inservice training of teaching staff, some 700 local, regional and national seminars, workshops and other events were supported. These attracted more than 24,000 participants and set out to train teachers in a wide variety of subject areas, such as pedagogy, andragogy, teaching methods and methodology, and syllabus planning, in order to provide a philosophical and theoretical basis for the “integrated adult education centres” model, and to develop specific administrative and organizational procedures.

The counterpart contribution made by the Ministry of Education made it possible both to increase the number of established teaching posts required for these centres, and to build new teaching accommodation in a number of centres, especially for technical subjects, with the support of the Social Welfare Fund and the local authorities, and the active involvement of village communities, neighbourhood groups and the IIZ/DVV.

In the development and production of teaching and learning materials, cooperation was at first largely with a number of non-governmental organizations, which had more experience and competent staff (e.g. Radio San Gabriel, FERIA, Acción Un Maestro Más). Since 1992, materials have also been designed together with state adult education centres.

There has been extensive collaboration since 1995 with 15 selected experimental centres (seven rural and eight urban centres), with the following results:

  • Methodological guidelines have been drawn up for the development of modules, modular programmes, syllabuses and proposed final qualifications.
  • Over 100 modules have been devised for both technical and arts subjects, and are already being used in practice.
  • A provisional examination timetable for the modular, integrated curriculum in experimental centres has been drawn up.
  • A manual dealing with procedural and operational issues has been written for the experimental centres.
  • A basic teaching plan has been devised which will in future be used in all integrated AE centres in order to ensure comparable education and training throughout the country, and compatibility of qualifications.
  • Further training has been provided for the 200 or so teachers and directors in experimental centres so that they can meet the demands of a curriculum that is new to them.
  • These centres have been fully equipped with machinery, tools and teaching material, and improvements have been made to the infrastructure.
  • 9 modules have been designed specifically for adult basic education (Educación Primaria de Adultos – EPA), ranging from literacy to a sort of lower secondary leaving certificate.

From 1999, the work has been extended to 25 new AE centres, so that a total of 40 AE centres are now taking part in the process. Half of these new centres have been equipped with machinery and tools, and inservice training has been provided for the directors and staff in how to implement new syllabuses and to begin the change-over as from the year 2000.

In accordance with the aims of the reform of education now under way, these 40 centres are at the forefront of the transformation of the entire state adult education sub-system, which will be restructured by stages and improved over the next few years.

Closing Remarks

In all the inservice training offered to teachers and carried out as part of the changes to the curriculum, it has constantly been apparent that all these courses, seminars, workshops, etc., have only compensated to a limited degree for the lack of initial training in adult education. Because of their mind-sets, their at best inadequate and poor training as teachers, and of course their low pay, people in the target group find it very difficult to adapt to new methods, to abandon their routine and to accept innovations.

The FEJAD programme, and most of the other attempts to provide initial and inservice training for adult educators that were mentioned above are therefore only a partial answer to one of the fundamental problems of adult education in Bolivia.

The great hope of alternative education in Bolivia is that there will in the coming years be more provision throughout the country for young upper secondary school leavers which is comparable to INSEA (see above) and enables young people to gain a recognised qualification in the field of alternative education. There are some signs that this will be achieved.

There is a popular saying in Bolivia: “Lo último, que se pierde, es la esperanza” (the last thing one gives up is hope).