F. Fernando Salas Rojas

One of the themes of the last edition of this journal was “Educación Popular” in Latin America. In this paper, Fernando Salas Rojas looks critically at Alternative Education, which was adopted exclusively in Bolivia. The author considers how it came into being, what it means, where it stands today and what its place is in educational reform. The author is the national coordinator of Alternative Education, Bolivian Education Forum and National Director of the Project “Un Maestro Más.” This paper was presented at the Workshop Seminar: Critical Analysis of Educational Reform, College of Education Professionals, Octobre 2004 in La Paz, Bolivia.

A Critical Ideological Review of the Educational Reform Programme – Popular Education

The Educational Reform Act and Alternative Education

In the articles dealing with the general structure of education in Bo- livia, the Educational Reform Act passed in 1994 defines the two main areas as Formal Education and, secondly, Alternative Education, the latter being subdivided into Adult, Lifelong and Special. It is defined as follows:

Article 24:

“Alternative Education shall be intended to complement the education of persons and to provide access to education for those who, for reasons of age, or exceptional physical or mental conditions, did not begin or did not complete their studies in Formal Education.”

The PRE Educational Reform Programme

The PRE Educational Reform Programme introduced as part of the structural adjustments typical of the 1990s did not apparently regard Alternative Education as a priority, which was, according to reports from alternative educators, marginalized – ignored, and was not taken into account by the Ministry of Education, which placed the emphasis on Formal Primary Education.

In the age in which we live, emerging from the critical social events of February and October, which were the background to the meeting of the Bolivian Education Conference (of January 2005) and the Constituent Assembly which refounded the country, it has again been affirmed that Alternative Education was marginalized by the PRE. The preparatory meetings and the studies that are circulating put forward evidence for this.

Was Alternative Education Part of PRE?

At first sight, superficially, Alternative Education did not form part of the PRE, at least directly, but in our view this was not the case.

“The fact that it was marginalized, given low priority and attention, and was starved of state funds, was due to a decision determined by and based on ideological vision and hegemonic policies. Hence Alternative Education was automatically marginalized because of its potentially committed political and ideological focus, which was contrary to the dominant system and model.”

We shall aim to prove this assertion here.

What is Meant by Alternative Education

The term Alternative Education adopted in the Educational Reform Act is unique in the Latin American context. Only Bolivia has institutionalized this term, while the other countries use terms such as Adult Education, Lifelong Education or Education throughout the Life Span, but never Alternative.

In the Bolivian national context, Alternative Education has to be understood as Non-Formal Education, Education for Young People and Adults, Out-of-School Education, Technical, Vocational and ultimately Popular Education – home-grown education with a pronounced political and ideological focus on the aim of social, political and economic transformation, which forms part of an educational trend that is alternative to the hegemonic system throughout Latin America.

Without falling into fundamentalist extremes, Alternative Education can therefore be understood as the alternative to Formal or Official Education. It is Education for the Excluded, and essentially the alternative to the hegemonic socio-political system.

To ignore the trends outlined would merely lead us to an Alternative Education that was everything and nothing, that is to say, an education without vision, mission, epistemology, philosophy or national project; an Alternative Education outside the reality of the country and bounded by anonymous universalism.

Historical Milestones in Alternative Education in Bolivia

If we apply the concept of Alternative Education set out above, we can, without oversimplification, identify certain historical milestones in Bolivian Alternative Education:

Foundation of the Republic of Bolivia

The Foundation of the Republic of Bolivia was the (coopted) culmination of a whole series of indigenous and Mestizo movements in the territory of the Alto Peruano, which went back many decades before 1825. Simón Rodríguez was charged with devising what was called “the general structure of school organization” , and his proposals al- lowed for the establishment of Colleges of Arts and Sciences which would, in every departmental capital, offer young people and adolescents training in trades such as carpentry, bricklaying and blacksmithing, which were needed by the nascent Republic of Bolivia, so that they could find work.

Simón Rodríguez had to fight against the dominant groups and elites that were forming; indeed his proposal led to his being deported, continuing the long history of internal domination; and finally a system was imposed that only provided education for the children of those with the hegemonic power.

Ayllu de Warisata School

Elizardo Pérez and Avelino Siñani ran the experimental “Ayllu de Wari- sata School” between 1931 and 1938. This proposed the creation of a national model of productive education, based on a core commitment to the liberation of the Indians; that is to say, an active school offering children and adolescents, young people and adults access to liberating education.

The increasingly severe exploitation and marginalization of the indigenous population were the motivation behind the “Ayllu de Warisata School”, but the Mestizo urban oligarchy successfully fought back against its ideological and political stance, using strategies of isolation, distraction and reductionism, reducing it to what is today no more than a historical experiment, a memory in the long struggle for internal liberation.

Elizardo Pérez and Avelino Siñani were isolated, cut off and marginalized from national education, continuing the long history of marginalization of indigenous children which continues to this day.

Bolivian Education Code of 1955

Three years after the Revolution of 1952, the national government promulgated the Bolivian Education Code, laying the foundations for a Bolivian education system based on a “social philosophy of education”. It stated that education would:

“Educate the individual in ethical-practical schools for democratic and productive citizenship and solidarity in unison with the progress of the nation, which will permit access to economic and cultural benefits and will serve SOCIAL JUSTICE.”

The Bolivian Education Code established the areas of Adult Education, Special Education and Out-of-School Education, but these were not fully implemented because of their content of revolutionary social change which affected the interests of the dominant groups, and various economic and political measures completely overturned the original intentions.

The findings of the Education Conferences of 1970, 1979 and 1992 were that the 1955 Bolivian Education Code was only being applied in areas that did not represent a threat to the national interest, which can be taken to mean the interests of the dominant hegemonic groups.

The Elizardo Pérez National Literacy and Popular Education Plan

The National Literacy and Popular Education Service SENALEP was set up in 1993, charged with implementing the Elizardo Pérez National Literacy and Popular Education Plan. It was organized at national level and set in train a far-reaching popular education process, making a specific political and ideological commitment to an intercultural, bilingual focus, launching a debate and raising awareness about a multicultural, multilingual and multiregional state and indigenous rights, and fundamentally fostering participation by the people as the immediate protagonists of the implementation of the Plan.

The Elizardo Pérez National Literacy and Popular Education Plan led to an unprecedented national mobilization between 1993 and 1995; this is evident in that even today reference is made to the advances made under its ideological and political focus on education and popular participation.

The change of government and of development model which occurred in 1995 radically changed the aims of the Plan, reducing its various aspects merely to bilingualism, and hence stripping it of its project of social liberation.

Summary of the Historical Process

The above brief summary demonstrates that Alternative Education in Bolivia has gone through a process of historical evolution, from Simón Rodríguez, who argued for education for production, to the indigenous and cultural vision of the Ayllu de Warisata School, the Bolivian Education Code with its project of national liberation, and the Elizardo Pérez National Literacy and Popular Education Plan embodying Popular Education for social, political and economic change. This process has been marked by social characteristics including:

  • Alternative Education with a clear ideological and political vision
  • Full social participation without exceptions
  • The combating of hegemony and espousal of internal liberation
  • The building of a nation that recognises internal differences and fundamentally
  • Alternative Education for freedom, change and social justice

From the 1992 Conference to the PRE

Between the 1992 National Education Conference and the present- day situation of Alternative Education, there has unquestionably been a historical process, or rather a renewed process, of cooption, emaciation and maginalization.

The conclusions and proposals of the National Education Conference relating to Alternative Education reiterated and again pressed for the historical advances described above, and these were incorporated into the Educational Reform Framework Act, which was paradoxically officially recognised in theory by the government of the time.

In reality, the complete opposite was the case, and an Alternative Education Reform was implemented that was non-explicit, or rather controlled and therefore subtly not recognised.

PRE and Alternative Education

For the purposes of our enquiry let us look at the four main aims of the PRE in order to uncover what hidden messages it contains about Alternative Education.

Educational Management

During the period of the hegemonic model of development, the status of the Alternative Education administration was reduced from a Vice Ministry to a National Directorate. This represented not only a marginalization within the government but also a fundamental educational devaluation. This was demonstrated by the shortage of human and budgetary resources – in order that it might just survive, it was granted just 3% of the national education budget.

However, it is not enough to look at the management of education by the Ministry of Education; throughout the entire fiscal apparatus, the various government agencies (clandestinely) allowed Alternative Education to be decentralized and dispersed, encouraging all ministries in the then structure of government to arrange programmes, plans and/or projects of Alternative Education, opening up provision to the theoretical model of free competition; in short, to a whole range of haphazard alternative educational offerings that were more or less Alternative Education programmes, plans and/or projects in themselves, with no reference to the state. There is no question that the first casualty was the loss of control by the National Directorate of Alternative Education, and the second was the loss of oversight by the Ministry of Education.

The structural adjustments in which Bolivia is immersed have led to a large-scale inflow of economic and technical support, through multilateral and bilateral international cooperation, and have channelled significant public funds drawing on external credits and solidarity explicitly to the implementation of the PRE, and also to Alternative Education, but the latter are unfortunately not known about and are obviously not evaluated. The only time they are likely to be acknowledged is when some irregularity occurs which is made public because of suspicions of corruption.

Training of Human Resources for Alternative Education

Since the introduction of the PRE, there has been minimal investment in the training of human resources for Alternative Education on the part of the state. The bodies involved are the Villa Serrano Alternative Education Training College (INSEA) and FEJAD in agreement with other fiscal institutions, although most centres providing training for human resources in Alternative Education are set up by the Churches, private bodies and private universities, a broad variety of offers which falls within the free provision typical of the hegemonic model.

It is also a certainty that this broad range is fostered by that very model, and the party political operators in charge of the Ministry of Education; if it were possible to identify the owners of or shareholders in these private educational bodies, we would without doubt find a direct relationship between them and government.

Curricular Organization

During the preparatory workshops for the 2nd Alternative Education Conference, and even at the Conference, at least four structures of Alternative Education were in evidence, with their different curricular elements: at the official level, the Directorate General has a curricular structure that is neither clear nor complete, and the Catholic Church has drawn up a curricular structure based on its own wide experience which is used by agreement in the educational activities of the Church. However, it is not known what curricula are used by the private bodies, although the private universities presumably have their own forms of curricular organization.

In summary, there is a range of curricula that fits the clear orthodox model of a free, not to say commercial, market.

Popular Participation

There is no doubt that the liberalization of the management, human resources training and curricula of Alternative Education represents popular exclusion, marginalization and relegation; popular participation has been replaced by the free market.

To the Constituent Assembly via the Education Conference

The historical period that we are entering as we emerge from the structural crisis that characterized the country at the start of the century, requires alternative educators to develop proposals, and in essence to use their experience, their different ideological and political standpoints, the needs of alternative learning, and fundamentally their commitment to help to refound the country; by way of a brief conclusion allow me to sketch out the basic ways in which they need to contribute to the country.

  • Historical commitment – They need to stand up, to build on and abide by the ethics of the historical process of Alternative Education.

  • Ideological commitment –Alternative Education has developed a specific ideological focus and does not require outside imposition, interference or consultancy.

  • Political commitment – This ranges from political will to decision-making and policy implementation, to check deviation and reductionism.

  • Ethical commitment – This needs to be translated into full participation by those involved in education, not only as agents of implementation but also as the source of educational transformation.

  • Commitment to diversity – Different cultural focuses, world views and social structures need to be recognised, respected and applied, and made explicit through Alternative Education.

Thus the role of Alternative Education will be historically coherent, ideologically committed, politically participatory and ethically fair, and will have a cultural vision of respect.