Benito Fernández

Paulo Freire continually stressed that there can be no changes in civil society without adult education. It is the basis for enabling people to set about improving their lives, politically, economically, socially and culturally. Non-formal education plays a particular role in this. Benito Fernández, who heads the DVV International Project Office in Bolivia, demonstrates this from the example of Bolivia, with particular reference to EYPA.

The Education of Young People and Adults (EYPA) and the Current Changes in Bolivia

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educationist, the tenth anniversary of whose death in May 1997 is being commemorated, said: “Education does not change reality, but reality cannot be changed without education” (“Pedagogy of Autonomy”).

1. The Changes Taking Place in Bolivia

Bolivia is going through a period of change, but not minor changes which alter nothing, “changes made so that nothing changes in the situation of the national majorities”, like the changes introduced by neoliberal policies from 1985. The changes now occurring are structural and go to the heart of the power relationships and the shape of the country wanted by the majority of Bolivians rather than by the dominant elite alone.

The Nature of the Changes

  1. Power is being transferred from the traditionally dominant classes to what is essentially a populist, indigenous government that represents the interests of the social movements and the excluded and marginalized population of Bolivia. Sixty-five per cent of the population are poor, and of them, 35 % live in extreme poverty.
  2. The transfer of power is taking place as part of a “democratic revolution” within the democracy introduced by neoliberalism, by the traditional capitalist class. What is happening is therefore a process of “democratizing democracy”, of changing “low intensity” democracy into “high intensity” democracy (Boaventura do Santos Souza) or, simply, of creating a “popular participatory democracy”.
  3. If it is to be a genuine democracy, it needs to be accompanied by changes at every level – economic, political, social and cultural:
    • In economic terms, these take the form of the recovery of control by Bolivians over their own natural resources (oil, gas, water, land, forestry, minerals and so on) and the generation of worthwhile, productive employment (a “broad-based economy”) which will enhance the income and quality of life of the majority.
    • In political terms, they are chiefly seen in the transformation taking place in the nature of the state inherited from neoliberalism, from a minimalist state reduced to the role of monitoring the application of policies imposed by global, international centres of decision-making (WB, IMF, WTO), to a powerful state that is recovering its sovereignty and dignity, and therefore insists on negotiating as an equal; a transparent, effective state that is fighting inefficient corruption and bureaucracy; an intercultural and multinational state built on diversity of identity and territorial context: “a country where many countries fit, as the Zapatistas used to say”.
    • In social terms, a state which, without lapsing into misguided paternalism, is akin to the kind of “welfare state” created in advanced countries, working above all to alter the spread of risk, and seeking to improve the living conditions of the impoverished majority, the sad inheritance of neoliberal capitalism, in accordance with the principles of justice and solidarity. Sustained adequate investment in health and public education, added to worthwhile employment, will make it possible to overcome poverty, whereas previous governments sought merely to “alleviate” the poverty created by the over-exploitation of natural resources and the labour force for the benefit of major international corporations.
    • In cultural terms, we need to recognise our diversity as individuals and peoples, and to use the potential for change of this diversity, moving away from the racist, homogenizing, homophobic, patriarchal and other limited perceptions and practices that are still found in most social relationships and are reproduced right across the family, school, the media, etc.


“Education is a way of intervening in the world.” Frei

4. These changes are welcomed by most Bolivians, and have a social basis and fundamental support among the Bolivian population. The recent 2007 UNDP/United Nations Human Development Report (“The state of the state in Bolivia”, La Paz April 2007) concludes on the basis of its investigation that a new “common feeling” has emerged in Bolivia, shared by around 70 % of the population. The major components of this dream or feeling are that:

  • Despite conflicts, we Bolivians are optimistic, we want change, and Bolivia is changing.
  • Democracy means all of us: it involves disagreement and convergence, participation and checks.
  • We are in favour of nationalizing gas: natural resources belong to everyone and should form the basis of our development.
  • We are Aymaras, Mestizos, Easterners and Andeans: we are diverse, but above all we are Bolivians and we form a multifaceted nation.
  • The Constituent Assembly means citizen participation and social justice, it is the setting for a new social pact.

5. Although the changes are wanted and have wide social legitimacy, they are of course not automatic, but are “constructed” by those involved. Today we can see the huge construction effort that is carrying the country forward, despite obstacles and difficulties, in which the elite in Government and the opposition are not always helping. We therefore need, as Gramsci said, to make this common feeling a “good feeling”, or in other words, a democratic, citizens’ vision and practice that will give material shape to these perceptions.

2. Education, the Basic Strategy for Change

Let us remember the saying of Freire: “Education alone does not bring about change, but it is such a fundamental strategy for change that it is impossible to transform reality without education.”

The Basis for this Transcendental Statement

a) Change originates in and is made possible by social awareness and organization.

It is enough to recall our recent history which made it possible to challenge neoliberal policies and the state that promoted them (the Water War, Black October, the Gas War) to realise that historical events are the results of organized processes, and that these have an ideological basis, that is to say, a vision of what is and what ought to be, and of how to bring about change.

Similarly, the changes being introduced by the current populist government would not be possible without the legitimacy given them by this “common feeling”. However, the changes also require new leadership in the social movements and politics, in order to ensure a fuller, dialectical understanding of the social situation, and strategic linkages that go beyond individual demands and the development of negotiation skills, so that the new popular hegemony that is emerging is given a theoretical and practical underpinning.

The development of both awareness and organizational skills is closely associated with educational processes.

Bolivia: Relevance to the present of Freire's ideasBolivia - Relevance to the present of Freire's ideas. Source - La Carta 217

b) A new model for the country, based on the exercise of individual and collective rights, requires a new concept and practice of citizenship.

Until now, as is still reflected in the current national Constitution, citizenship has focused on individual rights, which have frequently been viewed as abstractions of the various identities found in the sphere of rights. As part of building a “high intensity” participatory democracy, the concept of citizenship needs to be expanded to include the collective rights of the peoples and nationalities living in Bolivia, and a range of identities (generational, ethno-cultural, gender and sexual orientation, etc.) need to be recognised and fostered.

Being aware of citizens’ rights, and adopting and applying the means of protecting and promoting these, is another indispensable task for education if the democracy that we Bolivians desire is to be enriched.

c) Education is a right that opens the doors to the recognition and exercise of additional rights.

The many international and national meetings, conferences and social summits have pointed to education as a key factor in development and overcoming poverty. There is no international event that fails to recommend “Education for All” (EFA) as a core strategy required of every country, especially less developed countries, in order to achieve acceptable indices of human development.

At the summits held in Jomtien (1990) and Dakar (2000), world governments and the civil society laid down goals and actions needed to achieve EFA by 2015:

  • Expanding and protecting early childhood education
  • Giving all children free, compulsory education of quality
  • Giving young people and adults fair access to learning programmes and to the acquisition of life skills
  • Increasing adult literacy by 50 %
  • Achieving gender parity and equality in education
  • Improving the quality of education

In an awareness of the importance of education, and with the aim of not merely acknowledging this right but also of ensuring that it was applied to everyone, a group of European organizations, teachers’ unions and activists in some 100 countries around the world set up the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) in 1999, the core activity of which has since then been the Global Action Week held each year in every country in the last week in April. In the 2007 April week, the emphasis of the campaign is on: “Education, a human right”. The GCE is pressing countries to accept education as both a right and a development strategy, thus calling for greater investment and attention to education.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, networks, platforms, movements and civil society organizations in 18 countries have set up the “Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education” (CLADE), based on the following principles:

  • Education is a fundamental collective human right.
  • States are responsible for guaranteeing this right.
  • Education is public and free.
  • The right to education is integral to and interdependent with other human rights, democracy and development.
  • Education is a principle for social change, the achievement of human dignity and democratization with social justice.

3. Education for Young People and Adults, and its Potential for Change

The Traditional Neglect of EYPA in Government Policy

Although EYPA, and alternative education in general, is recognised in the Education Reform Act of 1994 as the second main area of the National Education System, governments have in practice relegated it to a secondary position, consistently giving priority to formal education. This is reflected in the budget precept, which accounts for barely 3 % of education spending, and coverage by the Alternative Education Centres, scarcely 5 % of potential demand.

The sectors needing EYPA/AE are: the illiterate population (13.3 % of the population, INE 2001); drop-outs from the school system who fail to complete primary or secondary education for various reasons (30 % of the population); and people who are vulnerable or at risk (needing special education because of physical or mental disabilities) who cannot access educational provision (10 %).

Fortunately, the current Government is attempting to reverse this situation, a significant sign of which is the “Yes I can” National Literacy Programme, which will considerably reduce the illiterate population over a period of three years. We believe the methods adopted to be inadequate, however.

Little Acknowledgement of EYPA in Civil Society

Civil society has also ignored or minimized EYPA, sometimes because of the scant attention given to it by government.

Rural and urban teachers have not taken it into account in their demands, even regarding adult educators as rivals for their jobs. The main aspiration of adult educators themselves is to become teachers within the formal education system, which gives greater recognition and better salaries.

The educational proposals put by the indigenous peoples to the National Education Congress did not take into account the educational needs of young people and adults, particularly in the urban context. There were attempts to remove alternative education from the education system in the Education Act.

Insufficient Appreciation among Government Agencies and the Civil Society of What EYPA is, and of its Potential for Social Change

Why have governments, teachers, indigenous organizations and even young and adult students paid so little regard to EYPA, viewing it as “second-class education”?

One of the main reasons is the misconceptions that prevail about the nature of EYPA and its potential for change.

A “common feeling” has in fact grown up that “real education” means formal education, and that AE/EYPA is remedial, compensatory education that is only needed until formal education achieves universal coverage, reaching all Bolivians. Given the changes that we are currently witnessing, it is assumed that this will occur soon. Why do we need, therefore, to invest in AE/EYPA if we shall soon have an education system that meets the educational needs of all Bolivians, in both rural and urban areas, through school?

We regard this as misguided:

1. The educational needs of the population cannot be met, either now or in future, by the formal system. This is both because the formal system has internal shortcomings, and because social development throws up learning needs at an ever increasing pace which the formal system cannot meet, or cannot meet fast enough. The most advanced countries, such as many European nations, where most of the population complete secondary education, and many also have access to higher education, have developed adult education into highly developed systems such as the Volkshochschulen in Germany, the Universidades Populares in Spain, and the folk high schools in Northern Europe. The Swedish Government currently supports over 30,000 study circles outside the formal system, paying facilitators to explore a huge range of topics concerned with politics, economics, culture and everyday life (fishing, cookery, etc.).

Furthermore, education has expanded to include concepts such as “éducation permanente” and lifelong learning.

2. But there is no need to go further afield: it is enough to look at the needs emerging from our own situation, at the fundamental changes occurring now in Bolivia, where schools, colleges and universities are giving way to open, non-formal, community spaces. The community, the local district, and the social organizations to which we belong are learning environments as important as or more important than “school”, and are where knowledge often builds on everyday life and social needs.

How to Recover and Expand the Potential for Change of EYPA

● EYPA needs to redefine itself and its social role if it is to bring about change

Given the emphasis on lifelong education, EYPA cannot be regarded as “supplementary” or “second chance” education, and needs to be perceived as “alternative” education to meet the learning needs of those who, for various reasons, cannot satisfy them within the formal system. This means young people and adults who have not had the opportunity to attend school or have dropped out; the broad spread of people who are vulnerable or at risk, such as working children and adolescents, senior citizens, people deprived of liberty, and those suffering any form of disability; and it also means young people and adults who wish to go on learning and acquiring skills to face the challenges arising from the rapid changes that we are currently experiencing.

All of this takes us beyond a theoretical view of EYPA as meaning schooling, so that we see it as embracing formal and non-formal environments, face-to-face learning as well as settings that are open to community dynamics and the new technologies (ICTs): education for life, for social participation, and for productive, worthwhile work.

● The AECs need to be converted into centres serving local community development if they are to bring about change

The Adult and Alternative Education Centres need to break down the barriers isolating them from the community and its problems, and to become centres where community development is at the heart of the learning.

This means moving forward in areas such as:

–defining the educational purpose of AECs with the involvement of the community
–a curriculum designed around local and regional development needs, with an integral vision and a focus on learning work-related skills
–learning content and methods which take into account the differences between learners in respect of age, culture, sexual identity, etc.
–democratic participatory management of each AEC’s education plan, through organizational methods and mechanisms which empower those at the centre (students and teachers) and community actors

Teachers are key factors in EYPA for change

No change can take place without the involvement of the teachers and the leadership of the head of each centre. EYPA that has a new vision and social role requires new types of heads and teachers.

The head of an AEC needs to develop a new kind of leadership by taking on a political and educational as well as an administrative role, which means encouraging participation in the drafting of its education plan, guiding its participatory management, and motivating and supporting team work among teachers, with an emphasis on self-learning in the context of the new curriculum. In his or her relations with the community and the local authorities, besides negotiating resources, the head needs to stand out by virtue of his or her innovative ideas about the role to be played by education in local development and in creating a learning community.

While being both teacher and educator of young people and adults, and aware of community issues and of the students, the head needs to plan and deliver education in and outside the classroom, facilitating intercultural learning that is relevant to the learners.

4. AE/EYPA – a Priority in Public Education Policy

If EYPA is to fulfil its role as agent of change and the ACEs are to become local community development centres, the Bolivian Government, as the principal guarantor of the right to education of all Bolivians, must give priority to it in its education policy.

This priority should be reflected in three ways that we regard as essential:

1) Increasing the budget allocated to AE/EYPA to at least 15 % of annual education spending

2) Moving the Vice Ministry of Adult Education and the Alternative Education departments to the SEDUCAs, as proposed by the 2nd National Conference on Alternative Education (La Paz August 2004)

3) Institutionalizing the ACEs, giving them an appropriate form of organization and adequate management and teaching staff with experience in the field of EYPA; awarding teachers an hourly payment that matches their new role and their devotion to teaching young people and adults in formal and open settings

4) Creating a National Council of AE/EYPA as a forum for social participation in the development and management of an AE/EYPA National Plan

The civil society will need to support and monitor the Bolivian Government in this process. It is therefore essential to strengthen the National Network, Departmental Networks and Municipal Networks of ACEs as agencies that can mobilize, make proposals and keep a watch on the undertakings given.

Adult Education and Development


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