Nélida Céspedes Rossel

The social situation in Latin America is marked by profound differences between rich and poor. One of these differences is access to education. But it is only through education and knowledge that people can develop the capacity to act and instigate change in their social conditions. There are many obstacles hindering achievement of the goals stipulated in the UN Literacy for All campaign. The Latin American Association for Adult Education CEAAL stands in the tradition of Paulo Freire and works in every country of Latin America on both practical and political levels to overcome inequality and exclusion.

A Perspective on Lifelong Learning

The success or failure of Adult and Youth Education (AYE) involves issues that go far beyond the education system – issues related to macro-economic influences, market forces and development models. This opens up space for a debate, challenging us to take a closer look at lifelong education. We must urgently consider AYE in terms of the type of development model that should be pursued in Latin America and the Caribbean so as to ensure that AYE can effectively become a basic component of human development. For this to happen, we must incorporate the kind of meaning and content in AYE that can transform the unjust order and produce independent and critically-thinking people in accordance with the principles underlying Adult Education.

It is in this sense that we undertake to briefly analyze the situation in Latin America in order to identify the problems and critical issues encountered in the development of AYE. In the midst of worldwide political, economic, cultural, and environmental crisis, we face the formidable task of renewing international efforts in the area of Lifelong Learning, and of bridging the gap between vision and discourse.

A Brief Look at the Social Situation in Latin America

The findings of the World Wealth Report,1 which disclose the concentration of wealth in Latin America, are cause for indignation. Over the course of three years, as the report reveals, the wealthiest people in Latin America have amassed the staggering amount of 6.3 trillion US dollars in financial assets, increasing their fortunes by 20.4 percent. And this figure excludes material assets such as homes and art collections. By comparison, during the same period, wealthy individuals in the oil-producing countries of the Middle East have increased the balances of their bank accounts by 17.5 percent. In Africa, increases amounted to 15 percent; in Asia 12.5 percent; in Europe 5.3 percent; and in the United States and Canada 4.4 percent. According to the report for the year 2007, wealthy Latin Americans are the least generous of their class anywhere in the world. Facts like these give rise to important questions: At whose expense do such fortunes grow? What do political rulers do – or fail to do – that permits such excesses? How does the result affect the living and learning conditions for children, young people, and adults?

A starkly contrasting picture is offered in a study conducted by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) under the title Social Panorama of Latin America.2 More than 182 million people, according to this study, are currently living in poverty. This represents 33.2 per cent of the population. And during the present year, the rate of extreme poverty and destitution, which stood at 12.6 per cent (68 million people) in the year 2007, is estimated to rise to 12.9 per cent (71 million people). Inequality in education is a factor in this situation. The poor are excluded from the universal right to education:

“This poverty is linked to the impact of inflation that took hold at the beginning of 2007. According to economic forecasts, global economic deceleration will leave the region with a weaker demand for commodity exports, lower investments in the productive sector, and reduced migrant remittances. Emerging economies will experience international financial market constraints. Employment is expected to stagnate, and household income is expected to decline, especially among self-employed and informal sector workers whose jobs are more susceptible to economic shifts. The outcome is likely to be a slight rise in poverty and indigence, which will prolong the negative trend initiated in 2008.”

The Social Panorama report, which also analyzes the subject of juvenile and domestic violence in Latin America, states in this connection:

“Such violence feeds on various forms of social and symbolic exclusion among youth, including a lack of equal opportunities, a lack of access to employment, alienation, discrepancies between symbolic consumption and material consumption, territorial segregation, the absence of public facilities for social and political participation.” (Social Panorama of Latin America. 2008)

Not only does this worrying trend jeopardize the objectives related to literacy and the education of youth and adults as set forth in the agreements concluded in Hamburg. It is also undermining economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights, and the commitments adopted by the Decade of the United Nations. It compromises
the aims of the Education for All Declaration, Article 3 of which demands universal access to education and the promotion of equality. And it runs counter to the Millennium Development Goals which seek “to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people”.

Some progress has been made. Examples include the shaping of a vision of Lifelong Learning, the search for links between literacy learning and education for young people and adults, the development of a variety of programmes and methods, the elaboration of education materials, and the provision of national and international funding. However, the stated goals have not been achieved. That will require the renewal of commitment toward the transformation of existing economic structures, the articulation of educational, social, and cultural policies,
the empowerment of excluded sectors, and a focus on the gender perspective. Only if we address these issues will we be able to confront the extreme disparities that exist between rich and poor, and to build humane societies whose members are capable of reading, understanding, and transforming the world.

The renewed commitment that we speak of involves addressing the problem of poverty. The eradication of poverty is part of a horizon of economic justice on a continent beset by inequality. Such a horizon can only be reached through an immediate redistribution of wealth, a process that requires active, conscious, and democratic political participation. This implies empowering people to strengthen their capacity to act. Putting education at the service of the most disadvantaged is the prerequisite. Policies must be created that confront the problem of inequality in education for young people and adults and serve to shape a system of basic education that prevents desertion. Literacy training must provide young people and adults with access to knowledge that will foster the democratization of our societies and an intercultural citizenship.

The United Nations Literacy Decade A Development Strategy for 2008 – 2012

The mid-term report for the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD)3 which was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in October 2008, served as the basis for a publication entitled The Global Literacy Challenge.4 As the report points out, Literacy for All, which is the vision of literacy put forward in this report, is a difficult objective to realize, not merely because of the difficulty inherent in the acquisition of language skills, but also because the challenge is complicated by powerful socio-economic and political constraints that constitute limiting factors in the development of literacy efforts.

As outlined in the report, the following factors that limit progress towards Literacy for All constitute challenges that must be taken up by the countries of the world if they earnestly intend to make the necessary changes to achieve the stated goals by 2012.

Limiting factors

Low priority: Literacy has low priority in many countries and in many international agencies relative to other pressing socio-economic issues. In addition, youth and adult literacy is most often regarded as a matter of secondary importance compared to the provision of schooling at all levels for children and young people.

Inadequate policies and planning: Where there are no clear policies or strategies for literacy, efforts lack coherence and may not contribute to broader national development goals. Unclear objectives and the absence of consistent planning lead to ad hoc programmes and possibly to the neglect of certain population groups, and haphazard outcomes.

Inadequate coordination and lack of partnerships: Literacy is implemented not only by the ministry of education, but by several ministries as well as civil society. In most countries, there is neither comprehensive information on the activities the various stakeholders are undertaking, nor coordination among them. This leads to overlap, waste of resources, and the impossibility of monitoring and evaluating what progress has been made towards policy objectives.

Inappropriate organizational frameworks: Promoting literacy for youth and adults must cope with its inherent diversity. The lack of an organizational framework which copes well with inherent diversity has led either to relatively short-lived standardized approaches with dubious results, or to an abandonment of literacy to scattered initiatives. Highly standardized systems modelled on those that deliver schooling to children are not appropriate.

Insufficient information on what works: Literacy programmes tend to function in isolation and experiences may not be documented. Without information about successful efforts, the individuals responsible for planning literacy programmes are bound to repeat the same errors without being able to benefit from experience accumulated by similar programmes in other locations.

Low quality: The low quality of literacy provision and the results it produces is due in some cases to weak policies, the lack of concrete evidence about actual efforts and actual needs as well as the low level of professional capacity. Quality demands a professional approach.

Lack of data on literacy levels and needs: When literacy programmes are initiated without evaluating the level of competence attained by a specific group, it may lead not only to frustration for both learners and facilitators but also to inappropriate methods and materials and unclear objectives about where the process should begin and what is to be achieved.

Lack of monitoring and evaluation: No one can know whether literacy efforts are achieving sustainable and effective results unless there is a process of monitoring and evaluation. Where these processes are absent, valuable lessons leading to improved policies and programmes cannot be learnt.

Inadequate financial resources: Within national education budgets, the amount devoted to youth and adult literacy is frequently less than one percent, and resources are budgeted only for certain aspects of literacy programming, such as facilitator expenses or materials, and not for the support and development costs which are necessary for quality results. A benchmark of three percent has been proposed, but precise financing needs must be assessed for each national case. The aim must be to increase the envelope for education as a whole, with more adequate resources for youth and adult literacy within that. The same principle applies to the neglect of the field in donor strategies and the allocation of external aid.

In addition to this list, the report also emphasizes that the strategies pursued during the remaining years of the Literacy Decade must be geared to vulnerable and marginalized groups. Literacy efforts to date have not sufficiently addressed the needs of the members of these groups. Standardized literacy programmes are not appropriate in the context of their lives or circumstances. It is not a question of special treatment, but rather of investing in literacy programmes so as to make them effective and sustainable. Experience has shown that unless attention is paid to the specific context in which measures are undertaken, any efforts will fail and exclusion will be the result. Investing in vulnerable and marginalized groups will also have a greater impact on literacy levels and sustainable development. The groups that must be given priority include women and girls, young people, marginalized communities, cultural and linguistic minorities, indigenous populations, nomads, migrants, rural populations, persons with disabilities, and individuals who have been deprived of their liberty.

What are the countries of the world doing to remediate the deficits? It would indeed be lamentable if, as has been the case in past agreements, these critical points were to remain unaddressed, if ways are not mapped out to overcome inequalities in access to AYE, if the proposed goals are not implemented during the coming years.

CEAAL’s Contributions

Following in the Steps of Paulo Freire

As José Rivero observes,5 Paulo Freire has contributed to the creation of a renewed and broader vision of literacy by highlighting the political dimension and viewing literacy learning as an integral component in a process by which illiterate individuals become conscious of their personal situation and learn to create or use the means to improve it. For Freire, learning how to read and write and do mathematical calculations is part of the process that enables people to gain access to political, economic, and cultural rights, and to influence or modify the manner in which power in society is distributed.6 Freire’s influence extends far beyond the borders of Latin America.7

The transformational learning theory and praxis introduced by Paulo Freire in the 1950s are still relevant today. Freire not only contributed to the construction of a new education system in Latin American countries such as such as Chile, Cuba, and Nicaragua, but also in Africa and in other countries of the world. During the 1990s, after returning to Brazil following 16 years of exile, he served as Secretary of Education in Sao Paulo. Taking an activist approach to pedagogy, he developed a concept of literacy as an integral component of Adult Education, and he worked hard to convert that concept into public policy.

Paulo Freire understood literacy as an emancipatory social and educational process. According to his concept, literacy learning involves more than just learning the skills of reading and writing according to the “ba-be-bi-bo-bu” method. It is a process of citizenship construction. Rather than a method by which learners repeat words, it is a method to empower people to use their words to change their environment. Another fundamental aspect of Freire’s approach is that it links the fight for literacy with a concept of social mobilization. The literacy campaigns in Cuba and Nicaragua were inspired by this concept that integrates the struggle for the right to education with a process of educational, social and political mobilization.

It is important to emphasize the perspective that Paulo Freire and other educators active in the popular education movement created for literacy and AYE. They have developed political and educational practices that challenge the theory of human capital, an approach which considers the creation of skilled manpower a priority in the interest of globalised capitalist development. Their perspective is based on the values of justice and equality. As Maria Clara Di Pierro has stated, literacy learning develops the kind of human, technical, and political skills that are required to fight for societies which ensure life with dignity in a sustainable environment, and promote democratic coexistence with respect for diversity and human rights.8

An Agenda for AYE and Literacy

Since CONFINTEA V in 1997, the Latin American Council for Adult Education CEAAL has been exerting efforts in every Latin American country to counteract processes of exclusion that shape the lives of so many young people and adults. Interventions are many and varied. The work concentrates on themes including women and women-specific issues with the aim of integrating a gender perspective into Adult Education; citizenship empowerment and leadership; indigenous populations from an intercultural perspective; and urban and rural migrants, all in the interest of developing Adult Education concepts and promoting social inclusion. Some institutions serve working-class youths and seek to bring an intergenerational perspective into AYE; others strive to ensure quality basic education by forging gen-der equity policies to ensure the right to education for all. In general, the institutions link work in Adult Education to processes of leadership, citizenship education, and policies to foster transformation and change at local, regional, and national levels.

The Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE) advocates for policies that promote the right to education, especially for the education of young people and adults. We also participate, along with CLADE, in the World Social Forum and its Americas chapter to help build a social, political, cultural and educational movement under the banner “Another World is Possible”. As members of CEAAL, CLADE, and ICAE, we work in diverse spaces and forums, to highlight the urgency for governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to place greater emphasis on the design and implementation of policies and action plans aimed at literacy and AYE, because the way it is being implemented in the region constitutes a perverse expression of social injustice.

Studies for an Education Policy Agenda

In 2005, CEAAL also formed a partnership with CREFAL (the Regional Centre for Adult Education and Functional Literacy for Latin America) to conduct studies in twenty Latin American countries on the situation of literacy and education for young people and adults. The countries included Mexico, Eduador, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Peru, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Argentina, Honduras, Haiti, Panama, Venezuela, Bolivia, and the Dominican Republic.

The studies report on the broader context of the various countries, describing the organization of each national education system against the background of recent developments in AYE. The aspects analyzed in the studies include public Adult Education policies and the practices generated by them, the role of non-government organizations, and collaboration between government agencies and civil society. Investigations concentrated on the construction of the right to education, AYE in the world of work and income, the training of trainers, and socio-cultural diversity. Poverty and sustainable and equitable development are themes cutting across all these areas. The documents give an overview of coverage in quantitative terms. They describe relevant experiences, identify the lessons learned, and make assessments and recommendations. The results constitute a contribution toward establishing an Adult Education agenda.

Considering how important it is to introduce these findings into the public debate, they are summarized below. In some cases they serve to reinforce the results of earlier analyses. To keep the inequality gap from widening even further, it is crucial that priority be given to the issues they address:

A compensatory approach vs. a human rights-based approach: Existing policies on secondary education are of a compensatory nature. They provide for education based on the formal schooling model which also serves as the model for AYE. Curricula and instructional materials are available, but education for young people and adults is not regarded as a right. AYE is not remedial education, but a form of education that must be specifically designed to be relevant for young people and adults.

Lack of political visibility: The area of AYE occupies a marginal position within education policy and plays only a secondary role in existing education systems. Policies must be put into operation that ensure that civil society and the emerging social movements are in a position to demand that the right to accessible, permanent and successful education for youth and adults be guaranteed.

Weak budgets: Budget allocations for AYE are inadequate. Budgetary decisions are not consistent with the priorities set out in political discourse.

Quality education is unequally distributed and does not extend to the AYE sector: Urban areas are more privileged than rural areas, and offers for indigenous populations and people of African descent are of inferior quality.

Ineffective teaching concepts and methods and inadequate preparation for instructors and facilitators: There are no academic teacher training programmes in the region specifically designed for AYE. The situation is complicated by the precarious employment conditions and insecure contracts that jeopardize the livelihood of facilitators and volunteers.

Unequal levels of development in AYE: Some countries have achieved progress in the design of proposals for AYE and for integrating the sector within their education systems, while others are experiencing stagnation. There are countries which have developed consolidated programmes for AYE, and there are those which focus on specialized areas such as intercultural education, prison education, and education for migrants.

Lack of institutionalization in AYE: In many countries, AYE falls under the jurisdiction of the public school system, in which case the sector is marked by insufficient organizational and programmatic development and receives lower priority within the overall context of education policy.

Youth and migration: An issue that requires special attention by AYE is the problem of migration and the social exclusion faced by young migrants. When violence and war force young people to leave their homes, they tend to suffer even greater discrimination.

Paradoxes of popular education: The proposals for AYE and popular education initiated by civil society were adopted by a number of governments. NGOs in turn redefined and adopted government literacy strategies. In the course of this process, they became less politically active. This role has meanwhile been transferred to AYE networks.

Literacy development, the pivotal element in initiatives conducted by national and international agencies: The studies have arrived at the conclusion that despite the various initiatives spawned in the region by the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI), the currently inactive Literacy Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE), the United Nations Literacy Decade, or the Millennium Development Goals, there is no substantial decline in the levels of illiteracy.

Promising signs: More and more institutions are following an integrated approach to tackle the problem of illiteracy and foster the provision of AYE. The paradigm has shifted toward Lifelong Learning and permanent education. Lifelong Learning, combined with the tradition of popular education, is a horizon of transformation in which people are the subject-agents, working together with the social movements to shape social and educational practices.

These conclusions, which are drawn from the aforementioned studies, are components of a political and educational agenda – an agenda that we propose as part of the strategy to overcome social, cultural, and educational inequality. This agenda must become an integral part of efforts to construct a just, decent, and humane society.

Challenges for CEAAL

CEAAL has undertaken to address the challenges facing literacy development and AYE, a process which involves weaving its activities with other necessary components, including: the systematization of experiences; the implementation of studies to more closely explore the findings issuing from the studies undertaken in 2006; the development of political advocacy initiatives that demand state policies on literacy and AYE which give greater priority to these areas and do not treat them as mere secondary or remedial measures, and which address the issues of inclusion and equity so as to cater for the rights of people who are excluded from society in general and the education system in particular.

As part of the popular education movement, CEAAL appeals to states, governments, and multilateral institutions to adhere to ethical standards in their work and not to pursue neoliberal policies that are responsible for creating inhuman conditions by exacerbating social exclusion and violating the right to education.

This urgently requires increased and more effective financing of adult and youth education.

In line with our tradition, which assumes that the construction of knowledge is an act of liberation, we consider it to be vital for literacy development and AYE programmes to go beyond the skills of reading and writing. In our understanding, pedagogy is a liberating act and a socio-educational process in which “nobody educates anyone”. The point of departure for a critical and democratic pedagogy based on dialogue is the experience and reality of the social actors involved who redirect their experiences into daily life in order to transform it.

Policies and programmes must be nurtured by cultural diversity and must recognize that every culture has its own particular world view. Strategies must be designed to promote bonds of brotherhood and intercultural dialogue, and to surmount disparities so that all persons can live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. We must seek to foster a non-consumerist way of life in which all of us can live together in a spirit of solidarity as productive, creative, critical members of society who are capable of realizing the collective vision of a universal humanity and of working together for the well-being, peace, and happiness of all.

There are many social, academic, political, and cultural initiatives dedicated to the cause of liberation. We must establish contacts with them and initiate a process of dialogue. It is important for us to form associations and launch concerted actions with various types of institutions, whether public or private.

As an association of civil society institutions, CEAAL seeks to address the proposals of its members. Our work will help strengthen the great popular education movement, connecting us with other democratic social movements in different Latin American and Caribbean contexts. Paulo Freire has told us that this will inspire our thinking and educational practice alongside those who are fighting to liberate themselves from every order which is dedicated to the kind of exploitation that deepens poverty and increases economic and social exclusion.

From this perspective, we seek to contribute to the protection of the universal right to education and the pursuit of never-ending learning.












Working together
Source: Moussa Gadio





1 Capgemini Merrill Lynch, World Wealth Report 2008, http://www.ml.com/media/100472.pdf
2 http://www.eclac.org/publicaciones/xml/3/34733/PSI2008-SintesisLanzamiento.pdf

3 http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A %2F63 %2F172&Submit=Search&Lang=E

4 http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0016/001631/163170e.pdf

5 José Rivero. Educación y actores sociales frente a la pobreza en América Latina. [Education and social actors in view of the poverty in Latin America] CEAAL, CLADE. Lima 2008.
6 To quote Paulo Freire: “It is a vision of literacy learning that goes far beyond memorizing ‘ba, be, bi, bo, bu’ because it implies a critical understanding of social, political, and economic reality in which the literacy learner lives. Literacy is much, much more than reading and writing. It is the ability to read the world, it is the ability to continue to learn, and it is the key to the door of knowledge.”
7 In a special commemorative ceremony held during CONFINTEA V in Hamburg in July 1997, tribute was paid to Paulo Freire in honour of his life and works. Representatives from every continent in the world participated in a demonstration of appreciation for the impact his writings and his work have had in their respective countries.
8 María Clara Di Pierro. “Youth and Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean: The recent trajectory”. An analysis of the situation regarding the education of young people and adults in Latin America. CREFAL, CEAAL. 2006. http://www.scielo.br/pdf/cp/v38n134/en_a0638134.pdf


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