Jorge Camors

Despite higher than average rates of education, Adult Education in Uruguay has been equated with the other education sectors. There was was intensive consultation with international organisations such as the Latin American Adult Education Council CEAAL, the International Adult Education Council and the ICAE network for women’s education, REPEM, about the policy for further education. As a result, there has been a strong impetus for many Adult Education programs that are conducted by the Ministry in conjunction with other public institutions. However, many tasks remain to be undertaken.

Non-formal Continuing Education – The Uruguayn Experience

The Political Commitment

On March 1, 2005, a new government assumed power in Uruguay, with the peculiarity of it being, for the first time in the history of the country, a government of the left.

In education, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) defines the education policy as being aimed at promoting “education for all throughout life, throughout the country.”

In this context, the MEC education team reflected on the meaning and relevance of the concept and policy to be followed. One of the decisions taken was the creation of the Department of Non-Formal Education in the MEC; that is to say, to regard non-formal education as part of the educational policies which have to be moved forward in the period ahead.

This was new to the extent that this type of education had never been highlighted by the state mostly because this is a highly educated country, with nearly 100 % of school-age children enrolled in primary education, with 5 years of compulsory early childhood education with a coverage of nearly 100 %, and 90 % access to compulsory basic secondary education. The most pressing problem is the abandonment of secondary education, where with the increase in age, there is an increase in dropouts. This is serious to the extent that the levels of college students are fed by graduates from secondary school, which in this year was 35 %. For the whole country, a maximum of 40.6 % of people 25 or older completed primary education. 1

 It was not “invent” something, but to make the invisible visible, to recognise and legitimise a form of education that existed and developed with different criteria and different types of outcomes achieved through various practices and projects in different institutional and policy frameworks.

In this sense, the MEC, during the first six months after its formation, set up three working groups to address the implementation of this policy:

  • First, a non-formal education working group was set up, which also invited the public institutions charged by law with public education. It was proposed to integrate this group with the UNESCO Office in Uruguay, based on an explicit recognition of their expertise in education and their responsibilities in providing technical assistance.
  • Second, the working group on education and work was set up, also inviting the public institutions responsible for youth issues and employment, as well as representatives of employers and workers and private job training.
  • Thirdly, it set up the working group on Adult Education at the behest of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), issuing invitations to the public institutions of formal education and social policies, as well as ICAE, REPEM and CEAAL. The working groups that were formed were cross-institutional and intersectoral public and private organisations who lent their cooperation and participated in formulating the policy of non-formal education as part of education policy for the period that was beginning.

The three groups participated in the Education Debate of 2006 and the National Education Congress held in December of that year, presenting proposals and recommendations.

Throughout these years, institutions such as the Hamburg Institute of UNESCO and CREFAL, as well as various academics and specialists in the field, were invited to participate and contribute to our thinking process. 2

In short, there was a clear vision and an educational policy which expressed a desire for change in education in general, in expanding the field of education by recognising non-formal education, and in that perspective, facilitating the emergence and development of education for young people and adults, at the formal and informal level, as a true expression of an education for all throughout life.

Major Educational Innovations

In the MEC,

  • the National Programme for Education and Work was formed based on the experience gained in previous years by two CECAP centres in Montevideo and Rivera in the north of the country, proffered as non-formal education for young people from 15 to 20 years of age in a vulnerable situation, with a completed primary education but in reality not studying or working. This programme was developed in 12 schools in different parts of the country and is projected to cover it completely in 2014. Besides offering the proposed comprehensive education to young people every day of the week throughout the year until they return to school and/or start working, it is intended to show and demonstrate that another form of education is possible;
  • the Learning is Forever Programme was formed as a non-formal education proposal for young people and adults over 20 years of age, opening a range of issues to deal with everyday personal and social life, participation and citizenship;
  • implemented annually since 2007, the Festival of Learning proposals which have been successful in other countries that can be adapted to the special conditions of our environment and as a form of encouragement and recognition of learning and efforts of young people and adults in learning forever.

The National Public Education Administration (ANEP), responsible for the initial levels – primary and secondary – of formal education:

  • takes up the education of young people and adults in courses and in an accreditation through experience system for the completion of primary education for people over 15 years of age, covering the entire country. This meant a major effort in resources and education policy;
  • gives importance to education in the context of incarceration making sure all detention centres in the country have, for the first time, at least one teacher, following the humanisation policy of reducing sentences for years of work and education in prison;
  • established a coordinating committee for the education of young people and adults in ANEP, including the different levels of education that serve this population in primary and secondary education (secondary and technical vocational).

The Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) created in 2005, and responsible for the coordination of social policies and the National Plan for Social Emergency (PANES) for the years 2005 to 2007, highlights the concern, encouragement and implementation of literacy for the people targeted – those in situations of extreme poverty and destitution – which was found to be approximately 10 % of the population. The literacy programme, a Uruguayan version of the Cuban programme “Yes I can,” was coordinated with ANEP, promoting reintegration and continuing education.

At the institutional level, with the participation of different public institutions (MEC, NEP, UdelaR, MTSS, MEF, OPP, BROU, CND) 3 , an agreement was signed in 2009, creating the Uruguay Study Programme with the objectives of: supporting learning throughout life; encouraging studying and education completion; facilitating social integration. This includes four components: education, scholarships, internships and loans.

In conclusion, mention must be made of efforts to express policy on Education and Labour:

  • “Education through labour” is one of the 9 horizontal lines that the National System of Education should think about in all its forms (Law 18,437 – art. 40).
  • The explicit inclusion of education results in innovation in employment policies and professional training as, for example, in COCAP (Vocational Training Council) through the adoption of Law No. 18,133 – 2008, which amends the composition of its Honorary Board of Directors, leaving the direction exclusively to the technical and professional councils of ANEP, MEC and MTSS; and the INEFOP (National Institute of Employment and Vocational Training) created by Law No. 18,406 – 2008, whose board is composed of representatives of: MTSS, MEC, OPP, Workers and Employers, where the Government representation is not only from the Ministry of Labour but also includes the Ministry of Education.

Advances in the Process of Legal Recognition

The process in 2006 provided significant and important elements that led to the presentation by the MEC of a Draft Law on Education, which was discussed three times by the Council of Ministers and then sent for consideration to Parliament, which approved the General Education Law (No. 18,437) in December 2008.

The most important concepts which must be noted are:

  • The right to education for all inhabitants and throughout life: art. 1
  • The formal education of young people and adults: a commitment expressed by ANEP (art.59 inc.P)
  • To promote and coordinate educational activities aimed at young people and adults: a commitment expressed by the National Council for Non-Formal Education CONENFOR (art. 94 inc. D) that was created through art. 92
  • Participation is a fundamental principle of education;
  • The methodologies applied should promote civic education and empowerment of the people (art.9)
  • The learner is and should be the subject of education (art. 5)
  • A fundamental objective of national education policy will be that all inhabitants of the country achieve quality learning throughout life and across the country (art. 12)
  • Rights and duties of students and the family (art. 72 to 75)


When told the MEC should develop a progress report on the status of education of young people and adults in 2006 with a view to the preparatory process for CONFINTEA VI which was to be held in 2009, an opportunity was seen to give an impulse to the policy it had been thinking about and to implement it.

 In this sense, the National Preparatory Committee for CONFINTEA VI was created in 2007 by Presidential Resolution, integrating the various actors involved in this field of education and taking the working group established in 2005 as a reference. CONFINTEA VI was therefore an “excuse” to push a process for translating ideas and education policies.

One of the first tasks the Committee took was preparing the National Report which was sent to UNESCO UILL. It was a very interesting instance of collective construction of the state of the situation, with the opportunities and challenges it presented in order to present it in an institutional format and between public and private actors, but the process was strengthened.

There was also consideration of a process of awareness and participation to accompany the preparation of the international conference in 2009. National Forums were held, where the first was convened with the objective of bringing to the attention the National Report, to trigger reflection and discussion; the second was called to gather proposals for the Uruguayan delegation to CONFINTEA VI.

In 2008 there was participation in the Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean for CONFINTEA VI through an integrated delegation comprised of representatives from the MEC, ANEP and ICAE. Finally, in 2009, there was participation in CONFINTEA VI through an integrated delegation comprised of representatives from the MEC, ANEP, MIDES, ICAE, REPEM and UNI3.

After Belem the opinion was that there was still a long way to go for the specific educational needs of the country, as well as following up the implementation of the agreements and goals of CONFINTEA VI. In this sense, the National Committee to Coordinate and Monitor the Education of Youth and Adults was created by Presidential Resolution, integrating the various actors involved in this field of education, including CONENFOR, in the process initiated in 2005.

CONFINTEA is now a “text” to consolidate and deepen the process changes supported by the educational ideas and policies that were initiated.

Progress and Challenges of Theory and Policies:

a) There are still differences between theory and practice
Adult Education policy is mentioned in policy documents and educational programmes and the importance of promoting learning throughout life is recognized. Literacy is mentioned in the statute, its importance is recognised and actions are implemented, although from the conceptual point of view we must continue to evolve.
But there is still a long way to go: a traditional view is still being held of literacy and education of young people and adults.

b) Tensions and concerns:
Advances in the discourse are not accompanied by conceptual advances:
Literacy: A certain degree of loss of relevance was perceived to that which was granted in the period 2005 – 2009, and current actions are subordinate to the level of primary education.
education of young people and adults: There is a perception that a greater intra-institutional coordination in the ANEP is missing. It is managed through a subsystem (primary, secondary, vocational), although not recognised as Youth and Adult Education (YAE). Progress on objectives, content, methodology and teaching profile as well as in educational policy: territorial decentralisation, articulations and innovations are exclusively for the primary education level.
education for young people and adults: Its recognition is recent: since 2005; it appears in the General Education Law in 2008. The creation of CONENFOR, which started operations in 2009, is considered very important, resulting in an inter-institutional strategy, intersectoral, of articulation, coordination and promotion of a quality non-formal education.
The development of education in breadth and depth (including YAE), in the sense of its articulation with public policies, the life of all people and social harmony depends on inserting it in the development of the hegemonic social and cultural conceptual sector of our country.

c) Education: Economics vs. Citizenship?
Before 2005, we can say that education was considered mainly as “preparation for employment” (and in the most optimistic scenario, to get it and keep it), which somehow puts it in direct relation to merely obtaining income. Predominant were neoliberal concepts from past decades.
The current production and technological development exposes the shortcomings of previous educational policies and shows the current needs and prospects of economic development. The educational offer is too limited to meet economic demand and current production.
Moreover, it also puts in jeopardy the profile of the participant in YAE, the subject of education and his/her interest in further study, to continue learn-ing. His/her needs, interests and problems, manifested in many ways, are sending us signals that we have to analyse. Certainly there are some things in our proposals that we should change in order to functionally “communicate” with them; there is something about the “identity” of YAE that we need to analyse and think about.
So we’re at a crossroads; the great concern that currently exists in promoting more and better education: Can it be explained as an interest in economics or citizenship? What is the role of production in societal life? What is the role of education for life in the societal life of the subjects?

d) Without credit or recognition (yet)
The demand for accreditation of non-formal and informal learning has increased significantly among adults interested in continuing their education or seeking recognition of their skills for employment and further learning.
The validation of skills to enable re-entry into and continuing education has been explicitly recognised in the General Education Law of 2008 (Law 18.437 art. 39), although the topic is on the agenda of the authorities and a proposed regulation has been submitted but has not yet been implemented. In any case it represents a significant advance in the recognition of the “knowledge, skills and progress made by a person outside of formal education” which contributes to the consolidation of the concept of learning throughout life and a non-formal education policy.

Management (Based on a Conceptual and Policy Framework)

Management requires technical skill, but fundamentally a political concept and a theoretical foundation, with real willingness to participate at all levels.

The management must be built on a policy of participation that includes all stakeholders: government officials, professionals of the state, universities, unions, employers and the rest of civil society.

One of the results to look for is the creation of an effective institutional framework, efficient and permanent, as the ideal means to ensure the continuity of policies and achievement of the intended impacts. In this, we must take into account different dimensions:

  • Intra-institutional: within each institution involved;
  • Inter-institutional: with the participation of the various institutions concerned;
  • Intersectoral: overcoming the traditional schematic of fragmentation of public policies in the different separate sectors, to bring together the sectors that have an impact on education;
  • Intergovernmental: because it requires much communication and coordination within the government in order to carry out the policies in this way.

The task should involve us all, at least in the articulation and coordination as well as being a means to have content and specific targets.

The management requires working professionally, developing a rigorous methodology for designing and implementing mechanisms of: planning and evaluation of policies and programmes; monitoring and follow-up; impact on educational practices and accumulation of learning.

Information is a key element. Therefore it is necessary to provide devices to generate, provide and exchange it. It should be: relevant and pertinent; must be timely. We need to disseminate and communicate, inform, be accountable and educate through the information.

Regional and international cooperation can play a very important role in the way we bring it together and participate in it, contributing to the articulation, coordination, legitimation and “helping to think about” policies, programmes and practices.

Concluding Remarks

To promote the “education of young people and adults” and “learning throughout life” it is essential to have built a certain vision of the model of life in the society we wish to have in our countries, a certain view of the human being and individual and social life.

In this sense, the concepts of education and culture happen to have a certain dimension which nurtures and guides all actions: the policies, programmes and educational practices.

We have ideas and political will for social change for all people to live better, but we also have traditions and ingrained concepts which are hard to change. They are still not entirely clear and understood, the ideas of “education for young people and adults” and “learning throughout life.” In general, the education of young people and adults in Uruguay is still substantially “vague and vulnerable.”

This problem may not be unique to our country since there are things that YAE needs to revise about their proposals and the relevance of these for the subjects of education. The “identity” of YAE is under discussion.

 The conceptual problems directly affect the difficulty of articulation and coordination; they persist despite competence, as in duplication of efforts and poor use of resources; the result is that it is difficult to mobilise and even identify the great variety of education stakeholders in order to achieve concerted and effective action which produces the changes we aspire to. It is imperative to recognise that “education” is a vast field of possibilities that goes far beyond the traditional boundaries of schooling and childhood.

It is necessary to create stronger relationships between “this” education, including adult and youth education and other sectors, such as work, health, the various social programmes, school education, physics, recreation and sports, and the environment.

It is essential to continue the process of building theoretical frameworks that the education of young people and adults and their needs and learning possibilities require.

It is very important to provide new and effective institutions to implement policies and programmes with due professionalism, giving new meaning the concept of “educational management”, including policy content and pedagogy.

After a few years of having initiated these changes, we feel a strange sense of satisfaction and non-conformity at the same time, because although much has been done, much remains to be done. We have installed reflection and debate on these issues and have made clear progress with concrete actions and difficulties to continue working. We have shown that the changes are necessary and also possible.


1 MEC, “Statistical Yearbook of Education 2005”, MEC, Montevideo 2006.

2 During this period, the following people collaborated and worked with us: Violeta Núñez, Jaume Trilla, Maria Teresa Sirvent, Rosa María Torres, Jose Garcia Molina, Olga Nirenberg, Bettina Bochynek, Ulrike Hanemann, Timothy Ireland, Paul Belanger, Sergio Haddad, Monteiro Evelcy Roberto Da Silva, Lidia Rodriguez, Sylvia Schmelkes, Mercedes Ruiz, Ernesto Rodriguez, Graciela Riquelme, Ariel Alberto Biondi and Zysman.

3 (3) MEC: Ministerio de Educación y Cultura (Ministry of Education and Culture) – ANEP: Administración Nacional de Educación Pública (National Ministry of Public Education) – UdelaR: Universidad de la República
del Uruguay (University of the O. Republic of Uruguay) – MTSS: Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social (Ministry of Labour and Social Security) – MEF: Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas (Ministry of Economy and Finance) – OPP: Oficina de Planeamiento y Presupuesto (Office of Planning and Budget) – BROU: Banco de la República O. del Uruguay (Bank of the O. Republic of Uruguay – CND: Corporación Nacional para el Desarrollo (National Development Corporation).

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