Zé Peão School Project

Country Profile: Brazil


202,768,562 (2014, IBGE estimation)

Poverty (Population living on less than US$1.25 per day)

6% (2009)

Official language


Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 99.22%
Male: 98.60%
Both sexes: 98.91%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 92.90%
Male: 92.24%
Both sexes: 92.58%

Statistical sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleZé Peão School Project (Projeto Escola Zé Peão)
Implementing OrganizationJoão Pessoa Building and Furniture Workers’ Trade Union (Sincato dos Trabalhadores nas Indústrias da Construção e do Mobiliário, SINTRICOM), and the Graduate School of Education of the Federal University of Paraiba
Language of InstructionPortuguese
FundingLiterate Brazil Programme (Programa Brasil Alfabetizado), and João Pessoa Building and Furniture Workers’ Trade Union (Sincato dos Trabalhadores nas Indústrias da Construção e do Mobiliário)
Date of Inception1991 – present

Background and context

Brazil has made impressive economic and social progress over the past twenty years. Since the early 1990s, the country has experienced many sustainable changes that include lower inflation levels and greater job opportunities. As the country’s economy has developed, federal investments in public education have also increased, from 4% of GDP in 2000 to 5.1% in 2007. This has been reflected in an increase in enrolment rates both in formal and non-formal education, as well as a decrease in illiteracy rates. National data show that the percentage of illiterate adults decreased from 13.6% to 10.4% during 2000-2006. However, the country still faces major challenges. The adult illiteracy rate remains among the ten highest of the Latin American and Caribbean region, and at 7,813,600 the absolute number of adult illiterates is the highest among its neighbours. Although there have been reductions in social disparities as the percentage of poor Brazilians has decreased from 36% at the beginning of the 1990s to 28-30% (2008), 53% of the population in rural areas still live in poverty. The social and economic disparities get even worse in the Northeast states, where approximately 52% of all Brazil’s poor live. In particular the state of Paraíba has 55% of its population living in poverty, and 29% residing in rural areas. In the early 1990s, the state had an illiteracy rate way above the national average: 41.7% of the adult population were illiterate, and 60.3% of the state’s illiterates were from the rural zones.

The Zé Peão School Project (Projeto Escola Zé Peão, PEZP) was conceived in 1990 and initiated in 1991 by the Federal University of Paraiba as an outreach community programme in order to address the existing educational needs and challenges of this state, and particularly its capital, João Pessoa. The programme targets workers from the construction and furniture industry, which has been historically marked by employing youth and adults from rural areas who have low levels of literacy and no or very few years of formal education. Due to a long-lasting lack of federal and state initiatives aimed at solving this problem, the programme was designed to improve basic literacy skills of construction workers in order to empower this group to be active citizens and pursue social and economic mobility.

The Zé Peão School Project programme

The Zé Peão School Project is a community outreach adult literacy programme implemented by the Graduate School of Education of the Paraíba Federal University in partnership with the João Pessoa Building and Furniture Workers’ Trade Union in the city of João Pessoa. Since its implementation, the programme has reached thousands of illiterate workers due to its innovative approach, which includes an interdisciplinary methodology as well as a rigorous facilitator recruitment process. The programme’s innovative actions also include: ongoing teacher training; partnerships with the workers’ union aimed at expanding the programme’s coverage and funding; learning activities that go beyond the formal curricular content; social events that foster a sense of community among learners and the programme’s staff; class location and schedule designed to meet students’ needs and an alignment between educational learning and the demands of the labour market.

Aims and objectives

The primary aim of this programme is to improve literacy and numeracy skills of construction workers as well as their general knowledge in order to broaden their understanding of society, economics and politics, and to enhance their critical and independent thinking within the context they are embedded in. The programme also endeavours to:

Programme implementation

Recruitment and training of facilitators

The facilitators are undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Federal University of Paraiba. The group is comprised by a majority of females (90%), and the average age is 25 years. The minimum requirements to apply to the facilitator’s position include: being a second- or third-year student, being enrolled in one of the five specific areas of study (i.e., pedagogy, language and literacy, history, geography or mathematics) and having a grade average equal or superior to 7.0 (on a scale from 0 to 10.0). In addition, applicants have to go through a rigorous selection process which includes a written exam on specific questions on adult education, a 60-hour pre-service training separated into four thematic groups (identity and culture, history and methodologies of adult education, planning and evaluation, and simulated classes) and a final interview. Candidates are selected according to their performance, participation and attendance at the training as well as their demonstrated interest and commitment to providing educational services to adult workers.

The students who are selected after the process are also required to participate in an ongoing teacher training on a wide range of subjects and themes related to adult education, which takes place at the university under the supervision and execution of the programme’s coordinator. There is an average of 12 facilitators per year, and 15 students per instructor. Facilitators work approximately 20 hours per week, including eight hours of instruction, ten hours of class planning and two hours in staff meetings. They are also required to participate in union assemblies to increase their understanding and awareness of the political and social context that their students are part of, as well as periodic workshops and individual and group discussions with the programme coordinators. They work as volunteers and they are granted a stipend of US$224.00 per month.

Enrolment of learners

The programme was designed to target construction workers because this group has a long-lasting history of being socially and economically marginalised in Brazil. They are mostly young and adult male rural migrants with no or only a low level of schooling and vocational training aged from 18 to 64 years. They are recruited within their working community: SINTRICOM staff and facilitators make regular visits to the construction sites to promote the project, explain the goals, and the enrolment and learning process. Since its implementation, the programme has enrolled approximately 15,000 workers, and has enabled 10,000 participants to successfully master the basic literacy and numeracy skills. The current average of learners enrolled per year is 216.

Teaching/learning approaches and methodologies

Classes are offered during ten months, from March to December. They take place at the construction sites where participants study for eight hours per week (19–21h), from Mondays to Thursdays. The reasoning behind the choice of both location and schedule is to accommodate the working needs of the participants, who often work an average of nine hours per day and reside at the construction sites.

The teaching methodology employs a multidisciplinary approach. The subjects – literacy, mathematics, history, geography and science – are combined and integrated not only in order to provide learners with theoretical knowledge, but also to develop their abilities to be socially, economically and politically proactive within their community. Therefore, the content of the classes is based on the participants’ context and needs. For instance, during science classes, learners study themes, such as environment, sexually-transmitted diseases and accidents in the workplace.

However, literacy remains the core subject of this programme and is considered the basis for learning and exploring other fields of knowledge. The teaching of literacy primarily focuses on reading, writing, speaking and listening, in order to encourage students to read, comprehend, reflect on their social experiences and use the language as an instrument of knowledge-seeking. Classes aim to expand learners’ vocabulary, develop their communication skills and enable them to acquire progressive fluency in formal language.

The programme has two initiatives, Alfabetização na Primeira Laje and Tijolo sobre Tijolo, which were designed to address different needs of the participants. The first is an entry-level initiative designed for illiterate individuals, and the second, an advanced level, targets workers who already have some basic literacy and numeracy skills. In addition to formal lessons, the programme also offers activities to broaden learners’ experience through:

The text and workbooks used in the activities are designed by the programme’s coordinators and educators themselves who conduct a rigorous search of materials used by other programmes and institutions in order to develop high-quality resources for their learners. The programme has even published two literacy textbooks called Benedito: A Building Worker (Benedito: Um Homem da Construção) and Learning with Work (Aprendendo com o Trabalho). Also, they often utilise stimulus materials such as journals, magazines, music lyrics, maps, globes and videos as well as games (e.g., checkers, chess, domino) aimed mainly at enhancing primary language and numeracy skills.

The programme is completely free of charge and, besides providing learners with the materials, it offers additional benefits that include meal vouchers, transportation for those who live in rural areas, visits to eye doctors, student ID, and access to the university’s library. In addition, participants who have higher levels of literacy and numeracy skills are encouraged to attend formal adult fourth grade evening classes at a school that partners with the project.

Prior to the beginning of classes, learners are required to take an assessment test aimed at verifying their entry knowledge on basic literacy and numeracy through the identification of letters, syllables, words, sentences, numbers, arithmetic operations and writing down their personal details. Next, the programme coordinators make use of this information to assign learners to the level – either basic entry or advanced – that will meet their needs. Learning assessment is formative as the facilitators have an ongoing evaluation through monthly activities that are placed in individual portfolios which, by the end of each semester, are examined by the programme’s pedagogical coordinator. There is no summative exam, but learners are given the option to have their learning certified, allowing them to move into the formal educational system from sixth grade of primary level onwards after completion of the programme.

Funding support

The programme’s annual cost is approximately US$64,000, and US$397 per learner. There are two sources of funding. The Literate Brazil Programme is a national federal initiative through which the government provides financial and technical support in order to enhance the capacity of youth and adult literacy projects nationwide. From this source, the Zé Peão School Project receives the stipend for each facilitator (US$224), and approximately US$317 for one pedagogic coordinator. The remaining financial funding comes from SINTRICOM, which covers the expenses of pre-service and ongoing teacher training, learning materials, social events, field trips, office supplies, daily expenses and meal and transportation vouchers for learners.

Monitoring and evaluation

The monitoring of the programme includes collecting data on learners’ attendance, drop-out and progression rates, as well as assessment results. These data are collected and stored in a database programme staff. Teaching efficiency is evaluated by class observations as well as a weekly log where teachers report their activities and reflect on their own performance. The project’s coordinators use all of this information to provide individual and group feedback to facilitators, in order to enhance their pedagogical practices and activities as well as improving participants’ learning.

So far, no impact evaluation has been carried out to verify the effectiveness of the project as well as its benefits on learners and the community. However, the programme coordinators and facilitators have informally observed several positive results. Participants have shown:

The programme has also benefited the facilitators by indirectly promoting an:

Finally, the programme has benefited the field of youth and adult education in general. For example, the Zé Peão School Project has provided various opportunities for teacher training in adult education for the Municipal Department of Education of João Pessoa, and it has also been actively involved in the creation and implementation of the state’s youth and adult education teacher and coordinator training. In addition, the programme staff help to train facilitators for the Literate Brazil Programme of the state of Paraiba.


The major challenge faced by the Zé Peão School Project is the high rate of learner drop-out. On average, almost 50% of participants drop out every year. There are external and internal factors that explain this phenomenon. The external factors refer to events that occur in the learners’ lives which are not directly related to their enrolment in the project, such as workers’ layoff, transfer to another construction site and overtime, all of which common in this profession. The internal factors include fatigue and other parallel personal interests, such as going out with friends, playing cards and drinking. In order to decrease student drop-out, the programme coordinator has developed some strategies that mainly address the internal factors: improving the quality of teaching, assessment and the materials used as well as to seeking a deeper understanding of the context within which the target population works and lives in order to adapt the programme more to their reality and needs.

Additional challenges include:

Lessons learned

The Zé Peão School Project has learned many lessons during the 20 years of uninterrupted provision of services to the workers of the construction and furniture industry. These lessons include acknowledging that:


The 20-year history of the Zé Peão School Project is a good indicator of this programme’s sustainability. Despite the challenges the programme has faced throughout its history, the project has been successfully continued over time, expanded its coverage and improved the quality of its services. The main factors that influence its sustainability are the long-lasting support of the Federal University of Paraiba and SINTRICOM, the highly committed staff and programme coordinators, the high demand for flexible non-formal literacy programmes for the target population and the innovative location of classes that meet the needs of the learners. In addition, the programme staff is very actively engaged with many state- and national level initiatives on the promotion of youth and adult education, which has contributed to bringing the knowledge of the programme to a wider group of learners, securing resources and attracting more facilitators as well as students.



Maria José Nascimento Moura Araújo
Avenida Acre, 177
Bairro dos Estados
Joao Pessoa, PB, Brazil
Telephone: +55 83 35139283
Email: zezinhamoura (at) gmail.com