Integral School Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Colombia


47,120,770 (DANE, 2013)

Official Language


Other recognised languages

Quechua, Wayuu, Paez, Embera, sikuany, piapoco, curripaco, puinave, romani, among others (total: 65)

Poverty (Population living on less than 1.25 USD per day, 2000-2007)


Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP (2011)


Primary School Net Enrolment/Attendance (2005–2009)


Total Youth Literacy Rate (aged 15 to 24 years, 2005–2008)

Male: 98%
Female: 98%
Total: 98%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2005–2008)

Male: 93.5%
Female: 93.7%
Total: 93.6%

Statistical Sources

Programme Overview

Programme TitleIntegral School Literacy Programme (Escuela Integral)
Implementing OrganizationThe San José Higher Education Foundation (La Fundación de Educación Superior San José)
Language of InstructionSpanish
FundingThe Government (through the Ministry of Education and Culture in Soacha, the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF), the National Training Service (SENA) and the Ministry for Social and Community Development in Soacha).
Date of Inception2006

Context and Background


Citizens who are illiterate or have not completed their basic education face diverse difficulties and disadvantages which leave them unable to participate actively in society. In the Colombian communities of Soacha, people face health problems, unemployment and are served by only a small number of projects aimed at improving quality of life, social harmony and active citizenship. Due to the complexity of their situation, the inhabitants are hindered from taking up social, economic, cultural and political opportunities and remain living in difficult conditions linked to armed conflict, drug consumption, domestic violence, premature births and lack of a life plan. Faced with a dramatically increasing population, educational provisions in Colombia additionally need to serve an ever-growing number of citizens putting a strain on the capacity of the existing services.

The Integral School Literacy Model was set up by the San José Higher Education Foundation, the Higher Education Institution (Institución de Educación Superior) and the Triangular Education Foundation (La Fundación Educativa Triángulo) following ten years of development by experts and professionals in the education of young people and adults. Not only does the broad scope of this model address the educational achievements of the learners, but it promotes healthy living, social harmony and the reassessment of life plans based on the acquisition of life skills and the pursuit of lifelong learning.

Aims and Objectives

The programme strives to achieve the following objectives:

Programme Implementation

Every Saturday, young people above school age and adults arrive to participate in the programme with their children who either take part in a homework club or are taken care of depending on their age. Run by the same staff and found in the same location, the childcare service offers a safe, healthy and creative place for the children to go whilst the adults are studying. The motivation for the service is to make the return to education possible for women who would not be able to receive formal education because of having to look after their families. All participants receive a nutritional supplement each time they attend. In 2008, seven educational institutions in the urban area of Soacha, Cundinamarca, were running this programme and a total of 6,900 people took part in the programme including children, young people and adults.

Each teacher supervises and supports an average of 30 pupils. The literacy programme runs for a period of 40 weeks with ten hours of teaching and ten hours of homework every week. The flexibility of the model allows the schedule to be amended depending on the individual circumstances of the project. To complete their basic and secondary education through the programme, participants will take courses for four years, following which the subsequent steps to accessing higher education are made clearly visible for those wishing to pursue further education. After forming groups and signing a statement of commitment, learners who have enrolled for basic primary education follow the course for one academic year. During this year, literacy plays a key role in the curriculum. For those enrolled in secondary education, two courses at this level of schooling are completed in each academic year which corresponds to a period of ten months. In parallel, participants receive training to develop life skills and productivity accredited by the National Training Service (SENA). In some cases, more vocational courses are offered to learners during their basic and middle education, such as courses in the following sectors, Filing and Office Clerking, Accounting, Beauty and Make-up and Computer Maintenance.

Teaching guides were produced by the teachers and contained individualised content according to the particular context and situation of each group of students and their environment. In addition to amendments made by the teachers, the learners contribute to the design, development and evaluation of the programme.

The values that are taught during the programme are also transferred to the home environment. The children and adults work together to finish any homework that needs to be completed, generating solidarity ties and supporting steps towards family integration. Having taken on board the values of respect, tolerance and peace they have been taught, the children demand the same values from their parents and tutors during daily life. The educational approaches employed are designed for the working population and involve the arts and vocational training.

Regarding the expansion of the programme to other sites, the steps taken prior to the General Santander Education Institute adopting the programme offer an insight into the process. Selected as a result of the problems threatening the area, the institute first held a meeting between the FESSJ and the headteacher of the institute. During the meeting, the Integral School methodology was explained as well as the manner in which it could be introduced with the help of the institution. Following this, the initial agreements were made, including reaching the consensus that the administration of the facilities would be managed on Saturdays by two general coordinators and an infants coordinator and that the school would be left in perfect condition after being used.

Skills for Life

Developing life skills is at the heart of the programme’s curriculum, both to supply learners with better tools for living and to create a base for lifelong learning which can be applied to situations outside of the place of education. Within the concept of the Integral School, Skills for Life represents a new learning culture which emphasises the application of knowledge, attitudes, values and features important to lifelong learning and human development. The participants receive support to resolve the diverse problems which confront them and their contemporaries, particularly adults and over-age young people, through the following means: reworking life plans, recovering their potential and developing life skills, relating with others and with their environment. With a strong focus on interaction, the group discussion is active and collective, addressing topics such as mutual understanding and respect for the opinions of others and searching for solutions to general problems using varying forms of communication and collaboration (management – educational actors, learner – learner, facilitator – learner, learner – facilitator, educational actors – management).

Teaching-Learning Approaches

The education model places emphasis on the all-round, integral development of the participants particularly in the areas of social, cognitive, productive, emotional and spiritual development. After primarily researching the socio-cultural situation of respective regions, the focus is placed on analysing, evaluating and restructuring the participants understanding and approach to life. Following this model, the content is based on real-life experiences; behaving like a citizen with rights and responsibilities, and participating actively in the transformation of the community and the citizens in those communities. Permanent aspects of the programme include teamwork, exchanging experiences and incorporating comments and ideas from the teachers and pupils. Preconceived ideas on certain topics are explored and from the beginning of the programme the topics to address and areas of analysis are identified with the help of the teachers and resources. As a result of collaborating on the subject matter, the teaching methodology continues to be enriched and renewed as the programme progresses in a collective process involving the entire academic community.

The establishment of this model provides the teachers with a reliable instrument which helps them to ensure that the proposed educational activities are significant and relevant to the learners. In order to protect, produce and recreate scientific knowledge inside of a determined social, historical, geographical and cultural context, the model promotes interaction between the principal actors, teachers and students. As a result, the integral educational programme can be characterised as directed specifically at young people and adults in vulnerable situations, and adaptable to meet the conditions of different environments.

Programme Costs

In 2008, the cost of running the programme reached $1,725 million Colombian Pesos (approximately US$ 900,000). Calculated per capita, the cost of each participant amounted to $250,000 Colombian Pesos (approximately US$ 140).

Recruitment and Role of Facilitators

The teachers and staff are university graduates in Education, Psychology and other disciplines related to productivity. The employment contracts are based on the number of classroom hours and the salaries issued are in accordance with the corresponding salary levels for Colombian teachers.

As part of the community, the teachers become role models for the learners from the very beginning of the programme. They demonstrate how the necessary means to improve health, skills and wellbeing can be acquired by the learners as part of lifelong learning.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The Vice-Rector for Lifelong Learning and Social Development at the Foundation (FESSJ) is responsible for monitoring and carrying out internal assessments of the programme. With respect to external assessments, the Ministry for Education in Soacha also carries out audits, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of the programme. Furthermore, the National Training Institute (SENA), the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing and the Ministry for Social Development in Soacha monitor the programme and carry out periodic assessments.

Impact and Achievements

Through teaching arts-related and occupational skills, the teaching approach serves the working population well and has a significantly positive influence on the self-confidence of the learners. As well as the psychological benefits stemming from the programme, the participants improve their household income when they subsequently join the world of employment and as a result improve the wellbeing of their families. In the educational area of Nuevo Compartir, the FESSJ has reported on the Integral School website that the programme was very well received by the students and community members. An important factor behind the community response was the programme’s ability to provide a wealth of opportunities to improve the participants’ conditions of employment by making the theoretical foundations needed for other occupations readily available.

On having completed the programme, the outlook for the participants is positive, though very diverse in overall scope. Many of those who continue with their education have reached the level of professionals in their respective field, whilst others return to work on their land as better citizens, having overcome situations of exclusion and marginalisation and having improved their quality of life. A great many participants have found employment and have proven to be competitive actors in the sectors they have been trained for. Having taken the state exams to enter higher education, some participants have passed and are now studying at the Foundation or in other higher education institutions.

In 2009, the programme was awarded with the Latin American Prize for Literacy and Basic Education for Young People and Adults.


With the support of the regional Ministry for Social Integration, the programme is currently being introduced into 15 community development centres in the capital city, Bogotá. The management team for the project aim to widen the coverage of the programme which will form an array of new challenges which will need to be tackled, including assessing and meeting the needs of the new communities.

Overcoming preconceived ideas and attitudes negative to change has posed a challenge; one example would be the move to dealing with health matters in a school environment. Moreover, teachers may consider academic achievement as the only or best means for students to be competitive in the modern world and be less inclined to support alternative educational models and methods involving life skills and training.


In order to secure a sustainable demand, the participants need to continuously recognise the benefits of taking part in the programme and be motivated to continue. The opportunities offered by the programme play an important role in keeping learners motivated. The most striking opportunities include offering participants the possibility to find or reencounter themselves, providing an available space for personal development, and creating circumstances which are difficult to achieve outside of the programme, given the difficulties presented by marginalisation. At present, the Foundation is encouraging the spread of the programme to other locations in Soacha and the widening of the existing coverage.

Since it was first established, the involvement of the community in this programme has proven to be high and it boasts the lowest drop-out rate amongst all adult education programmes in Colombia. Having begun in 2004 with 400 participants, the programme served over 17 times as many participants in 2008 owing to a high demand within the communities. The General System of Contributions in Colombia assigns resources to support adult education programmes and the national government have adopted a broad interpretation of literacy into their strategic plans, including the definition of goals and the presence of clearly established time frames. Under these supportive conditions, funding is accessible and can be directed to the various groups involved.



Sra. María Luisa Hincapié Vargas
Avenida Caracas # 63-09
Piso 5°
Bogotá D.C.,
Tel: + 57 1 03 3124499039
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