Plazas Comunitarias

Country Profile: United States of America

Population

320,051,000 (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GDP

5.22

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Enrolment Rate (NIR)

96% (2011)

Adult literacy rate (ages 16 to 56) - 2012

PIAAC test results: percentage of adults scoring at each proficiency level in literacy (level 1 represents the lowest level of proficiency, level 5 the highest):
Below Level 1: 3.9%
Level 1: 13.6%
Level 2: 32.6%
Level 3: 34.2%
Level 4: 10.9%
Level 5: 0.6%

Sources

UNESCO Institute for Statistics
OECD

Programme Overview

Programme TitlePlazas Comunitarias
Implementing OrganizationThe Instituto Nacional para la Educación de Adultos (INEA) [National Institute for Adult Education], the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP) [Secretariat of Public Education], the Instituto para los Mexicanos en el Exterior [Institute for Mexicans Abroad] and the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (SRE) [Secretariat of Foreign Relations].
Language of InstructionSpanish
FundingPublic budget of the United Mexican States; also financed in part by the civil society organisations within the Unión Americana.
Programme PartnersThe Mexican consular network and local civil society
Annual Programme CostsThe organisations that implement Plazas Comunitarias assume operational and equipment costs of, on average, USD 350,000 per year.
Date of Inception2001

Country profile

Mass migration from Mexico to the USA is a phenomenon that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. It resulted on the one hand from the economic, social and political instability that existed in Mexico, and on the other from the demand for more manpower in the USA. But, with the recession of 2007-2009 and with education and work opportunities in Mexico improving, the number of Mexican residents migrating northwards has been on the decline for the past few years. Despite these falling numbers, however, Mexicans continue to be the largest immigrant group in the US. According to the data published for 2008 by the United States Census Bureau, the Mexican diaspora in the country amounts to approximately 34.8 million people. This number comprises immigrants who are residents (11.6 million in 2013) as well as people of Mexican descent born in the United States of America. Compared with other populations in the US, immigrants from Mexico are on average younger, have a lower level of education, are more likely to work in unskilled jobs, and have less financial resources than other immigrants and US citizens. It is important, however, to see the migratory flow from Mexico as permanently evolving. Indeed, recent years have seen a particular interest in migration to the US emerging among higher-income, better-educated populations in the country’s north.

Although the literacy testing conducted in the US within the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) is carried out exclusively in English and can therefore only provide limited information, it does give us an idea of the literacy levels among the immigrant population. According to the results of this testing, only 28% of the immigrant population has a literacy level of 3 or above (on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is the lowest level and reflects only a basic knowledge of the alphabet, and 5 is the highest level and reflects an ability to make high-level inferences). Within this group, members of the Hispanic population not born in the USA had the lowest literacy levels. Within the population of Mexican origin, literacy and numeracy levels were found to be lower among immigrants who had arrived in the US before 2007, a reflection of the fact that these people had not benefited from recent improvements in Mexico’s education system.

Promoting improved numeracy and literacy levels among Mexican immigrants living in the USA is relevant not only to the USA itself, but also to Mexico. After all, among the phenomena that link this population to its country of origin are the financial contributions that Mexicans living abroad make to Mexico. According to World Bank data, Mexicans living abroad sent a total of USD 22 billion back to Mexico in 2013. This figure, which is based only on the amounts sent back via official channels, constitutes 2% of Mexico’s gross domestic product. It is therefore in the interests of both Mexico and the USA that Mexicans living in the latter strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills. Not only would this result in greater financial contributions for both countries, it would also raise living standards.

Overview of the programme

For the past 13 years, the Instituto Nacional para la Educación de Adultos (INEA) [National Institute for Adult Education] has been offering educational support to Mexicans who have settled outside Mexico through “Plazas Comunitarias”, learning programmes run by civil society organizations. The collaborative Plazas Comunitarias project is permanently overseen by the Instituto para los Mexicanos en el Exterior (IME) [Institute for Mexicans Abroad] via the network of Mexican consulates in the United States of America.

The Plazas Comunitarias are educational facilities open to the community. The educational programmes and services they offer are aimed primarily at young people and adults who have so far not managed to complete elementary education. They enable these people to gain official qualifications that are valid in Mexico. People can also use the Plazas Comunitarias to obtain information on vocational training options, to use the communication and information opportunities that these facilities offer, and to use the online services made available to them. Plazas Comunitarias therefore enable young people and adults to access to a wide range of complementary educational resources through which to advance their learning.

The Plazas Comunitarias emerged as part of a medium-term project launched by the Consejo Nacional de la Educación para la Vida y el Trabajo” (CONEVyT) [National Council on Education for Life and Work] the aim of which was to combat lagging education standards. By July 2015, the Plazas Comunitarias programme was being promoted by 46 consulates in the United States and had been implemented across a total of 358 centres.

Each Plaza Comunitaria is a basic operational unit comprising a group of pupils who convene at a pre-arranged time and place with the aim of studying, resolving queries, and exchanging ideas and experiences under the guidance of one or more tutors. The study groups tend to be very flexible in terms of scheduling and integration of new students, and can therefore be held in all types of space.

Plazas Comunitarias in the US offer:

All these services and educational materials, which are also available online, are provided to students in advance and free of charge.

All Plazas Comunitarias have three spaces:

The Plazas Comunitarias also serve as programme offices and, as such,

Because education if a human right, elementary education is offered not only to Mexicans, but also to other Spanish-speaking people. The certificates that they can gain at the Plazas Comunitarias will in some cases be recognized in their countries of origin due to corresponding international agreements.

Every year, an average of 6000 pupils register for Plazas Comunitarias courses in the US. In August of 2015, there was a total of approximately 63,000 pupils registered in the Sistema de Seguimiento y Acreditación de Comunidades en el Exterior (SASACE) [System of Accreditation and Automatic Tracking for Communities Abroad]. Unfortunately, however, not all of these students are currently active or have completed their respective courses.

Objectives

The programme’s objective is to tackle the challenges presented by migration by offering services that focus on and are tailored to the social and economic realities faced by citizens living abroad. The Plazas Comunitarias emerged out of a need to help young people and adults with educational deficits, providing physical spaces for learning as well as comprehensive, high-quality education materials. Members of the community can avail of a wide range of education and training options, and of the communication and information opportunities that the facilities offer.

The Programme’s specific objectives are as follows:

Implementation

Implementing a Plaza Comunitaria will require the following:

  1. a person responsible for the project;
  2. pupils;
  3. appropriate space, resources and an adequate infrastructure so as to facilitate pupils’ access to the services;
  4. Submission to the local consulate of a request to open a Plaza Comunitaria.

After submitting said request to the consulate, consulate officials will visit the premises in which the Plaza Comunitaria is to be established in order to evaluate the conditions and determine whether they meet the requirements. Once all requirements have been met and INEA has been contacted, the three entities involved, i.e. the organization seeking to set up a Plaza Comunitaria, the consulate and INEA, enter into a corresponding agreement, a so-called “Programa de Trabajo”.

Teaching and learning. Approach and methodology

The education process at the Plazas Comunitarias is based on the general methodological approach set forth in the Modelo Educación para la Vida y el Trabajo (MEVyT) [Guideline on Education for Life and Work]. According to this approach, lessons should be based on one guiding topic and be designed to strengthen pupils mentally. This is done by encouraging them to actively contemplate the importance of knowing more about the topic in question, and to engage in problem-resolving activities. The approach comprises four interrelated phases:

  1. Gathering knowledge. Presentation and discussion of problems to gain a clear understanding of what the person or group concerned thinks, knows or can contribute.
  2. Search for and analysis of new information. Guidelines on collecting information within and outside the module, classifying and complementing data with a view to inferring new information.
  3. Comparison, reflection, confrontation and change. Complementation, comparison, discussion and resolution of questions, among other things.
  4. Synthesis, reconceptualization and application of the lessons learned. Activities involving comparison, development and re-development of texts; development of outlines, synoptic tables, maps and projects; resolution of problems, both real and hypothetical, through argumentation.

To find out more about the MEvyT, please visit: http://www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=16&country=MX&programme=39".

Programme content and instruction material

The program is divided into modules. To receive a certificate of elementary education, pupils need to complete 10 basic modules (three initial-level modules, which are included in the total number) and 2 diversified modules according to the pupil’s areas of interest. To receive a certificate of secondary education, pupils need to complete 8 basic modules and 4 diversified modules according to the pupil’s areas of interest.

The levels and their corresponding basic modules (which are the same for all pupils) are divided as follows:

Initial level Words for beginners
mathematics for beginners
Intermediate level - primary Reading and writing
Numbers
Useful stories
Knowing how to read
Figures and measurements
Let's get to know
Let's live better
Advance level - secondary Talking helps people understand each other
Let's write!
For continued learning
Fractions and percentages
Information and graphs
Advanced activities
Mexico, our home
The Earth, our planet

The content of the various diversified modules has been designed to be of interest to all pupils. The topics covered include the importance of citizens’ civil rights and responsibilities, health (including reproductive health), the environment, promoting anti-violence, finances, migration, and information on how to increase and improve work opportunities and conditions.

The elementary and secondary education programs offered will vary in duration depending on pupils’ previous knowledge, on their personalities, on how regularly and how intensively they study, on the complexity of the module content and the way in which this is treated, and on the progress pupils have made or the level at which they are studying.

The people key to the programme’s implementation within the US are the Programme manager within the respective organisation, the tutors, the consulate official responsible for community affairs, and all the students.

The Plaza Comunitaria Programme managers and tutors

The Programme manager is the person responsible for a Plaza Comunitaria. He/she holds responsibility for ensuring that activities proceed correctly. This person has a fundamental educational role, which involves providing help and assistance, assuming managerial duties, enrolling students, monitoring, and tending to students’ specific needs. The Programme manager profile is as follows:

The Plaza Comunitaria manager is the main contact for the consular network and for the tutors. He/she is also involved in the monitoring process, keeping registration lists of students up-to-date and organizing and allocating staff so as to ensure the smooth running of the system.

The tutors, who tend to work on a voluntary basis, are the people who facilitate basic education classes and coordinate the other services offered by the Plaza Comunitaria. The number of tutors within each organisation will vary depending on the number of students.

Each Plaza Comunitaria will have its own approach to finding tutors and volunteers interested in becoming part of the programme. Often, these people will already be very involved in the community, have heard about the Programme and want to support it. Plaza tutors are therefore not subject to a specific requirements profile, but should meet certain basic criteria, for example that of having completed secondary education.

All consultants receive a training on the INEA, the educational model and the Sistema de Acreditación y Seguimiento Automatizado para Comunidades en el Exterior (System of Accreditation and Automatic Tracking for Communities Abroad). Additional more specialized training courses can be offered in coordination with the academic management. These courses aim to strengthen participants consulting skills and impart more in-depth knowledge of the MEVyT.

Profile and enrolment of students

To enrol, students must present proof of identification. This could be their passport, consular registration card (matrícula consular), birth certificate, unique registration number (Clave Única de Registro de Población (CURP) or voting card. It is important to emphasize that, although the Programme in implemented on US soil, the documents submitted must have been issued by the government of the student’s country of birth. This is because Programme participants could encounter difficulties obtaining their certificates of elementary or secondary education if the documents they use to apply for them are documents recognized and issued by the American government.

Students find out about the Plazas Comunitarias mainly through the consulates. Some students learn of the Plazas Comunitarias through their communities and make enquiries at the Plaza directly. Anyone in need of basic educational services can register with a Plaza Comunitaria. But the process of applying for a final course certificate will require them to present an official document of some kind.

Monitoring and evaluation of the Programme

With a view to developing specific strategies aimed at improving the Plazas Comunitarias Programme abroad, INEA has proposed that indicators be created through which to analyze the Programme’s ongoing operations. These indicators can then be used to measure the success of the strategies implemented on the basis of the initial evaluation. Efforts in this respect began only recently, which is why the indicators as well as the information they are set to measure and verify, are still undergoing modifications.

For INEA, a highly educationally efficient Plaza Comunitaria is one that focusses mainly on providing basic educational services using the Modelo Educación para la Vida y el Trabajo (MEVyT) (Guideline on Education for Life and Work). Thus, the first indicator of educational efficiency is the indicator “Proportion of basic educational services” (Servicios Educativos Básicos (SEB)). This efficiency indicator defines the proportion of basic educational services provided by the Plaza Comunitaria in question in relation to the other services in provides. Other types of service often offered by Plazas Comunitarias include preparatory courses for the General Education Development tests (the GED diploma is considered equivalent to a high school diploma), courses in English as a foreign language and computer courses.

The Plazas Comunitarias are monitored in various ways, for example through analysing the degree to which they focus on basic education, through keeping track of the applications for certificates that arrive at the offices of INEA and through the registrations and activity recorded by the SASACE [System of Accreditation and Automatic Tracking for Communities Abroad]. If INEA notices that a Plaza Comunitaria has not registered any activity for the past year, it contacts the respective consulate to request confirmation that the Plaza is still in operation. If the Plaza is not in operation, the consulate concerned informs INEA, whereupon the facility is closed or its access to the SASACE is temporarily suspended. This process ensures that the Plazas Comunitarias whose results and activities are recorded are operating efficiently.

Experiences

The experiences gathered so far have shown the Plazas Comunitarias Programme to be an effective means of providing quality education to adults. It is important to acknowledge the important role that the organisations helping to implement the Programme (including assuming the costs) play in achieving this success. Each of these organisations structures itself to be able to offer the Programme within the framework defined by INEA, using their own resources and taking into account the specific needs of their participants. In the following, we present three examples of organisations that implement the programme in the US:

1 Carlos Rosario School – Washington, D.C.

The mission of the Carlos Rosario School is to provide educational services to adult immigrants living in Washington, D.C. Its aim in doing this is to bring forth active and involved members of American society, who can support their families and contribute to the community.

Founded over 40 years ago, the Carlos Rosario School offers a programme of educational and support services that includes literacy courses, life skills courses, occupational training, psychosocial support, financial literacy courses, and health and career guidance services.

In 2008, the Carlos Rosario School signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Mexican consulate, thus undertaking to implement the Plazas Comunitarias programme as part of its General Education Development programme. Students attending the Carlos Rosario School benefit from the sound collaboration framework that exists between the tutors, the facilitators, the counsellors and the employment officers.

The objectives of the Plaza Comunitaria at the Carlos Rosario School are as follows:

A student from Carlos Rosario in a GED class

A student from Carlos Rosario in a GED class

Students who have basic education and who enrol in GED courses at Carlos Rosario, begin taking classes at the initial level and, on one day per week, participate in an educational measure provided by the Plaza, advancing through various modules with the help of one instructor and one facilitator. On the remaining days, the students focus on the GED study plan, which includes mathematics, natural sciences, social studies and language (reading, writing, talking, listening).

Students of the Plaza share the following characteristics:

The Plaza’s facilitators are experts in adult education and feel an affinity with the students’ backgrounds, often because they share a similar background. They work closely with the facilitators of the GED program to ensure that the educational approaches provided meet the needs of the students and that they allow integration of educational services.

Since 2008, 307 students have earned elementary school diplomas and 111 have achieved secondary school diplomas. Many of these obtained the GED diploma or are continuing classes with a view to obtaining it. Jaydar O., a student with the Plaza, comments, “Carlos Rosario [School] has given us immigrants the opportunity to complete the schooling we were not able to finish in our countries”.

The Plaza Comunitaria program offers students the opportunity to strengthen the basic skills required to complete the GED programme. Moreover, the organisation has established that working towards the Plaza qualifications before obtaining a GED helps students to define and achieve shorter-term goals, something that is key the success of adult education approaches.

The ongoing success of the Plaza Comunitaria at the Carlos Rosario School is thanks to its long-term collaboration with the Mexican consulate, to its effective integration of the Plaza’s curriculum with the GED programme, and to the associated services provided to each student.

There are however still some challenges to be overcome with regards to implementing the programme at Carlos Rosario school. For example, the programme facilitators need to remain aware of and cater to the wide range of Spanish dialects spoken by students. Some of the terms used in the curriculum are difficult for or unfamiliar to students, in which case alternatives need to be found.

Due to the nature of adult education, students at the Carlos Rosario School often work around complex schedules and have to give priority to other areas of their lives. As a result of such circumstances, some students take longer to complete their GED courses, which creates problems for both the students and for the programme. This is why the programme is designed to be flexible, allowing students to take breaks from their studies to tend to their immediate needs, and to then return to them when they are able to. Carlos Rosario also offers a programme of support to help its students overcome any difficult phases that life presents them with.

2 El Paso Community College-Community Education Program – El Paso, Texas

The mission of the El Paso Community College-Community Education Program (CEP) is to provide educational and support services to adults based in El Paso county, who are in difficult financial circumstances and who have not yet had the opportunity to go to school or to complete their school studies. The CEP provides its range of programmes, which are based on the needs of the community, to around 500 adults every year. Over 98% of its students are Mexican immigrants. Other services it offers include elementary education classes, classes to prepare students for the GED diploma, classes on health and hygiene, and workshops to raise awareness of and prevent domestic violence.

The Plaza Comunitaria classes began in 2006 and receive financial support from the US Department of Education within the scope of its High School Equivalency Program, and from the Mexican IME. Both organisations aim to support immigrants and temporary workers in continuing their schooling, gaining their high school equivalency qualifications, and advancing educationally via other formative services. The facilitator staff working at the CEP Plaza are all professionals from Mexico. Some of them are retired educators.

Because many of the students are mothers or fathers, the challenge of a lack of childcare options regularly gets in the way of their schooling. To be able to attend the Plaza courses, they need someone to look after their children while they are in class. But because they don’t have the financial means to pay for childcare and often have no family in the area to support them, they find it hard to make such arrangements. The geography of the El Paso region is another obstacle to regular attendance. The region’s urban area sprawls over many kilometres, and this coupled with a lack of affordable public transport services often makes it difficult for students to get to their classes.

But despite these problems, the Plazas Comunitarias programme at the CEP has so far provided services to 1229 students. Of this number, 1029 have completed the programme and received their elementary education diploma. These achievements have led to the Plaza being recognized at local, state and federal level for its services to adult education. Many interesting projects have emerged from the students who started at the Plaza and went on to attend other CEP classes. The students on the writing course, for example, are in the process of finalizing their essays for the essay series Memorias del Silencio – Huellas de la Tierra de Frontera. In the series, the students examine the difficulties they have experienced in their efforts to find respect and opportunities for their families in the US.

3 “Federación de Clubes Michoacanos” in Illinois/Casa Michoacán - Chicago, Illinois

The Federación de Clubes Michoacanos en Illinois (FEDECMI) [Federation of Michoacán clubs in Illinois] was founded in 1996. In 2004, it became the cultural and education centre “Casa Michoacán”, reaffirming its commitment to improving the quality of life and promoting the active participation in society of people from Michoacán on both sides of the border. In addition to offering support services and championing the rights and opportunities of people from Michoacán and of Mexicans in general, the Casa Michoacán also has an educational centre. Here it provides courses and services to diversify and deepen participants’ knowledge and skills with a view to bringing forth proactive citizens within a binational context. The FEDECMI currently has 35 registered clubs, whose members originate from different communities or municipalities across the Mexican state of Michoacán.

The Plaza Comunitaria in Chicago began offering services in 2008 and today has 388 registered students and has seen 222 people graduate with elementary and secondary school diplomas . It also has an independent sister office in the nearby city of Joliet, which was opened in 2011 thanks to an agreement between the University of St. Francis and the Casa Michoacán. Joliet is located about 44.5 miles away from Chicago and has a population of approximately 12,763, of which 12.2% are of Mexican origin.

Graduation Day at Casa Michoacán

Graduation Day at Casa Michoacán

The Plaza Comunitaria branch in Joliet has 59 registered students, 29 elementary school graduates and 5 secondary school graduates. Classes at the Plaza are given by one coordinator and two tutors, all of whom provide their services on a voluntary basis.

In general, students find out about the courses on offer in different ways. The Casa Michoacán is part of a Hometown Association of local clubs that offers a range of events for the Latin American community (while the majority of Casa Michoacán participants are Mexican, you do get some participants from other Central American countries). Future participants can also find out about and avail of the various services and of the Plazas via the network of churches in the region, which serve as important gathering places for the Latin American community. The Casa Michoacán also attracts new students by publicizing its services through radio and newspaper advertisements, and through referrals from the Mexican consulate.

Other services include:

The impact and the challenges of the programme

Impact and achievements

The programme’s success is reflected in the amount of certificates INEA issues to the Plazas in the US. On average, it receives requests for and issues 1000 certificates for graduates of Plaza courses per year. Between 2003 and 2015, a total of 48,618 people completed an educational level at a Plaza (24,449 literacy-level graduates, 12,404 elementary-level graduates and 11,765 secondary-level graduates [source: SASACE]). This does not necessarily mean that all these people requested their certificate.

The Plazas Comunitarias have a positive impact on the community by creating an environment of trust and learning, an environment in which people living in a foreign country can gather to celebrate their culture. Become literate or completing elementary or secondary schooling generates educational continuity. Similarly, spending time in a learning environment inspires students to continue with their education and many of them end up availing of other further education services offered by the Plazas Comunitarias, for example of the GED diploma courses.

Lessons learned

Over the years, INEA has become more stringent in its following up of applications received from Plazas Comunitarias, and has tried to speed up its response time. The Plazas conduct their work on a voluntary basis, keen to serve the needs of the community. INEA feels that helping the Plazas and assisting them as best they can, it promotes the continuity of the service.

Challenges

Among the challenges commonly faced by the Plazas are the following:

Challenges of a more institutional nature include the issue of sending educational material to the Plazas Comunitarias: not only does it need to be ensured that enough materials are available, all organisations involved (INEA, IME) need to have a sufficiently large budget for the printing and dispatch of the materials. A further challenge faced by the Plazas is the need to raise funds in order to be able to continue offering basic educational services to students free of charge. The different Plazas apply different strategies in this respect: some offer other types of services at a cost, while others conduct fundraising activities.

Sustainability - the future of the Plazas Comunitarias

The INEA is keen to focus more attention on elementary education and to define corresponding short- and mid-term strategies in the US in collaboration with the organisations and regions offering basic educational services there.

Sources

Contacts

Sofía Mariana Reina AstudilloHead of Department of Multilateral Relations
Deputy Director of International Affairs
Director of Strategic Partnerships and Alliances
INEA
Francisco Márquez 160, Col. Condesa
Del. Cuauhtémoc, C.P. 06140, México D.F., México
Tel.: +52 1 55.5241.2700 ext. 22422
sreina@inea.gob.mx

Carlos Rosario School:
Dr. Ryan Monroe
Chief Academic Officer
1100 Harvard St NW
Washington, DC 20009. USA
Tel.: +1 202-797-4700 ext. 280
rmonroe@carlosrosario.org
www.carlosrosario.org
www.facebook.com/carlosrosarioschool

El Paso Community College:
Ms Laura M. Jaurrieta
Educational Coordinator
Community Education Program
1115 N. Oregon St.
El Paso, Texas 79902, USA
Tel.: + 1. 915.831.4145
ljaurri1@epcc.edu

Casa Michoacán:
Yolanda Zorayda Avila Toledo
Programme Director
1638 S. Blue Island Ave.
Chicago, IL. 60608, USA
Tel.: +1 312.491.9317
zory@fedecmiusa.com
www.fedecmi.org

Last update: 29 April 2016