National Programme for Education and Work: Education Centres for Training and Production (CECAP)

Country Profile: Uruguay


3,344,938 (2009)

Official Languages


Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 1995-2004)

Total: 98.2% (2008)
Male: 97.8%
Female: 98.5%

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.8% (2006)

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

99% (2008)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleNational Programme for Education and Work: Education Centres for Training and Production (Programa Nacional de Educación y Trabajo (PNET): Centro de Capacitacion y Produccion (CECAP))
Implementing OrganizationMinistry for Education and Culture (MEC)
Language of InstructionSpanish
Date of Inception2005–

Context and Background

Difficult economic circumstances in 2002 left Uruguay with high poverty incidence rates. The entrance of a new government in 2005 led the way to the formation of a National Social Emergency Plan (PANES) which aimed to aid the citizens in situations of extreme poverty. Alongside the Plan, the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC) designed the National Education and Work Programme (PNET) to address the needs of young people in difficult socio-economic circumstances, who are out of work and have not achieved the basic level of education. Expanding on the models of two Education Centres for Production and Training (CECAP) constructed in the capital city, Montevideo, in 1981 and in Rivera in 1993, the programme aims to rejuvenate the educational methodology of the existing centres and build further informal education centres to extend its reach across the country.


Where formerly the objective had been to help young people return to work, the focus of the new programme has been on the progressive integration of young people into the world of employment, going beyond a narrow definition of employment to explore the ins and outs of working life. The programme aims at reshaping how the world of employment features in the lives of young people by means of a comprehensive educational strategy. While in 2005 there were only two CECAPs (Montevideo and Rivera), in 2010, the PNET–CECAP programme was running in ten centres across Uruguay covering nine different states and offering education to over 1,300 young people who were not enrolled in the formal education system. Two additional centres will soon be set up. This strategy of extending geographical coverage was guided by a partnership approach with the local (departmental) governments which included the promotion of the relevant curricular adaptations. Rather than “constructing” new buildings, extension was inspired by the idea of utilising existing facilities in the territory on condition that they were located in central areas which were easy to access by marginalised populations. The pedagogical rationale behind this idea was that the young people had to be mobile within the community to access the learning opportunity evenly distributed around the country.

The programme attempts to provide the students with basic education, artistic skills and vocational experience through a variety of workshops and classes in order to guide the participants back to formal education whilst supporting their personal development.

Programme Aims and Objectives


The CECAP programme is directed towards young people between the ages of 15 and 20, who have dropped out of the formal education system but have not managed to gain employment, have an incomplete basic education and have a low socio-economic background. Members of families receiving grants as part of the Equality Plan, a plan to reduce social inequality and follow up on the achievements of the National Social Emergency Plan, are given priority for places at the centre. The programme aims to address the educational needs of the target population in a rather flexible and comprehensive manner and is guided by the following main objectives:

Programme Implementation

Before being assigned a place on the programme, prospective students are interviewed in order to assess their willingness to participate actively in a team, to join in with activities encouraging artistic development, cultural skills and citizenship and to find out about their existing plans to return to the formal education system. After the selection process has taken place, groups of between 15 to 20 students are formed, depending on the size of the centre.


The curriculum is structured into semesters with each learner able to complete up to four semesters at the centre. Aiming to offer a wide-ranging syllabus, the programme focuses on six areas of education which complement each other, interact and expand into a broad spectrum of educational settings (classrooms, workshops, walks, outings, talks, etc.). The six subjects include basic skills, vocational training, classes covering aspects of work and employment, artistic and cultural expression workshops, ICT and physical education and sport.

Students commit up to 30 hours per week to classes at the centre, organised into 6 study hours per day from Monday to Friday. The ICT classes consist of activities which build on literacy skills such as writing e-mails, using a word processor, accessing internet search engines, writing a blog and creating a web page. In the first two semesters, the students take basic skills classes for four hours per week, whereas in the final two semesters this weekly total is reduced to two hours. The classes cover a range of subjects, including maths, ICT, languages and sciences, and relate directly to the content of the workshops which the students have opted for in order to captivate their interest further. Secondary school teachers are employed to lead the classes and also employ the flexible educational approach which is characteristic of the centre, turning to the students’ interests and suggestions as a source for learning topics. If the students wish to pursue a certificate to confirm that they have achieved the official level of primary or basic education (three years of secondary school), they are able to sit an exam to obtain this qualification whilst attending the programme.


Having been isolated from the world of employment due to a lack of qualifications, the students are also offered the chance to try out new activities, allowing them to develop skills and discover talents which they were not aware they had. The vocational workshops which are available in the first two semesters ensure that the students can get a taster of the different areas in which they can broaden their skills and pursue employment. Some of the workshops which have been offered in the past cover the following vocational skills: cooking, construction, health and sanitation, dressmaking, carpentry, agriculture, hairdressing, beauty, percussion, visual arts and drama. In the first and second semesters, the vocational workshops and group sessions are designed to help the students decide which training course they wish to complete during their third and fourth semesters. The training course is carried out in cooperation with the Vocational University of Uruguay. To complement the workshops, students can engage in an internship for a maximum of one semester in order to obtain more substantial work experience to support their future development.

Each week, a session is set aside for group work, during which the students work on their self-esteem and communication skills, gain knowledge of their rights and the rules of the centre, analyse and resolve conflicts within the group and evaluate the activities in which they have participated. Through the strong group ties and communication skills promoted during the course, the students explore how their individual strengths can complement those of the people around them and they can cooperate to form a collective advantage, helping the group to overcome challenges and difficulties. The group sessions are presided over by a supervisory teacher whose role it is to promote interaction and guide the students through a range of topics and modes of discussion.


The number and type of teachers who are involved in running each centre change depending on its size and capacity. However, the following team of educators are needed to support one group of students going through the four semesters of the programme: two supervisory teachers, a basic skills teacher, a vocational instructor, a computer technician, a physical education/sports teacher, three trial workshop instructors for professional training, an art teacher and two art workshop instructors. The supervisory teachers form a special element of the team, accompanying the students throughout the programme, organising the group activities and holding one-to-one meetings to provide a sufficient level of support to the students. The main tasks of the supervisory teachers include establishing and sustaining an educational relationship with the students; collecting information on the students (identifying their educational needs, selecting educational content of social value, planning and evaluating); maintaining group discipline (posing limits, proposing sanctions, setting rules); mediating between the different resources, offers and services available and the students; teaching; and opening up spaces to encourage the students to participate, use their initiative and take the lead.

Two of the key features of the CECAP programme are its flexibility and the integrated nature of the curriculum. The students receive a more personalised, rather than authoritarian, style of education and the teachers are encouraged to foster a learning environment which accommodates such an approach. Given that not all students can participate for thirty hours each week due to having part-time jobs or family responsibilities, the flexibility at CECAP appeals to students who were unable to cope with the strict nature of the formal education system. In the case of students with additional commitments, the teachers at CECAP are adaptable and understanding, accommodating for the exceptional circumstances which characterise the students’ lives and which may not necessarily be compatible with standard educational strategies. Exemplifying the teachers’ involvement and flexibility, it is common for a teacher or workshop instructor at the centres to try to reach students by telephone if they are absent. Undoubtedly, rules and limits must be laid down to ensure the effectiveness of the programme. The task of setting these rules is far from easy; however, the decisions made in the centres take the individual characteristics of each student’s life into consideration.


Participation and social engagement are encouraged in all areas of the programme, be that the communal lunch or the workshops themselves; every scene turns into an area in which the students can assert themselves, contradict one another and, more generally, learn to understand themselves better as part of the typical process of growing up. Each student takes part in a wide variety of activities and workshops in order to open their eyes to new possibilities and interests which had previously seemed inaccessible. Taking this into consideration, the comprehensive nature of the programme can be said to transcend a merely academic and vocationally focussed curriculum to accommodate a broader field of learning directed at the development of the human being as a whole.

In 2008, a law was passed requiring all education centres to have a Participatory Board, consisting of parents, teachers, pupils, members of the community and representatives from the authorities. These have since been introduced into the CECAP programme and allow students, parents, teachers and neighbours be involved in decisions on such issues as the direction and teaching staff in the centre, the assignation of resources, the establishment of agreements with other organisations, and renovation and building work in the centre. Board meetings are held in order to involve the local community, parents and students in the discussion and decision-making of the centres. Students are elected by their colleagues in a secret ballot to represent the views of the student body at the meeting.

Programme Funding


Although the programme runs mainly on government provided funds, donations and agreements with companies have supported the acquisition of educational resources and internship placements for the students. In 2011, a pilot project involving recycled paper was agreed upon with the national company DUCSA to set up a new workshop in which the students will be responsible for manufacturing the paper for the cover of the company’s annual report.

The students are supported financially through the provision of breakfast and lunch at the centre, by having access to social benefits, such as a social welfare card and a family allowance, and through the receipt of a grant. At the beginning of 2011, the grant provided to each student amounted to $600 Uruguayan pesos per month, averaging around US$ 30. Designed to encourage the students to stay on their courses, the grant is stopped if they fail to attend classes and then can be restarted on their return. The students are insured through the Insurance Bank of the State (BSE) against any accident which may occur during both the workshops and the internships.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring of the programme is undertaken on an ongoing basis using the organisational structures of the programme. A major external evaluation was conducted to cover the implementation of the programme in several CECAPs (Montevideo, Rivera and Treinta y Tres) during the period of 2006 to 2008. The evaluation included interviews with 76 educators and was an important learning process that helped to provide orientation to the further programme planning. The results of this external evaluation were published in 2009.

Impact and Achievements


The programme has gained its most prominent achievements in the areas of encouraging citizen participation, facilitating social inclusion and offering a comprehensive educational programme. Offering the students the opportunity to develop artistic, cultural and vocational skills through workshops creates an area in which their chances of future employment can be improved and social movement can occur. In a survey of the staff, the teachers revealed that, from their perspective, the students had shown evident increases in self-esteem throughout the course. Having been very reserved at the beginning of the programme with their heads continuously down looking at the floor, the students progressed as time went on to show frequent smiles and engagement in dialogue.

By questioning the students’ expectations and beliefs concerning education and work, the CECAP programme succeeds in redefining the world for young people and opens up opportunities which they had previously not considered to be accessible. Under the close and responsive guidance of the supervisory teachers, the route of each student during the four semesters of the programme resembles a steady path to empowerment and personal development which allows students to take charge of their lives and pursue further qualifications.

In response to the question about what the CECAP programme had meant to him, one 16-year-old student – in his third semester and participating in a construction workshop – explained: “Making friends; participating; learning many new things; being myself. And I realised that I can move forward with my life.”

Offering the students the chance to sit their basic education exam has resulted in astounding success with a pass rate of 98% for students who have taken classes and sat their exams at the centres. The integrated learning approach is embraced during the classes prior to the exam and the high pass rate demonstrates how this alternative teaching strategy has helped the students to learn more successfully.

The election of student representatives has been encouraged in order to allow students to assume their role fully as principal actors in the programme and accept more responsibility in the community. In September 2009, student representatives from every CECAP in the country convened for the first time, an indicator of the evolution of this style of teaching and reflecting the standing of students involved in the programme.

At the CECAP in Montevideo, order and discipline is maintained through the teaching staff and security personnel are not employed. Any insupportable behaviour or disorderly conduct results in the student concerned facing the threat of suspension from the centre. The effectiveness of the personalised approach has been heralded as a sign of the success of the centre’s internal management and coordination, as well as supporting the informal nature of the teacher-student relationships.

Lessons Learned

The majority of the students explained that they left secondary education because they had to work and failed the year due to absences. In the same light, the importance of flexibility in the CECAP methodology has become more and more evident as the programme has developed. Despite solving organisational challenges stemming from the individual needs of the students, the teachers need to be flexible on a day-to-day basis to tackle unforeseen developments, such as the case of the last minute race to collect a student without enough money for a bus in order to bring him to a drama production in which he was participating.

Even though many students have shown difficulties understanding basic educational skills, achievements have been made very quickly when the skills were linked to a concrete, tangible activity.

The special relationship developed between the students and the teachers at the CECAP can also be the source of difficulties as well as success, particularly when the time comes for the students to leave the centre. To overcome the feeling of loss or abandonment that some students and teachers may feel, several centres have embarked on end-of-year projects to address the students’ departure from an educational and positive perspective. In one centre, a project titled “Leaving prints” engaged the students in activities which explored the topic of leaving, led to discussion on how the students will be remembered and encouraged positive thoughts associated with their departure.


The two main aims of the programme which are the most challenging to achieve are helping the students to return to the formal education system and training them for the working world. There are many internal and external factors which make these objectives difficult to achieve:




The success and attraction of the centres have led to an increase in student enrolment (in 2011, the centre in La Paz will accept 30 students more than in 2010). To accommodate high levels of interest and ensure maximum accessibility to the programme throughout Uruguay, additional centres have been established gradually over the last few years and another centre is currently being developed. Since the CECAP programme can be found in the Equality Plan, it is to be expected that more centres will continue to be opened across Uruguay.

After completing the course, the students can decide whether they wish to continue with their secondary education or pursue professional technical courses at the UTU (Vocational University of Uruguay). Financial support in the form of a grant is offered to students who decide to continue with their high school education, providing a financial incentive for them to continue studying. Though CECAP aims to provide a well-rounded education for the students, empowering and motivating them to pursue their own educational interests, the length of the programme has been criticised as not being long enough to ensure that a sustainable reinsertion into the formal education system is successfully achieved.



Jorge Camors
Director of Non Formal Education
Ministerio de Educación y Cultura
Reconquista 535,
11100 Montevideo,
Email: camors (at)

Isabel Alende Coordinator of PNET – CECAP Email: <>