Integral Family Literacy

Country Profile: Guatemala


13 686 000 (2008)

Official Languages


Other officially recognised languages

Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, among others (total 23)

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


Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP


Primary School Net Enrolment/Attendance (2005–2009)


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

Male: 89%
Female: 84%
Total: 86%

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

Male: 80%
Female: 69%
Total: 74%


Programme Overview

Programme TitleIntegral Family Literacy (Alfabetización Integral Intrafamiliar)
Implementing OrganizationNational Commission for Adult Literacy (Comisión Nacional de Alfabetización de Adultos, CONALFA)
Language of InstructionSpanish
Date of Inception1999 – present

Background and context

Guatemala is a multi-cultural and multi-lingual country with a great diversity of ethnic groups spread throughout its 22 departamentos and 332 municipalities. Although Spanish is the official language, it is not spoken by all Guatemalans. According to a National Population Census in 2002, around 40% of the population is indigenous, and the rest is considered Mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish) or descendants of migrants from Europe. The census diagnosed that 54.5% of the Mayan population is bilingual in a Maya language and Spanish, while 43.6% is monolingual. There are 23 officially recognised indigenous languages, such as Quiche and Cakchiquel, which are spoken in rural areas and among indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. Approximately 51% of the population lives in non-urban zones. The indigenous populations in rural Guatemala are among those with the lowest income and the lowest levels of education and literacy.

This low-middle income Central American country has a long-lasting history of economic and social challenges, which have been reflected in the living conditions of its population. It is estimated that 24% live in extreme poverty (i.e. on less than US$2 per day), a percentage much higher than the Latin American average of 15%. Currently, Guatemala occupies the 116th position in the World Human Development Index (HDI), the second lowest of its region. Out of the three dimensions measured by the HDI, education has the lowest rate: .42 as opposed to health (.80) and income (.52). One of the main reasons that might explain the country’s low education index is the low public financial investment on the sector: the total expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP equals 3.2%, which places Guatemala among the 40 countries with the lowest expenditures in the world.

National data from 2004 show that less than 60% of the population aged 15 to 24 has completed at least six years of basic education, the lowest average among other eighteen Latin American countries. The numbers are even more disconcerting with regard to the rural population where as little as 40% of the population has reached sixth grade. Improvements have been observed within the last fifteen years as the net enrolment in early grades has increased by 22%, which has enabled Guatemala to have almost universal access to primary schooling. However, the education system still shows significant signs of inefficiency: the survival rate to Grade 5 is 71%, resulting in only 61% of students graduating from primary school (Grades 1–6, 2007). This results in a continuous flow of new illiterate or barely literate adolescents and young people into the population group with a potential demand for adult literacy programmes.

According to the country’s National Report for CONFINTEA VI, there are approximately 82,839 new illiterate adults each year, of which 60% have dropped out of school before sustainably mastering literacy skills, and the remaining 40% corresponds to persons who have no schooling at all. There has been a decrease in the adult illiteracy rates from 48.10% to 26% (1985–2008), but the literacy rate in Guatemala is still the second lowest in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In addition, there are remarkable geographic, socio-economic and gender inequalities with regards to literacy acquisition: 71.55%, out of all adults with no or low literacy skills live in rural areas; 44% of the country’s poorest have no literacy skills, whereas 91% of the richest persons master literacy; and 31% of adult women do not possess literacy skills as opposed to the 20% males who face with this challenge.

In order to address the education challenges in the country, the National Literacy Committee (CONALFA) has developed approximately 20 initiatives aimed to increase literacy rates, develop labour skills and enhance overall education among the different population groups. Some of these initiatives include a traditional formal adult education programme, literacy through the radio, bilingual literacy and literacy for the development of labour skills. CONALFA was one of the results of the passage of the Literacy Act in 1986. The committee was designed to alleviate the acute national illiteracy rates that affected over 40% of the adult population and almost 80% of individuals who resided in the rural areas. To date, CONALFA is responsible for the coordination, training, supervision, evaluation and accreditation of over 1,000 programmes carried out by public and private initiatives as well as those promoted by organisations of civil society.

The programme: Integral Family Literacy


The Integral Family Literacy programme (Alfabetización Integral Intrafamiliar) was launched by CONALFA in 1999 as an intergenerational literacy programme in the departamento of Baja Verapaz, the region with one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the country. Since its inception, the programme has been expanded to five additional regions: Zacapa, Alta Verapaz, Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Quiché. The initiative targets underserved communities that have high rates of illiteracy and low levels of schooling, a combination most commonly found among indigenous and rural populations. The programme employs an innovative approach in that it trains children to be the service deliverers in their own homes, teaching basic literacy and numeracy to their parents and/or extended family members. It is a flexible, context-based project that includes a creative integration between the formal and non-formal education systems.

Aims and objectives

The fundamental aim of this intergenerational literacy initiative is to promote a dynamic and comprehensive development of all participants involved in the programme, that is, not only to enhance the learners’ knowledge and abilities, but also to empower children-facilitators, monitors and coordinators to be actively engaged in their communities. Additionally, the programme also attempts to improve national literacy rates, especially among the underserved communities, in combination with other national literacy initiatives.

The specific objectives for adults, school children and families are to:

Programme implementation

Recruitment and training of facilitators


The programme employs two different types of facilitators. At the family level, the programme is implemented by elementary school children who teach their parents, caregivers, and/or extended families basic literacy and numeracy skills. The majority of these facilitators, or tutors, are fifth grade students, and although about 50% of them are females, in rural regions they are mostly males. Facilitators are usually required to tutor one to two adults, but they can teach up to three learners. Children are recruited within their schools by the active engagement of the school principals and teachers who play an important role in this recruitment process. These educators are in charge of advertising and explaining about the tutoring opportunity within their school and community, distributing and collecting the application forms to and from their students, as well as obtaining parental consent. The minimum requirements to become facilitators are to be enrolled in Grades 4, 5 or 6, be 10-14 years of age, be committed to the programme and its activities, and have sufficient time for tutoring – an average of four to five hours per week.


The children are also required to participate in one-day pre-service training held in their school where they learn about essential competencies they need to develop as tutors, such as commitment, responsibility and leadership. The children also receive an introductory presentation about the methodological approach to be used in class and a guide of steps tutors need to follow for each lesson. Children do not receive any stipend, but they are often granted incentives from local NGOs which include school materials, field trips and backpacks. They also receive meals during the trainings, and by the end of the programme, the facilitators are awarded with a certificate entitled Young Teacher (Joven Maestro) which recognises their participation and efforts during the year.

The community monitors are the second type of facilitator, and they are in charge of providing training to the children and monitoring literacy instruction. In order to participate in the programme, the monitors have to reside within the community they work in, have completed at least 6th grade of basic elementary education, be respectful towards different religions, have outreach experience, be well accepted by the members of their communities and have sufficient time to carry out their responsibilities. The recruitment process designed to select the monitors includes a screening phase, where programme coordinators search for prospective candidates who seem to be a suitable for the position, and individual interviews. Monitors receive a monthly stipend of Q500 (approx. US$65). Community monitors are under the supervision of the municipal coordinators, who oversee the work of the children and monitors, and provide technical-pedagogical support and instructional materials. They receive a monthly salary of Q3,900 (approx. US$500) and are required to participate in an annual training on adult education, innovative literacy practices and didactics, as well as in monthly meetings with other coordinators in order to discuss challenges in their practices.

Enrolment of learners

The primary target populations of Guatemala’s national literacy programme are mothers, fathers and primary caregivers, as well as members of the extended family who have school-aged children at home. In particular, the focus of this programme lies on illiterate and semi-illiterate adults, Mestizo, indigenous and rural populations who come from the lower-income strata of society, but it also includes a great participation of elders. The great majority (70–80%) of the learners are women, since the illiteracy rate among these individuals is higher than among their male counterparts. The core reasons that motivate adults to participate in this programme are to increase self-esteem, to improve income and employability, to move into the formal educational system, and to be active participants in the communities.

So far, this programme has reached almost 25,000 participants in the country and has been implemented in five departamentos. However, the programme has suffered progressive downsizing in its coverage over the past five years, reaching as few as 101 learners in 2010, mainly due to limited resources and the concurrent implementation of another literacy initiative. Because the results of this alternative approach have provided empirical evidence of its limitations, federal funding and efforts will once again be invested to scale-up the family literacy approach in 2012 onwards.

Teaching/learning approaches and methodologies

Classes last for nine months, from February to October, and are offered in the participants’ own homes, with flexible timetables which vary according to the participants’ needs. In the literacy lessons, the approach employed is that of the generating word, a fundamental component of Paulo Freire’s dialogical method for cultural action and social change. This method enables adults to construct new words based on the letters and syllabuses of the original unit as they engage in a participatory discussion about topics related to their environment and needs. Themes include gender equity, environment and ecotourism, enhancement of self-esteem, community development, citizenship, hygiene and health, and domestic economy.


Literacy lessons follow a sequence of steps: presentation of a picture, discussion of a topic, analysis of the generating word (i.e. learning the letters, syllables and sounds and writing down the small units), construction of syllables, construction of words based on the newly-acquired letters and syllables, writing sentences and paragraphs, and a final learning assessment. Numeracy content covers basic geometric forms, standard measures (height, weight, time), the concept of money, the decimal system, ordinal and cardinal numbers, problem-solving activities related to trading goods, and an introduction to the Mayan calendar. The aim of the lessons is to develop the learners’ overall competence to perform basic literacy and numeracy activities, enhance their overall knowledge and develop their analytical, synthetical and reflective skills so that they can be active participants in their communities.

The materials given to the learners are notebooks, pencils, erasers and pencil sharpeners. Tutors are provided with a calculator, a blackboard and a package entitled Education, Development and Peace (Educación, Desarollo y Paz) which includes three printed modules on basic literacy and numeracy and an exercise notebook. Its level of difficulty progressively moves from beginners to intermediate and advanced. This is reflected in the division into three models: Module I – vowels and cardinal numbers; Module II – a set of generating words, numbers 1–100 and basic arithmetic operations (i.e. addition and subtraction); and Module III – a set of words with higher complexity and the remaining two arithmetic operations (i.e. multiplication and division). All the materials are in Spanish, which is also the language of instruction.

The end of each lesson contains evaluation activities which give the adults an opportunity to have their learning assessed. It is not part of the child-tutor’s role to review these activities, but rather the responsibility of the community monitors in their periodical home visits. Prior to the beginning of classes, participants are required to take a placement test that evaluates their entry-level knowledge and abilities, so they can be placed in the appropriate level. The same assessment is used later to evaluate learners’ progress and acquisition of the new literacy and numeracy skills. By the end of the programme, participants may choose to take a final standardised evaluation, developed by CONALFA and designed to assess their learning throughout the programme, to certify their new competencies and to enable the learners to move into the formal system. This exam can be taken at primary schools located within the learner’s community or, for those who live in distant rural villages, in the learners’ homes.

Funding support

The financial source to cover the costs of the programme is the Ministry of Education of Guatemala through CONALFA and PROASE (Projecto de Apoyo al Sector Educativo), a federal initiatives created for the promotion of education, including adult learning and literacy. In 2010, the annual cost was as low as Q6,515 (approx. US$835) due to the very low coverage with regard to the absolute number of participants as well as the very inexpensive cost per learner – only Q65 (approx. US$8.25). The main reasons that explain this low expenditure include among others the venue of classes (i.e. participants’ own homes), short training periods for facilitators, the use of very few materials and a plain textbook, recruitments done within and by the communities themselves, low stipends and salaries to monitors and coordinators and finally donations from NGOs for the incentives to the children.

Monitoring and evaluation

The monitoring of the Integral Family Literacy programme uses a cascade mechanism in which there is a combination of different actors in the collection and analysis of data. In order to track the progress and results in the ground level, the monitors oversee the lessons and evaluation activities implemented by the tutors in the learners’ home and report challenges, outcomes and questions to the next level, the coordinators of the municipality. This coordinator supervises the work of the child-facilitators and the monitors in multiple communities, and provides the information to CONALFA where the data are consolidated, compiled and used to further improve the programme. The monitoring data include some of the following indicators: number of participants (i.e., learners, children and monitors), characteristics of the participants (i.e. gender, age, geographical location), drop-out rate, evaluation rate (i.e. number of learners who took final evaluation) and promotion rate (i.e. number of learners who have successfully passed the final examination).

To date, no external evaluation has yet been carried out in order to assess the effectiveness and benefits of the programme. However, results from the monitoring and from informal observations have provided quantitative and qualitative data about the positive outcomes of the programme. Out of the 24,830 participants enrolled since the programme’s inception, 18,175 were females, 10,052 took the final exam and 8,275 were promoted. Some of the benefits also include:

Challenges and lessons learned

The challenges that CONALFA has had to address since the inception of this family literacy initiative concern the lack of resources to provide all children with stipends and other incentives, to expand the programme to all departamentos, including regions with a great number of distant villages, and to offer a longer and more comprehensive training to the facilitators. Also, many of the rural and indigenous populations in Guatemala do not speak Spanish or have it as a second language. Thus, since the programme’s language of instruction is Spanish, many groups have been prevented from taking part in this initiative and remain marginalised by these national education initiatives. CONALFA intends to address this language limitation in 2012 when lessons will be given to students in their mother tongue. Lastly, learners who are promoted after completion of their studies usually do not move into the formal system or participate in other non-formal adult education services due to lack of resources, availability of time, means of transportation and personal motivation. Addressing this latter obstacle, CONALFA implemented a pilot non-formal adult education classes in the homes of the learners in the municipality Cubulco in order to enable students to be certified with a sixth grade diploma.

The challenges faced by CONALFA in combination with the positive results obtained during the past 12 years the programme has been up and running have served as an enriching opportunity to learn valuable lessons. Firstly, children are a great human resource to provide educational services, since they have proved to be capable to help in the process of teaching adults to successfully acquire literacy and numeracy skills when they receive training, support, encouragement and resources. Also, this experience has demonstrated that parents are pleased to learn from their own children as they trust and believe in their capacity to provide them with proper lessons. Moreover, the language of instruction can be a major issue for literacy programmes implemented in a multi-lingual country such as Guatemala. Home-based lessons can be effective to reduce drop-out rates, but additional support has to be provided in order to enable students to continue their education within their communities and economic limitations.


Despite the reductions in the coverage of the Integral Family Literacy Initiative over the past five years, there has been no interruption of the services since the programme’s inception in 2001. On the contrary, the programme has been up and running despite the fact that a parallel literacy initiative has been implemented by the government. Since the original version has produced greater positive results by comparison with the latter, an expansion of the family literacy programme is expected to take place for 2012. Many factors have contributed to the sustainability of this programme: guaranteed financial resources by CONALFA; low costs per learner; the great demand of illiterate adults, especially in the departamento of Baja Verapaz; the successful linkage between this initiative with the formal primary education system demonstrated by the high number of children as tutors; great participation of teachers and school principals as advertisers and recruiters as well as the use of infrastructures of primary schools.



Jorge Rudy García Monterroso
National Commission for Adult Literacy
2ª. Calle 6-51, Zona 2, Ciudad de Guatemala
Telephone: +50222517019
use (at)

Last update: 10 February 2012