Programme of Mother Language Literacy (PALMA)

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 TitleProgramme of Mother Language Literacy (PALMA: Programa de Alfabetização na Língua Materna)
Implementing OrganizationIES2 – Innovation, Education and Technological Solutions
Language of InstructionPortuguese
Programme PartnersNOKIA and the Federal University of Paraíba
Annual Programme CostsUS$60 (Software), US$90 (Smartphone), US$90 (SMS)
Date of Inception2011

Background and Country Context

The 2009 Brazilian National Household Survey found that 14.1 million Brazilians were illiterate, while 35 million – approximately 26% of the population – were classed as ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they lack some of the basic reading and writing skills necessary for day-to-day life. Improving literacy rates in Brazil is considered critical in improving the life conditions of the country’s poorest and most marginalized people. Numerous local and national programmes have, over the past decade, sought to promote literacy in Brazil. These have included the Literate Brazil Programme, Alfabetizando com Saúde, Alfabetização Solidária, and the Zé Peão School Project.

IES2 (Inovação, Educação e Soluções Tecnológicas – Innovation, Education and Technological Solutions) was founded in 2010. It is an outstanding example of the role the private sector can play in national campaigns to improve literacy. IES2 is a private company, set up by professionals and experts in education and the social sciences, which aims to provide innovative learning opportunities, accessible to anyone, anywhere and at any time, through web- and mobile-based technologies.

Programme Overview

The Programme of Mother Language Literacy (PALMA) was launched by IES2 in 2011. It combines various elements of literacy learning with activities to boost cognitive understanding, using sounds, letters, pictures and numbers in an educational programme delivered entirely through a mobile device. PALMA uses mobile and web technologies, along with SMS text-messaging functionality, to complement the more standard approaches of formal education. It provides a platform for users to learn, practise and be tested on literacy, numeracy and science-based modules in their mother tongue, Portuguese. The PALMA programme is available for anyone to download to a smartphone, so users outside the formal education system can also access the resources.

In 2011 the Ministry of Education endorsed the initial roll-out of the programme to 50,000 learners within the Literate Brazil Programme, a Federal Government scheme targeting areas identified as having the worst problems with illiteracy. The programme’s biggest challenge is to engage young people and adults in literacy learning and to encourage them to attend regular elementary school classes. The Ministry of Education had planned to introduce PALMA in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but, because of bureaucracy, it was not possible.

Aims and Objectives

IES2 set the following objectives for the PALMA programme:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Organisational Structure

IES2 employs more than thirty people on the delivery of the PALMA programme, split between management and corporate communications, research and development, and IT. The programme has dedicated teams responsible for programme design, the development of web and mobile applications, local monitoring and administrative support. All members of PALMA’s professional team are graduates, while those in the research and development team hold PhDs and have experience of educational management.

IES2 also draws on the expertise and support of its partners. The Nokia Technology Development Institute, for example, contributed to the training of the company’s mobile-application developers and assisted in the roll-out of extensive usability testing with students in public schools.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

Classroom facilitators on the programme work part-time, and are paid US$390 per month by IES2. They receive eight hours of training to prepare them for using PALMA as a teaching tool. During this training, facilitators learn about the programme’s content, the timetable to which it operates and how the learning programme and the web-based management system, which allows tutors to track the progress of their learners, are integrated. The quality of the training sessions is monitored and measured by feedback provided by the facilitators at the end of each session.

PALMA being used in a classroom

PALMA being used in a classroom

Mobilization of Participants

PALMA is used primarily to complement formal education, with learners introduced to the programme by literacy tutors in school settings. There are two models for the selection of schools to the programme: the one used by the Federal Government and the town-to-town selling model used by IES2. In the Federal Government programme, participating schools are identified in accordance with the literacy needs of the towns and cities in which they are based. In the town-to-town selling model, representatives of IES2 select the towns and cities to which they wish to offer the programme, initiating contact through the local department of education. Individuals can also sign up to the stand-alone programme through their mobile device by accessing the IES2 website at

Training-Learning Methods and Approaches

Learners within selected formal learning institutions are provided with smartphones through which the PALMA programme is delivered. Teachers then use PALMA as a complementary tool to develop the literacy skills of participants and track their learning progress.

The PALMA programme follows the National Curriculum Guidelines of the Ministry of Education. As Table 1 (below) shows, the programme’s curriculum is split into two years, with the fundamental components of basic Portuguese literacy addressed, for the most part, in the first year. The programme contains learning and assessment materials for each area of the curriculum, and is delivered through themes that make the learning relevant to real-life contexts such as relationships, work and family life, sport, health and the environment.

Table 1: PALMA programme modules

Year 1Year 2
Portuguese NumeracySciences
1 – Alphabet
2 – Simple syllables
3 – Complex syllables
4 – Extension of vocabulary
5 – Literature and comprehension
6 – Grammar
1 – Normal numbers
2 – Fractions
3 – Decimals
4 – Sums and averages
1 – The environment
2 – Health and quality of life

The PALMA learning environment reflects the close attention paid in its preparation to the cognitive processes involved in learning. The learning material was designed by experts in psychology and education and reflects a specific pattern of literacy development, beginning with recognition of the correspondence between letters and their sounds, and progressing from this to syllables, words and, eventually, syntax. The mobile application places great emphasis on learners’ recognition of sounds, as well as graphics, in order to ensure the literacy learning is as relevant as possible to day-to-day contexts.

Figure 2 (below) provides an example of the PALMA learning environment and the activities used to practise and assess new skills. Since the modules can be accessed at any time, at the user’s convenience, they can be repeated as many times as necessary in order to consolidate the learning outcomes and complete the activity tests. The results of these activities are sent by SMS to a web-based management system (see Figure 3), which the teacher or supervisor can use to track the development of individual learners.

PALMA learning environment

PALMA learning environment

Screenshot from the facilitators’ web interface

Screenshot from the facilitators’ web interface

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

The progress of learners and the impact of the programme are measured through the web-based platform, which allows tutors to track the performance and development of their students throughout the programme. The data sent to the platform is analysed by IES2’s research and development team to identify areas of the programme that are particularly successful and those that require improvement. Teachers can send questions and comments to the IES2 administrators using the web-based platform, which allows for direct feedback from system-users. PALMA learners can also inform the evaluation of the programme by sending SMS text messages to the web-based management system. These messages are categorized and turned into reports. The teachers have access to this system and are able to follow the development of their learners. Among other things, the system allows them to compare their students’ results at the end of the programme to those gained at the start.


PALMA was used by 277 public-school learners in 2011 and 2012, with the following results:

Older students (aged between fifteen and eighty-seven years), who attended classes in the evening, were also motivated to use the technology outside of the learning sessions.

Lessons Learned

The use of mobile-phone technology offers many advantages. Learners are more motivated to learn, as they can adapt the programme to their everyday lives, using it at a time that suits them and getting instant feedback on their work. The prospect of keeping the phone once they complete the programme helps ensure their interest is maintained throughout.

The mobile phones also give learners more opportunities both to access information and to communicate, among themselves and with the teachers. Teachers’ positive experiences of the programme have encouraged them to think about other possible uses for technology in the learning process.

Finally, the low cost of the technology makes it easier to maintain and implement the programme in other locations.


The main challenges for the continuity of the programme lie in securing funding for its continuing roll-out and in convincing teachers and facilitators in formal education institutions of the importance of using technology as a learning tool.


IES2 has secured the sustainability of the PALMA programme through cooperative agreements with its various partners. The largest funder of PALMA is the Federal Government, which gives support as part of its Literate Brazil Programme. IES2 also enjoys a long-term partnership with Nokia, while an agreement has been made with a number of universities to investigate the use of PALMA, as part of the Zé Peão School Project. The programme can be scaled up and adapted to other languages and needs.



Maristela Poli Guanais
Head of Communication
Av. Selma Parada, 201, Térreo - Campinas - São Paulo - CEP 13091 605 – Brazil
55 11 3207 1881
E-mail: maristela.poli (at)