Aprendizajes en Familia (Family Literacy Programme), Mexico

  • Date published:
    13 February 2012

Programme Overview

Programme Title Family Literacy Programme (Aprendizajes en Familia)
Implementing Organization Regional Cooperation Center for Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (Centro de Cooperación Regional para la Educación de Adultos en América Latina y el Caribe) (CREFAL).
Language of Instruction Spanish and indigenous languages (bilingual)
Funding The Federal Government (through the Ministry for Public Education (SEP) under the National Programme to Improve Educational Attainment).
Programme Partners The Federal Government of Mexico (through the Ministry for Public Education), the National Institute for Adult Education (INEA), National Council for Education Development (CONAFE), National Council for Social Participation in Education (CONAPASE), Ministry for Social Development (SEDESOL) through the OPORTUNIDADES (Opportunities) programme.
Date of Inception 2011– (ongoing)

Context and Background

Over the last few decades, Mexico has made significant progress with the task of providing basic education for all. However, the formal education system is still weakened by obstacles to a successful teaching-learning experience: low salaries, a lack of educational material and resources, excessive workloads for the staff, poverty, minimal cooperation with families, being situated in an environment unconducive to learning, etc. Significant differences also remain between the access to education in rural areas, such as Durango, Oaxaca and Chiapas, and the opportunities available to those living in or close to urban areas. The wide range of indigenous languages and communities across the country, particularly in rural areas, creates a population with a large variety of needs and interests which are difficult to meet with an inflexible, standardised curriculum.

At present, around one third of the Mexican population is lagging behind in their basic education. In 2009, a census-style test, ENLACE, for primary school pupils in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth academic years and the third year in secondary school revealed that 67.3% of primary-age pupils have a elementary or insufficient understanding of Spanish and 69% have elementary or insufficient knowledge in Maths. This situation has severe implications not only for the lives of the population but also for the economic and social development of the country. Illiteracy and educational deficits in families are related to low academic performance, dropping out and falling behind in education, poor health, environmental damage, unemployment and a lack of prospects for a dignified life, and low citizen participation. These are the areas for development which the Regional Cooperation Center for Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (CREFAL) aim to positively influence through their actions and projects. CREFAL, in partnership with the Ministry for Public Education and through its Programme to Improve Educational Attainment, seeks to promote intergenerational learning which has an impact on the development and quality of life of families through the inclusion of learners and promoting their interaction.

Due to the magnitude and extent of the educational deficit, it is imperative to support basic education in areas where learning takes place and competences for lifelong learning can be developed: in families, in classrooms and in the community. In these locations, innovative socio-educational activities of an inter-institutional, inter-sectoral and inter-generational nature can encourage learning.

The Family Literacy Programme


Launched in a pilot format in early 2011, the Family Literacy Programme (Aprendizajes en Familia) is a scheme set up by CREFAL to support educational programmes for vulnerable areas of the population which are run by the Ministry of Public Education. The scheme forms part of the Integrated Strategy for the Improvement of Educational Achievement (EIMLE) in Mexico. The objective of the EIMLE is to improve educational achievement in almost thirty thousand schools which received poor ENLACE test results in 2009, and in particular the more than seven thousand schools which were ranked as inadequate in 2007, 2008 and 2009 consecutively. The programme has so far been introduced to eleven schools in nine locations around Mexico. Seven of the sites are to be found in rural areas with very high rates of marginalisation and six of these are based in indigenous communities speaking either Tzotzil (Chiapas) or Náhuatl (Veracruz and Guerrero). The more urban locations concern marginalised populations who have migrated from rural areas in order to search for better opportunities.


Each time the programme is launched, an assessment of the individual situation on the ground is carried out taking into account the precise context, needs and interests of the school and community. The programme endeavours to encourage family participation in young people’s education as well as boosting social engagement in education inside communities. The principal actors in this programme are the teachers and staff at the schools, the families and the authorities and all members of the communities. The families are responsible for supporting their children’s education by participating in tutoring networks, cultivating their own curiosity and taste for learning, supporting school activities, and sharing their knowledge within the community. Participating schools are responsible for providing meaningful education, establishing tutoring networks and carrying out projects for the benefit of the school and the community.

The tasks belonging to the community include setting up literacy and recreational centres, supporting the school through the tutoring networks and collaborating with projects for the benefit of the community.

Aims and Objectives

The Family Literacy Programme strives to achieve the following objectives:


  • To ensure that all participants complete their basic education, work together to form literate communities and carry out their own community development projects.
  • To promote a substantive education, connecting knowledge gained from school with family and community activities.
  • To increase the family involvement in the children’s school education and to boost recognition of the family as the first source of education for children.
  • To establish schools as institutions which guarantee time and space for the development of basic literacy (reading for understanding, writing and self-correction, and basic mathematical calculations) in the scope of lifelong learning.
  • To improve educational achievement by creating tutoring networks and supporting the School Social Participation Councils (CEPS).
  • To establish a flexible model of family and community based learning founded on the specific and complex reality of how three educational areas interplay (the family environment, school education and community involvement).
  • To support the well-balanced development of children and young people and to promote sustainable community development by engaging the skills and knowledge of all families.
  • To set up a national Family Literacy Programme to support the Programme to Improve Educational Achievement (PMLE), which promotes, coordinates and looks for funding for the plans and programmes devised by families who wish to improve the quality of life in their communities. Furthermore, to develop a model to be used across Latin America.

The three main lines of action for the achievement of these aims are as follows:

  • The promotion of literacy as a continuous process within the scope of lifelong learning.
  • The formation of tutoring networks to encourage autonomous learning.
  • The creation of literate communities which are capable of developing their own local sustainable development projects.

Programme Implementation

Tutoring Networks

Sharing knowledge and developing lifelong learning skills in the community are key aspects of this programme. The tutoring network connects people who have learnt a skill or gained knowledge in a certain area with those who may wish to learn more about that area. Volunteers from schools, from families or in the community offer themselves as tutors to other members of the community. With tutoring partnerships amongst teachers and amonst pupils as well as between teachers and pupils, the support structures formed help participants to obtain experience developing their learning skills both as educators and learners. The network offers people the chance to teach and be taught informally, strengthening their ability to learn autonomously and enabling the lessons to be tailored to the interests of both the learner and the tutor. The process encourages potential tutors to take the opportunity to reflect on their previous learning experience (their interests, strategies, mistakes, questions, etc), as well as recording the experience in writing to share later with learners. By doing so, the tutors gain ownership of the knowledge in an organised manner and practise their writing skills. Tutoring transcends the limits of the classroom in order to provide families and community members with a flexible, dynamic system to accommodate the learning requirements and interests of the community.

Building a Literate Community

From pre-primary through to secondary level, the teachers are responsible for setting up a library and games collection in the learning area or classroom for the families to use. Working together with the families, they create new games and activities which support the children’s development particularly in early years education. After developing highly motivating approaches and materials for pre-primary and primary education, they can be used both in school and within families. In addition to the establishment of school libraries, community centres for literacy and recreational activities support the promotion and development of lifelong learning and literacy skills in the community.


As part of the programme, three catalogues will be published with the aim to strengthen and broaden the teaching-learning process. The first catalogue is comprised of the books and audiovisual material which are available to schools, families and communities for the promotion of literacy and to encourage reading for pleasure. Organised on a national level, the programme facilitates the publication of this catalogue and supports communities who wish to gain access to the catalogued items. The second catalogue features the courses and projects offered by different government departments and organisations which correspond to the community’s needs and interests. Various government departments, civil society organisations, businesses and religious institutions offer a variety of programmes and projects focused on promoting education and development in the communities. Some of the principal aims of these programmes include increasing educational achievement in school or the community, creating sources of employment or taking advantage of natural resources. Finally, the third catalogue details the knowledge and areas of experience of community members who are able to share these skills with other members of the community through a tutoring network. For the purpose of establishing a literate community, the tutoring networks help develop important relationships between the children and the three main actors: the school staff, the families and the local community and play a key role in the successful evolution of the programme. The programme supports the collection of information, the publication of the catalogue and the organisation of exchanges through the tutoring network.

In every community, the Family Literacy Programme is organised by the School Social Participation Council (CEPS), supported by a regional coordinator and the advisory team from CREFAL. Each school has its own CEPS, or Council, comprised of parents, school staff, teachers, former pupils and neighbours who are interested in carrying out improvements to the school. The Council supports the school’s educational initiatives by means of setting up several committees with different foci. The Reading Committee, as one example, is responsible for organising the required steps to set up and maintain the library and for promoting reading in the school environment. In addition, the Council is entrusted with the coordination of inter-institutional opportunities for education and compiling a report on the strengths, interests and needs of the community.

Regional coordinators for the programme manage the selection of educational projects on offer, create the catalogue of projects available in their communities and offer advice to the CEPS to encourage the growth of a literate community in the local area. Along the same lines, they help to set up and maintain the tutoring networks inside and outside of the school, offering advice on potential locations for literacy projects.


Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methodologies

Due to the wide range of intervention points, the programme employs a variety of strategies based on five theoretical fields: theories on inter-institutional collaboration, theories on organisational development as organisms which learn, theories on the professionalisation of teaching, theories on the development of learning communities and communities of practice, and constructivism as a theory of individual and collective learning. All of these theoretical focal points guide the programme and complement one another to achieve the maximum impact on educational achievement.

The tutorial relationship model, upon which the networks are based, is the main educational model used in every area of the programme. The model created by Gabriel Cámara Cervera (2004), a Mexican expert on alternative models for basic education, has been used successfully in a variety of situations and environments and is an educational model based on the exchange of personalised dialogue for use both inside and outside of schools. Centred on developing the ability of learning to learn independently, the method results in high quality learning, the development of cognitive structures and the achievement of the key competences (reading for understanding, writing and self-correction, and basic mathematical calculations).


As the key actors in the programme are families, communities and schools, it is vital to start by looking at their needs, interests and ambitions, encouraging self-management and participation, and recognising their knowledge, abilities and potential. The educators are encouraged to utilize their individual talents and interests when teaching in order to boost their motivation and make the learning experience engaging and enjoyable for all. As well as setting up a literacy rich environment in school, the teachers encourage families to carry out enjoyable yet purposeful activities with their children at home to support their development. The programme encourages teachers to adapt, enrich and incorporate concepts from educational theories on learning communities into their daily activities at school.

By allowing students to diverge slightly from the curriculum in order to focus on topics of their own interest during the learning process, the programme supports the development of skills for autonomous learning. In addition to acquiring reading and writing skills, the pilot programme aims to offer a large scale of different skills for participants to learn with the objective of supporting their integration in society and general development. Some activities which have taken place include Zumba (a dance fitness programme), cooking, origami, and other workshops.

Development of Teaching-Learning Materials

In order to enhance people’s interest and confidence to take part in the educational activities in schools and the communities, an initial set of educational material will be designed and produced according to the particular features of each individual community. The materials are designed to prompt a participatory response from the individuals (family member and learners) who wish to use them. Following their use, the individuals taking part provide feedback on their experiences and on whether the material succeeded in guiding them through the content and aiding interaction.

The programme encourages teachers to reflect on the teaching materials they possess and the extent to which these tools meet the essential learning needs of the students. Emphasis is placed on involving the children when teachers are designing strategies to encourage more family participation in school education.


If learners wish to work towards a fixed goal or simply mark their achievements through the programme by obtaining a qualification, they have access to a series of existing assessments. The following types of evaluation are available: the National Assessment of Academic Achievement in Education Centres (ENLACE), advanced certificates in literacy, and primary, secondary or advanced secondary education from the National Institute for Adult Education (INEA), basic level certificates which are offered by the National Education Promotion Council (CONAFE) and certificates from the National Council for Lifelong Learning and Work Skills (CONEVyT).

Expansion and Future Application

The Family Literacy Programme consists of four stages which will be introduced over a span of seven years. In the first stage (2011-2012), eleven schools in five Mexican states will take part in the programme. As part of the second stage (2012-2014), nine states and nine schools will be incorporated into the programme. In the third stage (2014-2015), an educational model and a national plan for Family Literacy in Mexico will be established, and in the final stage (2015-2018) a flexible model of Family Literacy will be created for possible transfer to other Latin American countries.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators


The process of recruitment for the regional coordinators begins with the nomination of candidates by the Ministry for Education in each state and in agreement with CREFAL. Generally speaking, the coordinators have experience of working in different fields in the Ministry for Public Education in their respective states and they have all been qualified to degree level, with one coordinator holding an Engineering degree. The selection depended heavily on the candidates showing evidence of leadership experience whilst supporting the organisation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of community projects. No formal training for this position is deemed necessary.

Training events on tutoring have been organised for the school teachers. Furthermore, educators already working with the tutoring model as part of a distance learning programme were present and brought additional input and experiences. The training is intended to give the teachers a better understanding of the model and help them to introduce it into a variety of areas.

Selection of Participating Schools

In order to target areas with lots of opportunity for improvement, the states selected for this programme were chosen based predominantly on their Human Development Index. To decide where the programme will be run in these states, the search was focused on schools and communities which fit into the following groups:

  • Schools in particularly marginalised areas according to the respective index of the Federal Government (INEGI).
  • Those communities in which several educational and social programmes converge, including programmes organised by both the government and civil society.
  • Schools with poor results in the ENLACE test and who were selected for the National Programme to Improve Educational Attainment.

Programme Impact, Achievements and Challenges

Expected Impact

Concrete results are difficult to pinpoint at this point in time since the programme is still in its early stages. Moreover, a project with such a wide community reach takes a significant amount of time to reach its full potential and show its impact on the local area. Rather than focusing on achieving a numerical impact, the pilot run of the Family Literacy Programme aims to explore how a national system for family literacy could be introduced. The system would be responsible for coordinating family literacy projects and programmes using existing resources from government departments and civil society organisations, whilst researching and leading investigations in order to update the programmes and projects which are established on a regular basis. Once a nationwide system has been established, many areas of society are expected to be positively impacted.

Impact on schools: The programme involves changing to an educational model which focuses on educational attainment through developing essential life skills and encourages high quality education. The transfer to the model is supported by the efforts of the school management to secure the time and space for teacher training, and through the reorganisation of school activities so that they respond to and are even directly based upon the interests, individual situations and knowledge of the pupils.

Impact on families: As a result of the programme, significant changes to the relationship between schools and familias should occur. Families take on shared responsibility and assume a unique, independent role in the development of the skills which define a literate community. Such skills form the foundation of a society which lives by and defends values such as democracy, participation, solidarity, justice, honesty and knowledge. As such, families give impetus to and support the changes occurring in schools.


Furthermore, the new model presents a method by which all family members can become lifelong learners. Amongst the families participating, the programme is expected to promote the development of useful skills for work and life, encourage the pursuit of certificates for different levels of education, contribute to raising the educational level in families and encourage equality and democracy in family relationships.

Impact on communities: Change arises in a community as a result of the capabilities and decisions of the community members. By providing the members with sufficient resources to improve their literacy and, as such, to perform their roles efficiently inside the community, the community adapts and forms virtuous circles of development and improvement which raise the quality of life of its members of the community in many diverse areas such as health, the environment, sustainable development, justice, equality and social peace, citizen participation, etc. The changes to the families and the communities are expected to transform the regions and states in a progressive manner. As the educational demands of the families become more complex, the horizons for sustainable development will be broadened, producing jobs, new goods and services and an increase in the well-being of the population.

First Achievements

Since its introduction in May 2011, a number of preliminary achievements and positive experiences have been reported across the programme locations:

  • Three teacher training events have been held, providing over 140 people in Durango, Guerrero and Veracruz with specific training for the tutorial relationship model.
  • Six of the schools taking part have now joined the Schools of Quality Programme (PEC). One of these schools, María Angelina Flores Morales in Teopisca, Chiapas, was assigned funding through the PEC which has now been allocated for the construction of a school dining room.
  • Each of the schools taking part was visited by the coordination team and the pilot programme was introduced to each school community.
  • A website covering the details of the programme (http://atzimba.crefal.edu.mx/learnfamily/) has been set up by CREFAL and a leaflet has been designed to encourage the support of families with reading and writing activities. The design of teaching guides, a memory game and teaching handbooks covering literacy in the family, school and community are scheduled for design by December 2011.


On introducing the programme to communities, many positive comments were made by the parents reflecting their desire to improve their own skills as well as support their children’s educational development. The following comments have been reported and reflect the opportunities the programme opens up for all community members : “I learn more with my daughter than what I learnt at the same age…” “If I learn, I’ll be able to help my son more”. The interest in the community to continue learning and to help to improve the children’s educational achievement is evidence of the potential the Family Literacy Programme has in these communities.


During the preparation and implementation of the programme, a number of challenges have been faced mainly due to the fundamental changes made to the teaching-learning approaches and the focus on community participation. The following areas have presented the main challenges for the programme so far:

  • Introducing a change of paradigm through the move from governmental intervention to the promotion of self-managing communities. For example, the CEPS already exists in the majority of schools but has not assumed its role, for reasons of lack of organisation or lack of information. The composition, training and functionality of the CEPS is a wide area for development in the coming academic year.
  • Transforming the pedagogical focus from memorised learning to a teaching-learning model which centres on the educational achievement of the pupils and their families both inside and outside of school.
  • Fostering the active participation of the whole community to encourage ownership of innovative ideas and new action plans in order to adapt them to the realities of each community.
  • Transforming the institutional culture centred on its own objectives in order to make way for an open collaboration process between institutions and sectors with consensual goals and focused on benefitting the country’s most needy groups.
  • Accommodating the necessary time for community changes to come to fruition. Transformations of such a magnitude require long-term vision and planning and can suffer at the hands of changing politics or inertia. Given that political support is necessary to obtain funds to continue with the programme, agreement with the authorities on the schedule for progression is notably important.
  • Acquiring financial, material and human resources to sustain the educational changes taking place as well as the transformations in families and in the community. Since continuous action is required for long term community transformations, it is necessary to have the resources available to keep the programme going.
  • The introduction of tutoring networks provoked reservations on the part of some teachers as they consider themselves to have had little experience of the workings and benefits of the model. To address these concerns, the teachers were introduced to the model in a short, one-day workshop on tutorial relationships. Held in the company of some telesecundaria teachers who already work as tutors, it was agreed to hold a broader workshop as soon as possible so that they can gain a wider and deeper insight into the topic as well as to envisage the possible areas in which they could use the model.

A number of specific challenges to the smooth running of the programme stemming from the culture and demographics of Mexico have been reported by CREFAL representatives having visited the schools and communities. The prevalence of many indigenous languages in Mexico can pose difficulties with regards to learning resources and communication in the community. Dilapidated teaching facilities, such as old blackboards and even a lack of benches, can hinder educational progress in schools through creating a poor learning environment. On introducing the programme to one particular community, some of those present had reservations about their participation in the programme given the various tasks and responsibilities they have at home. Nevertheless, as time has gone on, a considerable number of mothers have expressed their desire to participate, looking for a better role in their children’s education and improved results as well as searching for an improvement to their own education. Rather than engaging both parents, CREFAL has reported from initial investigations that it is more often mothers rather than fathers who participate most actively in the school life of their children. Overcoming the initial apprehensions of teachers and communities forms another preliminary challenge, as they may have experience of unsuccessful past programmes and do not wish to be overloaded with new responsibilities and a greater workload.

Research and Evaluation

To learn from the community experiences during the programme, it is vital to ensure that the transformations which occur and the systematisation of educational experiences at all levels are well-documented. The collected data serves as a continuing form of evaluation which improves the management processes, as well as providing the most important source of information for those in charge of producing the Family Literacy Model and designing a national system to implement it.
As the programme is running simultaneously in five states, CREFAL has called on the support of institutions dedicated to educational research and studies and which have an authentic interest in improving the quality of schools, namely teacher training colleges in the participating areas and universities which offer degrees in Education. With the recent establishment of academic bodies in the teacher training colleges, it is now crucial to carry out systematic research and to interact with other higher education institutions. In the same manner, universities are generally interested in participating in investigations which provide their students with significant field experience.

The research will focus on the following areas:

  • Documenting the changes which have occurred in the schools, families and communities.
  • The systematisation of the experiences of the Family Literacy Programme with its interaction between schools, families and communities.
  • The documentation and systematisation of the experiences of collaboration with other institutions and across sectors.
  • The educational evaluation of the programmes and projects which develop as a result of the involvement of the Family Literacy Programme.
  • Organising the data to enable regular assessments on how the programme is functioning.

Through research and evaluation, the programme helps the schools, the families and the communities to shape their actions in order to best achieve their goals. The results of the evaluation and the subsequent improvements provide ideal material for use when developing the integral and systemic Family Literacy Model.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The national team of coordinators will visit the states four times a year and take part in two national meetings annually. The first national meeting took place in October 2011 and dealt with the three central goals of the Family Literacy Programme: to promote reading, to create tutoring networks and to establish a literate community. The principal aim of the meeting was to discuss the elements which enhance the efficiency of the programme in order to reach these goals in communities and schools.

Lessons Learned

Even though the programme is still in its early stages, it is expected to bring insight and deeper understanding of the most important aspects to ensure the success of such an education programme in Mexico. Until now, three clear lessons can be mentioned:

  • The active participation of all those involved as well as significant interaction between institutions is required for the success of the programme. With only limited support, such a transformation to the community dynamics would be hard to establish or sustain. Sufficient time is also required in order for each community to ascertain the optimum speed of change, to take ownership of ideas and to organise the management and use of available resources.
  • The process of putting into practice the good ideas and intentions behind existing laws and reforms and making them a reality in communities where they have not been incorporated until now is a sizeable task and should not be underestimated.
  • It is necessary to highlight the importance of inter-institutional relationships which have already proved to bring positive results to the communities. In one particular case, the collaboration with governmental programmes, such as OPORTUNIDADES (Opportunities) run by the Ministry for Social Development, has enabled families in marginalised areas to enrol in a scholarship and study grants programme.


In order for the project to be sustainable over the long term, it will be necessary to convert the participating schools into learning and cultural centres for the community. Forming a learning community involves a wide range of actors, including children, young people, adults, families and elderly people as well as potential educators, who include all those just mentioned, students, social workers, teachers, professors, public workers and every citizen who would like to share their knowledge and skills. It will be important to maintain a demand for learning amongst all citizens and by integrating literacy practices into the community there will be a firm base from which to promote and maintain participation. With regard to motivating family members and community representatives to participate in the programme, the catalogue detailing the existing educational projects in each participating state supports those who wish to take part. The Council in each school also aims to help families by evaluating and organising their interests and needs into requests for training and support them with selecting educational projects from the catalogue.

Given the possibilities for education (informal, non-formal, distance, online, led by experts, across generations, etc.), the model is very flexible and highly sustainable due to its variety and range. By promoting the development of learning to learn independently for the teachers, pupils, families and the wider community, solid foundations for a literate and socially engaged community can be laid down.
The Family Literacy Programme will continue to work with the communities, schools and families concerned until the community actors have taken over the role in the process of transformation which the programme promotes. This process is expected to take approximately four years. Within this period, it is hoped that the actors will establish ownership of the community changes in order to maintain them with the support of government departments and civil society organisations in each state. As the presence of resources is a constant concern for programmes reliant on funding and support, the use of existing resources from other programmes and initiatives increases the sustainability of the programme.



Lic. Pedro Andrés Ramírez Zavala
National Coordinator of the Family Literacy Programme
Regional Cooperation Center for Adult Education in Latin America and the Caribbean / Centro de Cooperación Regional Para La Educación De Adultos En America Latina (CREFAL),
Website: http://www.crefal.edu.mx
Email: pramirez (at) crefal.edu.mx
Tel: +52 (434) 3428194

Last update: 13 February 2014

For citation please use

Last update: 18 July 2017. Aprendizajes en Familia (Family Literacy Programme), Mexico. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 21 September 2023, 17:28 CEST)

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