Basic Education for Young People and Adults, Ecuador

  • Date published:
    26 February 2016

Programme Overview

Programme Title Basic Education for Young People and Adults (Proyecto de Educación de Jóvenes y Adultos)
Implementing Organization Ministry of Education, Ecuador
Language of Instruction Spanish, Quechua and Shuar
Funding Government
Programme Partners The Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry Coordinator of Social Development, the Social Registry, the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion, the Vice-Presidency of Ecuador, the Ministry of Justice (Human Rights and Worship), non-governmental organizations and local government
Annual Programme Costs US $34,751,452
Annual programme cost per learner: US $223
Date of Inception 2011

Country Context and Background

The population of Ecuador is culturally and ethnically diverse. Minority groups in the country include 14 distinct indigenous peoples, among them Quechua, Achuar and Shuar, mostly identified with the Andean and Amazonian regions of Ecuador. Afro-Ecuadorians are another minority group, located largely in the Pacific coastal region (Minority Rights Group International, 2008). While Ecuador’s 2010 census reported that 7% of the country’s population is indigenous, native people’s organizations, such as the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, suggest the figure is closer to 40% (INEC, 2010). Ecuador also hosts the largest refugee population in Latin America. In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 123,051 refugees were residing in Ecuador, 122,276 of them originating in Colombia (UNHCR, 2014).

The country’s 2008 constitution recognised that Ecuador is an ethnically plural nation and guaranteed the rights of both indigenous peoples and Afro-Ecuadorians. These include the rights to bilingual education and cultural patrimony. However, evidence indicates that, in most cases, these rights have not found their way into practice. In 2001, one third of the indigenous population was illiterate compared to 4.8% of whites (Minority Rights Group International, 2008).

The high illiteracy rate is one of the main challenges the country has to deal with, alongside extreme poverty, too few rural schools, insufficient teachers, high drop-out rates at primary-school level, lack of parental support and low motivation among literacy learners.

It is in this context that Proyecto de Educación Básica de Jóvenes y Adultos – the EBJA programme – contributes to Ecuador’s obligation to provide quality education to all its citizens, regardless of their ethnic and cultural background.

The EBJA programme must be understood in the context of an overarching process of restructuring in the public sector in Ecuador. Since 2006, the Ministry of Education, and other public-sector bodies, have embraced a new management structure, allowing for greater decentralization of educational administration. This involves the division of the Ecuadorian territory into zones, provinces and cantons, with the aim of supplying communities with the educational services they require. The Ministry of Education has been involved in the implementation of around 140 district boards and 1,200 educational services on a national level, since 2012.

Programme Overview

The EBJA programme was founded by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Education in 2011. The programme addresses the challenge of providing continuous literacy classes to non-literate people in ways sensitive to Ecuador’s culturally and linguistically diverse population. Its main aims are to tackle illiteracy and strengthen adult continuing education. The goal is to ensure access to quality education for population groups affected by inequality, exclusion and discrimination. This especially concerns the Montubio people (who live on the coast and are of mixed race and indigenous descent), and the indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations, who live in remote areas and often have difficulties in accessing educational services.

Since 2013 a new model of territorial management and planning has operated in Ecuador in order to ensure equity in access to educational services. It is split into nine zones, 140 educational districts and 1,117 educational circuits. The programme has a steering role in each educational district and runs in all nine zones, 24 provinces and 112 cantons, providing basic literacy courses of six-months’ duration. Learners are allocated a course to address their specific needs, according to their mother tongue, literacy level and physical condition. The project generally attracts between 25 and 30 learners per group, assisted by one teacher, trained in delivering basic education to both young people and adults.

Aligned with the aims of the Ecuadorean National Plan for Good Living 2009–2013, and 2013–2017, the EBJA programme strives to develop the literacy skills of 30,000 people of indigenous ethnicity, 15,000 of the Montubio population and 120,000 people aged 50 years or above, by 2017.

In order to achieve these goals, it is essential that the programme has the human, financial and material resources to establish cooperative agreements with governmental and non-governmental organizations, to provide ongoing human resource training, and to ensure the continuous monitoring and evaluation of the project.

Two agreements for inter-institutional cooperation signed between Cuba and Ecuador’s Ministry of Education in 2011 and 2013 have made it possible to address specific issues, such as education for young people and adults, while fostering a culture of peace within the region. The cooperation has generated ongoing social research to create innovative solutions for priority groups, such as children, adults, youths, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. It has also involved the Cuban Ministry of Education, which has offered advice to the programme based on the methodology of the Yo, si puedo (Yes, I can) literacy programme. Fifty-two Cuban advisors were dispersed across the country to coordinate literacy activities on the ground. During the implementation of the consultancy, Cuban coordinators provided ongoing training for EBJA programme personnel.

The programme has entered into agreements with the Ministry Coordinator of Social Development, to ensure access to the social registry database, and with Cuba’s Ministry of Education, for advisory support in using the Yo, si puedo methodology. Moreover, the Ministry of Health and Ecuador´s Vice-President have made important contributions by providing support to participants through medical check-ups for visually and hearing-impaired, as well as for elderly people. These efforts support the aim of getting the non-literate population involved in local entrepreneurship and income-generating activities, and, by doing so, to improve their living conditions.

Aims and Objectives

The programme aims to do the following:

  • Promote social participation to contribute to the national goal of increasing the literacy rate to more than 96%;
  • Implement a management model to articulate various literacy-oriented methodologies with the support of institutional actors, civil society and women in rural areas, under the leadership of the Ministry of Education;
  • Implement an educational proposition which takes into consideration the needs and potential of both young people and adults, and which is oriented towards the completion of general basic and secondary education level;
  • Improve literacy levels, especially among the Montubio, indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorian populations, and teach indigenous peoples in their native languages;
  • Provide an educational offer to meet the needs of priority groups such as indigenous women from rural areas, ethnic minorities, elderly people, people with disabilities, people from border zones, and non-literate prisoners.

Programme Implementation

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The facilitators work on full-time contracts and are remunerated according to their professional competency. The usual monthly salary of an EBJA teacher, working with an average of 30 students, is US $530. Additionally, the project has created a number of ‘territorial teacher’ roles for staff supervising the work of teachers in each territory, who are paid US $585 per month. The territorial teachers (or technicians) provide technical and pedagogical support to EBJA teachers, develop partnerships with local authorities, coordinate and conduct meetings with teachers about classroom teaching and learning, and provide monthly activity reports to the Ministry of Education, also registering the information in the EBJA computer system.

So far, the EBJA programme has hired 40,983 teachers for young and adult learners, and 330 territorial coordinators.

The project also organizes a training programme for facilitators which operates on three levels. First, an intense, systematic course of training takes place, jointly coordinated by the national team and the Cuban coordinators. Second, on the provincial level, the national team and 52 Cuban advisors provide training for coordinators in the 140 educational districts, both in Spanish and bilingually. Third, at the local level, both the EBJA coordinators and the Cuban advisors conduct training sessions for territorial technicians and teachers.

Enrolment of Learners

The programme’s main target groups are adults, out-of-school youth, women and girls, indigenous people, and minority groups. All the courses provided by the programme target illiterate people and aim to support the development of basic skills in reading, writing and numeracy. However, during the registration process a diagnostic assessment is carried out by teachers in order to place participants on courses relevant to their particular needs. This enables the facilitators to place the participants in suitable EBJA centres close to where they live.

Generally, the participants are placed on different courses according to their language entry profile. The programme divides learners into three groups, mainly referring to their entry levels of literacy:

  1. People who never attended school;
  2. People who attended school for some time but whose learning fell into disuse; and
  3. People with acoustic, visual or physical constraints.

Literacy learners are recruited using statistical and demographic information, provided by Ecuador’s National Institute of Statistics and Census, and population information from rural areas characterized by extreme poverty, obtained from the Interconnected Register of Social Programmes.

EBJA teachers make door-to-door visits to assess whether a person is eligible to participate in the programme.

Participants who, following a successful interview, enrol on the programme are reported to the Coordinating Ministry of Social Development, which is responsible for providing additional benefits, such as health and housing, and for agricultural production projects.

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

All courses provided by the EBJA programme follow the principles of adult learning. However, they are organized differently, according to the teaching methodology applied. In the course for Spanish-speaking people, the Cuban Yo, sí puedo approach is used. The Cuban methodology uses a set of 65 video classes intended to ensure continual interaction between learners and facilitators.

For Spanish-speaking people with disabilities, prisoners, and people who live along Ecuador’s border, the Ecuadorian Manuela Sáenz method is used. This approach includes the use of Braille. The course for bilingual indigenous people is based on the Ecuadorian Dolores Cacuango method, which builds on the indigenous Weltanschauung or philosophy of life.

Each of the three methodologies has its own distinct characteristics:

Manuela Sáenz

This methodology is applied in remote areas of the country. Course modules use a rights-based approach and relate closely to the kinds of learning environment used in the communities in question, as well as to their social and cultural traditions. It also includes a module for the development of reading, writing and numeracy skills. The learning structure is based on a syllabic methodology which participants find easy to understand.

Dolores Cacuango

The content aims at strengthening intercultural identity using a reflective-critical methodology which reflects the experience and worldview of indigenous peoples to generate processes of teaching and learning for young people and adults, including the linguistic approach to learning the Spanish language.

Yo, si puedo

This approach uses videos both as a learning resource and as a prompt for debate among participants and teachers. It aims to develop critical thinking and learners’ ability to generate ideas and opinions about their lives and communities. This Cuban methodology has been implemented in other Latin American and African countries.

The methodologies and materials used promote participants’ self-esteem and give them motivatation to persevere with their learning. Importantly, they are oriented to the needs of both Spanish-speaking and bilingual populations. The latter is, for instance, reflected in the use of indigenous languages, reinforcing respect for different cultures, as upheld in the Ecuadorian constitution. Brochures have also been produced to supplement the Cuban methodology, addressing issues such as training, mathematics and nutrition.

The local non-governmental organization, Desarrollo y Autogestion, supports the EBJA programme with pedagogical material and technical assistance.

Programme Content

The EBJA programme pursues the following objectives for learners:

  • To read and understand simple words, sentences, phrases, simple texts and a paragraph of about 50 words, written with a basic and colloquial vocabulary relavent to learners’ lives and experiences;
  • To write their complete name and form a signature;
  • To write a paragraph of about 50 words, making proper separations between each word; and
  • To write numbers up to 30 and resolve mathematical problems up to two digits.

The curriculum content reflects the needs, interests and motivations of learners in Ecuador, which, as noted above, is characterised by cultural and social diversity. The main topics of interest are agreed on with the community and include health, nutrition, family, gender-oriented issues, community participation, social development, and intercultural issues, in the case of bilingual settings. Additionally, the EBJA project highlights the formation of values, knowledge about human rights, citizenship and life skills.

The EBJA project strives particularly to engage non-literate women as part of a government strategy to combat malnutrition among children aged up to five years. This strategy, led by the Ministry Coordinator of Social Development and coordinated with the Ministry of Education, aims to introduce nutritional issues into literacy classes in order to teach mothers from rural communities the use of highly nutritional traditional Andean products in order to properly feed their children and families.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring processes are undertaken on a continual basis to ensure that teachers and technicians meet the guidelines established by the EBJA project. Moreover, performance evaluations are applied to staff and learning assessments to participants. Teacher performance is formally evaluated twice a year in order to ensure staff do their work correctly and should continue to work with participants.

In partnership with the Ministry Coordinator of Social Development, the EBJA team has developed a computer-supported system to monitor, evaluate and manage the key activities of the project. This system is not only used to ensure that the annual operational plan of EBJA is followed, but also provides an effective tool to handle statistical information and to review the whole process.

Learning centres are visited by EBJA personnel at least twice during the implementation phase. These visits aim to ensure that participants attend classes regularly and that each centre has the necessary physical resources to support appropriate teaching and learning. In addition, each teacher is responsible for documenting attendance in their classes. This information is useful in that it indicates which participants are at risk of dropping out. If that is the case, the teacher is expected to provide pedagogical support to ensure learners stay enrolled. This attendance record is verified by the territorial technicians during their monitoring visits to each centre.

Field visits are the main means by which processes such as the registration of participants, the opening of educational centres, budget discipline, training, teaching methodologies, the progress of participants, the delivery of didactic material and recruitment are monitored and assessed.

The information collected during each of the three phases of the literacy project between 2011 and 2013 has helped to continuously improve the implementation processes.

Monthly evaluation reports are provided by EBJA coordinators, both in Spanish and bilingually, to share information about budget execution and the academic progress of participants. The project also produces two final evaluation reports, at the end of the first two educational phases. The reports are focused on the social impact and management of the project, as well as on learners‘ progress.

Additionally, inquiries and interviews have been carried out with key actors – participants, their families and the communities in which they live – in order to assess the impact of literacy courses on the participants’ lives, and those of their families and communities.

The EBJA project has also established community boards to oversee the activities and to ensure a personalized support of women, older people, people with disabilities and ethnic-minority groups. The boards also ensure that teachers attend fully to meeting the educational expectations of the community. This has played a crucial role in the sustainability of the project and provided tangible outcomes to communities, motivating former participants to continue with their education.

Programme Impact

Up to 2013, 324,894 people had completed the EBJA programme at national level. Some 229,740 of this group were women, with 137,096 coming from rural and mostly indigenous areas of the country. The number of participants aged 65 years and above during this time period was 76,031, 23% of the total.

Many former participants of the EBJA project continue their education after they complete the literacy course. The EBJA computer system (see Monitoring and Evaluation) records learning progress and this is then accredited by the Ministry of Education. In addition, each registered participant who successfully completes the course receives a certificate signed by the competent authorities of the Ministry of Education. Learners are thereby enabled to continue their studies in institutions for adult learners, taking, for example, advanced literacy courses or bachelor degree courses in science or in a technical subject.


Some 5,250 educational centres for young people and adults have been opened each semester in parts of the country shaped by population dispersal, poverty, lack of basic services and the marginalization of indigenous and bilingual people, as well as in areas where women have limited access basic education.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

One of the challenges faced by the EBJA programme concerns the large budget that is needed in order to operate on a national level. Another major challenge regards the local outreach of learning centres. Clearly, transportation in hard-to-reach areas such as the Andean and Amazonian regions is difficult. The location of learning centres in urban areas also constitutes a challenge as it has become increasingly difficult to engage some groups of adults, particularly those living in extremely remote areas which teachers can only locate using cartographic plans.

Moreover, the replacement of traditional structures within provincial educational offices with new administrative structures, under the framework of for territorial management in Ecuador, has made both programme implementation and the learning process difficult, particularly with regard to the decentralization of the project’s financial resources.

A constant challenge is to keep participants engaged in the learning process, particyularly older learners. People abandon the process because of many factors, including health problems, migration to another part of the country, and even, in the case of women, problems to do with discrimination. Unfortunately, there is no monitoring mechanism to track what happens to these people after dropping out.

Another challenge concerns coordination with the bilingual offices in order to ensure that indigenous territories can benefit from the Dolores Cacuango methodology. Between 2011 and 2013 there were offices of bilingual education in each province. Their role was to monitor literacy progress in the Quechua and Shuar languages. This involved offering events and training which were not included in the other methodologies, requiring additional resources for every office paying special attention to native languages.


One of the main ways in which the EBJA programme is attempting to guarantee its sustainability is to maintain the interest of the non-literate population in the learning process. That is why the programme uses three different methodologies, to give it the best possible chance of meeting the diversity of needs of the target population and, thereby, of increasing their motivation.

EBJA contributes to the reduction of social, ethnic and cultural inequality by improving the educational level of people struggling with literacy. Each participant comes away with increased self-esteem and a better relationship with their family and their community. This, in turn, increases the opportunities for participants to engage in productive activities generated locally by government institutions or private entities, thus enabling them to improve their standard of living. There is an intergenerational benefit too, with participants encouraging their children or grandchildren to complete their basic education.

In addition, between 2011 and 2013, 44,021 people from indigenous communities in Ecuador became literate in their native language, ensuring the promotion of cultural identity and ancestral rights, and supporting them in securing their income, generally gained through activities related to agriculture and livestock, or tourism. All these impacts have been instrumental in encouraging the government of Ecuador to continue financial support for basic literacy education.



Elsa Pezo Ortiz
National Director of Education for People with Unfinished Schooling
Av Amazonas N34-451 and Atahualpa
Quito, Ecuador
Telephone: 593-3961-381
Email: elsa.pezo (at) educacion.gob.ec
Website: http://www.educacion.gob.ec

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 25 July 2017. Basic Education for Young People and Adults, Ecuador. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 10 December 2023, 02:54 CET)

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