Obras Escuela: Literacy for Construction Workers

  • Date published:
    15 December 2020

Programme Key Information

Programme Title Obras Escuela (see Endnote 1)
Implementing Organization Cámara Colombiana de la Construcción (Colombian Chamber of Construction, Camacol Antioquia)
Language of Instruction Spanish and English (for the foreign-language class)
Programme Partners Secretary of Education of the City of Medellín, Colombia
Funding Camacol Antioquia
Annual Programme Costs USD 181,418
Programme Cost Per Learner Between USD 23 and USD 90, depending on the number or learners.
Date of Inception 2007

Country context and background

Compared with other countries in the region, Colombia has relatively high adult literacy rates. According to a 2019 report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), in 2018, Colombia recorded over 95% literacy for 15 to 65 year olds (92% for females); almost 99% for youth and young adults (aged between 15 and 24) with a slightly higher rate for females (99.7%). Moreover, Colombia is a Latin American and Caribbean country with a high enrolment rate for adult education programmes and high percentage of female learners in adult literacy programmes (UIL, 2019).

Nevertheless, accessibility and quality of education in Colombia remains a challenge. The Departamento Administrativo Nacional Estadístic (National Administrative Department for Statistics, DANE, 2019) reported that, by 2018, 14.3% of the Colombian population had not achieved any educational level and that 22.7% had only completed primary education level. Thus, it remains an issue calling for policy attention to find ways to provide learning opportunities and quality education to those young people and adults who drop out of or miss out on formal schooling. In 2017, in response to this problem, the Colombian Government issued its new General Guidelines and Orientations for the Formal Education of Young People and Adults (Lineamientos generales y orientaciones para la educación formal de personas jóvenes y adultas en Colombia, see Endnote 2). The guidelines aim to enhance the coverage and quality of adult learning and education offers, especially for adults from vulnerable and marginalized communities (UIL, 2019).

A large proportion of these marginalized adults are employed in the construction sector. Nearly all construction workers do not hold an educational qualification, and only 31.1% of them have completed primary education (DANE, 2019). Their low level of education is one of the factors explaining their low social and economic status. Raquel (2009) notes that, compared with other labourers in other sectors in Colombia, people employed in the construction and agricultural sectors are more likely to be informal workers, who are often unprotected and vulnerable, with limited access to state social protection benefits. Moreover, their generally low educational level has implications for their personal safety in the workplace. A research study on causes of accidents in construction projects in Colombia pointed out that ‘74% of accidents were caused by human error, mostly because of people failing to follow workplace safety regulations and lack of literacy skills to read and become aware of these regulations (González et al., 2016). Literacy education plays a vital role in this regard, enabling learners to become able to read safety signs, symbols and instructions at construction sites (El Colombiano, 2012) and understand laws and regulations for protecting their safety and their fundamental rights.

In this context, Obras Escuela has emerged as an educational programme that develops and improves construction workers’ workplace knowledge and skills and helps ensure their safety and well-being.

Programme overview

Obras Escuela is a corporate social responsibility programme led by the Colombian Chamber of Construction (Camacol Antioquia). The programme started in 2007 when Eduardo Loaiza Posada, Camacol Antioquia’s CEO, decided to replicate a similar strategy that Muros y Techos, one of Camacol’s affiliate companies, was implementing. In partnership with that company, the banking sector, and construction and industrial companies, Camacol Antioquia launched the brand Obras Escuela and began to offer the programme to all the construction companies in Antioquia, one of the 32 departments of Colombia, located in the central north-western part of the country. The programme is now running in Antioquia, with its highest presence in Medellín, Antioquia’s capital, and other municipalities in the Aburrá Valley. Additionally, the programme is being replicated in other cities such as Bogotá, Cundinamarca Department, and Barranquilla, Atlántico Department.

Obras Escuela is an innovative programme because it takes education provision to construction sites to reduce the number of cases of dropout because of commuting. The majority of construction workers come from low socio-economic backgrounds and live in remote rural areas. This means that they have to travel to and from schools that offer literacy programmes, and have to pay transportation costs to attend these classes. Moreover, studying together with co-workers who share similar backgrounds and workplace experience is believed to increase learners’ motivation. With these factors in mind, offering a course at the workplace can be an efficient solution, allowing workers to save time and expense. Implementation is based on a flexible, inclusive pedagogy adapted to the special learning needs of the target population. The programme equips construction workers with basic literacy skills, which provides them with new learning opportunities and job prospects, and enables them to fill in the necessary documents to take advantage of social, public and working benefits.

Programme goals and aims

The programme aims to enhance the quality of life of the population working in the construction sector. Specific objectives are to:

  • increase construction workers’ basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, enabling them to better read and recognize safety instructions, resulting in improved safety for workers and reduced accidents;
  • encourage construction workers to continue with their formal education;
  • reduce obstacles in the way of effective exercise of civic rights and duties;
  • increase workers’ self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Target group

In Colombia, the majority of employees in the construction sector have not completed primary education. Once they start working, they are given opportunities to improve their literacy skills. Workers aged 18 to 81 sign up for the programme (Camacol Antioquia, n.d.b.). In 2019, 5% of the enrolled learners were Venezuelan, 3% indigenous, 25% were displaced persons, and 4% were Afro-Colombians, while the rest identified as Mestizo Colombian (Camacol Antioquia, n.d.a.). Furthermore, 87% were male and 13% female (Camacol Antioquia, n.d.c), as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Age and gender of enrolled learners in 2019.(Source: Camacol Antioquia, 2019).

Moreover, as illustrated by Figure 2, most learners earned around or below the monthly minimum wage in Colombia, COP 877,803 (about USD 236). Such low wages do not necessarily encourage construction workers to avail themselves of further learning opportunities to improve their skills.

Figure 2.Distribution of learners’ monthly income in Colombian pesos. Source: Camacol Antioquia.

Programme structure and content

Obras Escuela is endorsed by the Ministerio de Educación Nacional (MEN), the Colombian Ministry of National Education, which, through the Secretary of Education for Medellín, assigned the Jesús Rey Institute to certify learners who complete the courses successfully. Although it was designed for a duration of one semester (210 contact hours), some learners may take up to three years to complete it, depending on their learning needs. In most cases, learners realize that they have not achieved the learning outcomes and ask to repeat the programme. In other cases, educators recommend learners take the course again when their literacy competencies are not fully developed. However, since the duration of construction projects is usually three years, and not all the construction workers start from the beginning of the projects, there may be occasions when they do not accomplish the last phase of the course. In such cases, the Medellín Secretary of Education transfers the learner to other educational programmes offered by other education institutions.

At each construction site, there are one or more provisional schools that are built by construction workers with resources provided by their companies (see Figure 3). Literacy courses at each school start with 20 learners, though the number of learners participating during the course of the programme may vary between two and 25. As enrolment is open throughout the year, newly joined workers (potential learners) may occupy the vacancies at any time after educators have determined their literacy and numeracy skill levels.

Figure 3. A school built by construction workers.Source: Obras Escuela

Facilitators and learners plan the timetable of their sessions to suit the group’s convenience. A minimum of five contact hours per week is distributed either before or after the working shifts on weekdays or the weekends, and educators are assigned to each group according to their availability. Additionally, depending on the employer, time spent by learners in the classes may be considered part of working hours.

Obras Escuela offers two cycles of integrated adult literacy courses, which are equivalent to primary school education. Both cycles follow the standards set by the Ministry of National Education for youth and adult literacy programmes. The first cycle or the Integrated Special Academic Cycle (the Spanish acronym is CLEY 1), integrates basic competences in language, mathematics, social and natural sciences, and civic skills, as well as learning goals equivalent to Colombia’s Grades 2 and 3 in formal education. The second cycle, CLEY 2, meets the requirements of Grades 4 and 5.

A graduation ceremony is organized every semester, in which learners receive certifications. Upon completion of the programme, Camacol encourages learners to continue to secondary education by introducing them to partner institutions offering such services. Nevertheless, in 2019, Camacol started a pilot project, Bachillerato a la obra (Baccalaureate at work), offering secondary education in partnership with Caja de Compensación Familiar (Comfama), a family allowance fund, and Universidad Católica de Oriente, a Catholic university in Rionegro, Antioquia. This project offers enrolment opportunities for construction workers and their family members.

Figure 4. Learners at La Vida es Bella [Life is Beautiful] School, located at a construction site in Bello, Antioquia, Colombia. Source: Obras Escuela

Approaches and methodologies

Obras Escuela is informed by constructive theories of learning, which argue that learners are active agents in the process of learning and reject the belief that learning is a process of memorizing information (Bada, 2015). More specifically, in this programme, learners are helped to develop new concepts and knowledge in the process of exploring and reflecting on their experiences. It attempts to create connections between the programme’s learning content and learners’ existing knowledge and life situations, and encourages learners to put new concepts into practice by applying them in real situations. For instance, they are engaged in solving real math problems when dealing with their personal finances, or practising spelling using their grocery lists. (Buitrago, n.d.). In addition, in anticipation of some of these workers becoming unemployed when construction projects are completed, the programme facilitators also integrate literacy and numeracy skills and future entrepreneurial project development. In terms of entrepreneurial projects, the participants learn relevant vocational skills, such as making pet kennels or hutches, and decorative tiles and doors.

Informed by Vygostky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) (Vygotsky et al., 1999)(see Endnote 4), Obras Escuela creates an opportunity for learners to be supported by more experienced persons, who provides timely and constructive feedback and guidance. The programme uses the role of these ‘godparents’ to improve learners’ learning. For instance, through the Plan Padrino programme (the godparents programme), administrative staff or other employees, such as site managers, supervisors or engineers, enrol voluntarily to act as a ‘godmother’ or a ‘godfather’ to learners, guiding them in their learning process. Some ‘godparents’ donate learning kits and give tutoring sessions for learners who are struggling with their learning. Another way to achieve collective knowledge construction is to promote group work among learners and participation in home-learning activities on topics that are related to families, such as women’s inclusion, children’s rights and positive discipline.

Figure 5. Obras Escuela encourage group work among learners. Source: Obras Escuela

Bastable and Dart (2014) argue that ‘an individual’s developmental stage significantly influences the ability to learn’ (p. 1). Therefore, educators need to understand the behavioural, cognitive and psychological developmental differences of adult learners. Based on this understanding, the programme is flexible in identifying and implementing different instructional methods to meet different learning needs of the participants. Defined as ‘differentiated instructional strategy’ (Chapman and Gregory, 2007), the facilitators develop learning tasks based on learners’ different literacy skill levels and learning needs as demonstrated through diagnostic test results. In addition, facilitators use information and communication technologies (ICTs) to provide a differentiated learning experience for learners who demonstrate better digital skills. Moreover, interactive and supportive learning is encouraged among learners with different competency levels: for example, learners who have mastered basic numeracy skills provide guidance to those who are new to learning the concepts of hundreds, tens and units. Upon request from individual learners, facilitators also provide additional personalized support.

Figure 6.Obras Escuela facilitators offer personalized advice upon request. Source: Obras Escuela

Apart from these pedagogical approaches, Obras Escuela also organizes learning activities that aim to enhance the application of learners’ acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations. Two major activities are:

Outdoor pedagogical activities

Every three months, Obras Escuela organizes an excursion to places of interest such as museums, theatres, the planetarium, zoos, interactive parks or ecology parks. Learning activities are organized during such excursions to improve learners’ literacy skills. For example, learners read the instructions and other texts available at the sites, and discuss and exchange ideas and opinions about the things they have observed.

Story contest: Tell me a story.

Each year, as a way of promoting creative and literacy skills, Obras Escuela invites learners and their families to participate in story contests. During these contests, learners create and present their own handwritings or stories about topics of their interest. Three stories pass to the pre-final stage, which are awarded by Camacol Antioquia. The winning story is published. More competent learners are encouraged to write their story by themselves, while those who require more support are allowed to present their stories through drawings or writing assistance from their families.

Figure 7. A recent award-winning story, written as part of the annual Obras Escuela story contest. Source: Camacol Antioquia

Curriculum and teaching materials

Obras Escuela is based on the standards and structure of the national youth and literacy programmes known as the Integrated Special Academic Cycle (CLEY). Thus, it employs CLEY-related books and methodological guides developed by the Ministry of National Education. But as the principle of flexibility is applied, educators develop the programme’s curriculum, including the monthly teaching plan, using some alternative materials and learning activities that take into consideration participants’ needs and learning contexts. Then, the programme’s director and the certifying educational institution, Educational Institution Jesús Rey in Medellín, revises and approves them.

The Obras Escuela teaching plan is made up of nine knowledge areas which are compulsory according to the MEN (1994) and delivers a minimum number of five hours per week, as MEN (1997) dictates. These knowledge areas include the following courses:

  • 1. Natural sciences and environmental education;
  • 2. Social sciences, history, geography, political constitution and democracy;
  • 3. Arts education;
  • 4. Ethics and human values education;
  • 5. Physical education, recreation and sports;
  • 6. Religious education;
  • 7. Humanities, Spanish- and foreign-language instruction (see sample handout in Figure 8);
  • 8. Mathematics;
  • 9. ICT.

The programme relies on guidelines issued by the Medellín Secretary of Education, but it plans to standardize the criteria to enhance the impact of the programme nationwide by providing a clear course of action for educators in all the regional and sectional chambers.

Table 1 An example from a facilitator’s teaching guidelines for a CLEY–2 natural sciences class

Aim By the end of the class, the learner should be able to distinguish chemical/ artificial products from natural products, and identify the challenges and risks of using the former.
Guiding question How can chemical products negatively affect health and the environment?
Standard Ability to identify some of the health and environmental consequences associated with using chemical and/ or artificial products.

Nature and evolution

Learner is able to identify chemical or artificial products and how they are developed.

Appropriation and use

Learner is able to follow manual instructions for using chemical products.


Learner is able to identify and describe features, challenges, deficiencies and risks associated with the use of chemical/ artificial products.

Research tools, chemicals and society

Learner is able to use different sources of information and media to support their ideas.

Learner is able to understand the importance of complying with the rules for preventing chemical-associated accidents.

Performance indicator

Learning to know

Learner is able to explain some of the factors associated with the use of chemicals that may affect human health and the environment.

Learning to do

Learner is able to establish a link between the use of chemicals and the negative impacts on health and the environment.

Learning to be

Learner is able to identify the social and environmental consequences of using chemical or artificial products.

Thematic axis

Technology, society and the environment

By the end of the course, the learner should be able to:

  • Make a comparison chart about the correct and incorrect use of chemicals and share it with the group
  • understand the importance of correctly using of chemicals at home;
  • understand the environmental impact caused by chemicals/ artificial products.
Methodological strategies/
learning activities
  • Group discussion on possible effects chemical/ artificial products can have on the environment.
  • Analyse energy, agriculture and antibiotics and their negative and positive effects on human health and the environment.
  • Encourage learners to discuss what, in their opinion, are the worst effects of chemical/artificial products on people and the environment.
  • Make a comparison chart about the correct and incorrect use of chemicals and share it with the group

Table 1. An excerpt from a facilitator’s teaching guidelines for a CLEY–2 natural science class.
Source: Compiled by authors based on information received from Obras Escuela

As shown in Table 1, the teaching guideline demonstrates the integration of skills and basic literacy at the instruction level. Each lesson evaluates learners’ achievements against predetermined performance indicators that learners are expected to achieve.

Recruitment and training of facilitators

Currently, the educators’ team at Obras Escuela includes 21 facilitators, some of whom have worked for Camacol Antioquia since the beginning of the programme. Fifteen of them have majored in subjects related to education (see Table 2).

Level of education Number of facilitators
Preschool education 4
Primary basic education 5
Special education 5
Philosophy. Social Science. IT, Humanities 5
Family development and social work 1
Other (Education) 1

Table 2. Breakdown of Obras Escuela facilitators’ study majors. (Source: Compiled by authors based on information provided by Obras Escuela.)

The director of the programme is in charge of recruiting facilitators, either through references from current or former facilitators, or through announcements at universities which offer bachelor-level education programmes. The recruitment process requires potential facilitators to pass an interview in addition to holding a bachelor’s degree in an education-related area and having at least two years of teaching experience. The salary per construction project is equivalent to the Colombian monthly minimum wage (around USD 236, see Endnote 3) and, depending on their availability, each educator can be assigned between one and five construction projects or schools.

Facilitators participate in pre-service and monthly in-service training organized by the programme director. Experienced facilitators coordinate the training process. During the training, facilitators are introduced to professional codes and ethics, procedures, dress code, institutional norms, pedagogical aspects and construction project management.

Facilitators also have monthly meetings, organized by the programme director, in which they share their experiences, discuss their problems and are given potential solutions. Additionally, Camacol Antioquia provides facilitators with 56 hours of monthly individual training, in alliance with the Medellín Mayor's Office, the Medellín Secretary of Education, the Women's Secretariat, the Office of the First Lady of Medellín and other educational institutions in the city. The topics of the monthly training are listed below:

  • Health and safety at work;
  • Technological tools;
  • Positive discipline;
  • Pedagogical models;
  • Prevention of sexual abuse.

Enrolment of learners

At the beginning of a construction project, the programme management and the facilitators visit construction sites and disseminate information on the courses offered by the programme. New construction projects usually have more construction workers. Often, in such informal on-site meetings (often with 200–300 construction workers), the Obras Escuela facilitators explain the purpose and learning opportunities offered by the programme, raise awareness about its importance, and encourage workers to register. People interested in attending the programme have to provide their photos (which may be digital), contact details and an identification document. The enrolment opportunity remains open throughout the year. Facilitators may conduct on-site enrolment two or three times a year depending on the number of learners who register for the course.

Figure 9. Call for enrolment at a construction site (Source: Arenas, 2017).

Assessing learning outcomes

During the first week of the programme, a diagnostic literacy test is carried out to determine learners’ literacy level (see Figure 10 for a sample of a test). Through this initial learning assessment, educators determine learners’ literacy levels as follows:

  • Pre-syllabic level: Learner does not know the alphabet and does not know the phoneme– grapheme relationship(see Endnote 5).
  • Syllabic level: Learner recognizes the sound of at least one syllable.
  • Alphabetic syllabic level: Learner decodes complete syllable.

Some learners refuse to take this diagnostic test: often they say that they know ‘nothing’; others say that tests remind them of their negative schooling experience. In these cases, facilitators conduct an informal assessment through observation and conversations with learners. Those who show sufficient competence during this informal facilitator assessment take an initial test involving numeracy and literacy problem-solving.

Facilitators continuously assess learners’ performance through all the learning activities. In addition, learners are encouraged to conduct self-assessment and peer feedback. The former fosters autonomy and critical thinking, while the latter provides opportunities to generate peer learning. Both self-assessment and peer feedback are formative in nature. Self-assessment requires learners to describe any perceived changes in terms of their thinking, behaviour and progress in learning. Through peer feedback, learners provide suggestions to fellow learners for improvement. Peer feedback is usually encouraged during presentations.

Upon completion of the programme, learners are expected to be able to:

  • write words/ simple sentences;
  • read short texts;
  • perform the four basic mathematical operations (i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division);
  • pay for purchases or expenses;
  • use a mobile phone;
  • have basic knowledge about human rights and other issues concerning their work.

Specifically, learners need to pass the Obras Escuela exam, which is endorsed by the Educational Institution Jesús Rey through the Ministry of National Education. Moreover, learners who complete both cycles of adult literacy courses receive a certificate accredited by the Secretary of Education of Medellín. The programme also awards outstanding learners for their efforts, progress and cooperation. For example, during the graduation ceremonies held each semester, outstanding learners receive an honourable public mention for exceptional commitment to learning, supporting peers, great learning achievements and contribution to their communities. Normally, learners aged 75 years and older, or learners with disabilities who complete the programme, receive this award.

Monitoring and evaluation

Obras Escuela continuously examines the progress and impact of its educational services by using standardized indicators for all its schools. The indicators include the number of learners enrolled, number of learners who work in the construction sites, number of learners whose skills are certified, the number of teachers and the number of partner companies (see Figure 13 for Camacol’s indicators for 2019).

Furthermore, Obras Escuela conducts monthly supervision meetings at each construction project site. During this meeting, the programme managing team and facilitators discuss progress, challenges, lessons learned and further actions. Such meetings enable facilitators to determine their learners’ needs and to address them efficiently.

In addition, monitoring is conducted through interviews in which facilitators ask outstanding learners about their experiences in the programme, challenges and their plans after the completion of the programme. Furthermore, in 2019 for the first time, an external advisor was invited to conduct an external evaluation of the programme. This exercise was intended to check for the possibility of adapting the curriculum of the programme to better meet the needs of the learners. At present, the consultant is compiling a report by analysing collected data.

Impact and challenges


To date, more than 4,000 construction workers have acquired basic literacy skills through Obras Escuela, and 2,800 of them have received their primary school certificates (Noticias TeleMedellín, 2019). The risk of falling victim to fraud or suffering accidents at the workplace has been greatly reduced, as many learners are now able to read their contracts and understand safety rules and signs at construction sites. Moreover, learners tend to show a stronger motivation for learning, enhanced self-confidence and self-efficacy in improving their life. Many of them have come to realize that social mobility, job promotion and academic progress is possible. For instance, along with many other success stories, learners who continued to secondary education and a learner who pursued a technical degree in electrical engineering are documented by Las2Orillas (2017) and El Colombiano (2012) respectively.

Learners’ testimonials

Below is a testimony, documented by Valle (n.d.), from a learner named Jorge Eliecer Castillo Urán, who started his courses in February 2018 while working in Constructora Capital’s construction project site:

I decided to enrol because I want to learn the letters well, read better because sometimes you have really a hard time when applying for health services for construction projects. When I have to go to take the medical test, fill in the information that you are required, read all that information, I suffer a lot, I sweat, I get anxious, I start shaking because I don’t know how to do all those things. I am ashamed that they realize that I know very little.

After some months, the learner reported that he had to fill in some applications again, but explained how his feelings were different this time:

I understood all that I had to do. I read and understood what they were asking me to fill in. I finished fast because I read fast. I did everything so easily that I did not even realize; and when I finished, I wasn’t nervous, so I realized: I have learned a lot. I left the place happy because I didn’t have to ask for help to fill in any document because I had understood everything, but mainly because I did it on my own.

Awards and accolades

Obras Escuela has received several acknowledgements. In 2019, it was awarded UNESCO’s Confucius Prize for Literacy, and it has been recognized by the Secretary of Social Inclusion, Family and Human Rights of the Medellin Mayor’s Office for its commitment to the social transformation of lives through offering opportunities, and for contributing to achievement and inclusion in Medellín. In addition, the programme has received recognition from the Medellín Secretary of Education and has been mentioned in multiple publications on digital media, local newspapers and websites associated with the education sector.


Obras Escuela has faced four main challenges: First, to achieve greater outreach of the programme and to better address individual learners’ needs, facilitators’ training must be more frequent and diverse. Secondly, teachers are constantly challenged by learners’ negative perceptions of adult literacy learning: their sense of shame in not being able to read and write; or their belief that they are too old to learn. The third challenge is the need to identify new literacy development opportunities in the construction sector, as well as obtaining more funding to enhance the programme’s impact. Lastly, the uncertainty regarding the duration of the programme has been a pressing concern, since some learners may take more than one semester, resulting in extra charges or in the impossibility of finishing the learning process due to a construction project’s closure.

Lessons learned

Smooth partnerships and coordination with both private and public sectors have been decisive to the success of the programme. For example, the support from the Medellín Secretary of Education has enabled Camacol Colombia to continue with its operations by certifying its learners and approving their educational processes. On the other hand, financial support from the private sector enables Obras Escuela to continue operating. To win support from the private sector, the director of the programme reaches out to associated companies’ CEOs individually and introduces them to the programme, raising their awareness of the importance of enhancing construction workers’ basic reading, writing and numeracy skills and encouraging them to become partners in this process. Thus, each associated company sponsors the programme in its construction site, which means taking on the educator’s monthly salary per school and costs associated with the classrooms’ construction. Moreover, Camacol Antioquia raises funds for different projects, including Obras Escuela, through events, conferences, and local and international fairs with its associated companies. The budget items allocated to Obras Escuela cover costs such as outdoor activities, celebrations and training events.

Preliminary results from the external evaluation mentioned in the monitoring and evaluation section indicates there is a need to apply an andragogical approach to teaching, wherein learners are encouraged to take the initiative in diagnosing their learning needs and formulating their learning goals. Programme facilitators have started collaborating with an advisor from the external evaluators to develop a standard document to record learners’ backgrounds and learning needs.


Obras Escuela pursues sustainability in two ways: first, by providing quality education, which enhances learners’ skills and attitudes required for improving their well-being, such as by gaining knowledge and skills to exercise and claim their civic rights and duties. The second way is by establishing and nurturing its partnership with public and private institutions in which both the programme and its allies achieve their aims.

The Ministry of National Education recognizes Obras Escuela as an educational institution and supports the programme by certifying learners and acknowledging that Camacol Antioquia contributes to increasing the literacy rates of the target population. Regarding the private sector, associated companies give donations that enable, in conjunction with the annual budget, Obras Escuela to keep working as it has been for the last 12 years.

In 2020, Camacol Antioquia is planning to develop its own curriculum to facilitate the replication of the programme in all the 17 regions where it has its affiliated companies. Having its own pedagogical model will allow Camacol Antioquia to accelerate facilitators’ training, to expand its efforts in improving literacy skills, and promote the completion of primary education for workers in the construction sector.

Additionally, in response to the outspread of COVID-19 in 2020, Obras Escuela has started to deliver its programme online. Through the use of text messages and videos, it is adapting to the pandemic and currently working to meet the new challenges of this delivery mode such as by reaching learners without electronic devices or internet access, or those with low digital skills. Some of these videos can be accessed through the programme’s YouTube channel (Camacol Antioquia, 2020). Additionally, based on requests from its learners, the programme is also delivering learning materials to the children of construction workers and providing tips on time management during the quarantine.


  • 1. The English translation of the official programme title, Obras Escuela, is Zero Illiteracy in Construction. The official Spanish-language programme title is used throughout the case study.
  • 2. Available at: https://www.mineducacion.gov.co/1759/articles-371724_recurso.pdf [Accessed 27 June 2020]. .
  • 3. Available at https://colombiareports.com/colombias-minimum-wage-up-6-to-268-month/ [Accessed 27 June 2020]. .
  • 4. The zone of proximal development is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. See http://www.innovativelearning.com/educational_psychology/development/zone-of-proximal-development.html [Accessed 1 July 2020]. .
  • 5. The phoneme–grapheme relationship is the understanding of letters and their associated sounds, recognition of known words, and decoding ability with unfamiliar words. .


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María Lucía Vélez Ospina
Obras Escuela Programme Director
Camacol Antioquia
Cra 43A #1–50
Medellín, Colombia
Tel.: +57 4 448 8030 ext. 123
Website: http://www.camacolantioquia.org.co

For citation please use

Ayyappan, Annapurna, Chung Dolma , Zholdoshalieva, Rakhat, Anyela Gómez Deantonio . Last update: 15 December 2020. Obras Escuela: Literacy for Construction Workers. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 4 June 2023, 20:44 CEST)

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